Advice for attending your first open-source conference

Published 18 June, 2018.

As I mentioned in my reflections on DjangoCon Europe 2018, the most important thing I learned at DjangoCon was how to attend conferences like DjangoCon.

This is all quite subjective and based on one single-track conference, but hopefully these things I learned will help you if you’re attending something similar.

Know the program

It’s fairly obvious, but make sure you go through the schedule and have at least a rough understanding of what each talk is about.

Keep in mind that talk titles need to be short, so they may not fully explain the actual content of the talk.

Know your level and learning style

Conferences like DjangoCon are aimed at a broad range of experience levels. Some talks will be for beginners, and some will be aimed at those with more experience.

Similarly, there’s likely to be talks for a variety of learning styles. Some people learn complex, intricate concepts best by reading books. Some people do better listening to people explain those concepts. Personally, I learn best by seeing things in action.

There’s little in point sitting through a talk you’re unlikely to get something out of. Plan your attendance accordingly.

… but be prepared to ignore it

Sometimes, talks aren’t what you expect. Sometimes something you thought would be right up your alley disappoints, and sometimes things you only had a vague interest in become the most interesting things you see.

If you’ve got the time and energy, be open to just seeing what something’s like. Perhaps sit at the side of an aisle near an exit. If it’s not for you, you can always make a polite, subtle exit.

You don’t need to attend everything

Days of sitting through back-to-back lectures can get very tiring. Remember that you’re under no obligation to attend everything. If you’re exhausted or if there’s a block of talks which are of less interest to you, get out of the conference environment and do something relaxing.

Keep on top of schedule changes

The schedule will almost certainly change. If the conference allows for it (and if it’s a tech conference, it should), subscribe to the conference’s calendar feed on your phone. That way you’ll have the most up-to-date schedule.

Be social

For me, the social side of DjangoCon was probably the most valuable part of the conference. Meeting people doing interesting things was really inspiring.

I strongly recommend getting out of your comfort zone and introducing yourself to strangers.

While I had a great time at DjangoCon, I do feel like I missed a bit of an opportunity to meet new people by spending most of my time with people I already knew.

DjangoCon had a social Slack channel which was used by people to meet up with other conference attendees. Hopefully other conferences have something similar.

The Pac-Man Rule

DjangoCon introduced me to the Pac-Man Rule. It says that any group of people having a conversation at a conference should leave space for somebody else to join them.

I found it a great way to not only join existing conversations, but to bring other people into interesting conversations I was a part of.

Give yourself time

Travel takes time. If you’re travelling, arrive at least one day before the conference, and leave the day after it ends at the earliest. Give yourself some time around the conference. Don’t try to cram in tourism while the conference is happening.