What to expect from your first tech conference?by@kishoresundar
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What to expect from your first tech conference?

by Kishore SundarAugust 26th, 2017
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<strong>Excerpts from my experience at the AWS Summit in NYC!</strong>

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Excerpts from my experience at the AWS Summit in NYC!

As a fresh Computer Science graduate working at a startup, attending my first ever tech summit was a pretty big deal. This article isn’t a step-by-step guide to those attending their first conference, but I hope my first experience can help you in preparing for yours!

I traveled to New York City for the AWS Summit on 14th August 2017, along with my mentor and BioBright’s Chief of Engineering Ryan M Harrison. Since BioBright’s infrastructure runs on Amazon Web Services, we thought this seminar would be a good way to quickly augment my AWS knowledge, and grasp new concepts and practices which may enable us to optimize our usage of AWS offerings, and build better solutions. You may want to pick your conferences based on the scope of your future work and personal/professional interests. You can find most upcoming tech conferences around you on Eventbrite!

Talks & deep dives at the AWS Summit.

One of the most important aspects of a conference: the sessions, deep dives, and hands on labs. There are always multiple sessions at the same time, and if you go in unprepared, you are probably gonna miss out on some great talks and workshops. It’s important to go over the schedule, pick the talks you want to attend, and read up on topics you’re interested in learning about. The AWS Summits App(most tech conferences have their own apps) helped me go over the summit schedule, add particular events to my calendar, and set neat reminders. If you’re attending as a team, it might be a good idea to attend different talks which occur simultaneously. I attended sessions on Taking Apps from Monolith to Microservices by Abby Fuller, EC2 Instances, Performance Optimization & Best Practices by Adam Boeglin, Object Storage: Amazon S3 and Amazon Glacier by Marc Trimuschat and Thomas Fuller, and a Deep dive on Amazon Aurora by Kevin Jernigan. You can read more about these talks here.

A lot of techies may opine that the most important aspect of these conferences is the opportunity to network. For a first-time conference attendee, this might seem intimidating. I have never been comfortable walking up to people and starting conversations, and there I was, a recently graduated Software Engineer walking among experienced engineers, solution architects and tech evangelists, and I had to try and speak with them?! I found that it wasn’t as terrifying as I visualized it, but it was still pretty nerve-wracking to begin with. I initiated conversations with fellow attendees at the very first session, and “small talk” was my savior. The ‘fresh graduate eager to learn’ card helped me a few times, and I ended up having meaningful conversations with most senior developers I approached.

I also happened to visit a few vendor stalls at the summit, where I often asked the representatives to direct me to their engineers/architects. I had great conversations with people at MongoDB, Redis Labs, Chef, and Datadog HQ. Some of them even took the time to demo their products and give a brief overview of how these initiatives might help us at BioBright. What’s easier than talking to experts who were there just to answer questions from people like you? At the end, you walk away having learnt something new, and also some cool swag! The AWS Experts booth and the Dev Lounge proved to be great platforms for junior devs like me to learn more about best practices, AWS offerings and their use cases, and certifications paths, directly from members of the Amazon Web Services team.

A long day full of sessions, deep dives, hands-on labs, and other events came to an end with the happy hour, where people unwind and talk freely about work, life, beer, and all things tech. This is where you really get to connect with people, and learn more about their work, ideas, and passions. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet experts who are more than willing to drop some knowledge bombs!

All in all, the experience was quite awesome. With the exception of a few, most senior techies are quick to empathize with junior developers, since most of them have been in your shoes. Use this to your advantage, but don’t be naive. Build meaningful conversations with the intent to learn, exchange ideas, and people will reciprocate. When it’s all said and done, write your first Medium post describing your first tech conference, then go plan and prepare for your next one! After all, it’s only gonna get better with each experience. I mean, it’s got to, right?!