I have been doing app development since 2009. Initially as a hobby, then as part time work, and now as my full time job. It wasn’t until last year, however, that I found out there was an entire developer community out there supporting one another. That’s when I discovered conferences.
This pass week, I attended mdevcon and reconfirmed a personality trait I have. As is stereotypical for engineers and coders, I am introverted.
Let me actually clarify. Extroversion and introversion are not binary categories, but rather a continuous scale. I categorize myself as slightly introverted.
I consider myself fairly good at carrying on a conversation, but I am terrible at starting one with people I do not know well. Worse yet, if there is a lull in the conversation, I am rarely the one that can restart it. But like a flywheel, once I start, I can usually keep going.
Back to mdevcon. This was the second conference I had ever attended. I had such a good time at my first conference, Release Notes, I decided to try to attend 3–4 conferences this year.
There was something different about mdevcon, though. I was attending alone. I went to Release Notes with my business partner. We supported each other and encouraged one another to meet new people. Being alone, however, was a scary proposition.
I was determined to put my introverted tendencies in check and meet new people. After all, conferences are an easy way to meet new people. Even if it is hard.
I’ve put a lot of effort into forcing myself to talk to new people. Here is what I’ve learned so far.
Don’t hide in the bathroom, at the bar, or behind a plate of food
First, it’s definitely ok to use the bathroom. It’s also fine to get a drink or food. However, if you notice yourself using it as an excuse to avoid talking to others, stop. That’s counterproductive. It sounds silly, but I have done this a lot. I would go into the bathroom just to wash my hands. It killed time and got me closer to the end of the event. It did not help me meet people, though.
If you see someone standing on their own, approach them
More than likely, people standing by themselves are having the exact same trouble talking to people. When you go up to them, they are usually grateful that someone else has taken the initial step. It is also much easier and less scary to approach a single person than a group of people already talking.
I usually start with “Hi, I’m Yono”, while holding my hand out to shake theirs. Due to the unusual name, 99% of the time, I will then have to hold up my badge so they can see the spelling. The important thing is making that first contact.
Do NOT talk about the weather
Weather is typical, superficial conversation matter. And no one is interested in it. Except meteorologists and my uncle. People use it as a crutch. It is a terrible crutch. It will not support you. The problem is it rarely leads to a more meaningful conversion or connection.
Postpone asking “What do you do?”
This is a question you should definitely ask at some point during the conversation. After all, at a conference we’re all developers doing different things. It is super interesting to learn what projects others are working on. We can learn a lot from one another. However, I try to hold off asking this question as long as possible. I feel it leads to a more interesting and, potentially, personal conversation.
The easiest way to start a conversation or to keep one going is to ask questions. While you’re postponing asking the “what do you do?” question, ask any other question that could lead to interesting conversations. Usually it starts superficially (No. Not the weather).
At some point you’ll find a question, whose answer can be followed up with more in depth questions. The deeper the questions you can ask, the better the connection you can make with the other person.
Here are some example questions:
- Have you been enjoying the conference?
- Which was your favorite session so far?
- Oh really? What did you learn from it?
- I haven’t personally used [that technology] before, but I’ve been meaning to play around with it. Have you done a lot with it?
- Do you use it in your job or just for fun on the side?
- Have you seen the speaker before at other conferences?
- Which other conferences have you attended?
- Have you tried speaking at a conference?
- How did you get into development?
- Do you prefer vi or emacs?
Make sure, though, you are actually going to be interested in the answers to the questions you ask. People can spot feigned interest and it will be harder to connect. Do yourself and the other person a favor. Ask interesting questions.
Help each other
If you do meet another introvert early on, your tendencies will be to find each other throughout the conference. This feels safe, while at the same time being social. This is not a bad thing. You can encourage one another to meet more people. It’s easier to go up to groups if you are not alone. Approach the group by asking, “May we join you?”. This can be followed up by introductions.
Don’t bury your head in your devices
If your goal is to meet new people, avoid opening your laptop. Avoid checking you phone while talking to others. Do not constantly check your watch. All of these are signs that you are more interested in what is on the screen than the person in front of you. Even if that’s not your intention.
Overall, mdevcon was a success for me. I met several new and interesting people. Naturally, there were also several times when I gave in to my introverted tendencies. I hope that with practice at more conferences, I’ll get better.
Do you have other tips I missed? Let me know on Twitter. I’m @yonomitt. I can always use more advice.
Have a nice day,
I don’t actually like using this, because it is almost as bad as asking about the weather. Who’s going to say “no”? But it leads to the next question. ↩
This could lead to the “what do you do?” question. ↩
Just kidding! For the love of all things holy, don’t ask this unless it’s tongue-in-cheek. Wars were started for smaller reasons. Anyway, the correct answer is vi. ↩