I think women should go to tech conferences for reasons that are precisely the same as why I think guys should go to them. There’s a lot of information in sessions and on the show floor, great networking, and an amazing amount of cool discussions about topics you’d probably miss otherwise. Oh and did I mention they are a lot of fun?
I think a lot of value in tech conferences is reaching out; getting to know people that you might not otherwise meet. It’s rare that I don’t learn something in every three to five minute conversation. Maybe it’s a perspective, maybe it’s a question, but most often I’ve met someone that knows a lot more about something than I do. I’ve only done one conference I hated. It was a video conference where I flew to sit in a room alone without even an online audience. Blech!! I think I go to conferences for hugs and handshakes and mostly conversations. Well, hopefully to also teach people some stuff because I’m a speaker.
I think going to a conference is a slightly different experience for a woman, even though I think the goals and outcomes are the same. It’s harder for women to walk up to strangers and start a conversation. It’s also harder for people that are shy, uncertain of their English, non-white, handicapped, non-gender standard, from a different culture, tired, distracted by a crises back in the office, or ill.
The easy thing is to gravitate toward people that are like you – the same technical field, the same vertical or the same gender/race/age/whatever. Don’t get stuck only in that. Sure it’s great to find someone that understands some super geeky things coming in a product you care about, but you’ll eventually find out about that stuff through normal channels.
What you can’t do easily without going to a conference is to get outside those channels and outside your normal thinking with higher, more detailed, orthogonal, or completely unrelated views. And in the breadth of people at a big tech conference there are people everywhere from the cutting edge to legacy technology. That’s the magic of tech conferences.
It’s harder for women because if you don’t have your badge on and you walk up to a guy you saw in a session and introduce yourself, he might first wonder what’s going on. It’s just not in our habits to walk up to strange people and say “wow, that was an awesome talk, it made me think about…” Just do it (regardless of your gender).
Almost every person in this industry is fantastic and respectful (at least when they are sober) and they’ll probably be happy you started a conversation. If not, well try someone else. Wear your badge if you want to be associated with the conference – you can turn around the nametag in public. Talk to people before and after sessions. Talk to people in the hallway. Talk to people at lunch. Be smart, be safe, but reach out and you are almost certain to get more out of the conference.
Which, yes, of course, you should go to.