10 Devoxx tips

23 November 2010

by PeterHilton

Last week we were at Devoxx in Antwerp. This means that there are now 51 weeks until Devoxx 2011, which means that this is the perfect time to start preparing. Here are ten top tips to help you get the most out of the conference next year.

1. Make sure you can actually go

Moi, j’encourage les gens à réfléchir s’il faut pas changer de boite si vous pouvez pas venir à Devoxx l’année prochaine.

Nicolas Martignole, Les Cast Codeurs Podcast 31 (at 45:58):

Make sure you can actually go to Devoxx, and change jobs if your employer won’t let you (via @lescastcodeurs). If you have to choose between JavaOne and Devoxx then choose Devoxx, which may have just established itself as the better and certainly more focused Java conference. Note that this tip is originally from Nicolas Martignole (a.k.a. Le Touilleur Express).

2. Take lots of business cards

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Some people are surprised that Devoxx conference-goers do not use their iPhones for absolutely everything, and still swap business cards, while the reality is that physical cards still work best. These days all the cool kids have small batches of custom-designed cards from moo.com - I am looking forward to some good Devoxx designs for next year. If you cannot afford business cards, then just print your Twitter name on little address stickers or something. Also recommended: Just-In-Time Business Cards (tick the swag box).

3. Arrive in town early

Arrive in Antwerp the night before your first day at Devoxx so you don’t have your luggage at the conference, and so you have more time to use up all of your business cards. You cannot make the conference longer, but you can have more time in Antwerp. Similarly, assume that you are going to meet cool people to have lunch with on Friday before you head home.

4. Be sociable in the evening

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Kulminator, Vleminckveld 32, Antwerp

If you don’t have plans, perhaps because you arrived the evening before the conference, go to Kulminator for beer and friendly customers (probably Devoxx attendees in general, and the Dutch Java Knights on the Tuesday evening). Take a map, because Kulminator is hard to find.

2011 update: Kulminator is closed for Devoxx week!

Alternatively, make plans to meet up with random people. The best way to do this is to organise an event yourself, especially if you can get some sponsorship to pay for beer, and get someone famous to announce the event on Twitter. At the very least, announce the event yourself using your own Twitter account and the #devoxx hashtag. You do have a Twitter account, right?

5. Drink beer

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Freshly-poured Westvleteren at Kulminator

If you are out being sociable in the evening, for example, take the opportunity to learn about more new things than open-source Java web application development frameworks. To continue the learning experience into the evening, only drink beer that you have never had before. If you think that you have already tried all of major beers, then head to Kulminator, where drinking just the beers on tap that you have never tried is a major undertaking.

Dinner is optional, because beer is food and because however late it is you can still go to Frituur No 1 for chips and gravy.

6. Keep warm

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Decathlon: they sell hats and gloves in here somewhere

Antwerp’s humid November weather can be surprisingly chilly. After you realise how cold you are going to get walking back to your hotel from Kulminator each night, consider getting a warm hat from the enormous Decathlon megastore right next to Metropolis, where the conference is.

A warm hat is especially essential if you are foolish enough to attempt to 'look for a restaurant somewhere' with a large group, which inevitably involves lots of wandering aimlessly around the old town. If you find yourself in this situation, head for Pelgrom, which is a big and warm cellar restaurant, near the cathedral on Pelgrimstraat 15.

7. Travel light

Don’t take a bag on the first day, having checked into your hotel and dropped your luggage the night before, and use the conference back-pack so you have less to carry.

8. Be nice to Valérie

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Valérie Hillewaere and Stephan Janssen at Devoxx '08.

Valérie Hillewaere is a Devoxx hero, as are the rest of the team, despite not getting as much attention as Stephan. Take the time to tell them what a great job they’re doing.

Update: shortly after Devoxx 2010, Valérie wrote in to say that she was leaving the Devoxx team. This means that in 2011 you should be nice to Kristien Leyn instead.

9. Collect swag

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Maximise your swag-collecting efficiency at each stand in the exhibition hall by simply starting with 'Can I have a t-shirt please?', which forces the rep to be up-front about what they want from you. While you’re there, consider asking what it is they are selling because it might be interesting. The software product exhibitors tend to have interesting techies on their stands, unlike the IT consultancy companies who just have random employees or recruiters.

10. Network

Join the conversation instead of only listening to presentations, because you often learn the most from the people you meet in the breaks. If you find yourself in a talk that is not great, just leave and find someone more interesting to talk to in the exhibition hall, especially after 5 pm when the Red Hat and Oracle stands generally have free beer. If you are at the conference with colleagues, don’t act like you are joined at the hip: go off on your own and find interesting people to introduce your colleagues to.