My Evolving Goals for Attending Conferences

The first conference I went to back in 1999 I attended every session, the bonus sessions, the breakfasts, everything. It wasn’t a desire to get the maximum value for the registration cost as much as a desire to get the maximum value. I was new to IT and this was a gold plated chance to learn. I did learn, a lot. By the end of the week I was exhausted, but more knowledgeable. Aside from co-workers who also attended I had a handful of interesting conversations, mostly at meals.

I’ve gone to at least one major conference a year since then, often more. In those early years I kept going to a session every hour, every day, hungry for learning, but also wanting to treat it like work. Sessions are there, I should be attending – I’m getting paid to attend. It took a while,but I got to the point of understanding that missing a session,whether to explore the city, handle a problem at work, or just talk to someone interesting, was ok.

For the past couple years at the PASS Summit I don’t think I’ve sat through more than a handful of presentations over the three day event. It’s not that I know everything, far from it. Part of it is that I get some technical learning through out the year at SQLSaturday. Part of it is I know that I can watch it later on the DVD’s. Most of it is preferring to spend time chatting with people. That’s quite a shift from where I started.

That shift feels ok. I’ve gradually become more interested in the people side of work, and just a bit less interested in the technical details. Not that my interest in technology has waned, it’s just not enough by itself, more it is that I feel like I need to balance my portfolio, make the same kind of investment in people and networking that I have made in technology.

If I were to change careers tomorrow, I’d be writing checks to go to events, and I’d be soaking up the sessions. But I wouldn’t just be going to the presentations, I’d be reading the blogs, cataloging the speakers, figuring out who was who, and who I should meet. More of a balance from the start? Perhaps.

Lots for me to think on, then I’ll write some more.

4 thoughts on “My Evolving Goals for Attending Conferences

  1. That”s exactly why I started my FreeCon – a free one-day event before conferences. We don”t talk about the conference topic at all – it”s all off-topic stuff and relationship building. I”d realized those were my favorite parts about the conference, and I didn”t get nearly enough time to do ”em! I was tired of catching up with people by yelling at a noisy bar.

    Right now I”m absorbing the costs because it”s the most valuable thing about the entire conference to me. I can totally imagine not going to the conference itself, and just throwing a FreeCon instead. I”m going to take a first stab at that in Seattle this year – still going to the conference, but skipping the pre-cons and doing a FreeCon instead. That personal time is just so valuable and invigorating.


  2. Hi Andy,

    Hope you”re well… read a blog post which I thought might be of interest to you. Somewhat tangential to your own above:

    As always, thanks for sharing your journey,


  3. Brent, I admire the freecon idea, I think it only makes the event experience richer. I”ll be interested to see if you stay focused on tech during the rest of the week after filling up on networking, or if networking still draws your time and attention.


  4. Smitha, you don”t disappoint! Not sure how I missed the post, I try to keep up with the HBR feed, lots of good stuff there. I had an experience this week that compliments that link some, so more to write about in the coming week:-)


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