Opportunity Knocks at Tech Conferences

By Neil Mackinnon.

Recently, I was lucky enough to attend the LinuxCon/ContainerCon software conference in Toronto. It was a major event happening in my hometown and since IBM was a sponsor, I was asked to help out at our booth. It was a very busy few days, with hundreds of attendees dropping by to talk about open technology.

On the second afternoon, I noticed a large group of people gathered near one of the neighboring booths. As I looked on, the crowd grew in size and I could see plenty of people holding up their phones, trying to get a photo of whomever was at the center. The group started to move in unison along an aisle as the center of attention started to move towards the exit. As this mass of people paused near the IBM booth, I realized what the fuss was about: in the middle of the crowd was none other than Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux and all-around open technology visionary.

Now, for anyone who works in or with open technology, Linus is a big deal, right up there with Gates, Jobs, and Zuckerberg. Fortunately, my colleagues at our IBM booth weren’t nearly as star-struck as me and, at the first opportunity, one of them reached through the crowd and literally pulled Linus towards our booth while asking if we could get his picture. Gracious and accommodating, he smiled and agreed to pose with the IBM team. And as for me, I happily volunteered to take the picture … not thinking ahead to the fact that I wouldn’t be in the photo!

linusfriends
Linux creator Linus Torvalds with IBMers – minus the author

I mention this little encounter because it highlights one of the great opportunities that working at IBM can provide — the chance to attend a technical conference. These events give IBMers the opportunity to get out from behind their desks, to leave their workplaces and venture out to meet others in the technology industry. They’re a great way to discover what our partners and competitors are up to, and to get to know other like-minded individuals. Tech conferences are a hotbed of activity that often feature keynote speeches by true technology leaders and visionaries, the women and men who envision and then enable the technical innovations that will change the way we work and live. And it’s incredibly exciting to hear those bold new ideas in person.

But technical conferences are about much more than grand visions. Many of them feature learning tracks to help you grow your knowledge base and boost your skills. You can attend talks by fellow practitioners and find out what’s going on in the trenches, who’s doing innovative work, and how you can incorporate new technology, programming techniques, and work strategies into your everyday routines. These sessions give you the hands-on, up-close-and-personal opportunities that will keep you at the forefront of our dynamic industry.

There’s more. A lot of technology workers are most comfortable in front of their screens working on programming solutions. Technical conferences are a terrific low-pressure way to gain confidence and boost your networking skills. It’s hard not to make new friends and contacts when you’re all there to learn about a particular technology — you already have a lot in common with your fellow attendees! And if you’re comfortable in the spotlight, you can even propose your own presentation on your favorite technology; conferences are always looking for interesting presentations from the people who are actually doing the work.

linuxcon-keynote
IBM keynote address at LinuxCon 2016 in Toronto

Even if you’re not ready to present at a conference, you can simply soak up as much knowledge as you can and meet a group of people who share your passion. And if you’re not able to attend in person, you can take advantage of the fact that many conferences make presentations and keynotes available online. You can check out some of the events that my open source colleagues will be attending on the IBM OpenTech Events page .

Technical conferences can give you the chance to travel to an exciting new city or country. Or, they might be a chance to gather some “swag” — t-shirts, hats, gadgets, stickers, you name it. But what they’re really about is opportunity; the opportunity for personal and professional growth, to meet interesting new people, and to glimpse the future of technology. If you see me at a conference one day I hope you’ll come up and say hello. And who knows? You might even get to have your photo taken with a technology superstar.

Or at least take the picture.


Check out the projects on developerWorks Open today. We’re open by design, and we’re loving every minute of it.

Neil Mackinnon is Editor and content developer for IBM Developer Works Open

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