From guest contributor brian d foy:
Conferences are virtually non-stop activity, networking, hacking, and socializing. YAPC, which is only three days, will have over 400 people moving around between talks, between buildings, and to other places in Madison. There’s a lot more going on besides the conference schedule: you don’t need to show up to hear the talks (they’ll be uploaded), but you do need to be there to hang out with people, carry on unstructured conversations in real life, and drink with other attendees.
The problem, though, is that many things are already in motion by the time that you step up to the registration table to get your badge. YAPCs have been going on for over a decade and many of the people already know each other in meatspace. They already know who they’ll go out with in the evening, they already know who they want to pair program with, and .
You need to start planning your YAPC strategy early and start lining up the things you want to accomplish.
Your employer might be paying for your way to YAPC, including the workshop fees, the conference ticket, and accommodations. Find out what your boss wants you to come back with. Maybe it’s nothing in particular, which means you’re mostly done. However, by letting your boss know that you care about bringing something back to the company, you might (should) get a boost in your performance review. If there’s something that your boss wants, now you know what that is. That’s better than guessing.
There’s an impressive job fair this year. If you’re looking for a job, start researching the companies. The most important information might be geography: where are their jobs? Talk to the recruiters before you get there, maybe setting up an interview. Find out who you know who already works there and will be at the conference. Your programmer friends might have changed jobs and now be at one of those companies. It’s often easier to get in through a referral instead of cold-calling a recruiter.
If there’s someone that you want to talk to at the conference, let them know before you show up. Get in their mental queue before everyone else does. When I’ve done this, I’ve offered beer, and sometimes dinner. While most groups don’t mind more people joining them, if you need to have someone’s attention, you might want to set up something private ahead of time.
You might have a project to promote. The excitement of a YAPC, where 100 other people have projects they are trying to promote, is going to suck the excitement out of yours. That is, unless you start first by blogging, tweeting, or redditing that you’re going to YAPC and what you’re doing there and what help you need. Suck up the attendee capacity before someone else does.
Show up with a long list of things you want to get out of YAPC. You probably won’t get everything done, but shoot for the moon and hit the haystack. Don’t worry about the things that you can’t do. Meet some people that you can talk to after the conference. You can get some of them done later. You’ll probably find that some of the things that you thought we’re important really weren’t, so you don’t care about those. You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes, you might find you get want you need.