Conferences & Minnebar: It isn’t about the talks. It’s about the talking.

Panorama of Minnebar 12 at Best Buy headquarters — we fill the room

tl;dr; Conferences like Minnebar are where you learn things you didn’t know you should learn, so get out there and start attending!

Conferences, especially technology conferences, are a very fascinating lens to see an industry. But attending conferences doesn’t always feel like a logical use of time+money to everyone (especially those who have never been to a conference). On one hand, isn’t every topic something that’s already published online and watchable on YouTube? On the other hand, aren’t the only people who need to network recruiters and jobseekers?

Then you attend a conference and it hits you. Conferences aren’t about the talks. They’re about the talking. They’re about the conversations between sessions. They’re about the random people that you encounter who you otherwise wouldn’t organically meet.

Steven Johnson has a great book & TED talk about “Where good ideas come from”. In 2010 NPR ran a story called “How Cafe Culture Helped Make Good Ideas Happen”, go read it if you haven’t. Then come back to this post and recognize these conferences are our way to visit metaphorically gigantic coffee houses and see it catalyze into brilliant ideas.

If you attended the recent Minnebar, you’re thinking that you totally agree with Sam. You’re then going to notice this tweet is a decade old, and we enjoy an event that’s constantly toeing the line of being unmanageably big.

The Minnebar conference, an unconference slowing turning into a conference, has happened annually since 2006 and been continually growing to match the size of its venue. There were over 100 talks given, from agile development to venture capitals, but here’s the thing…

If you decide not to go “Because none of the talks seemed that interesting”, you’re doing it wrong.

This is the conference that helped catapult SmartThings into being a name brand, Code42 to being a juggernaut in the world of backup software, and almost cost me my marriage (well not really, just Minnebar 7 overlapped on my wedding day and I tried really hard to have my wife reschedule…)

Weddings aside, do you think that “Plan to build a company to be acquired by Samsung for $200M” was listed on the agenda? Heck no! But you can trust that the amazing Ben Edwards was finding inspiration from the conference he was coordinating. So we go to conferences to be a sponge, and we go back to our offices to ring out all the wonderful & unexpected learnings.

There are millions (I’m rounding up) of resources that talk about how to convince your boss to send you to a conference. But if you approach it as “I’m going to conference Y and I’m going to learn Z”, then you’re going about it wrong. You’re confusing a conference with a training course. Both are still great resources, but they’re not the same thing. When you’re going to a conference, you’re going for the people and the overarching topics. What you bring back to the company is “I unexpectedly learned about A, and I had an idea to do B, and we should really be checking out C.” For example if you had attended Minnebar 3 in 2007, you could have heard DHH talk about Ruby on Rails 1.2–3 years before it went mainstream — and I doubt people going to the conference knew what a big deal RoR was about to become… So go attend a conference & get in on the next big thing you don’t yet know exists.

Excellent point, Christian. Now that the idea to write this blog post has been executed, I can move on to the 999 other ideas Minnebar put in my brain!

minne✱ is a Minnesota based non-profit that brings together the Minnesota tech community at a mind-boggling scale. Take a moment to check out their site (http://minnestar.org/) and find a way to support if you can. The future of Minnesota technology thanks you. And I have no official relationship with them other than really, really, really appreciating everything they do.
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