Why is it worth to attend tech conferences? 5 top benefits on InfoShare 2021 example.

There are many situations that will never cease to surprise me. One of them are the participants of the technology conference who came there for free gadgets. Really! I thought it’s just the poor student theme who joins such events to collect his equipment for free but it really went on! I wanted to start today’s article by this little funny reflection. It will be both a relation from InfoShare conference I’ve participated last week and a kind of encouragement to participate in similar events. I must confess to you in advance, my dear Reader, that I can be biased in judgment as it was my first conference I’ve ever attended in person after COVID-19 limitations! I hope, however, that you will forgive me for possible bias, and this post will allow you to find more advantages of participating in conferences than free pens… (joke!)

To be honest, the benefits of participation in tech-conferences are countless as we should consider them from various perspectives. Let’s take an investor as the example. Such person for sure would have different motivations and goals during events like InfoShare than a participant like me. I would like to share reflections on this topic from a data scientist’s perspective, being still on the very beginning of my career path. However, I aim to make this post beneficial both for more experienced specialists in the industry who are not so willing to attend such events but also students who are currently outside the labor market.

Before I start, let me tell you about the event I have participated in.

What’s InfoShare?

InfoShare is the biggest tech conference in Central and Eastern Europe. Every year, thousands of participants come to Gdańsk (which by chance is also my workplace location). Among all its participants, there are startups, investors, corporate representatives, programmers and marketers. It is a solid dose of knowledge and business – several hundred leading speakers from around the world, nearly 200 presentations and workshops, several thematic scenes each year. Last year, the event unfortunately has been cancelled due to covid-19 situation, thus the appetite for 2021 edition was really huge!

Share what’s worthy – that’s the motto of the conference. How crucial does it sound in today reality! In the world driven by data, we are overwhelmed with its amount every day. Big concerns are fighting for our attention every minute. Social media notifications, daily news – it’s hard to be resistant to FOMO effect. Taking part in InfoShare for the first time, I was really curious about its organizers putting those words into practice. Was that an empty promise? I was very eager to check it out.

What conclusions did I come to? To be honest I have remained overwhelmed. However, definitely not by rubbish information. I was overwhelmed by the amount of speakers performing on 5 stages in parallel and my attempts not to miss anything valuable! InfoShare has definitely fulfilled its promise, nevertheless it was just a pity that sometimes speakers you wanted to listen to presented at the same time. It’s definitely hard to be a person interested in both tech and entrepreneurship topics at the same time! All in all, I have prioritized dev world.

Getting back to the topic of today’s post, although conferences are quite expensive to attend, for some people attending their favourite one each year is important for many reasons. Not only can you take part in outstanding educational sessions but also get familiar with the latest technology showcased by biggest companies. If the conference is valuable, its attendants should come back from conferences energized, enthused, and recharged. But what kind of reasons have I found out based on the InfoShare example?

Reason 1: Networking possibility on a global scale

There is an overwhelming number of options for learning and networking at every conference. It’s a great way to find someone you can ask for advice or, possibly, find your next employer or employee. The most awesome thing about conferences like InfoShare is that it’s on a global scale. There are not that many opportunities to meet enthusiasts from all over the world, interested exactly in the same topics like you. Although I work in international company, last week, thanks to InfoShare, I had opportunity to talk with Kubernetes expert from Israel. How awesome is that?

Apart from finding similar freaks to yourself, you can also meet your online mentors and inspirations! What do I mean by online mentor? It doesn’t need to be a person you have direct contact with. It can be a podcaster, book author, or entrepreneur, whose actions you are following online. No matter what you are passionate about, for sure you have someone who’s your inspiration in this topic. Events like InfoShare are the great opportunity when you can meet such people and reach out with questions. If the person is very popular, probably you could never get an answer to your email, but guess what… now you have this possibility in person!

Have you watched “The Great Hack”, the Netflix documentary which explores the details of the Cambridge Analytica scandal? If yes, you probably know Brittany Kaiser who explains there how the company used data of Facebook users to manipulate the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election.  She has initiated the #OwnYourData campaign, asking huge corporations to change their terms and conditions. She was also one of the speakers of InfoShare 2021. 🙂

Reason 2: Opportunity to practice your soft skills

Not all of us can meet strangers and be friends with them. Some of us are awkward when it comes to meeting new people. We don’t know what to say, what to talk about, and what we have in common. Conferences like InfoShare are great opportunity to get out your comfort zone. In the tech industry, most of us are introverts. This is a good opportunity to break through. If you spend money on a ticket, it would be worth ending the conference with at least one interesting contact?

If you are already good at networking, how about becoming a speaker? Have you heard that public speaking is one of the most frightening things for people, even comparing to death? Yes, that’s true! There are people who would rather be dead than presenting on the stage! How about overcoming this fear? Do you know that everything scares you the most when you do this first time? Challenge yourself! Allow yourself to become an expert in your field. Of course, not everyone can become a speaker on such big conference, but if you have such possibility… why not? Imagine how many doors may such achievement open for you.

Reason 3: Be the first to know about upcoming trends

When you’re interested in any field that’s technology-based, things change so fast. It’s really hard to stay in the loop. Even though the future is never certain, knowing what is to come can help keep you above everyone else. The truth is: there’s always something new to learn in this field, and the best conferences are definitely at the foreground of these cutting-edge developments and news.

Conferences like InfoShare are the perfect place to access the most up to date industry information, oftentimes from the sources themselves. You’ll learn, just because you where there. What’s also great, it’s getting familiar with the topics you normally have no chance to dive into. For example, I have taken in a wonderful speech on a DevStage about applying machine learning in Formula 1. Honestly? I had no idea how complicated can this sport be! Not only the car is complex but also all the optimization parameters based on big data sets. I really wonder what’s the role of the actual driver while so many people needs to be involved in the process to succeed and make the activity safe!

Reason 4: Opportunity to do a research on your labor market

Even when you’re not interesting in changing your job. Remember, we should not lock ourselves in our backyard. It’s always good to know what’s squeaking in the grass in other companies. How their teams are structured? What technologies do they use? How satisfied are their employees? When browsing job offers on Linkedin or other career websites, it’s hard to find out what the atmosphere and projects are in a given place. By attending a conference, you have the opportunity to talk to live business cards of a given company!

One of our tasks during the conference was to represent our company on a stand. Looking at the picture below, you need to admit that Arla hires positive people! Personally, I took part in magnitude employee branding initiatives of my employer and I always feel unique to represent it. So it was this time. We had a great opportunity to speak with our colleagues from other companies located in Tricity but not only. I hope they appreciated these conversations as much as we did.

Reason 5: Chance to change your perspective

Have you ever changed your opinion on a topic? You have acted in a certain way for years and you defended it like a lion – but then it turned out you were wrong? You should never be ashamed of it. It means that you are a thinking being and you question opinions, even yours. The world is a constant change. For me it’s another benefit of tech conferences. We should be open for changes. Even if we’ve worked out some way for months or years, maybe it’s worth verifying?

One more time. Network. Discuss problems. Speak your mind out loud. Share your opinions. Respect others. At conferences, there are no stupid questions. It’s good to have some prepared. The environment is not as formal, everyone wants to talk, and as long as you say hello to someone in a friendly manner, you should get some results.

Summary

Are events like InfoShare worth it? Yes, they are. They can help you network with other people, let you meet people who can answer your questions, and they’re just great places to meet people who are like minded. For those who have concerns, reconsider and give an event a shot. For me the best thing is how the event is concentrated around one passion. In InfoShare case, of course, it was more distributed, but taking data science conferences (like EARL mentioned in those two posts – EARL 2020 & EARL 2021) – it’s just an accumulation of freaks similar to you!

I really regret that both editions of EARL I have participated were hosted online. Comparing with in person attendance I can really spot the difference. Remote participation keeps you in your comfort zone. You don’t feel the need to get prepared, interact with the community – even minor thing as dressing up properly makes a difference! Summing up, for the last time today, I would like to encourage you to participate in conferences. Especially if your employer can cover the costs for you. I really hope to attend InfoShare and other ML&AI conferences in the following years. Who knows? Maybe I will also overcome fear of public speaking one day? Please keep your fingers crossed for myself so that I had much to pass on to the world in future. 🙂

Finally, I left the last reason to take part in InfoShare – live concerts! This year, it was polish artist Fisz Emade Tworzywo who have made one of the evenings such a great fun. If the combination of valuable knowledge, great fun, the opportunity to meet similar people with whom you will not only drink coffee, but also beer during some live music does not sound convincing enough … I totally give up!

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