I attended a pair of conferences this past weekend: Design Madison and UXMad. I attended as a volunteer along with some other people.
One of my fellow volunteers behaved in a way that made me very upset.
The way the Sapling Event conferences work is that when the conference is about to begin someone walks around with a cow bell to get everyone’s attention.
My co-volunteer heard that and said very loudly to the conference goes, “Hey Sheeple! You need to moo-ve!” imitating a cow.
I was furious that someone who was representing this company would behave this way. I don’t think anyone else really heard this happen, but I was appalled that anyone would think it is okay to speak that way.
I have a very good reason for wanting Sapling Events to not be embarrassed by their student volunteers.
Back in February 2013 I attended my first conference. The conference was Snow*Mobile, a mobile development conference in Madison put on by Sapling.
My teacher Eric Knapp told us that the conference organizers allowed students to attend the conference in exchange for several hours of volunteer help. The conference cost several hundred dollars, which is a lot of money to an unemployed college student.
I went to the conference not really knowing what to expect. Going there was a life-changing experience.
I had an opportunity to meet a lot of prominent developers from around the midwest. I got to listen to a bunch of talks about technologies I was unfamiliar with.
I discovered why on earth people use Twitter. Twitter gave me the chance to tweet a speaker telling them I liked their talk. It also gave me the chance to talk to these people about something specific rather than just awkwardly trying to make conversation until we found a common thing to speak about.
One of the conference speakers mentioned the K&R book on C that I wanted to read. I tweeted him and told him it was on my to-read list. He told me after I read it he wanted to read my blog post about it. I didn’t have a blog then, but I do now! (Again, thanks Ray Hightower).
The first day of the conference when we broke for lunch, I didn’t really know anyone at the conference. I was too shy to just sit down with someone so I sat by myself feeling bad because I was eating alone. I felt a light punch on my shoulder. It was the videographer with the conference. He said, “You. You’re eating with us. We’re up on the stage.” That moment let me know it’s okay to just go up to random tables at conferences and eat with people you don’t really know.
Eric says that many people feel like they “found their people” at their first conference and I agree with this assessment completely.
I really enjoyed my time there and I became a conference addict. I found a CocoaConf that was happening in Chicago the month after Snow*Mobile. I carpooled and roomed with a classmate of mine I had never really spoken to very much.
I got to meet a huge number of people at CocoaConf. Among the people I connected with were Chris Adamson, Jonathan Penn, and Daniel Steinberg. I forged some amazing connections at that conference. I never would have paid the money to go there had I not seen how important these conferences can be to my professional career. Additionally, my conference roommate is an amazing person that I am planning to work with on an app in the near future.
Getting the chance to attend Snow*Mobile made one of the largest impacts on my potential career. I am so happy that Jim “Big Tiger” and Jenifer Remsik opened that opportunity up to myself and others. I hope that this one bad experience does not convince them to stop hiring student volunteers because their generosity has enriched my life so much.
I hope that I have the chance to pay things forward later in my career. We all get to where we are because people like the Remsiks give us a hand. Sometimes people squander the opportunities that others give them and that is a shame. If someone takes a chance on you, do your best not to let them down. If you do, then work hard to avoid doing it ever again since there are limited opportunities in this world and each one is precious.