Saturday, 26 September 2015
Back when I first started going to conferences, the
schedules typically ran 9 or 9:30 to 4 or 4:30. I used to bring a book to read
in the evenings in case I didn’t like what was on TV. Then I started getting
invited to dinners and parties and planning meetings and conference days got a
lot longer for me. But what I’ve noticed recently is that conference days are
getting a lot longer for everyone. People have come all this way and are
willing to pack a lot into each day. I’m writing this on the last day of CppCon
where there is content starting at 8am and running until 10pm. There's even content over the two hour lunch break! That’s
a long day, and a bunch of them in a row makes for a long long week. So here
are some tips for how to handle that kind of week. I’m going to be specific to
CppCon, because I think a lot of my readers should attend it, but other
conferences will have equivalents to everything I’m mentioning here; I’ll let
you do the mapping yourself.
First, have a schedule. Weeks before the conference, mark
out what talks you want to attend. Have a goal of selecting two talks in most
time slots. Then if your first choice is not as good as you expected, or the
room is full and you don’t want to stand, you know exactly where to go for your
second choice. Have that schedule in your pocket – on your phone, or on a piece
of paper – so you have no lost time figuring out where to go. (CppCon uses Sched, which mails you each day's schedule in the morning, making it easy to have with you.) Don’t be the
person who shows up at 9 only to learn there were sessions at 8. Check the
schedule at least once a day during the conference in case things are being
added. Tip: things are being added, you can count on it.
Second, plan ahead to take care of the physical body that is
carrying your brain from session to session. It’s really a simple matter to
have a few granola bars and a bottle of water in your bag. If you miss a snack,
you can still have something to eat or drink. Bring a light sweater in case you
are in the cold room. Bring some painkillers if you might get a headache from
sitting somewhere loud. Bring whatever little comforts you need to keep
yourself from getting whiny and leaving early to go to your peaceful hotel room
and watch TV. (That said, there’s always one day in a one-week conference where
I go back to my room for an afternoon nap. It’s the only way I can stay
functional during long and intellectually-intense days. Just make sure you’re
doing it for a brain recharge and not for something you could have avoided by
bringing a small item with you to the conference centre.)
Third, think about how you’re going to take notes. A paper
notebook? Bring a spare pen, too. Your phone? Your laptop? Or are you just
going to immerse yourself in the experience and use the videos if you want to
check something later? Whatever your plan is, bring what you need to be able to
use it. Power is always a challenge at conferences – I like to bring an
external battery for my phone so it can charge in my bag. Think about what your
bag is going to weigh and consider leaving the laptop at the hotel and getting
by with a phone and some paper for notes. It’s really liberating not to be
lugging a heavy bag, in fact surprisingly so.
Fourth, before you arrive (at the latest, on the plane to
the conference) write up your goals for the conference. Do you want to meet
people? Specific people, or some number of people, or people from a particular industry?
Do you want to learn something specific? (Perhaps this is the year to
understand SFINAE, or be able to follow along in a talk that includes template
meta programming, or “get” those Haskell jokes people are always telling.) Maybe you want to tell people about something?
Tweet some number of times? Blog some number of times? Have a plan. Have goals. Check yourself
against these goals each morning, and adjust your plan for the day if you need
to, so that you move towards those goals each day.
When you arrive at the conference, scout out the amenities.
Where are the bathrooms? Are there tables and chairs? Are there tables and
chairs with power? On Day 1, pay close attention to the food and drink pattern.
Is coffee always available, or only at certain times? Where does the food
appear? Knowing this will take away any worry you may be carrying around that
you may miss something and not get another chance at it. It will also save you
from taking extras of things and lugging them around all day when you don’t
really need them. I also like to work out patterns related to what rooms I’ll
be in – that I’ll be on the same floor all afternoon, for example. It just
makes me feel a little more settled and centred.
Looking after your body doesn’t stop with what you planned
and what you brought. I start each day with 5 minutes of stretching which makes
a big difference to how I feel all day. I also try to use the stairs instead of
the escalators – less lining up and it makes me feel better too. I go ahead and
eat the snacks, many of which are not part of my normal day (brownies in the
afternoon? bag of chips at lunch?) but not to excess. CppCon has fruit and
other options that are not all about fat, sugar, and caffeine, and it’s often a
smart choice to go with those rather than the straight-up treats. Try not to
get too far from normal. If you normally have 5 cups of coffee a day, then you
can do that during the conference, but if you’re a one-cup-a-day person,
perhaps don’t go beyond 2 or 3 a day while you’re here. Same advice for alcohol
– if you dramatically increase your consumption over the course of the week,
you’re likely to feel uncomfortable by the time Thursday or Friday rolls
around. The one thing you should be sure to take in more of than usual is water
– whether you’re eating more sugar than usual, drinking more caffeine and alcohol
than usual, or just walking a lot more than usual from room to room in a conference
centre, extra water is what you need to compensate. If you grab a bottle of
water at a snack break, hang on to it when it’s empty – typically most
conference rooms have a watercooler or bubbler by the door where you can refill
that bottle whenever you want. Can’t stand water? Bring something to flavour it
with – pick up some powders or drops at home and try them out to see which one
you like. It’s way more efficient than hanging around hoping that this is the
break they have juice at, or leaving the conference centre on a half hour walk
for a convenience store.
As the conference goes on, be aware of how you are spending
your time. For example, if you check your email during a session, but then take
a peek at Twitter, and then at your personal Facebook – are you even really in
the session anymore? Don’t be afraid to leave if this is not the session for
you. You can go to another one, or talk to other attendees out in the hall, or
go back to the hotel for a one hour nap. Almost anything is better than
ignoring a speaker and killing time on your laptop or phone. And if you’re not
prepared to leave, then perhaps you just need to start paying more attention to
the session – assuming it’s material you actually are interested in. Take a
look at those goals you wrote. Have you tweeted recently? Blogged? Learned that
thing? Met enough people? Will staying in this session and listening meet your
goals, or should you go out to the hall and work on a goal? Are you just
chatting with your own coworkers, or someone you’ve known for years? Building
and strengthening relationships is great, of course. That doesn’t mean that
discussing the football game with your cubicle-mate is a good use of your time
at a place you flew 5 hours to attend. Maybe you can walk around and find a way
to join a conversation with a speaker or someone else you wouldn’t normally
meet. Just standing there listening can be very enlightening even if you don’t
end up saying much.
If you’re not normally a tweeter, blogger, or
talker-to-strangers, a conference is a great place to start. There are
immediate benefits. Perhaps your question will be answered, or your point will
be repeated and quoted, or you’ll make a new friend or business connection.
This will give you reinforcement for doing that, of course. As you meet your goals,
make a record of that, so you can easily answer questions about what you
learned or accomplished during the conference. Consider writing a summary when
you’re done – for yourself, or for whoever funded the trip. A chronological
structure is natural – Monday morning I went to a talk called X and learned Y
or met Z, at lunch Monday I talked to A and B who encouraged me to look into C,
Monday afternoon I went to a talk on C – but be sure to have an executive
summary that reads a little less like a diary. Start writing it during the
conference and polish it on the trip home. Once you get back to the office,
writing that summary is going to get harder and harder, so don’t put it off.
Attending conferences is a great way to boost your career –
when you do it well you learn a lot in a short time, meet luminaries of your
industry and people just like you, raise your profile and your confidence, and have
a wonderful time. When you do it poorly, you get tired, hungover, lonely,
overwhelmed, and bored. Put in the effort to plan and prepare, and you will be
in a great position to reap the rewards.
Thursday, 11 June 2015
One of the CppCon sponsors, Bloomberg, is running a contest for students in university or college and giving away trips to attend CppCon2015 in September in Bellevue, Washington:
The series of seven weekly challenges will kick off on June 22, 2015, and each week contestants will be provided a different set of problems to solve via Bloomberg’s cloud-based CodeCon platform. Each week’s winner will earn a trip to CppCon in September. The list of seven winners will be announced and notified via email on August 5.
Interested? You should be. CppCon is a great experience for students and one you won't soon forget.
Tuesday, 13 January 2015
ACCU has announced the schedule for their 2015 conference in Bristol, so I can announce that it includes me!
James and I are adding quite a lot of material, so if you saw this talk at CppCon, you should probably come and see it again at ACCU. Alternatively, you could come to the conferences and watch one of the conflicting talks and take excellent notes, because I really wish I could be at those as well!
I first went to ACCU two years ago, spending my own money for travel and the registration fee. I enjoyed it immensely and learned a lot, so it's a real thrill to be speaking there this year. I can't wait!
Early bird rates last till the end of February. Register as soon as you can, and I'll see you there.
Monday, 12 January 2015
My friend (and fellow Pluralsight author) Kathleen Dollard is coming to town, and will speak at the East of Toronto .NET User Group on "What's New in C# 6.0".
The next release of Visual Studio includes some major language enhancements that every developer should be aware of. Get up to speed on forthcoming enhancements quickly with this user group meeting from Microsoft MVP and language guru Kathleen Dollard.
Join us at 6pm at the Pickering Central Library! Please register at the Meetup page. See you there!
Wednesday, 24 December 2014
In my Pluralsight course, Using StackOverflow and Other StackExchange Sites, I cover all the things you really need to know to use the sites effectively and get answers to your questions, or a chance to show your skills. In the last module I explain how to help run the sites yourself, and I suppose you don't actually need to know that to use them - but knowing how they're run can help you understand what happens and why, so I included that material. I didn't include things that are really just for fun.
Right now, Winter Bash is on and it's just for fun. I made a quick video to show what it's about - take a look and let me know what you think. I hope to keep adding more "almost-great" items throughout next year.
Sunday, 07 December 2014
This fall has just flown by. One of the things I've been waiting for is my latest Pluralsight course, Using StackOverflow and Other StackExchange Sites, to go live. Here are the teaser images that I tweeted while I was writing it:
My motivation while I was writing the course was simple: help people really "get" the StackExchange model and the cultural norms of the people who help others on those sites. Some people get very frustrated if their questions are closed or downvoted, and often misinterpret the actions other site members take on posts. I wanted to explain the motivations behind some of the things that happen when you use StackOverflow or any other StackExchange site in a way that contradicts its cultural norms, and to show you how to get the absolute most out of the site. This includes specific tips like
- Choosing a title that will get the most attention for your question
- Wording your question in a way that will prompt people to answer it
- Managing your question or answer after you post, and reacting to the reception it receives
I also cover badges, reputation, the privileges system, even the meta sites that are used to make decisions about the way the network of sites operates. I really hope this course leads you to a more productive use of the number one programmer resource on the planet - and perhaps one or two other sites in the network that cover an interest of yours, like travel, gardening, or gaming.
If you don't have a Pluralsight subscription, you can sign up for a free trial and use that to watch the course.This is quite a change from my other Pluralsight courses, I know. StackOverflow has made such a difference in the way people solve programming problems that I really thought it needed a course. Let me know what you think!
Friday, 26 September 2014
One of the things I have to do a lot is send people a biography. Sometimes it's for a conference session, other times an interview, or for the "our team" section of a proposal I'm joining, and so on. You have to keep these things up to date, dropping old stuff and adding new, and nobody actually enjoys spending that time.
I've had a written bio to use for these purposes for decades, and over that time, the reasons for using a bio have changed. In the past it would typically be used in written material, and often for business purposes with large, conservative, staid organizations - governments, enterprises, that sort of thing. So even though I keep it up to date with what I'm doing, it has a really formal tone that's a bit old fashioned:
Kate Gregory is a C++ expert who has been using C++ since before Microsoft had a C++ compiler, an early adopter of many software technologies and tools, and a well-connected member of the software development community. She has over three decades of software development experience in a variety of programming languages including Fortran, PL/I, C++, Java, Visual Basic, and C#. Her recent programming work is almost exclusively in native C++ and C#, on a variety of projects, for both Enterprise and ISV clients. Since January 2002 she has been Microsoft Regional Director for Toronto and since January 2004 she has been awarded the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional designation for Visual C++. In June 2005 she won the Regional Director of the year award, and she was one of the C++ MVPs of the year for 2010. She maintains strong relationships with the C++, Visual Studio, and Windows teams in Redmond.
Kate is the author of over a dozen books, mostly on C++ programming: the latest, on massively parallel programming with C++ AMP, was published in fall 2012 by Microsoft Press. She teaches .NET, Visual Studio, and C++ (including online courses for Pluralsight) and is in demand as an expert speaker, with numerous cross-Canada tours for Microsoft Canada, and sessions at DevDays, DevTeach, TechEd (USA, Europe, Africa) and DevIntersection, among others. In 2014 she was Open Content Chair for CppCon, the largest C++ conference ever held, where she also delivered sessions. Kate is the founder of the East of Toronto .NET Users group and a member of adjunct faculty at Trent University in Peterborough. Her firm, Gregory Consulting Limited, is based in rural Ontario and helps clients adopt new technologies and adjust to the changing business environment. Current work makes heavy use of .NET and Visual C++ for both web and client development, especially for Windows 7 and 8. Managing, mentoring, technical writing, and technical speaking occupy much of her time, but she still writes code every week.
I've been meaning to do something about that for ages and I finally have! I've written a shorter, more informal introduction that focuses on what I think is important about who I am, instead of trying to get you to figure it out from a bunch of facts about me:
Kate Gregory has been using C++ since before Microsoft had a C++ compiler, and has been paid to program since 1979. She loves C++ and believes that software should make our lives easier. That includes making the lives of developers easier! She'll stay up late arguing about deterministic destruction or how C++ 11 is not the C++ you remember.
Kate runs a small consulting firm in rural Ontario and provides mentoring and management consultant services, as well as writing code every week. She has spoken all over the world, written over a dozen books, and helped thousands of developers to be better at what they do. Kate is a Microsoft Regional Director, and a Visual C++ MVP, an Imagine Cup judge and mentor, and an active contributor to StackOverflow and other StackExchange sites. She develops courses for Pluralsight, primarily on C++ and Visual Studio. In 2014 she was Open Content Chair for CppCon, the largest C++ conference ever held, where she also delivered sessions.
What do you think? Better?
Tuesday, 12 August 2014
Earlier this year I flew to Utah for the Pluralsight Author Summit. Spending time with such a great collection of my friends and colleagues, and learning more about how to make a great course, was the real reason for the trip, but I got up early one morning to record a Play by Play video with Geoffrey Grosenbach. He has a genuine skill of getting you to demonstrate your own thought processes aloud and I've enjoyed watching other people's Play by Play sessions a lot.
Geoffrey had arranged for some ancient C++ code for me to poke around in. Mike Woodring came through with the sample code from his 1997 book with Aaron Cohen, WIN32 Multithreaded Programming. Seventeen-year old code it may have been, but it turned out not to be quite as ugly as I would have liked. Still, we put it through its paces a little and talked about how I approach this sort of task.
It came out to about 90 minutes overall so if you have a chance to watch it, let me know what you thought!
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