Go Fast. Go Far. Why Every Young Developer Should Attend a Conference

Iron sharpens iron.

Estimated reading time: 5 minute(s)

Join EQ for Happy Hour at Covo (Wednesday, August 15, 2018) from 5:30pm, where we will be moderating a discussion on Innovative Leadership: Register to attend here

I believe that every young developer should attend a development conference at least once. By ‘young developer’ I mean those at the beginning of their career; not how old you are.

Why do I say this?

To Go Fast, Go Alone.

A conference exposes attendees to many different people, ideas, and opportunities. You would most likely encounter these things over the course of your career, but a conference jumpstarts that process by collating all these great resources into one place and time.

Accelerated Development: Gain the Critical Distance to Discover Your Own Personal Ambitions

Why take 5 or 10 years to realize that you don’t have any high-level competition or mentors around you? It only takes a minute of seeing a ‘go-getter’ at a conference to understand that people at your day job aren’t this fired up.

Let’s face it, some people just aren’t focused on developing their skills or their career: being able to say that they at least have skills or have a career is good enough for most. This is no bad thing, it’s just a choice. So, I don’t want to put down people that focus on work/life balance, or just don’t see value in focusing on skills and career.

However, I do want to say that if you want to lift 200 lbs, you can’t lift weights with those who only want to lift 100.

The soil is just as important as the seed if you want your life to bear fruit. You would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t attend one within your first 4 years in the field.

Separation from your normal work environment — and your happily average coworkers — combined with the exposure a conference provides to a highly skilled network, and an environment of like minded people, really has the potential to elevate your career.

Level Up: Iron Sharpens Iron

Conferences attract specialists in specific subject areas. Even at a small conference you can expect at least one rock-star keynote speaker or organizer. This means there will be least one person with a high level of skill or influence at any conference.

I’m not saying, you’ll bump into the next Zuckerberg or Spiegel but you will find someone that knows a thing or two about the subject matter of the event.

At this point, it is important for me to specify the level of conference I’m advocating for. Big… Huge! GIGANTIC!! Literally the largest one available that you feel comfortable in traveling to and can afford (or convince your bosses to pay for as part of your career development).

The more attendees there are, the better the chances are that you’ll meet some big fish (highly skilled/experienced developers). Your mission is to find these people and learn from them.

They say that, “iron sharpens iron.” Take time between presentations to network. Find someone that has some experience or knowledge you wish you had, KEEP TALKING and KEEP LISTENING.

Ask them how they amassed such experience and understanding; what tools they use; what they think the future will bring. They might refer you to a good book, a helpful website, or tell you about their personal journey and how they gained critical experience. Use this information to take your skills to the next level.

To Go Far, Go Together!

Skills and advice aren’t the only things you can gain from a conference.

Gain Inspiration: Your Possibility Really Is Limitless

Although you will be limited by how much time you have and the number of people you will interact with, your ability to be inspired is limitless..

Conferences bring out lots of enthusiasts. This means that you can easily find someone who is fired up about code at the event. One of the main benefits of going to conferences is the inspiration you can soak up from these developers.

Just seeing someone extremely fired up can rub off on you, and their energy and enthusiasm can make a huge impact. It can cause a shift in perspective on what you do from, “this is okay…” to, “this is awesome!”

So, talk to as many people as you can. The more people you talk to, the more inspired you can become!

And remember that the more people you talk to, the greater the chance you can meet lead developers, architects or startup founders. Namely, people who are experts in their craft, and can teach you a lot.

Go Network: You’ll Stumble Upon Great Mentors

Meet as many of these people as you can and leave them with the best impression that you can. One day, you might be able to get a job or contract work from one of these people you met.

I don’t want to turn this into a spiel about how important the role of networking is, in the advancement of your career, but I will say this: There is validity to the phrase, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

Whether you are trying to move up in a company, or looking to find a better fit, knowing the right people can be more than half (or even 100%) of the battle, no matter what your skill set is. Especially if you find a employer who wants to be a mentor.

Calibrate Skills: You’re Are Only As Good As Your Teacher

I held one or two jobs for most of college, so I felt I was a hard worker… I got an internship over a year before graduation, so I felt I had the pinnacle of drive and ambition.

I put in huge amounts of overtime hours there. Even so, by the end of college, I was King of the Mediocre. I had been comparing my skills to those around me, without guaranteeing that those around me were strong enough competition.

You are not the best. Realizing that fact is the first step toward self-improvement. In 2017, I went to Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC 2017) and realized that my inflated ego was as a result of my environment and not my skill.

Enjoy Acceptance: Find People Who Get You, Because They Will Take You Far

When I was younger, I was picked on a lot. I was black, smart, and overweight.

This combination of qualities did not win me any “cool points” in the eyes of my peers. In high school, I decided I wanted to be popular and have friends. So, I changed my appearance and started trying to ‘hang out’ more – to try and gain some level of acceptance.

The fact that I was studying Computer Science, when I got into college, didn’t help either. Developers were the definition of uncool, so being in a field that holds that image too continually made it hard for me to connect with the African-American community.

But at the WWDC17 conference — for the first time in my life — it was impossible to be written off as the uncool nerd.

We all came here to talk about software so there was no one to ridicule us or make us feel too smart in any way. It was interesting to see other blacks at the conference. Normally, I would feel discomforted or put down, but instead I was praised! I felt as if every black person I met was proud of me and what I was doing on some level. I felt like I was finally accepted. It felt amazing! It felt like home!

I didn’t need to change. What I needed was a new environment. It was at a conference, in a sea of developers from all over the world, where I found it, and I didn’t want to leave.

Lamar Woods will be joining a panel discussion hosted by Claim Academy and moderated by EQ to explore the topic of Innovative Leadership. The event will be hosted at Covo, this Wednesday, August 15, 2018 from 5:30pm: Register to attend here

A version of this article originally appeared on Linkedin and is reprinted with changes by permission of the author.

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Lamar Woods is founder of Woods&Tech LLC, a software company that develops proprietary applications, trains software developers and consults for companies looking to create or update applications of their own. He’s developed iOS applications, websites, and apis on teams at Monsanto, Allscripts, a couple startups/organizations around St. Louis and most recently at WWT Asynchrony Labs. Lamar also helped create and implement strategies of teaching software development both during college for UMSL staff and after for LaunchCode.Lamar is also a social media content creator with a video series on LinkedIn targeted toward helping people start and excel in a coding career. He can be found on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: @lamarvwoods