# A biased guide to tech conferences

This year's Camp was my second so far. Despite knowing it already, and knowing how much is happening there, I left it feeling that I missed out on a lot. The previous camp was so much more exciting! Was this year's Camp different, or was it me?

The steamy weather affected everyone badly, putting all of us campers into a sleepy mood. But, once I thought about it, I noticed that I made some unprovoked mistakes, myself. Information wants to be free, so here's an easily digested guide for all of you, so that you don't have to make the same mistakes.

## My biases

Out of the lack of experience otherwise, I'll describe what works for me when I come alone by train, and with an amount of luggage that does not impede my mobility much. The advice may need some adjustments for other cases.

## Early

To get the most out of a conference, becoming a speaker might be useful. Forget about the long-term popularity boost. It's worth presenting just because of the immediate benefits. You'll meet the most fun people: the organizers before your talk, and afterwards, the listeners who are interested in the same topics as you are. Don't leave the stage immediately after you finished presenting. Oh, and did I mention that a speaker's badge sometimes grants access to the backstage area?

To snatch a slot, you have to prepare early. The deadline for a typical "Call for Papers" is 6-2 months before the event. Look for announcements. If you miss it, then, depending on the event, you might still get another chance.

It may be worth to get the ticket early. In some places, tickets go up in price as the date of departure approaches. If you have a choice, snatch a ticket with a fast connection while you can. Sure, you can travel to the GPN in Karlsruhe from Berlin on the flat-rate Deutschlandticket, but you're going to face over 12h of travel. Maybe it's worth it to get there in half the time by paying a couple EUR for an IC ticket well in advance.

Now that you know you have to choose your tickets early, when to go? There are conferences where participants are the main attraction, and where they come with all their own toys. Find out if your conference is one of those, and if it is, come a day early, to help with unloading and the set-up. People who come early are the organizers, and the most proactive members of the community, so this is whose friendship you can win by carrying boxes and connecting cables. You can fall back on it over the conference, and you'll be remembered online and at future events.

Staying after the party is over will not earn you friends for the conference that just ended. But it may give you eternal gratitude by the few people who stayed. As I'm writing this, there are still people on the Camp grounds dismantling the event. It's also going to pay off if the people you help with the teardown are the same who you meet at your local hackerspace.

### CCC events

Events like the Camp and the Congress are self-organized to the extreme. They explicitly want visitors to come in groups, and organize activities, rather than to leave everything to the central organizers. Groups provide stages to have talks on, toys to play with, electricity to use, places to hang out, and, at the Camp, food to eat. While some of those benefits are available to anyone, you'll be seen a lot more welcome if you earn your participation by helping the group, and it's best to start early.

Go to your local hackerspace, and check who's going. Offer your help unpacking, and people will simply like you. Help organizing the talks on your stage, and you'll get another shot at presenting a talk (see above why talks are important). Come to the meeting before trip, and you might find out that someone has free space in the car to carry you or your cool hardware projects to the destination.

## Hotels

There's not much to be said about them. It's best to choose the same hotel where others from the conference are already staying. This way, you'll be able to take the conference chat all the way back, and maybe even start nerd-talking at breakfast.

## Gadgets

A tech conference cannot exist without blinkenlights. If you have the space, bring your favorite toys. But only *if* --. don't carry your huge 3d printer on the train, thank you. Take your projects, posters, **stickers**, -junk- rare stuff you don't need --. anything that draws attention --. and give them away or show them off later. Just don't get so lost in the project that you hack on it alone. You can always do that at home.

Oh, and some events run a phone network with DECT phones, so if you have one, take it with you.

## Travel

The day of the trip is now close. You've prepared well. A printed ticket to prevent troubles with a dead phone battery. A bottle of water, because train trips can be exhausting. Some money, to buy food and a replacement bottle when you inevitably lose the one you came with.

But don't forget that the conference starts already on the train. Decorate yourself with nerd jewelry: armbands from previous hacker conferences, helper T-shirts, sticker-adorned laptops, and IKEA sharks are dead giveaways of a nerd coming to a social event. When you start seeing those signs, the conference is officially open. You've met conference people. Talk to them as if you already arrived! After hours on the train, they are probably just as bored as you are. (Be careful not to talk to them so intensely that you miss your next train – true story.) Maybe you'll discover that you have common interests. Some prompts, depending on the exact situation: "Are you going to FrOSCon too?", "Is this a Framework laptop? Can you remove the HDMI port?", "Hey, I love Rust, too!", "Your cat ears are falling off."

If you don't know how to continue, the train trip is a good place to practice. A lot of fun from the conference comes from finding people with cool interests. The more people you quiz, the most likely you'll find the outstanding ones, so talk to many people! In case of a stall in the conversation, it's best to ask about their projects and reasons for coming.

## Arrival, helpers

After the arrival you might want to set up your base. This is obligatory if you're camping, but it's still useful if you just want somewhere to place your toys. Choose it based on the people around. Your hackerspace? Perfect. Sleeping spots? This way the party never pauses. A cool installation? More opportunities to catch passersby for a chat.

There is something more important, though. Register yourself as a helper (angel, troll, whatever it's called this week), and have your schedule filled for you with hanging out with people who care (orga team, bar shifts), leaving your mark on things things (construction), and going behind closed doors (video team), among other things. And all of that while being respected for helping make the event run! Maybe you'll even get a T-shirt for your trouble. Being a helper is a win-win-win.

## Schedule

Just don't overdo it. You won't be the only helper, and if the only open shift remaining is babysitting the children playground at 7:00, maybe that's not the best use of your time.

Treat the shift schedule as another conference track. Welcome desk shift at 11? Great, but the talk at 11:15 about cyber security in Bhutan is presented by this guy I want to meet.

## Walk, watch, talk, play

Every conference is different, even if it's just a re-edition of the same event. Go around, discover the hidden corners of it. Pay attention to what you see. Maybe there's a poster with the DECT number to the model railway operator group. Check it out. Maybe there's a puzzle to solve. Maybe there's an easter hunt going on, and the corner hides a prize. Or maybe there's a secret cabal of uber-nerds discussing plans of cyberspace domination. Join them! Don't be afraid to talk to people. Or if you're still afraid, find another curious hacker, and go explore together (it helps). Go sweeping, and visit each stall, asking people there what they are up to (they are usually up to something).

Stay curious, and not just because it's a hacker's virtue, but also because curiosity will make your day exciting.

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