By Bonnie Brennan
How to Conference, for Introverts
If you’ve met me anywhere in the Angular community, you might have thought I was just a naturally outgoing person. Oh contraire! I actually started out as an introvert, but I found my people in this community and I love them all. In this article I’ll share some tips for how to network at conferences, but first a bit of background.
When I first became a developer, I was the only developer I knew in real life. I learned mostly from books back then, and later from online videos. When I first learned AngularJS in 2013, we didn’t have the training resources available that we do now. Throughout my early career, I was dependent on google searches and reading source code to figure out what I was doing. Once I worked in a tech company, I spent about a year asking around hoping to find someone else using Angular so we could share our experience. I didn’t have much luck with this approach and continued learning what I could online.
The first time I heard about an Angular conference, it was in Paris. I was so excited about a conference just for Angular but I couldn’t afford the trip. A few months later I heard about another Angular conference, this one in Salt Lake City. I had to go! I asked my employer but they said no, so I took the leap and bought my own ticket. I’ve been back every year since and hope to continue!
Although I went there to learn the latest Angular (which I did!), there was an unexpected side effect that turned out much more valuable — networking. The relationships I formed at conferences have not only yielded some amazing friends, they’ve also benefited my career in very definite ways. If you have the opportunity to attend a conference, I hope you’ll venture beyond the talks and dive into the amazing and wonderful open source community.
Why Should I Network?
- job opportunities
- exchanging knowledge
- introductions to more devs
- high chance of meeting smart + super fun people 🙂
How should I Network?
- local meetups
Okay, let’s talk about social media. I’m honestly not a big fan. I don’t like trading my privacy for targeted ads and I see no value in pumpkin spice selfies. That said, I realized at my first ngConf that all the speakers were on Twitter. I started following them and quickly discovered a wealth of insider Angular information on my Twitter feed. Since this article is for introverts, you might not be a fan of social media either. That’s okay! You don’t have to tweet anything, use your real name, or even post a profile pic if you don’t want to. You can just follow people and read what they post, maybe work up to a retweet if you come across something you consider worth sharing.
- Keep it professional, consider a separate account for gaming, politics, etc.
- Keep it positive — kudos are good but avoid criticizing others publicly
- Avoid the bots (they’re pretty easy to spot, just block and/or report them)
While Twitter is a great place to dip your toe into the open source community, there are many other places to find other developers working on the same things you’re working on. For instance, Angular Buddies, Ionic Slack, GraphQL Slack, PWA Slack, just to name a few.
Networking at Conferences
Mingling with Attendees
Meals are a great time to chat with other developers. Introduce yourself! I know, this article is for introverts — sometimes that’s easier said than done, right? Here are a few easy questions to get the conversation started.
- Where are you from?
- Did you see __ ($awesomeSpeaker, $coolTopic) talk? What did you think?
- Have you used __ ($library, $framework, $feature) yet? If so, how did that go? Were you able to get __ working?
- Cool __ ($sticker, $shoes, $swag), where’d you get that?
- Disclaimer: if you’re tempted to flirt with someone at a conference, please resist the urge. This is not the place for that, let’s keep it platonic.
Talking to Experts
I know speakers and core contributors can seem quite intimidating at first glance. Don’t worry! Believe it or not, most of them are quite friendly. Here are a few do’s and don’ts for approaching experts.
- Do: Let them know that something they did helped you, they love that!
- Do: Ask a (brief) question! They’re super smart and like to help if they can.
- Don’t: Ask for an update or timeline on open GitHub issues — they’d usually prefer to save that for when they’re back at work.
- Don’t: Complain about something they’ve worked on. If you have a feature idea or have encountered a bug, help out by opening a pull request!
It’s easy to get information overload at a conference. Watching talk after talk can be overwhelming, and by the end of the day your brain is fried and all you want to do is go back to your room. To avoid this, find out if the conference will record the talks (ngConf will!). If they are, keep a list of the talks you found most interesting. When you get home, you can go back and watch the talks on your list. Trust me, it will be much easier to absorb when you can focus and you’re not sleep deprived or jetlagged. In the meantime, now you can relax! Enjoy the conference, mingle with attendees, consult experts, and most important of all, have fun!
So what happens when the conference is over? How can you continue to network at home? Join a local meetup! Check out meetup.com to find a meetup in your area. If you don’t find one, start one!
But wait. Wasn’t this an article for introverts?
At my first ngConf, I met Aaron Frost. He’s one of the organizers of ngConf and one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. He introduced me to Brad Green, and I mentioned to them both that I wish there were an Angular meetup in Houston. They said I should start one, and I said nooooo… I didn’t want to start a meetup! I wanted to go to someone else’s meetup and sit in the back row. I wasn’t an expert and definitely didn’t feel comfortable getting up and talking in front of people. They encouraged me to start one anyway, and years later I’m so glad I did.
I went on meetup.com and started a group. Yes, I was terrified. For my first talk, I just offered highlights about some of the things I learned at ngConf and information about where they could learn more. I had a powerpoint presentation with notes, I was nervous and talked way too fast but the developers were appreciative anyway. I never claimed to be an expert, we just all learn together and it’s a lot of fun. Although I was pretty far out of my comfort zone, in the beginning, it got easier over time because everyone has been so nice and they’re not strangers anymore.
Houston is huge, and rush hour is no fun when you’re trying to head to a meetup after work. Often we had people miss talks they wanted to see because they couldn’t make it across town that night. Sometimes we had great talks and I wished I could refer back to them later. When I went back to ngConf in 2016, I networked again with the most amazing people, including Justin Schwartzenberger and Alyssa Nicoll from Angular Air. With their help, I started live streaming and recording ngHouston meetups on youtube, and I invited my friends from ngConf to join us remotely. We still meet in person once a month, and now we also meet online almost every week, and you can join us too! Just look for ngHouston on meetup or youtube most Thursday nights. If you catch us live, I hope you’ll pop into the chat and say hello! Who knows, you might just become a remote panelist — just ask Rob Helgeson!