Lessons from Google I/O and SPAN: getting more out of industry events

21 September 2017
21 Sep 2017
Pittsburgh, PA
4 mins

I attended two major industry events this year out of town — Google I/O in Mountain View in May, and SPAN, an event around design and technology, last week in Pittsburgh.

The first time, I was caught off guard on a lot of things. The second time around, I was a bit more prepared. Though I’m far from a veteran, relatively few people get to attend huge events like I/O or WWDC as students. So here’s my takeaways to make the time worth it when you attend events of that scale, or even more ordinary ones.


Most sessions are live-streamed. Go to the ones that aren’t.

Almost all talks and panels from both Google I/O and WWDC are live-streamed and available to view later. Even in most smaller events, there will be lots of talks that are available to watch later.

You can watch those later. No, you won’t get your selfie with that one guy you follow on Twitter, but that’s fine. That’s what Photoshop is for.

Go to the ones that aren’t livestreamed. Attend workshops. Go do codelabs or demos. These participatory sessions are what makes attending events on-location miles better than anything watched through a livestream.

“Networking” doesn’t mean forcing yourself to talk to other people.

So don’t try to force yourself into conversations or groups when it’s just going to be awkward and you don’t have much to say.

Ah, yeah. React Native… I’ve tried that. It was fun… I like the native share sheet…Don’t they have a new version out? Maybe not. I only used it for this one hackathon project, but. You know. It seemed nice.

No.

Nobody’s getting any value from what you’re saying if you just shove yourself into a conversation.

You don’t start conversations by emitting vaguely topical word clouds out into the void. Networking at events is a good chance to meet people, but it’s also a great chance to learn from what other people in the industry are doing, what tools they’re using, what trends they’re riding, and what they think of current events.

So when you talk to other people, actually care about their work and what they’re saying. Ask questions. Anyone going to these events is there because they’ve built some cool stuff.

Minimize the time you spend just walking around.

Depending on the size of the event, it’s easy to get stuck just walking around the show floor or event space, telling yourself you’re waiting for the next session you’re interested in.

But not being ecstatic about any current sessions is a pretty bad excuse to be wasting time just walking around. Be realistic about what you’re going to get done — it won’t be every session time slot every day of the event — but also, make sure you’re just just wasting time “taking a break”.

If going to a new city / country for the first time, leave a day before or after the event to look around.

Traveling is just pretty fun, right?

Often times, events will also have partnerships with local resources or places so that you get free or reduced admission to related points of interest around the event venue. For my Pittsburgh trip, I got a lot of value out of sticking around the city for an extra day and visiting some makerspaces and museums nearby from the free admission from the event.

Take notes with paper and pen like a classy person you are.

You’re telling yourself you won’t “accidentally” flip back to twitter in the middle of a talk while “taking notes” on your phone, but let’s be realistic here okay.

I usually walk away from each day of these events with 10–20 actionable items I want to review. Locking and unlocking your phone and clicking between apps that many times during a talk is unnecessary and probably distracting.

Don’t micromanage your schedule.

This goes without saying — enjoy it. Events are more than just work trips. There’s tons of free food and new toys to play with at many events, interesting people to talk to, free swag and stuff to keep you occupied during breaks. Don’t be excessive, but make use of them. Have a good time.


Even if some of these events might push you to save a few extra bucks, being on the floor at these opportunities have been worth the time and effort for me.

And it’s a free excuse to travel. Who doesn’t like that?


If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy my next post, 5 ways that gap years will ruin your life.

Have a comment or response? You can email me.