This is a reflection on my first volunteering experience at PyData 2019.
Recently, I have attended the PyData 2019 conference in NYC. When I visited the website, all the tickets were sold, so I applied for the waitlist. A couple of hours later, as I was thinking about my PyGotham experience from a month earlier. I remembered one of the talkers mentioning that they desperately need more volunteers. I decided to apply for a volunteeriship to help the community, and as a bonus, get a free ticket. This was a big bonus. A couple days later, I received the email notifying me that I got the part! Usually, I don't get "You are accepted" type of email, which, come to think of it, makes me a little sad. That felt good.
I asked my employer if I can work remotely for a couple of days. Prepared the list of talks I want to attend and went through the volunteer training. Finally, I was ready to go. This was my second conference ever. More than that, it was on Python and Data, two things that I am very excited about.
In this post, I wanted to share the experience and my learnings from this experience.
My experience overall was delightful. Tasks were not dull, people were friendly. There were enough volunteers to have regular breaks to attend different talks and to relax.
I got to talk to a lot of people and to listen to a lot of good talks, but I was still disappointed by myself. I did not use this wonderful opportunity to its fullest. After the conference ended, I realized that I was too "private." I avoided conversations with fellow volunteers, with attendees and with the speakers. To be clear, I was not acting like a total stranger, avoiding any communication at any cost. I did talk to people, but generally, they were the ones to initiate the conversation. Half of the people I spoke to were recruiters, which is just silly.
After the conference, I stumbled upon two conference-related resources. One is the podcast episode from the Full Stack Radio - 17: Adam Culp - Maximizing Your Conference Experience. The other was a blog post by Al Sweigart - How to Do PyCon (or any tech conference).
Both were very relatable. Both resources talked about the fact that conferences are made for networking, or rather, for meeting new people. I couldn't agree more. Going forward, I will not pursue the same goals as I did at PyData2019.
The key learning for me is that meeting new people is crucial for future career and personal success. But the important thing is not to have an agenda when you are talking to people. You should not be expecting to use them as a contact for future jobs or for anything else of sorts. The point must be to have fun and to find good people to surround yourself with. Conferences are fantastic for that. There you will get a chance to interact with a selective group of people who all have a similar hobby to yours.
To make this useful both for me and for anyone reading this, I will try to boil this down to several points:
- Prioritize meeting people over the talks
- For the people you've hit it off with, exchange contacts and follow up after the conference
- Use any possibility to meet new people (breakfast, breaks, lunch, maybe not bathroom breaks)