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Behind the Code series: the benefits of attending developer conferences


Jennifer Belt

At Cradlepoint, developers are encouraged to keep up with the latest technologies & trends

In tech, the landscape for challenges and possible solutions is changing almost daily. Therefore, a key part of being competitive in this field is the ability to stay on top of the latest technologies and trends, and to apply and strategically incorporate those learnings.

At Cradlepoint, we actively encourage our developers to keep up to date and share their latest findings and recommendations across teams and within the broader technical community. There are countless ways individuals accomplish this — and key resources they rely on, such as Hacker News, technical subreddits, YouTube, blogs, books, etc.

And then there are conferences — ranging from major weeklong events with parties and bands to smaller daylong local gatherings. While not every developer enjoys going to conferences, we’ve found that a large majority of them covet these experiences. So we have embraced these as key learning avenues and worked hard to find a way to ensure that we are able to send individuals each year.

What is it that we find worthwhile, and how do we collectively benefit from the value of these conferences?

It is true that many of the major conferences post their sessions online — so the content is available whether or not you are physically there. However, more than just the material that is presented, the experience is incredibly valuable for a number of reasons:

  • Attendees have the opportunity to meet with and hear from many different vendors. This may be existing or new vendors — and being able to understand their offerings and discuss specific use cases face to face is a great way to expedite solutions. There is the additional benefit of having connections to these companies that can be leveraged when we get back to the office.
  • There are also many opportunities to collaborate with other developers solving similar problems. Being at a conference with like-minded individuals provides an opportunity to discuss comparable challenges and brainstorm possible solutions.
  • The environment at a conference is full of enthusiasm, and it is contagious! Attendees come back energized and full of ideas they want to share, explore, and/or implement.
  • Some sessions are hands-on workshops; those in which attendees do prework and/or create working code.
  • Some of the content isn’t recorded or publicly available. In this case, the only way to hear it is to be there.

We’ve also found some unexpected benefits:

  • One of our developers met (and got a photo with!) Guido van Rossum at PyCon 2017.
  • One of our developers walked 60-plus miles at re:Invent 2017, including 20 miles in one day! (Note: We all learned from her and have considered this in our event schedule for 2018.)

Conference Selection

There are so many possible conferences, and new ones are advertised each year. To determine which conferences to participate in, we have a shared document with an inventory of the conferences that we have attended (or would like to attend), attendees by year, time of year, location(s), and whether we recommend. For example:

Conference Time of Year Website 2018 Participants 2017 Participants Recommend?
RSA Spring (March/April) name name
PyCon Spring (May) name
AWS re:Invent Late Fall (Nov) name
KubeCon Winter (Dec) name


Not only does this help us keep a record of valuable conferences and participation interests, but it also assists us in properly budgeting for conference fees and travel expenses each year.

Beyond that, we have a few guiding principles we abide by to get the most out of these experiences:

  • Attendees present at a lab-wide brownbag event to share learnings from the conference.
  • As a part of this presentation, they will also post a shared document that is available to everyone that can be referenced with notes and resources from the conference (such as links to sessions posted online).
  • Attendees focus on the most relevant sessions.
    • When multiple participants attend a conference, they are expected to collaborate on sessions/tracks to maximize coverage.
    • At re:Invent, we emphasize 300- and 400-level courses.
  • Attendees bring back extra swag to share with everyone else!
    • Stickers, T-shirts, bags, trinkets, etc. … Our team is great at finding and sharing cool items from each conference.

Applying Learnings

Going to a conference and presenting findings is just the beginning. The most important (and challenging) aspect is actually taking these learnings and applying them to the solutions that we are building to solve key problems and provide value to our customers. Here are a few examples of technologies that we’ve learned about and incorporated:

  • AWS NLB (Network Load Balancer) — For a key part of our infrastructure, AWS’s ELB did not meet our needs. NLB was announced at last year’s re:Invent, and with a few recent enhancements, the solution now meets our needs. As of this month, it has been deployed to production.
  • AWS Lambda — Serverless was a key theme at re:Invent last year, and we have worked to better understand how and when to use this technology. This last year, we refined our usage of the technology and have augmented with more interesting production deployments.
  • UI Security Best Practices — One of the talks from a recent conference highlighted several common security flaws in modern web applications. Our engineers noticed that one of the highlighted flaws was present in our code and quickly updated our code to address the issue.
  • Ember Concurrency — One of the highly touted libraries from a recent Ember conference allowed us to replace some complex, custom code with an off-the-shelf library that was doing something very similar, thereby allowing us to spend more time focusing on our core business objectives and less time on problems that have already been solved.

In the next few weeks, we are going to AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas and KubeCon in Seattle. We are quite excited to attend (especially me since it’ll be my first re:Invent experience) and you can look forward to future blog posts that highlight our key takeaways from these conferences!

“Behind the Code” is a series of blog posts, written by Cradlepoint engineers, about behind-the-scenes topics and issues affecting software development.