Author: J.J.

[Blog] Going to A Technical Conference

In May, I had the privilege to not go to one, but two technical conferences: Unity’s Unite and Microsoft’s de:code in Tokyo. In the short time I have been living in Japan I have gone from lowly coder to technical representative of my company… I know, no pressure.

Along the four days I attended these conferences I picked up small habits from other conferences goers and learned things I wish I knew before attending. Here are a few items to know ahead of time to maximize the opportunity of going to a technical conference anywhere in the world, especially Japan.

Brush up on your technical terminology, Japanese and English

When going to a technical conference it’s best to go in with rudimentary knowledge of the topics being discussed. I know this sounds obvious, but there were people there who decided that the conference would be their introduction to the subject. Having knowledge of the conference’s specific area will allow you to focus on the points the presenter is making and not getting stumped on a technology you do not know.

Case-and-point, Microsoft’s de:code, there were two hot topics: HoloLens and Cloud Computing. Weeks before the conference I read about what Microsoft has done in both fields. While I don’t consider myself an expert at either topic, I had knowledge of topics to where I only needed to take notes on interesting things like the presenter’s first hand experiences and advice.

Another tip, when conferences from American companies are held in Japan most likely it is after the companies have already hosted one in the United States. Slide shows and blog posts from previous conferences are usually available online in English. It is valuable to know what is going to be talked about when the conferences come to Japan. Being bilingual has its benefits.

Know what you want to get out of a conference

Do you want an overview of the latest technology? Do you want to learn about new functions in the latest SDKs? Do you want to learn how to prevent hackers from breaking into your app? What is it that interests you and what information will best help you in your work?

Conferences are usually held over multiple days, where talks are held concurrently in different rooms in the event place. You cannot go to them all so plan accordingly. To help plan the talks are divided by topic and technical level.

Both Unity’s Unite and Microsoft’s de:code first broke the sessions Beginner, Intermediate, and Advance; furthermore they color-coded the planner based on topics. Beginner talks were an introduction of new technologies and the latest things released. These tended to be more press-oriented as there was no coding mentioned. Intermediate did delve into code but mainly focused on how programmers could utilize new features within the company’s programming environments, Unity’s Unity and Microsoft’s plethora of applications. My personal favorite was the Advanced “lectures”, because it was like being back in university, which focused on changes in the code base and best practices.

If you are a developer and your company is paying for you to go and improve your skills it would be best to focus on the Intermediate and Advanced levels.

Github software conference booth
Take the time to go to booths

Sometimes the person with the most technical knowledge is not the presenter but the person manning the booth. Make sure you leave adequate time to go visit the convention floor and talk to company representatives.

At Microsoft’s de:code I was impressed by how knowledgeable the Microsoft staff were about not only the features of their software but how multiple software can work together. I was discussing an idea for a project with a representative and without hesitation he briefly explained all the products I needed and why I needed them.

In Japan, when going to a conference or any business meeting, it is pertinent to exchange business cards. It doesn’t matter if it is just an informal greeting or a confidential meeting it always starts with a swapping of business cards. Remember, you are not so much an individual as a representative of the your company. In Japan there is even a formal process of exchanging business cards!

Take a picture, it lasts longer

During my first day at Unite I found it was weird: I could hear cellphone camera going off during the presentations (In Japan the camera’s shutter sound cannot be disabled by an agreement of the camera producers). Every time the presenter changed slides more ‘snaps’. Slide changes more flashes.

“That’s weird”, I thought, “the Unite website said the presentation will be uploaded at the end of the day, so why is everyone taking pictures?” As the day closed and I went to download the slides they weren’t there, and they are still not there! Turns out that those shutterbugs knew more than I did about the future availability of the slides.

Now I am not advocating what my fellow conference goers did: taking a picture of EVERY slide, because then you can’t focus on what the speaker is saying and might likely miss important details. I recommend taking notes and if there is too much information on one slide or there is an image or graph you want to show to your co-workers take a snapshot.

Going to a technical conference is a unique experience. It gives you an opportunity to interact with people you normally wouldn’t get the chance to interact with, it allows you to ask the creators of the codebase you are working with the nagging questions you’ve been wanting to ask. By being prepared, your first conference can be more productive without the shock and awe and the “I should have done this or that”.

Bento box lunch
Delicious conference bento!

Working in Japan brings thought provoking challenges and interesting projects, and going to a technical conference provides not only a jumpstart for current projects, but was a great way to find out about the next best thing.

By J.J
Software Engineer and Blogger
Usually coding, writing, or exploring Japan.

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