Industry conferences: Why you are a fool if you don’t go (and what your missing if you don’t)
Blog Audio: Read/listen time: 8 minutes
My name is Paul Edwards, I am a Web Consultant and Frontend Developer and I’ve been working in the web industry since 2005. The evening before Wordcamp Brighton 2019 I started to write this blog post to explore the reasons why YOU might want to go to a WordCamp or an industry conference. The conference season is in full swing so let’s look at reasons why you should be attending a conference in your area.
You may well be thinking “But I don’t even build websites, why should I bother?”
You don’t have to be a worker in the web industry to benefit from attending a conference related to web design.
It doesn’t matter if
- You are a client
- A web professional
- Full time, part-time, freelancer or hobbyist
So, you’ve had a look at the schedule and you may be thinking to yourself:
- I don’t understand what lots of the items on the schedule are about
- There is nothing I don’t already know about
- Nothing interests me
If you don’t fall into any of the above then fantastic, the benefits of attending a conference are probably already obvious to you, however, if you do fall into any of the above categories lets look at why you should still attend a conference.
For those unsure about attending a conference
It doesn’t matter if you occupy one of the three camps above or neither. Attending an industry-related event, especially one that is multi-tracked and contains information about a wide number of topics and levels of technical complexity can only be a good thing.
I want to be clear about this, it doesn’t matter if you can’t find anything on the schedule that interests you, it doesn’t matter if you are a client, a worker in the web industry or an associated service or product. WordCamps are good places to be. Let’s have a look at why…
Not many people like networking. Meeting new people can be uncomfortable and socially awkward. The joy with going to conferences is that most people are either on their own or in very small groups.
Everyone is thrust into a new situation, location etc but with the huge benefit of there being lots to talk about. Lots of intellectual stimulation, good food, social seating and more.
Because the days are tracked by content type and interest you will find that some people will show up time and time again in your schedule throughout the day. This gives you an advantage as you know that you share the same interests.
The modular way the day is put together means that you always have somewhere else to be, so if that conversation isn’t working out you can always make your excuses and leave without causing offence.
If you are a client you have an opportunity to make lots of connections with people who could work for you as service providers, freelancers or employees. There is often a vibrant jobs board at conferences which give a great opportunity for pitching to people.
If you are a freelancer there is an opportunity here for making excellent contacts in the industry who overlap your skills or offer skills that you don’t have yourself.
As a service provider, you have a huge chance to sell directly to your user base. There is an opportunity for everyone at conferences and industry events.
I make you this one promise. You will learn something.
It doesn’t matter whether you look at the schedule for the event and thing that there is nothing new for you to absorb. I promise if you mingle with other people, even if they do the same role as you. You will learn something. In the web industry, like others, there is always a dozen ways to complete the same task. You could attend a talk on something you do day in day out and still pick up a little nugget of information that will improve your workflow.
This is a huge part of going to conferences for me. I like to fill my path through the event schedule with things that are outside my role or sphere of knowledge as well as things which I already know about and take some part in. The purpose of this is to not only expand horizons but to help me understand the roles that others carry out. This, in turn, makes me better at delivering my services to my various client types. Working white label for an agency client has different demands as to working for an end client for example. When I do attend talks that involve subject matter that I am already familiar I nearly always learn something new or some subtle difference that makes my work better. It can be surprising how two people can learn the same software but have different workflows or solutions to problems. Sharing this knowledge is a huge bonus of going to such events.
You probably hear a lot about imposter syndrome these days. It is something that so many of us suffer with and has become a popular topic of discussion.
There are many things you can do to remind yourself of your skills to help boost your confidence levels. Writing your CV each year is a good thing. Even if you are freelance and have no intention of seeking regular employment, writing your CV is a fantastic marker of your achievements and your skill level.
Similarly, going to conferences and listening to others is a fantastic way of gauging your skill level and talking to so many new people is a fantastic way of affirming what you know.
Often during conversations with new people at conferences I have listened to myself talk and been surprised at my depth of knowledge around certain topics.
Attending conferences is fantastic for building your confidence. If you can help someone else while you are there, even better!
I think this speaks for itself. Most events that I have attended over my career have been incredibly inclusive. I struggle to think of another industry which is so open, welcoming and inclusive to all people.
Conference and event organisers always try so hard to cater to everyone, literally, and as such you will often find some of the most amazing food. I am not a vegan, vegetarian etc but I thoroughly enjoyed the mainly plant-based foods that are there and marvel at some of the creative cooking that is enjoyed.
WordCamp Brighton produced some great food this year and their vegetarian sausage rolls were fantastic. If you have specific allergies or religious food requirements then there is almost always a way of expressing these preferences at the time of booking a ticket so you can relax knowing that you aren’t going to go hungry!
If you are either new to the industry, setting up your own business or pushing a new product, conferences can be an absolute gem for helping you raise your profile.
Most people attend a local event first which for me was Wordcamp Brighton. Once they get the bug they tend to move onto larger events which happen around capital cities such as WordCamp London.
Whether local or national, such events are often run by volunteer groups. It is incredibly easy to volunteer to help out in some capacity and a lot of people start this way, often helping sign people in or acting as a point of contact, moving onto more and more responsibility including but not limited to talking in lightning sessions or writing and delivering their own talks. For those nervous at speaking it can be a great way of taking those first steps in front of an audience that wants you to succeed.
I have seen many people take this journey and to do so is a great way of building your profile, building your confidence and giving something back to the community. In doing so your standing in that community will improve and you will make a good bunch of contacts and friends at the same time.
Most conferences that I have attended in the last 15 years have been run for and by the communities that support opensource software such as content management systems like Drupal and WordPress.
Community events allow you to take part and give something back to the community that write, maintain and patch the software which likely allows you to make a living. It’s nice to give something back and as such most of these events have some form of contributor day where you can get involved in writing documentation, fixing bugs and working on software features etc.
If you haven’t been to a WordCamp event then I encourage you to find one and go along. It doesn’t matter if you are a client or a web professional, attending will help you understand each other more, get better at your job and have a whole lot of fun and meet some great people in the process.
Find your nearest Wordcamp here: https://central.wordcamp.org/schedule/