Leadership

Conference savvy for the IT pro

Conferences may be a budget line-item you're willing to cut, but they can be a professional boon if you make the most of your opportunities. Ramon Padilla discusses the importance of networking at conferences and how to get the most out of your experience.

I just came back from a technology conference and while the conference itself was good, the real value of going to conferences is the networking and brainstorming that can occur spontaneously when speaking with colleagues from across the state, region, or country.

While there are some in management who view attendance at conferences as glorified vacations—and to some, they might be—I believe conferences are what you make of them; the more you put into them, the more you take away.

Recognize the opportunities

Networking: Meeting people outside your organization is important. Not only can it foster beneficial partnerships and other relationships, it also gives you a chance to meet people that face the same challenges as you do, but you get a chance to see solutions from an entirely different perspective.

Knowledge transfer: Whether as a result of a seminar, panel discussion, white paper, or simple networking conversations, great ideas are born and often get passed among participants at a conference.

Getting away from the office: Sometimes, stepping away from the office can recharge your batteries, renew your commitment to the work back at home, and allow you the time to ponder questions, in relative peace and quiet, so that you can get to the core of the issues.

Recognition: If you have a special achievement or idea you wish to share, a conference is one place to do it and invite important feedback.

Make the most of it

Earlier, I said that you get out of a conference what you put into it. The obvious place to start is the conference agenda. Make a point to review the agenda in detail and plan your time so that you can attend the seminars, breakout sessions, and panel discussions that interest you the most; also, make it a point to attend one session on a topic that you know absolutely nothing about. This will often open your eyes to a whole new way of thinking or at least, give you a better appreciation of an unfamiliar topic.

You can't make the most out of a conference by being a wallflower. This can be hard for IT professionals who often are more introverted than extroverted (myself included), but you have got to get out there and socialize. For one, it will allow you to practice your social skill (and it is a skill) in a safe environment; you can't network without socializing.

Volunteer to present a paper or to moderate or participate in a panel discussion; at the bare minimum, you should ask questions in the sessions. You have to be curious and be a knowledge seeker—knowledge doesn't frequently get dropped in your lap.

Bring something back

A conference can be a virtual gold mine of knowledge and ideas, and it is especially gratifying to come back with some nice nuggets. For example, here are some things I learned about at my last conference:

  1. I learned about the Unified Compliance Project that is a product of the IT Compliance Institute. I had a chance to play with the premium Excel matrix on the laptop of a new acquaintance, whom I met at a panel discussion. Let me tell you, this is a MUST HAVE for any IT shop dealing with compliance issues. It is a really sweet tool that helps you manage your regulatory environment along with your specific IT objectives.
  2. I had a really interesting and lively discussion with a group of individuals at the conference regarding the storage of social security numbers. It sparked an idea that is still in its infancy but it could be the seed of a white paper or another article. I was pumped about this when I left the conference.

What conferences should you go to?


In summary, contrary to what many people think, conferences are invaluable for gaining new information, fostering relationships, forging new partnerships, and developing many of the social skills that are important to upper management. While travel budgets are often the first to get slashed, there is a cost associated with that cut and it is one that is not obvious to many. So when you are putting your budget together for next year, make sure you can set aside a few dollars to attend at least one major conference. (You will be glad you did.)

There are national conferences for many of the major products that make up the equipment in your department, as well as associated user groups. Additionally, there are many professional organizations out there as well. Here is a list to begin with:

Association of Information Technology Professionals
Providing opportunities for IT professionals to become more marketable through education and networking.
E-mail: aitp_hq@aitp.org

Association for Women in Computing
A not-for-profit, professional organization promoting the advancement of women in the computing professions.
E-mail: awc@awc-hq.org

Business Software Alliance (BSA)
The voice of the world's leading software developers before governments and with consumers in the international marketplace.
Email: info@bsa.org

The Business Technology Association (BTA)
An international organization helping business equipment and systems dealers, value-added resellers, systems integrators, manufacturers and distributors in the industry profit through a wide variety of services.
E-mail: admindiraa@bta.org

The Computer Law Association (CLA)
A non-profit international association serving information technology professionals worldwide.
Email: clanet@aol.com

The Computing Research Association (CRA)
An association of computer science and computer engineering laboratories and centers in industry, government, and academia, strengthening research and education in the computing fields.
Email: info@cra.org

Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA)
Provides a unified voice in the areas of public policy, workforce development and electronic commerce standards for the computer hardware and software manufacturing, sales, training and service industries.
E-mail: info@comptia.org

DigitalEve
A global, non-profit organization for women in new media and digital technology. Its rapidly growing worldwide network of local chapters creates a united voice that recognizes and emphasizes the influence of women in the field of new media technology at all levels of involvement.
Email: info@digitaleve.org

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
A non-profit, non-partisan organization working in the public interest to protect privacy and freedom of expression in the arena of computers and the Internet.
Email: info@eff.org

Independent Computer Consultants Association
A national non-profit trade organization providing professional development and business support programs.
E-mail: info@icca.org

Information Management Forum (IMF)
An international membership organization of senior information technology and business executives providing interaction and collaboration with the brightest minds in IT.
E-mail: imf@infomgmtforum.com

Information Technology Association of America (ITAA)
A trade association representing a world-leading U.S. IT corporations. ITAA provides information about the IT industry, its issues, association programs, publications, meetings, seminars and more.
E-mail: hwarfield@itaa.org
Information Technology Industry Council
Representing leading U.S. providers of information technology products and services.
E-mail: webmaster@itic.org

IEEE Computer Society
The world's leading organization of computer professionals. Founded in 1946, it is the largest of the 35 societies organized under the umbrella of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Email: membership@computer.org

Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA)
Exclusively dedicated to serving the business and public affairs interests of companies that publish video and computer games for video game consoles, personal computers, and the Internet.
Email: idsa@idsa.com

International Data Warehouse Association
An independent, non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the knowledge, theory, and applications of data warehousing open to all qualified professionals.

International Webmasters Association (IWA)
A nonprofit professional association providing educational and certification standards for Web professionals.

The Internet Society (ISOC)
A professional membership society representing more than 6,000 members in over 100 countries. ISOC provides leadership to groups responsible for Internet infrastructure standards, including the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB).
Email: isoc@isoc.org

Network and Systems Professionals Association (NaSPA)
A non-profit organization promoting the advancement of all network and systems professionals.
Email: mbrship@naspa.net

OpenView Forum International
A non-profit corporation formed by the largest licensees of Hewlett-Packard OpenView to represent the interests of HP OpenView users and developers worldwide.

Society of Computer Professionals
Membership benefits include recognition of members as qualified professionals, peer interaction for exchange of ideas, and reduced rates on services.
E-mail: webmaster@comprof.com

Software Development Forum
A member-governed, non-profit organization providing software industry professionals with timely, accurate information exchange on issues, opportunities, people and products. The organization sponsors a number of Special Interest Group activities, speakers and events.
E-mail: info@sdforum.org

4 comments
PonderousMan
PonderousMan

It was very intruiging to hear you describe yourself as an introvert - reading your posts here, I would never have thought of you that way. Interesting how we can see others so differently than they see themselves... Having just come from a conference myself, I want to caution a bit on the flip side as well. At the end of the conference, in one of the last discussions I had, I was going on in my usual passionate, hgh-sprited way, when someone asked "Do you take uppers or something? you have so much energy!" I was quite taken aback by this, but realized I really do get energy from good discussions. I also realized that my job has changed and I don't have as much interaction with customers as I used to, and I really miss it. But at the same time, that comment helped me notice that I was also going on and on, not even pausing enough for others to jump in. So not only was I being extroverted, which is fine; I was dominating nearly every conversation I was in. This is not a good thing, IMHO, certainly not in It didn't help that I spent the entire conference doing presentations - 5 back-to-back in 2 days - so I was sort of in "authority mode" - but fact is, I know I need to "throttle down" and focus on making sure I stop and listen to others, and really take the time to hear them. After all, even us *apparently* extroverted IT folk don't like those "really social" folks - marketing types, etc. - who seem to know everything, but don't really say anything... and I realized I had allowed myself to become one of them. If nothing else, I expect some of my opportunities at this conference were lost because I kept jabbering on, and didn't take the time to hear the other side, or even just let others express agreement with me. So, it cuts both ways - but with a bit of effort, we can all seek the happy(-ier) middle.

m_mehta52
m_mehta52

Conferences provide great opportunies to interact with fellow professionals and develope professional skills and business contacts. Networking becomes easier for expansion of your business. If you are knowledge seeker, you learn a lot with your active participation.

GSG
GSG

I'm an extreme introvert, who is terrified of flying, but I took a chance when invited to speak, and got my hotel, plane, and conference fees paid for. It turned out to be a good experience.

gautam.sarathy
gautam.sarathy

I would say that for an IT Pro networking is a key which helps you get ideas, solution, info & also leads abt jobs or actually landup in a better job. This list provided at the end is very exhaustative. Good Job in compiling the info. I personally ensure that I am there for oracle conferences and also GITEX (held in Middle East, Dubai).

Editor's Picks