The fact is phrases like “analyst” and “computer engineer” mean different things today than they did just a generation ago. Hardly anybody needs reminding, but computers and information technology move incredibly quickly these days. Whether you’ve got both feet in this world on a professional basis, or you’re an out-of-practice programmer wondering where things are headed, or you’re a CEO or CTO and you want to know what kinds of tech are worth the investment, you all have something in common: You want to know what data looks like today, what it’s used for, and what kind of tools and skills the industry is developing, or looking for, to make data more powerful and useful than ever. You could listen to podcasts and read books — and you should be doing just that! But data conferences arguably offer some of the best opportunities to experience the most forward-thinking personalities and cutting-edge ideas in technology and data science fields. Here’s what makes them uniquely useful.
Visionaries and Up-to-Date Material
You won’t find material anywhere that’s more up-to-date than what you’ll get from presenters at data conferences. There’s something new happening in the data sciences practically daily — and if somebody gets invited to speak at a conference, it’s most likely because they’re at the forefront of one of those developments. In fact, you’ll probably have to do some prior planning and even make some concessions as you prioritize keynote presentations, break out sessions, demos, and workshops. Research the speaker lineup beforehand so you’re not making last-minute decisions. When you’re researching data science on your own, it can be hard to tell what’s cutting-edge and what’s dated already. But at a conference, you can more or less expect to be spoiled with brand-new material.
Opportunities to Network
The featured speakers are usually worth the trip on their own merits, but they’re far from the only reason to pack your bags for a data conference. The other conference-goers are worth planning your trip around, too. Take some time to haunt the social networks of some of the thought leaders and companies in this field. See who’s mentioning attending or speaking at an upcoming conference. If they’re working on a product you have some interest in, or you’re looking to offer your talents or recruit some of theirs, you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by reaching out beforehand and planning for some face time during the event. Of course, some of the best conversations are entirely unplanned, too. Either way, if you arrive looking for opportunities to socialize, you never know who you might run into.
Ways to Meet Personal or Business Development Goals
You might be asking: “If I have the time and funds to attend just two data conferences per year, how do I choose?” And it’s a good question! Answering it brings us to another of the best reasons to attend data conferences: the opportunity to advance specific business and personal development goals. How do you decide on which conferences? Or which speakers? You start by asking yourself what you want out of the experience and how you want your business, or your marketable skills, to improve. Ask yourself:
- Which of these speakers do I want to emulate? What can I do, professionally, to get to where they’re standing?
- Where can I look for relevant ideas for the projects I’m working on?
- Which of my skills needs development, and what are my subject matter blind spots? How do I improve the marketability of my skills?
- Once I leave the conference, where will I go from there? Am I looking for a mentor? Courses to take? Book recommendations? Which conference presenters seem to have their pulse on the future?
Data conferences can be downright thrilling when you consider they’re just as much a glimpse into the future as they are a snapshot of the present. Everybody needs personal and professional development goals, and attending conferences can be a way to orient one’s compass in a promising direction.
A Chance to Unwind
We’d be remiss if we didn’t also point out that going to a conference affords a nice opportunity to balance out all of that learning and course-charting with some necessary R&R. As we’ve known for a while, human beings do some of our most productive thinking during mental downtime, so don’t be afraid to chase that last-keynote-of-the-day feeling with a (non-alcoholic, we’re sure) drink and maybe a soak in a hot tub. Conferences can be busy and crowded — almost one-third of all business conferences have 2,500 attendees or more — which means you’ll probably be ready for something more restful after a full day of presentations and workshops.
A Deeper Understanding of an Industry That’s Shaping the Future
Back to the serious business: “Why data conferences?” The answer is because data powers everything. IBM predicts that by the end of 2020, in the U.S., there will be more than 2.7 million positions available in data analytics alone. They also estimate that big data analytics will be worth $187 billion by the end of 2019.
Data is big business — and the tools we use to collect and decipher it has implications for every other industry and every other human activity. There are lots of reasons why attending data conferences is a good idea for people of all walks of life and career paths, but seeing a bit more of the bigger picture of how modern life “works” is probably one of the most valuable.