Monday, October 06, 2014

The Year I Didn't Attend A Conference

Now that the year is mostly through, but we still have enough of it left to talk about, I’m going to make a belated statement and an explanation:

I will not attend a single conference this year.

No PyCon. No Traveling for packed days of community building and education. No lower key conferences in my own home city, even. Not a single conference will list my name as an attendee for the enter year of 2014.

And I feel great about it!

My decision not to attend any conferences this year was an intentional one and has been both uplifting and life saving. The thing is, I absolutely love conferences. I love going to PyCon more than I love most holidays. I’m enormously excited to live in the area that hosts both NCDevCon and All Things Open. Hell, I love conferences so much I organized my own just because I wanted to attend it so badly.

As an enormous supporter of tech conference attendance, I realized that I had no choice but to take a hiatus from attendance. I had something to prove to myself.

I am a skilled developer who grows in my craft through my experience and I am valuable to my teammates, projects, and to myself. I am all of these things through the efforts of my job, which I am very good at. I am all of these things without pouring my energies and emotions into community events and contributions.

What I needed to do was prove to myself that I don’t need to attend conferences. While conferences are incredibly rewarding, enriching, and wonderful I also grew concerned that they were growing into a trap for my self confidence and my self worth. I grew concerned that I was channeling a lot of my valuation of myself through my attendance and participation in these communities.

I went from a self-taught kid messing around with computers in his spare time to a full-time Python consultant supporting his family on what he taught himself to an important member of a growing development team and projects of value to large, important corporations. In a few years time, I became one of the people that I had looked up to when I was learning from the community of programmers I had found online.

When I was younger and teaching myself, I hoped to one day attend PyCon.

When I grew more experienced, I hoped to one day be able to afford PyCon.

At some point, there was a year when PyCon slipped by and rather than look up to and forward to one day going, I spent the time depressed because I was yet to be able to attend. My freelancing made enough money to pay the bills, but not to attending something extra like this. It was a real pain point for me. It hurt. It made me feel inadequate as a developer.

I wondered, more than once, how all these other people attending and loving PyCon were able to be so much more successful than me.

But, it happened. I got better at my job and in turn got better jobs and, eventually, I attended PyCon. I attended three PyCons in a row, and began attending other conferences. I travelled for them as well as attended local conferences, like NCDevCon and All Things Open. I organized PyCarolinas and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I gave my first talk last year and flew to New York to speak on a live panel about offline applications on the web. I had made it. I was part of the in crowd. I was one of the cool kids.

And none of this is bad. I don’t regret any of this. My choice not to attend conferences this year isn’t any decision that my past attendance was a bad idea, or that it would be a bad idea to attend this year, even. After investing so much self worth in my success with conference going, I just realized that I had to prove to myself that I don’t rely on them. And it was a success, so far. While I haven’t attended any conferences this year, I’ve accomplished things I’m proud of at work, and on my own. I am succeeding in feeling good about myself, and that is an accomplishment in and of itself.

I am not an imposter.

Next year, I’m going to have a great time at a few conferences.

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I write here about programming, how to program better, things I think are neat and are related to programming. I might write other things at my personal website.

I am happily employed by the excellent Caktus Group, located in beautiful and friendly Carrboro, NC, where I work with Python, Django, and Javascript.

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