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Sarah Katz
Sarah Katz

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Preparing For My First Tech Conference

Today I will be attending Codeland Conference in NYC. This my first ever tech conference, and I'm nervous but excited.

Codeland is organized by CodeNewbie, a podcast and super-supportive community aimed towards those new to coding (but super welcoming of people at all levels). I had heard about the conference from the podcast and on twitter (and in fact had at one point considering submitting a CFP), but didn't register, partially because I had never been to a conference before and didn't know if I would enjoy it, and partially because I've been in full-time job searching mode for a bit and didn't know if I'd be starting a new job that may not be keen on me taking off for a day so early in my time there.

A few weeks ago I finally made the decision to register. The new job thing looked like it wasn't going to be happening before the conference (and on the off chance that it did, I was willing to just eat the money if my company wouldn't let me take off). And as for not knowing if I like conferences ... the conference is a 30-minute (or less) subway ride from my apartment. If I hate it, I can just bail. There aren't very many conferences where I have that opportunity ... so I figured I might as take the chance and try it out now.

Once I decided to register, the next step was buying my ticket. Codeland offers "Talks Only" and "Talks and Choice of Workshop" tickets. I was really most interested in the talks, but I talked it over with a family member and decided that since some of the workshops did look interesting, I should spend the extra $20 for the workshop ticket. I figured I'd decide closer to the event (or at the event) what I wanted to do.

What To Learn?

I received an email a few weeks before the event inviting me to choose a workshop (and track). I didn't know I'd have to choose in advance (I don't know if that's a normal conference thing that I just don't know about because I'm a conference newbie or if it's unique to this conference) and I didn't know how quickly workshops filled up, so I spent some time the morning I got the email looking at the workshop descriptions and requirements, and narrowed it down to an IoT workshop and an accessibility workshop, but since I'm not a huge IoT person (other than using IoT things ... excuse me while I go ask Google to turn on my fan ... very useful in this heat wave) and was mostly interested for the take-home toy, I ended up signing up for the "Building with Accessibility in Mind" workshop led by Luisa Morales.

Accessibility is something that's so important in web development and I don't put as much thought into it as I should, so I'm really hoping I learn a lot from this workshop and take what I learn and apply it to all of my future work.

Although really, I couldn't have gone wrong with any workshop, they all looked really interesting.

This workshop (unlike the IoT one I was looking at) is only offered in one of the two tracks, so I officially landed myself in Track B. There are some talks in Track A that I'm a little sad to be missing, but there are some good talks in Track B that I'm looking forward to hearing. I'm especially interested Jo-Wayne Josephs's talk "An Immigrant's Journey Into Tech", but I think all of the talks sound interesting and I'm sure I'll enjoy most or all of them.

Advance Planning My Meals

To make a long story short ... going places can be hard for me because I can't eat the food. I'm strictly kosher observant, which means that not only are there restrictions on what food I can eat, (in my case) all of my food has to come from a kosher-certified kitchen. When I registered for the event, there was an option to select kosher food, but after a recent situation where someone didn't realize that I wouldn't eat food from a non-certified kitchen (an understandable mistake for someone who didn't grow up surrounded by kosher-observant people), I wanted to make sure that there would be food that was acceptable for my family's standards.

I tweeted at the official conference account to ask about the food, and they encouraged me to email a particular email address to ask. I kept not doing that, and finally late last week I sent them an email. The answer was that yes, they would have kosher food, but since NYU (the venue) didn't have their kosher kitchen set up at the moment, it would be coming from an outside vendor, and they'd tell me who when they know.

A few days later I got an email telling me where the food would come from (Fresko), and since I'm familiar with the company (they sell sandwiches in my local 7-Eleven and at Staten Island Yankees baseball games), I knew that their kosher certification and their food is perfect acceptable to me.

I also wasn't sure if they make anything other than sandwiches and I figured I might not want sandwiches all day, so I decided to pack myself a bag of Cheerios to have for breakfast and/or snack. I also packed fruit as a snack because it's never a bad idea to have fruit.

Which reminds me ... I wonder if they have snacks during the day?

What Does My Day Look Like?

One of the good things about signing up for a conference taking place in NYC is that I don't have to worry about flights or hotel ... I just roll out of my apartment, hop on a subway (and only one train!), and I'm there. But there are still a few things that needed to be figured out...

  1. What Time To Show Up - Registration and Breakfast starts at 8. Now that I know that there is definitely food for me, I want to be there for breakfast (I'm hoping there's decent coffee too ... if not I may have to hop out in the middle of breakfast to grab something), but I don't think I need to be there right when it starts. Right now I'm targeting an arrival between 8:15 and 8:30, which will hopefully get me there with enough time to register and eat breakfast, but not so much extra time that I feel super awkward. If things get too awkward, I can always stand in a corner on my phone and pretend I'm super busy.
  2. Workshops/Talks - The day starts with a welcome and two talks before the first break. After that break, I'll head into my accessibility workshop, which hopefully won't be too uncomfortable (I don't know if there will be interacting with other people involved, and I'm not so good with that). After the workshop is lunch break. If the morning was too much for me, that might be when I call it a day. Or I might consider going for a walk to get some fresh air before making that decision. But if I'm feeling okay, it'll be lunch time, and hopefully I'll be able to find some people to eat with. After lunch are the talks, and I'll be sitting there with my notebook and a pen (note to self: pack notebook and pen) taking notes on all the interesting things I'm learning. If I'm still feeling good after that, I'll browse around the exhibit hall (and hopefully take home some free swag) before listening to the closing keynote, which is a topic that has personal interest to me.
  3. Afterparty - Ideally, I'd like to go to the afterparty. I'm not a big party person, and I have no idea what "afterparty" entails in this context, but I think it's part of the experience, so I want to try it. But if they day has felt super draining and I don't think I have the energy to get through it, I'll just skip the afterparty and head home.

What Do I Look Like?

Picking out my outfit is a big thing for me. I like to look relatively nice in general (although I pull that off with varying amount of success), but for semi-special occasions, like my first day of school or my first tech conference, I like to buy a new outfit and/or pick out something special. I went shopping last week for two outfits - one for a networking event, and one for the conference - but only ended up buying something for the networking event, so I'm back at square one.

The weather is forecasted to be 81° with scattered thunderstorms, which means I need to wear rain-appropriate shoes, and since I don't want to wear my rain boots, I'll probably end up in sneakers. Which means I can't count on my shoes to make my outfit look nicer, that will have to come from the outfit itself.

After going through what I had available, I settled on the outfit that I wore for my first day at my last job - it's a comfortable outfit, has the pockets I need, and looks decently good. After I laid it out, I remembered something else about the outfit - my first day at my last job was an unintentional Mickey Mouse Disneybound, so I tried to find my best Mickey Mouse accessories (mostly it's my Mickey Mouse earrings ... unless I want to walk around with my marathon finisher ears, which I don't). I toyed with the idea of another Disneybound, and thought of something that I wasn't sure would work, so I decided to set out both outfits and then decide in the morning.

I'm very glad that I thought of having my outfit be a Disneybound, because I love finding outfit inspiration from my favorite characters, and even if nobody else knows that's what I'm going for, it always makes me smile a little. And I think that wearing an outfit that makes me feel good will help me feel more comfortable.

What Are My Goals For The Conference?

My primary goal for the conference is to get through the day. Mostly I'm going to know that I can do it. If I learn some new things, cool. If I meet some awesome people, even more cool. If I get some fun new swag, awesome. If I make it through the entire day without feeling completely out of place and like I shouldn't have gone ... mission accomplished.

What's Next?

This conference is somewhat a test for me. I've really wanted to get more involved with tech communities, and I've wanted to go to conferences, but crowded rooms and new situations can be very difficult for me. I want to enjoy the conference for what it is, but I also want to see if it inspires me to attend other conferences.

Stay tuned for next week's blog to see how all this went!

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