What not to Bring to an IT Conference

In May, I’m flying to Kiev, Ukraine to participate in a Java conference there and this won’t be the only conference I’ll be going to this year. For software developers the ability to attend a major professional conference is a valuable perk given by their employers. OK, all expenses are approved and your air flight and hotel in Kiev, Paris, San Francisco, or New York City are booked. It’s time to ask yourself, “Why you wanted to go to this conference to begin with?”

Changing daily routines can be a good reason in an of itself. But the main purpose is to sharpen your skills and meet new people, right? So what you shouldn’t bring with you to the conference?

1. Leave your laptop computer in the hotel room. Don’t bring it to the conference venue unless you’re giving a presentation on this day. Computer is a major distraction in any conference. You’ll be spending a large portion of the day finding a wi-fi hot spot that will give you at least 56Kbps connection. Internet connections are notoriously bad on any conferences, and this will make you irritated and upset.

Look at all these people sitting on the floor by the electric outlets. Their computers need juice. For what? For checking Facebook, tweeting, and browsing your work emails? Do this experiment for me. When you see such a floor person in a classroom, sit down next to him and ask in a low voice, “Excuse me, do you know what is this presentation about?” In the best case scenario, it’ll take him some time to remember what he’s “learning” in this session.

You may argue, “I’m using my computer to take notes.” Really? What’s wrong with a simple yellow paper notepad? It’s light to carry and doesn’t need power. Do you really take such detailed notes that the power of word processors is required? I saw a person once who even used some mind mapping software for taking notes. Looks impressive, but I’m not sure if I wanted to check in the code to the same repository with such an over-organized person.

Better bring a small camera with you and take a quick shot of the presentation slides you like. And no, it doesn’t have to be Nikon D90 – point and shoot will do.

2. Leave your smartphone (a.k.a. sacred cow) in the hotel room too. “But what if someone will need to call me?” Cut them lose. You’re not available. You are attending a conference, don’t they know? The world won’t stop without you. “But I could use my smartphone for taking pictures instead of bringing the camera, right?” No, No, and No. While carrying a camera will force you to pay more attention to what’s going on around you, the smartphone will do the opposite.

3. Don’t let your spouse fly with you to SF, NYC, or wherever the conference takes place. “Honey, if I’ll go with you, we can save on the hotel and your airfare is paid by the employer too!” And I say “No, no, no!” You got to be partying with other geeks like you. Having your spouse nearby is a major destruction for networking with your peers. Having a spouse at a conference is even worse than carrying a smartphone on you. Don’t try to kill two birds with one stone. Take her to a romantic vacation after the conference. Let her arrive to this city on the day after the conference is over.

4. Don’t bring your tux. In IT conferences, to be considered a geek, you have to dress as casual as possible (the clothes must be clean though). Exposing your body covered with tattoos and piercing is the easiest way to be perceived as a guru especially, if this conference includes the creative people like Flash gamers and Web designers.

5. And most importantly, don’t bring your ego with you. Who cares if you’ve published a book for dummies, three articles, and the plate on your office reads “Senior VP”? Here you are just one of many people who devoted their lives to IT – enjoy the moment!

Yakov Fain