I could not sleep on the plane. It was a four hour red-eye flight from Phoenix to Boston, and I had barely slept the night before, but I could not convince myself to shut off and sleep. The thrill kept me awake, and as I looked out the window to watch the sun rise through my bleary eyes, I knew it was all worth it.
I was at my first conference. I was living the dream.
Testing my wings
I always told myself that by the end of next year I would attend a web conference. I spend most of my free time watching talks from JSConf US, JSConf EU, and Reject.JS on YouTube. I enviously watch my web development heroes live tweet pictures of rooms full of lucky souls that get to spend three days just learning web development with eachother.
But in September of this year, I asked myself, “Why next year? Why not this year?” And after looking at the conferences available, I found the Future of Web Apps conference in Boston, and asked myself, “Why not next month?”
That’s when I sent this tweet out:
Anyone know any cool web development conferences with deals for students coming up? @fowa in Boston looks neat, would it be worth it?— Jake Pruitt (@thejakepruitt) October 1, 2014
And within minutes I got a response:
@thejakepruitt We think it'll be pretty great. ;) If you've got specific questions, please email lou[at]futureinsights[dot]com!— Future of Web Apps (@fowa) October 1, 2014
So I emailed Lou and asked here ten million questions about what the conference was about, why I should go, and how a 20-year-old living on his own in Phoenix could get himself to Boston in the middle of a school week.
It was amazing to have such a great staff help me through the process of attending my first conference. When they had thousands of people to coordinate and four back-to-back conferences to plan, they stepped out of their way to explain everything to a young web developer. My friends, my employer, and the great coordinators convinced me that I should break the mold and go to Boston.
So I bought my tickets, made my reservations, and watched to sun rise on October 28th in Boston.
To the Future
I was definitely the youngest person there, and with my big glasses and messy plane-hair, I probably looked like I was twelve. Lou was there and remembered me, and I soon was inundated with free stickers and free T-shirts and even free candy. The motto of the conference was “To the Future”, and I felt like I was being let in on the secrets and rumors of future web technology, with everything from WebGL, and WebRTC, to ClojureScript and Web Components.
By the end of the morning my head was spinning. I saw John Resig, the creator of jQuery, talk about crazy neural networks that understood Japanese woodblocks. I met Todd Motto, the man behind the best AngularJS tutorial and my personal AngularJS styleguide reference.
The only difficult part about the conference was deciding which talks to see, since there were two great talks at any given time in the two track conference.
It is not easy to strike up conversation at a conference, especially when most of the attendees are rather introverted web developers and are not particularly interested in talking to a twelve-year-old looking kid. I was not expecting to find many people to talk with, but at the after-party on the second night, I connected with dozens of great role models that made my trip incredibly worthwhile.
I talked with the great team from Best Buy Developers, sat with John Resig and totally geeked out when he asked me what I did. I also had a great conversation with Rob Dodson from Google, and he is actually one of the reasons I started this blog.
I was being overloaded with great advice about careers, development, and life in general. I tried very hard to commit it to memory, and had a lot to think about for when I got back to my hotel room. But before I left, I met Jason Lengstorf, and his advice was so meaty that I needed to write it down so I could come back to it years from now.
Jason was thoughtful and honest enough to ask what everyone else was thinking, and the first words he asked me were, “How old are you, actually?” I was so relieved to finally have someone tell me to my face that they were impressed/weirded out by such a young face at a conference. Many other people tried skirting the issue, but I could tell that they were thinking it at times. Jason did not turn me away though, or dismiss me as a kid who just wanted to ask dumb questions. He saw that I genuinely just wanted to learn, and I looked up to him for advice on how to become better. I will never forget him telling me, “There’s no such thing as failure, you can either succeed, or you can give up.”
The Days to Come
I learned tons from attending The Future of Web Apps conference, not only about technology, but also about career paths and life advice. I will always appreciate the connections I made in Boston, and will hopefully continue growing them in the future.
I am now two weeks out from that conference, but I am using this blog to help carry the emotions and excitement from the conference into my everyday life. I know that the Future of Web Apps conference offers discounts to past attendees, and also has a “Rising Stars” program to bring newer speakers to the stage, which would be a dream come true for me. I also hope to make my way to more conferences in the future, possibly even JSConf or NodeConf.
Are there any conferences you’ve really liked attending? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @thejakepruitt.