Go to Conferences!

May 31, 2016

This April about 40 colleagues from Meltwater went to Craft Conference in Budapest. We did not plan for it that way, but it ended up like a mini kick-off for the Product & Engineering teams in Europe.

It turned out to be an amazing conference with many great speakers that shared their thoughts about how we can collectively improve our craft and create better products for it.

Summarizing Craft Conference in this blog post would not do it justice. Instead we want to share our thoughts on why we are sending our people to conferences in the first place.

External stimulus leads to better decisions

Making good decisions and finding creative solutions to tasks is limited by the amount of information you have readily available to you. Within a small team, typically 5-8 people in our case, it quickly happens that a clan culture develops. While strengthening collaboration, clan culture can also can lead to suboptimal decisions due to a lack of diversity in knowledge and opinion.

Sending team members to conferences to gain external stimulus is a great solution to counteract the negative effects of clan culture. Depending on the conference, team members can gain new ideas and inspiration about process, technology, and any other topics relevant for the team. Armed with these new ideas and inspiration, teams will be able to approach old situations in a new way or try experiments with new technologies.

Networking - Both external and internal

Without a doubt, conferences are a great place to recruit and make business connections. However, the emphasis is often put on the external networking benefits. Often ignored are the internal connections within the same company that can be formed through events like this. Building software is all about communication. That being said, having people who have only communicated through phone or video chat, meet face to face and share an experience, only enhances their communication when they return to their day to day.

When you are talking about a geographically dispersed organisation, like Meltwater, and sending a group of people all to the same place, something magical happens. People form long-lasting bonds and friendships, which make working together easier and more fun! By the way, this is one of our motivations to organize company wide Kick-Off events as well (see benefit 10 here).

Keeping the momentum

Another interesting effect of visiting a conference as a group are the instant feedback loops that emerge between people that are learning about new and exciting concepts together.

For instance many of us at Craft Conference were inspired by the sessions around product discovery and dual track Agile by Marty Cagan and others. As we saw these talks together, we are able to quickly and clearly communicate about these concepts with each other, while also pushing each other to learn more about these topics and try them out.

The approach of a shared conference experience is far better than coming back and trying to tell your colleagues about what you learned, because they won’t have the same inspiration that you had when hearing these things live by speakers who really know how to deliver them.

Also there is more of a drive to move things forward when you return to your work place, as you have now made plans for change together with other people and you will feel accountable to them.

When you learn things as a group, the inertia from the conference is not as easily lost.

Represent your company and pitch your product

People in Product & Engineering often have less face time with their customers than their colleagues in Sales or Marketing. While this might be a challenge in it’s own right, at conferences, you, as an Engineer, are quite obviously representing your company.

A frequent question that you get asked by other conference goers is “What does your company do?”. This is a great opportunity to pitch both your company and your product to others.

What’s even more beneficial: Since people are often from a similar background they are representing the company in a way that other engineers can understand and are interested in. If you send your sales team to have a booth at a conference and sell your product, is not at all the same thing as having an engineer passionately describe the culture of your organisation to another engineer.

In summary

But but, the costs … (the cost-aware manager says).

Looking at all the benefits, for us, investing in conferences is often a more impactful way to spend your training budget than sending people to courses etc. If someone is motivated to learn, they will find ways to do it, no matter how. These are the kind of people we have in Meltwater, and these are the kind of people we are looking for.

We believe that providing initial sparks of ‘new things’ to our employees is one of our most important investments into their development, and conferences are a great way to do this!

So our recommendation is: Go to conferences!

This post was originally published at underthehood.meltwater.com/blog/2016/05/31/go-to-conferences/.