Three Ways Planning a Conference Helped Me Grow Professionally

This year, I had the opportunity to serve on the committee for GLSEC (Great Lakes Software Excellence Conference). Originally, I thought it was just a way to help support the local development community. However, I’ve found that it has been a fantastic professional development opportunity for me.

GLSEC is an annual event organized by SoftwareGR, which Atomic founded back in 2003. Atomic sponsors the conference, and Atoms usually have the opportunity to work on the organizing committee.

Decision Making

Organizing an event is all about decision making. From the theme to promotions to selecting speakers, there are a lot of decisions to make. We like to use data, such as feedback from the previous year, to drive some of these decisions. Other times, we just need to make an educated guess.

The former approach is simple: Use the data to make the decision for you. The latter is what really helped me grow.

I learned two things:

  • Some decisions aren’t worth a debate. In these situations, it’s important to make a decision, and there really isn’t a wrong answer. It’s more important to make any decision than it is to spend time weighing the options.
  • With more important decisions, I learned that people appreciate decision makers who listen. When two or more members sit on different sides of a decision, they each want their perspective heard. Usually, in these cases, there is a third option that incorporates both viewpoints. In order to find that third option, I needed to listen carefully and take all perspectives into account.


Working on a committee provides a lot of networking opportunities. The GLSEC planning committee has members from several companies, so even our planning meetings are a chance to network. We use and grow our professional networks, finding speakers that we think fit the conference well. Also, the night before the conference, we have a speaker reception, which provides another chance to network.

Through this opportunity, I’ve learned that networking doesn’t have to be intimidating or scary. Instead, it is an opportunity to meet more people, learn their stories, and tell them yours.


While planning the conference, I was accountable for putting in the time to make it a success. I had to prioritize my time and plan time outside of working hours for conference tasks like updating the website or contacting speakers. There was no one to pick up my slack–a situation I enjoyed. It forced me to be accountable for my own work.

At the end of the conference, we ask all attendees for their honest feedback about speakers and the conference overall. This is a great way to measure how successful our committee was and to hold us accountable. It also drives our responsibility and accountability for future conferences.

When I volunteered to help organize this year’s GLSEC conference, I never thought I would get so many professional development opportunities out of it. I’m happy that I made the decision to participate and hope to do so for years to come.