Four Reasons to Attend a Specific Conference as a Generalist

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the Chain React conference in Portland, Oregon, hosted by the nice folks over at Infinite Red. It’s a React Native-focused conference, hosting talks by those who work on the core team, members of the open-source community, and developers who use the framework in their everyday work.

Here at Atomic, we work with many different clients on many different projects, so we can’t focus on just one language or framework–we have to consider everything. Since being a generalist is part of my job, I was somewhat nervous about attending a conference with what I thought might be a narrow focus that would be difficult to regularly apply to my work.

After attending, I realized that there’s nothing for a generalist to fear about a specific conference like Chain React. Here are a few of the reasons why.

1. You Can Expand Your Experience

After working with React Native on a couple of projects, I found that I really enjoyed the framework but knew my experience was limited to just two projects. I was not at expert level, and predicting how the framework would fit for future projects seemed difficult. To gain expertise, I’d have to work on many more React Native apps, which could take a long time given the variety of work we do here.

What the conference allowed me to do was learn from the experience of others who use React Native in their day-to-day work, hear from the team that is updating it for the future, and get a better grasp on how to better take advantage of the community of developers who use the framework. After two days of talks and networking, I feel much better equipped for both working with React Native and selling people on it as an appropriate (or inappropriate) way of building a product. This is the kind of understanding that would be hard to learn from a 30-minute talk at a more general development conference.

2. You Can Tap Into the Community

At Atomic, there is a lot of knowledge-sharing happening between employees all the time. The catch is, much of it is related to our own past work on projects. So how does it work for newer frameworks, languages, and patterns? Maybe one team has used a new tech stack and can speak to it in that context, but building a more in-depth knowledge base is tricky at that stage. You can Google around, read some StackOverflow questions, maybe see an article or two pop up on Hacker News, but otherwise, it takes a lot of time and energy to find the right resources.

That’s why a framework- or language-specific conference can be exactly what you need. It’s obviously the focus of the conference, but the wealth of information available to you through interacting with the talks and community is so much greater than you may come across in your regular work. I think that makes it worthwhile for a generalist to try such a conference.

3. You Can Just Go for the Fun of It

A big reason I chose to go to Chain React was because it focused on a framework that I really enjoyed. Despite no guarantees to work with it in the near future, I decided to take the leap and attend the conference to learn more about it. I’m very glad I did.

In client work, there’s not always a lot of flexibility in how to tackle problems. Based on previous experience, you pick a solution that you think will solve a problem cheaply and effectively. Without much time to experiment, there’s little room to expand the breadth of your knowledge on a particular subject.

Attending a conference like this strips away the external pressure of solving a problem for work and lets you discover solutions and strategies from other people who enjoy the topic in the same way you do. Instead of slogging through article after article explaining the differences between navigation libraries before you have to just pick one, you can get the opinions of other developers while discussing the talks over drinks at the end of the day.

4. It’s Less Specific Than Meets the Eye

The final thing I learned while attending Chain React was that the lessons from the conference can be applied more generally than I expected. In this case, no discussion of React Native happened in a vacuum. It was compared to native iOS and Android development. It drew upon lessons learned from previous cross-platform mobile frameworks and the JavaScript community. Case studies about using React Native for developing a product touched on far more than just the choice of framework.

There was so much regular software development talk (in this case, framed around using React Native) that I felt I learned plenty I could apply to my job, even when not working directly with the framework. This gives me the confidence to go out and attend another specific conference because I know just how much I can really get out of it.