Conferences, user groups, etc… are about two things as far as I’m concerned; education and networking. Those points often coincide with one another and are not mutually exclusive.
Recently at conferences, user groups, meet ups, what have you, I have noticed a distrubing trend; developers sitting in the back of the rooms, hallways, and other common areas, hacking away on their laptops.
Lot’s of time, energy, and money is spent to create an environment at these events where people can come and learn both from the speakers of the event as well as from each during the social events that are scheduled. To sit in the hallway, eat the boxed lunch the conference gives you, and hack away in solitude you are missing the whole point of these events. Why even bother to attend? It just seems like a waste.
Event talks can be informative, but they can also be boring and poorly executed, but you’ll never know which it is if you’re too engrossed in your own laptop than if you’re paying attention. All talks will seem boring and uninteresting if you’re not paying attention.
When I sit in a talk and find it to be irrelevant to my interests or the present is doing a poor job of presenting the talk, I head out to the common areas and try and find a person to talk to. Why, because that person might have something interesting to say that I can learn from.
Interacting with other developers is possibly the biggest win you can get from one of these events. Grab a cup of coffee, a beer, lunch, whatever, with someone you DON’T know. Ask them what they do, how they do it, you’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn. These social interactions are one of the main reasons I go to conferences. I have learned about new libraries, new techniques, new design patterns, and more, all while enjoying a good meal or a few drinks.
If I just sat somewhere with my laptop it would be significantly harder for me to learn about these things, ask questions, and grow as a developer.
People, outside of the tech world, have a misconception that developers are introverts. People who shy away from social interaction and who are just too focused on their own worlds to care about what others might have to offer. Sadly, this misconception is based in reality, a reality that must change.
To event organizers I say this, find a way to get developers to put down their laptops. Change up the format, turn off the wifi, set off an EMP, or just downright ban laptops from the event areas.
To attendees I say TURN OFF YOUR LAPTOPS, PHONES, TABLETS, etc… It won’t kill you to be disconnected for a hours. In fact, it will only help you. It will help you to become connected to other developers. Build relationships with these people.
I’m not just preaching something here that doesn’t really work in practice. It does. I have gotten lucrative contracts, book deals, friendships, speaking engagements, and more simply by closing my laptop and opening my mind. I encourage you to do the same. You’ll thank me in the end.