So, given some of the comments from my previous post on conferences (and what they are/aren’t) I felt like I’d lost a bit of my “conference roots”. I’ve been to enough of them that my perception is, almost definitely, skewed in favor of the group of folks like me – the ones that seem to be making a career out of attending as many conferences as possible. We all know each other and we all have our own little bubble we float around in at most conferences. There’s comfort there, but there’s also one large problem – the bubble isn’t big enough.
Some of my advice from before pertained to those attending these conferences that might not be a part of this bubble. This includes the large number of attendees that are at a conference for the first time. Ever. They may or may not have even been to a local user group meeting before and this could be their first wide-spread exposure to the Wonderful World of PHP (and might be for a while after). So, fellow residents of the bubble – what can we do to help make these people feel welcome in our community and leave them with the feeling like they’re appreciated and that they can contribute back to PHP in their own way? Here’s a few suggestions:
- First off, an easy one – you were a newb once too, remember? No one was just born into the PHP community, it was a matter of discovery. Maybe you were working with Java or just learning HTML and how to design web sites. It’s possible you might have even glanced at PHP before but pushed it away as one of those “languages that’s just a fad” but have come back around. You explored the language, poking around in all of its nooks and crannys to figure out the best of the best practices for you and your code. How would one do this, you might ask? Well, it’s simple really – experienced users, much like you are now, took the time to sit with them and talk them through a problem they’re having. Or they did something as simple as stand at the front of a room and talk for an hour on something that interested you enough to want to devour any knowledge you could. In short, generations of folks from inside “the bubble” were the ones that helped you become the developer you are. Don’t forget that and don’t forget to follow their lead. We can’t have strong leadership in the language or community without guidance from those more experienced. Without it, our community will surely die.
- Next, an even easier one – sometimes, it’s not really about the code. Trust me on this one…when meeting people at conferences, it’s only maybe 30% about the actual code. Sitting in the conference rooms and learning about the technology is one thing, but walking around and shaking hands with people you’ve never met before fills out the rest. After the sessions are done, you’ll be surprised by the number of people that just want to sit around and shoot the breeze about what they’ve learned or another related bit of web technology. If you’re lucky enough to be a speaker and happen to overhear someone talking about something you know well, stop and listen. Offer advice where it fits and help them on the path to understanding some of the more difficult concepts. I remember being at my first conferences and seeing the speakers walking around and talking with each other and wondering if I’d be able to break in and ask one of them my own questions. Remember speakers, it’s not always about the other attendees coming up to you – keep your ears open and listen for places you can offer advice. There’s going to be a *lot* of people at ZendCon next week, so be sure to be ready to be what you’re there for – some of the most knowledgeable in your area. Be sure to share!
- And finally – the comfort zone is the danger zone (I bet you’re humming “Highway to the Danger Zone” now, aren’t you?) Jokes aside, this is just a quick one…don’t let yourself pass up an opportunity to share what you know with someone else because it’d be a step outside the usual. Remember, we’re all a part of the same community and if there’s no sharing going on, bad things happen.
Most of this is common sense and just about every speaker I know does this at one time or another, but I just wanted to remind those “bubble people” to get out there and mingle with the crowds and spread that knowledge around a bit. What you might see as one small comment to a random developer from a group could be the key to the problem they’ve been working on for months.
At my first couple conferences, I made a point of sitting down to meals with different people as often as possible. I met lots of people, had lots of interesting conversations, and generally had a good time. Unfortunately, I did what you note and got comfortable and started sitting with people I knew most of the time. While it was good, it wasn’t as useful or educational.
Starting with CodeWorks this year, I made a point of doing it again. Of all the lunches there, I only sat with people I knew once. The rest of the time, I sat and talked with strangers. I did the same at ZendCon last week… when I sat down at a table for breakfast or lunch, I never knew more than 1-2 others there. And even dinner with a “known” group, I tried to sit with people I’d just met.
Overall, I had a blast and was able to meet people and even make some introductions among new and old contacts. Hopefully, I was also able to welcome a few new faces to the community. 🙂
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