What I Learned When Attending My First Industry Conference 

In the fall of 2016, I decided that I wanted to attend my first industry conference.  While I was still an absolute novice in the software development field, I figured it would be an opportunity to network and learn from top performers. I took some time researching conferences and found one that seemed like a great fit. It was in Nashville the same week we already had plans to travel to the area and the list of speakers indicated that it included sessions that appeared to be on my level.

Excitedly, I signed the team up for the conference and counted down the days until it would start. I imagined coming away with pure excitement about software development. For my business partner, my husband, that’s what happened. He had been feeling a little drained and the conference made him once again excited about his skill set. For me, that was not the case. While the conference was great and I learned a lot from talented speakers, I walked away feeling different than I expected.

Read on to learn about my top takeaways from attending my first industry conference.

A career software developer is not for me

When I left my job to start my own software development business, I never planned on being a career developer. The goal was for me to learn just enough to help my husband with projects until we could hire someone to fill this role. I was always planning on being the leadership in the organization.

As I learned the basics of programming, there was a part of me that wondered how proficient I could become. I started to read about people who learned how to code because they had an idea and learned the skills to fulfill that idea. I started to think, “What’s stopping me from becoming an expert?”  

After attending the conference, I learned that there is one important thing stopping me. The drive. Simply put, I don’t want to be a programmer. As I saw people speak with such passion about programming, I accepted that I did not have that passion about software development. My drive is to be a leader. I want to run the business, lead my employees to be their best, and make great business connections. I know that I do not want to spend my time developing code but I look forward to hiring those passionate developers in the future.

I’m not that far behind

While I know I do not want to make a career in programming, I do need to continue to learn to help get our company off the ground. While my husband is our main software developer, I will be helping him with some of the front end development until we can hire our first employee.

To learn to program, I’m taking casual online classes. My husband, who is highly skilled, has a computer engineering degree. This made me wonder if one could really succeed in the field without a formal degree. At the conference, I learned that it was possible. Every speaker had a different path that they took to become a software developer. Yes, there were those that started programming when they were just kids and went to college to grow their skills. But, I learned that there were also those that were well into other careers when they decided that they wanted to start a career in software development. Some then went back to college to receive a more formal education while others started taking online classes or attended trade schools. There was even a keynote speaker that only started to learn to program a year ago and she was amazing!

While I have no intentions of becoming an expert, it is comforting to know that my learning path works. You don’t need a college education in computer sciences. This is also something I will remember when I start hiring developers.

Don’t let being a beginner hold you back

When I first looked that the list of speakers, I paid close attention to the level of the Target audience. If it wasn’t labeled as Beginner or All, I crossed it off the list of possible sessions to attend. As the conference started, I began to feel really out of place. I felt as if I was the only person there who was not a highly experienced programmer. Even worse, I began to feel as if I couldn’t even label myself as a beginner programmer. Imposter Syndrome was hitting me hard.

I then realized that no one was doing anything to me directly to make me feel that way. No one knew I was a beginner. No one told me I shouldn’t attend certain sessions. I was doing it all to myself. I then re-looked at the schedule and picked the sessions I wanted to attend versus the ones I thought I should attend. Let me tell you what happened – I felt like I belonged.

Unless there is a prerequisite for something, the only person that is telling you that you should not be there is you. Take the sessions that are of interest to you because even if it’s 90% over your head, you’ll regret missing the 10% you understand. That brings me to the next thing I learned.

There’s always a takeaway

Some of the sessions I attended were over my head. I did not understand a majority of the technical verbiage that was used. I just was not there with my education. Even some sessions that were labeled with an “All” level required more software development knowledge than I had. However, I walked away with at least one takeaway from every class.

Some takeaways were small. Others were large. I took away topics I wanted to take classes on, must-dos for our business, items for clarification, and in some cases pages of notes.

There is always something to learn. It might be small but it is there. Find at least one takeaway in every class, session, seminar you attend. You never know; that one thing might end up having the biggest impact on your life or business.

Never stop learning – even experts take classes

I once heard someone say “I don’t need to take a class, I do the skill myself all week.” I never thought this was a good philosophy and my time at the conference helped confirm my thoughts. I saw almost all of the speakers attending other sessions. They were attentive and asked questions. They understood that while they were seen as an expert in some areas, they were not experts in all areas. A different perspective on a known topic could help you get to the breakthrough you need.

Never stop learning. Find people in your field that can help you grow. Maybe it’s a mentor in your place of work, or someone you met at a networking event. I highly suggest you attend conferences if they are available in your field of work. While I might not attend another software development conference that is highly focused on the technical aspects, I look forward to attending other conferences that will help me grow in my career.

Have you attended a conference in your career industry? What did you take away from the conference that you were not expecting?

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