practicing techie

tech oriented notes to self and lessons learned

JavaOne 2012 – on picking sessions and other practicalities

To make your attendance succeed and ensure efficient use of your time, you need to think about quite a few practicalities in advance when attending a large conference, such as the JavaOne. This can take up a surprising amount of time and effort that you should account for.  The practicalities you need to think of include travel arrangements, accommodation but also picking the sessions to attend.

With many parallel sessions, choosing between them can be tricky and sometimes prioritization is not easy. For instance during JavaOne there’re multiple conferences being held, such as Oracle OpenWorld and MySQL Connect, which all have interesting sessions. Here’re some numbers for JavaOne:

  • nearly 500 sessions total
  • as much as 18 parallel sessions during peak hours
  • over 150 sessions on peak days

So, picking your sessions can be challenging. Possible selection strategies may include:

  • short vs. long term benefit – learn about things you know you need now or things you think may be useful in the future
  • trend spotting – try to learn what’s in and what’s out. Which technologies people are using, for what kinds of problems and domains, and which solutions are yesterday’s news.
  • what’s available – sometimes there aren’t any interesting session at a given time or the interesting ones may have filled up
  • semi-random – you can’t really predict if a session will be useful to you in advance just based on the author, title and abstract. Occasionally, some exploratory selection may be a good thing
  • technology vs. case studies – learning about solutions or hear about how to apply them in a given domain

Typically, you may want to hedge your bets and use a combination of different selection strategies.

The most popular session may fill up quickly, so you may need to register in advance for them. So, go through the session catalog and sign up for the ones that interest you the most as soon as possible to ensure access. Often, you can still get in to full sessions, but it’s not guaranteed, and especially for the “hands-on lab” session types availability may really be limited.

For many presentations there’s some kind of sales message to be read somewhere between the lines. The presenter may want to sell you products, services and/or adopt a particular view of the world. Depending on your situation, and how pronounced the selling viewpoint is, the session may still include information that you can use. For example, if you’re shopping for products or services this can be a good thing. But, if you’re planning on building something yourself, you may not be getting much out of the session.

Some presentations can also be viewed later, even if you  couldn’t attend, for example due to another concurrently running session. Cool, flashy presentations can be very entertaining, but also problematic in this respect, and you may not get too much out of them just by looking at the slides later on. And even if you attended the session you might not want to skip taking your own notes.

I’ve felt that my time is best spent on getting short intros on new technologies, trend spotting, case studies and talking to people. For actually learning to master a particular technology, you can always take some time to read and try it out in practice. Or even go on a course, read a book or get hold of a colleague that has experience in the subject. So, I don’t usually attend multiple sessions on a given subject. Focusing on a single larger theme from different perspectives can be very useful, though.

But, conferences aren’t just for one-way communication, they’re great for dialogue: connecting with other attendees and discussing about technologies, in what kind of context and problem to use them, how to use them etc. Think, question and discuss. You may be the world’s best expert on matters relating to your exact problem setting!

In my opinion, one of the greatest things about conferences is, that they provide an excellent opportunity to think different and step outside of your routine work. They give you a chance to look at the problems and solutions you’re facing in your day-to-day work in an entirely different setting. Ideally this allows you to really think outside-the-box, which can have a great impact on your work.

Other important practicalities include gadget power usage. If you’re using a laptop, mobile phone or a tablet for taking notes or other things during sessions, make sure you know your battery capacity. Learning how to save battery power can also be useful, as well as locating places where you can recharge your battery. Don’t miss any recharging opportunity.

The JavaOne and the other Oracle conferences taking place at the same time are huge. The streets sometimes get really crowded with conference attendees. I don’t know how accurate this is, but an Oracle president said there were in the order of 60,000 attendees. This means that getting accommodation that meets your quality, cost and location expectations can be difficult, unless you book early. Two months in advance may not be early enough, make arrangements as early as you can. JavaOne 2012 is over today, so if you want to attend next year, start making your preparations 🙂

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