On Visiting Peers
April 24, 2016
The short version is that I finally went to a conference and thereupon learned that I should go to conferences.
The longer version is that I returned to Florida two weeks ago to attend Peers, a conference I'd sum up as a therapeutic professional gathering of web entreprenerds. Despite the high concentration of likeminded people in my industry, I manufactured poor but sufficient excuses not to go in years past. This year a lack of scheduling conflicts and an abundance of curiosity led me to the far end of the blue baggage claim at the Tampa airport. That's where I met the first folks in what would turn out to be a dazzling array of people, messenger bags, and earnest conversations about the stuff we all do.
I was not surprised to confirm the presence of fascinating backstory, hilarity, catharsis, experience, insight, and challenge. I was surprised, however, not to encounter douchebaggery or cliquishness of any sort. I braced myself for some of the unsavory stuff I've heard about tech conferences where attendees (usually women) get singled out by real life trolls and jerks, and was heartened—though not surprised—when a female presenter stood up at one point to share that she was happy to give a talk in a place where she wasn't rudely treated like a novelty woman-developer but got to engage in conversations she was passionate about.
The spirit of the thing, the laid-back gathering of approachable web nerds, was the golden nugget at its core. It pervaded the workshops and talks and conversations, and I think much of the credit for that belongs to Jess D'Amico, the tireless champion and organizer of the event. As an over-thinking introvert, I don't tend to breeze among foreign venues and introduce myself to strangers. Yet that I did, because keeping up was effortless thanks to untold effort from Jess and her crew, along with the attendees who unanimously chose to be amicable and sincere.
Another thing I didn't expect to find was reassurance. More than one presenter had me deeply appreciating challenges and failures rather than fearing them, and it became obvious after only one evening that many of us were on similar quests experiencing similar joys and problems. As a solo nerd more or less making up his career, this was comforting and refreshing. It's not often that I can find relief in something while being challenged by it, and my time at Peers very much hit both marks.
Judge not my simple revelations, dear internet, as I conclude with my humble Peers takeaways. These are for me, so don't be surprised if you've already figured them out:
- Don't make assumptions about people you've only known as an arrangement of pixels. You can avoid being wrong and being a jerk at the same time!
- Don't waste time being intimidated by people, but appreciate the work they do and be prepared to ask them questions. It's way more interesting to hear what motivates them than to stare dumbfounded as you realize they wear pants just like you.
- Invest real effort in remembering peoples' names, remembering how it felt when a stranger bothered to remember yours.
- Don't complain about long flights. Someone with a fabulous accent will have inevitably journeyed much farther.