Getting the most from tech events

John-DanielCommunity, Tech Stuff2 Comments

Last week I was at the Developer Week conference in San Francisco. It got me thinking about getting the most out of tech events.

As some background, I’m the co-founder & CEO of Raygun. It gives me a slightly different perspective since I’ve been both the attendee that goes to learn, and the corporate sponsor with a stand, swag etc. I’ve written before about some of the interesting changes when transitioning from Developer to CEO.

It was by chance that I was in town to join our marketing team at our stand and meet hundreds of awesome developers, as well as product managers, chief technology officers and more. I love meeting folks and hearing about their technology stack, and what challenges they’re facing — we’re all doing such amazing work.

Raygun Booth at the Developer Week tech events

The founders – myself and Jeremy at the Raygun stand

Networking at tech events

Such a boring word, for something that is actually pretty awesome.

Sure you can network at the event, but the real fun is afterwards. I’m not just talking about hanging out with your buddies from work, but the people you admire or know from twitter are often at events. Reaching out to these folks to grab a beer or dinner is a great way to build out your network. It’s a lot more fun than getting an email, “I would like to invite you into my professional network”.

My example – meeting with Martijin Laarman and some of his colleagues from Elastic. I’ve known Martijin for years through twitter and as a user of our software. He’s usually based in Amsterdam and I live in New Zealand. If it wasn’t for events bringing us together, our engagement would have stayed on twitter only. Despite the amazing connectivity of the internet, nothing beats meeting folks face-to-face so see if you can meet people you know online at or around events you’re attending.

Life is about the relationships you build, the better the relationships, the better your life.

Engaging at the stand

So, you want some swag, or you’re interested in what a company actually does. That’s cool – now it’s time to chat to the folks at the stand! I find there’s two types of stands:

1. The ones run by agencies (often for massive companies, like Samsung)
2. The ones run by team members of the company (like us)

The first sort are typically rubbish to deal with. I pick on Samsung because I went over to chat with their stand members at a previous event (Not Developer Week) and ask a question. Nobody could answer it – they told me to google it! Not a great experience and you know you’re not getting anything beyond a slick presentation with no substance. Often these folks do not work for the company, they just look good and have great teeth. Snore.

On the other hand, smaller organizations can be fantastic to engage with. You’re dealing with the team members – they know what the company is doing, they love hearing feedback because they can pass it on to the product teams (if they’re not already part of the product team!). I love talking with the folks at stands like this. They’re authentic, passionate and that makes them easy to get along with.

With these smaller stands especially, it can be a really great way to meet new people, discover places you may want to work and discover who’s building cool solutions to problems you may be facing at work.

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Raygun stand with beers and water – Jeremy, Tori and Kelly serving up the suds!

Swag etiquette at tech events

Swag can be cool. We’ve worked hard to create Raygun T-Shirts that are cool to wear without too much ‘selling of the brand’ on them. We’ve also built really cool wooden Raygun’s that you can assemble yourself!

What I always find interesting at the event, from the other side of the table, is the small % of people who just walk around and grab everything they can but won’t engage with the folks at the stand. Don’t be that person. Swag is a cool gift, and it’s a nice way to begin an interaction at a stand, with a ‘so, what do you actually do?’ when picking it up.

My general experience has been that about 80% of the time, people find value in what we do – and the other 20%, we’re straight up and will say that the offering might not be a fit for them (still giving them the swag though!). Remember, we’re not at the event to try and sell you something on the spot, but to meet folks we may be able to help. That way, when you’re faced with problems like improving software quality, or needing to track end user website performance, you might remember that Raygun could help. That’s it!

I hope that helps!

Hopefully this helps you understand some of the motivations of the businesses sponsoring the next tech event you’re at. If you’re at an event and Raygun is there, please do rock by and say hi — we’re always happy to chat and give you some of the coolest swag in the technology industry! 🙂

Any other suggestions you have for your fellow developer attending a tech conference?

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2 Comments on “Getting the most from tech events”

  1. Daniel Daines-Hutt

    Hey Dan

    Glad I pestered you on twitter to write more! 😀

    I think this is networking 101 and your spot on with your approach. The person who gives value and is an actual human at these events are the people I always want to deal with!

    I used to work in sales for a while (around 19 years in total) and at the end of it all I found the best way to attract and help a new potential client is just to be straight up, help them, and if its a bad fit let them know

    (The amount of referrals and good will this builds is huge)

    I signed up and installed pulse to test my site for a *sweet as raygun tee!

  2. Nicole Williams

    Couldn’t agree more JD! I wrote a slightly ranty post about having your team there not just promo girls and guys a while ago (http://theenvycollection.com/2015/05/07/event-marketing-part-2-dont-use-promo-girls/). Events are a great source of market feedback and a chance to refine your messages. You get instant facial expression feedback on what resonates and what misses the mark! It can be daunting if you’re not confident speaking with new people but most developers enjoy it when they realise how many like-minded and interesting people you get to meet.

    Also please, please don’t assume the girl on the tech stand (or visiting your tech stand) isn’t there for intelligent conversation too! Sometimes I get magical invisibility powers at developer conferences. We don’t all work for Samsung 😉

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