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Microsoft (through the Student Insider program) has generously flown me out to Microsoft TechEd North America 2011. It seems like the website suggests that one should just make a schedule of the interesting talks, and that's that. However, it seems like several people don't spend much time in the talks and spend the time "networking" (the people kind, not the software kind) instead.

How should one maximize the effectiveness of their time at software conferences?

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You should find this blog post helpful: A few tips & tricks on attending Microsoft TechEd 2010. It's off by a year, but most of the advice still holds true. –  Anna Lear May 17 '11 at 1:00
    
@Anna: Sorry 'bout that -- thought such things were okay if A. they didn't have monetary bits attached to them and B. such was disclosed. Thanks for clearing that up! –  Billy ONeal May 17 '11 at 1:02
    
@Anna: Thanks for the link :) –  Billy ONeal May 17 '11 at 1:02

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In 'Never Eat Alone', Keith Ferrazzi encourages people to be 'Conference Commandos'.

Conferences are good for mainly one thing. No, it's not the coffee and cookies at breaks. It's not even pricey business enlightenment. They provide a forum to meet the kind of like-minded people who can help you fulfill your mission and goals.

Emphasis: Use conferences to network. Knowledge and business insight are in short supply.

[There's a] misperception that conferences are places to find insight. Wrong. Real, actionable insight mostly comes from experience, books, and other people. Roundtable discussions and keynote speeches can be fun, even inspirational, but rarely is there the time to impart true knowledge.

Furthermore...

Those who use conferences properly have a huge leg up at your average industry gathering. While others quietly sit taking notes, content to sip their free bottled water, these men and women are setting up one-on-one meetings, organizing dinners, and, in general, making each conference an opportunity to meet people who could change their lives...

...Yes, there's a guide to getting the most out of a conference. My friend Paul Reddy, a software executive, claims people are either bowling balls or pins at a conference. If you're the ball, you walk (or roll) into a conference, event, or an organization, and you blow it apart. With a dash of bravado and ingenuity, you leave a positive impression in your wake, create friendships, and achieve the goals on your agenda. The pins sit placidly by, waiting for something, anything, to happen to them.

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That book seems to be panned in several Amazon reviews -- but the content of the answer is reasonable. (+1) Are you recommending that as a book to own or should I look elsewhere? –  Billy ONeal May 17 '11 at 1:00
    
@Billy ONeal: I am recommending the book. Strong developers who play their hand correctly at conferences (as Ferrazzi suggests) have unbounded potential. –  Jim G. May 17 '11 at 1:08
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+1: I know devs who swear that conferences can be the best career moves a person can make. One of my friends even forked out somewhere around $8-10K CAD for one and doesn't regret a second of it -> He landed a $150+K/yr job because of the people he met there. –  Steve Evers May 17 '11 at 2:08

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