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Networking tips for attending tech conferences

Are you planning your 2019 conference schedule? We compiled lists of IT technology events suitable for everyone from the CIO to the new team lead—as well as guidelines for how to get the most out of each event.

The very thing that makes conferences most useful—face-to-face interactions with dozens of people—is what can make them the most intimidating. Here are a few tips to optimize the experience.

Before the conference

Use the conference as a timely icebreaker to make contacts within your specialty. Pick a few people you want to meet and then do your homework. Send individualized emails to introduce yourself. Ask if the person is planning to attend the conference, and if so, say you’d like to meet to discuss a specific topic of mutual interest.

At worst, you might be ignored or get a snarky reply (“Kook, check Reddit”). At best, the person may agree to meet or start an email correspondence.

During the conference

The public lobby of a conference’s headquarters hotel offers many networking opportunities, even if you’re not registered. Dress professionally (which could mean a TensorFlow T-shirt), find a chair in a highly trafficked area, and sit down with your laptop. If you’ve got the confidence, introduce yourself to nearby people. Ask what they do and what brought them to conference.

If you’re shy, use a conversation starter: Put stickers on your laptop that announce your professional affiliations and interests, or bring a printout of an academic paper with a racy title like, “Learning in the machine: Random backpropagation and the deep learning channel.” It may take longer than introducing yourself first, but it could help spark technical conversations.

If you’re afraid that someone will mistake your intentions, keep the conversation professional at all times. Immediately ask what the other person does (as opposed to personal chitchat like “Where are you from?”) and state what you do. It’s hard to misconstrue “I’m the head of data analytics at a start-up using machine learning to optimize insurance transactions” as a pickup line. Ask for a menu and order a drink and shareable food—it gives you another icebreaker if someone sits down near you. (“Hi, would you like some fries? And did you happen to catch the talk on Bayesian approaches to object recognition?”)

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That said, remember that everyone is looking to gain competitive advantage. If you don’t want someone to know about your confidential project, do not ever discuss it in public; that woman standing quietly in the elevator while you talk to your partner could be the CEO of a start-up with a similar idea. If you’re working in a public place, make sure no one can see your screen; that guy standing behind you in the coffee line might be a reporter.

After the conference

I once watched an industry star give out his card to dozens of people. Finally, I had to ask: “What happens when they all email you?” He just shrugged and said, “They never do.” Be the one person who does!

The list of lists

We compiled several lists of 2019 IT conferences. Surely, one of these is right for you.

  • The best leadership conferences in 2019: Are you ready to devote a few days to up-leveling your interpersonal and management skills? These upcoming conferences have plenty to offer IT staff who want to get better at driving innovation, team building, and cultural improvement and become better bosses.
  • Top Linux and open source conferences in 2019: No matter how small your budget, there's a Linux or open source conference you can afford—and should attend.
  • The 20 best cybersecurity conferences in 2019: Planning your travel and training budget to ensure you and your staff are up to date on IT security topics? Here are the best options and what to expect from each event.
  • Top 10 IoT and edge computing conferences to attend in 2019: Need to come up to speed on the Internet of Things and edge computing but not sure where to put your conference dollars? Here’s a comprehensive guide to 10 interesting IoT events.
  • The AI and ML conferences you should attend in 2019: If you want to grow your career, consider attending one of these great artificial intelligence and machine learning conferences for IT pros. Whether you’re a manager, developer, or researcher, doing so will help you meet expert colleagues and improve your skills.
  • The 13 best developer and usability conferences in 2019: Often, the best way to get up to speed on new programming technology and design techniques is to attend a conference. These recommended UX and software developer events are a good place to start.
  • Top 13 conferences for CIOs in 2019: A busy CIO has to juggle so many priorities that it's hard to keep up with what's happening in the industry. Yet it's important to determine which developments are actually useful to the organization and which are more hype than reality. These conferences can help IT executives monitor the latest trends and learn what really matters.
  • 16 DevOps and sysadmin conferences worth your attention in 2019: DevOps and sysadmins have a broad range of conferences to choose from in 2019. Here’s a list of some of the best.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.