Knowing What to Expect at Events on GitHub

Events can vary widely in terms of what to expect, but they all have a few com­monalities. The most obvious thing to expect is that other developers will be there. Not everyone has the benefit of living in a tech hub. If you live outside of a tech hub, being a developer can feel solitary. If you work at a company that is not pri­marily focused on software, it can feel lonely. A software event is an opportunity to meet likeminded individuals — people who really care about the craft of soft­ware and improving themselves. Events are a good chance to make connections.

1. Keynotes

Many conferences, especially the larger ones, will include a keynote talk. Some include more than one. A keynote talk sets the tone for a conference and is usually related to the theme of a conference. For a multitrack conference, no other talks are usually scheduled during the keynote.

For a major conference held by a large software company such as Microsoft or Apple, the keynote is where they’ll often make major announcements of new products and features.

2. Conference session tracks

The primary draw of conferences are the session tracks. A track is a set of talks, typically organized around a theme. Smaller conferences may have only a single track, while larger conferences may have a large number of tracks. A user group meeting or a meet-up may only have a single talk.

Depending on a conference, a session can range from 30 minutes to 75 minutes. Many of them end with some time for audience questions and answers (Q&A).

If you participate in a Q&A, it’s considered rude to simply use that time to make a statement. Make sure that your question actually ends with a question mark.

Sometimes presenters will ask to follow up with you after the talk to have a more in-depth conversation. Don’t assume that it’s because they don’t want to answer in a public forum. Typically, Q&A lasts only 5 to 15 minutes, and there isn’t always enough time to fully understand a question and formulate an effective answer. You can meet up with presenters directly after the talk (though you should let them at least get their laptop and things off the stage) or ask when they may be able to grab a cup of coffee during the conference if it’s a multiday conference. You can also ask whether there is an asynchronous way to follow up with them that they would prefer.

Conference presenters are typically attending the conference to learn something as well; they aren’t only there to present, so be respectful of their time as well.

3. Hallway tracks

At most conferences, the sessions are very valuable if it’s a topic you want to learn about, but just as valuable is what’s known as the hallway track. The hallway track isn’t one you typically find on the conference schedule. It’s a term that people coined to refer to the informal conversations you have in the hallway in between sessions, during lunch, or when you skip a session.

Sometimes you’ll come across a world expert in a topic having a casual conversa­tion with a few attendees, and you’ll be welcomed to join in. These hallway tracks can often be even more educational than attending a talk because you can engage in a conversation instead of just listening. They also may lead to lifelong friend­ships and interesting collaborations.

Meeting new people at a conference can be intimidating, especially if you’re an introvert. It may help to know that most people feel this way. If you draw up the courage to introduce yourself to someone you don’t know who is alone, she may feel relieved. If you’re an extrovert, look for opportunities to draw people who are alone into a conversation in a low-pressure manner.

4. After-hour conference events

Many conferences include after-hour events. Some of these events can be quite lavish depending on the size of the conference.

Often, these events include loud music and alcohol, so be aware if that’s not your thing.

Many conferences try to be more creative and inclusive with their attendee events. For example, one conference rented out a table tennis place with a large number of tables.

5. A respectful professional environment

At most events, you can expect a respectful, inclusive, and professional environ­ment. This environment is conducive to networking, socializing, and learning.

There have been cases where conferences failed to live up to that expectation. Because of that, many conferences now adopt and enforce a code of conduct. A code of conduct outlines behavioral expectations of the participants in a confer­ence. More importantly, it communicates to folks who are often the targets of harassment that the conference takes harassment seriously and is not welcome at the event.

Source: Guthals Sarah, Haack Phil (2019), GitHub for Dummies, Wiley.

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