Last week I went to QCon New York. At previous conferences I’ve attended I’ve spent a lot of time with people I know. This year I purposely went to a conference where I didn’t know anyone. It turns out that going where no one knows you is hard.
I knew a few of the speakers. I knew more of the attendees. None of them were my direct co-workers. I was interested in not going with people I knew so I could concentrate on building my network. When you go to a conference with people you know then you naturally want to sit next to them. At that point you end up talking exclusively to them and you can’t network. That’s not necessarily bad, but it wasn’t what I wanted for this conference.
I went to many talks alone, and in each one I talked to the people around me. QCon is different in that there are 30 minutes between talks, instead of 10. The extra time lets you discuss in the hallway (they call it the “hallway track”) or in a room while waiting for the next talk. That time is valuable to get to know new people.
During my hallway track I learned about the practices at Amazon, the European Commission, a European subsidiary of Boeing (with a name I won’t remember until I learn Dutch), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the “Federal Government,” Trello, infoQ, Simplifile, and many more. Those people may or may not be willing or skilled enough to present talks, but each one had plenty to say when it was just me and them (except the Federal Government employee, but that’s understandable).
So I signed up for the conference thinking I didn’t know anyone. By the start of the conference I found that I knew quite a few people. By the end I knew more than I would have expected. Besides attending a great conference by normal standards, I made it exceptional simply by saying hi.