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Getting the Best Out of a Conference Sponsored

Meeting people for real, talking to your colleagues, sharing experiences and knowledge over a cup of coffee is impossible to substitute digitally. Follow these tips for getting the best out of conferences.

This post is sponsored by Toptal, and written by Demir Selmanovic.

Remote work and the gig economy are taking over the world at a rapid pace. Developers are no longer stuck in cubicles and offices, and their working environment varies from beaches and cafes, to co-working spaces and their own homes. Remote work heavily depends on modern digital communication channels such as email, chat, and video conferencing. However, meeting people for real, talking to your colleagues, sharing experiences and knowledge over a cup of coffee or a drink is impossible to substitute digitally.

Attending a conference, once in a while, solves this problem in a heartbeat.

Attending Webcamp in Zagreb, several years ago, boosted my freelancing career. Toptal sponsored the conference and I ended up giving a talk that year. Even though my talk did not go as planned, my demo failed on stage, and I stole some extra time, it was an amazing experience. Being at the conference is much more than attending a lecture or learning something new. Meeting new people, building your network and hallway-discussions are even more important.

A conference is a focal place for hundreds of smart and talented people with similar interests. This fact alone guarantees that good things have to come out of it.

So, how do you get the most out of attending a conference?

Visit as Many Lectures as Possible

Do not disqualify a lecture based on its title, description, or lecturer. We are all part of the same team, and building software is not a straightforward process. It depends on designers, project managers, clients, developers, sysadmins, users, and any other stakeholder. Understanding problems raised in other teams will help you collaborate better, and attending a lecture that talks about problems in design teams is a learning opportunity for developers, and vice versa. Cross-team communication is one of the main pillars of successful product development and you should use a conference to learn more about problems and solutions related to it.

Don’t Hesitate to Ask Questions

Most of the conferences will plan for QA sessions at the end of each lecture. Do not wait for a lecture to end and then ask questions in a hallway. You are probably not the only person with the same problem and others might benefit from the same answer you will receive.

Also, your question might motivate others to continue the discussion and ask more related questions. If the discussion expands over planned QA time on stage then bring it to the hallway with everyone interested. As an amazing side effect, you will have the opportunity to meet other attendees with similar interests right outside the hall. Meet them, talk to them, and grow your network.

Talk to People

Use coffee and lunch breaks, as well as after parties to meet new people. Do not stick to your small circle of acquaintances, your coworkers or friends from years gone by. The whole point of attending conferences is to experience new things and meet new people, so hanging out with a small posse and ignoring everyone else defeats the point of going there in the first place.

If you are not comfortable approaching strangers, visit all the booths and talk to people there. They are standing there for a reason and they would love to talk to you about their companies, products, and even their pets.

Give a Lecture

The marketplace for freelancers is the whole globe: Freelancers enjoy more opportunities, but also face global competition as well. If you are a Toptal member, we will make sure clients get the best possible understanding of your skills.

However, giving just a few talks at conferences will help you stand out from others, differentiate you from the vast pool of freelance talent out there. Another upside is that you will probably get your travel and accommodation expenses paid, so you get to visit a new city, a country, or even a new continent, free of charge.

Have Fun

A conference is not a formal environment. There is no need to be stiff and serious all the time. Let your hair down, enjoy your time, and relax. Meet new people, learn something, share your knowledge and ideas with others, and come back again.

Having fun at conferences tends to be important for the “come back again” bit. If people don’t enjoy themselves, or if they feel conferences are a waste of time and money, they’re not likely to show up for the next one.

In reality, conferences tend to be a good investment. Even if you’re paying out of your own pocket and losing a few days of work, this really doesn’t matter in the great scheme of things. The chance to meet new people, master new skills, and open up new career possibilities is usually worth it, but you have to seize the opportunity and get the most value out of the conference you choose to attend.

WebCamp Zagreb took the conferencing to a whole new level. This year you can pick from a dozen workshops that will take place two days before the conference. Look me up at the workshop or during the conference and let’s talk about programming, freelancing, Toptal, drones, or anything else that grinds your gears :)

Toptal is sponsoring WebCamp this year. Please use the opportunity to meet my friends at the Toptal booth, or just stop anyone wearing a Toptal t-shirt.

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