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NI Dev Conf: Using tech conferences to empower your people

  • Conferences and awards are important to practically every modern industry, providing industry recognition for work well done and opportunities to network with peers or even recruit new people. For the global tech industry, conferences also provide a much more practical service as key milestones throughout the year and opportunities to showcase new products and accomplishments.

    The Northern Ireland Developer’s Conference (NI Dev Conf) leans heavily on that showcase aspect, stacking out a packed schedule across the venue with over 60 talks by local experts in fields from biotech and blockchain to game development and web development.

    I’ve written before about how this open structure makes NI Dev Conf something special for the local industry, bringing together people from a wide range of disciplines in one place and promoting the cross-pollination of ideas. As we look back at our favourite moments and talks from NI Dev Conf 2019, one thread seems to run through all of them: Empowering people to do impressive work.

    Talks can empower your staff

    In today’s competitive market for qualified tech staff, it’s more important than ever that companies provide something compelling beyond simple financial remuneration and an interesting project to work on. Research on intrinsic motivation shows that people are happiest and most productive when they feel ownership over their work, have autonomy in their role, and can gain expertise in their field.

    Encouraging tech employees to give talks on their work can be an effective way to empower them on all of these fronts, giving them an opportunity to take ownership over specific pieces of work they’ve done that year or projects they contributed heavily to. Many of the talks at NI Dev Conf took this form, allowing the presenters to demonstrate their expertise to peers and talk about something that excites them about their work.

    Smashfly took to this approach extremely well this year, with four people giving talks relating to their work: Paul Breen discussed web security for developers; Victoria Sloan gave a talk on the process of involving designers early in the development process; Angela Lavery delivered an introduction to Azure Machine Learning; and Saoirse McCann delved into state management in front-end web development using Akita JS.


    Raising your company’s profile

    Every company works hard to control its brand image and the impression it gives to clients, competitors, investors, and potential hires. It’s important not to underestimate the value that talks at events can have in raising a company’s profile locally, especially with recent graduates or those looking for a new career.

    A well-delivered presentation can provide a window into the kind of challenges a company is currently facing, the problems they’re trying to solve, and the skills that they find most valuable – all of which can prompt someone to realise they’d be a good fit for the company. They also show that the company has a culture of allowing staff to take ownership of projects, present their expertise at events, and develop their careers.

    Medical tech firm axial3D really nailed that angle at this year's NI Dev Conf with its deep dive into the technical complexities of turning data from medical scans into 3D printable models. Presenters Luke Donnelly and James Fitzpatrick also gave a solid overview of future challenges the company is now facing in integrating machine learning to speed up some of their processes that currently have to be done manually. If I were a recent graduate with expertise in Machine Learning, that talk would definitely have put axial3D on my radar.


    Using conferences as deadlines

    It’s tempting to think of the time spent putting together presentations and attending a conference as lost productivity, but the commitment to present a project at an event can be a highly effective motivator to get the work wrapped up. The conference date forms a hard deadline for getting something complete enough to present to peers or the public, and the presentation itself serves as a useful snapshot of the project at a certain moment in time that can help with planning.

    This is something we use heavily in the game development industry, with projects needing to be ready for live demos at important events such as Gamescom in Germany or PAX in the US. Working toward important industry events and award deadlines can provide natural intrinsic motivation and help solidify your own internal deadlines.

    My colleague Tina Lauro Pollock from Brain and Nerd takes this approach with most events, using them as deadlines to get certain features implemented in her games and opportunities to take stock of what stage a project is at. In her talk at NI Dev Conf, Tina discussed the difficulty in managing time scales and deadlines. Much of the wider tech industry is similarly product-oriented and could potentially benefit from this approach -- Don’t just tell people what you’re working on, show them!


    To see more of this year's talks from the Northern Ireland tech sector, head over to the official NI Dev Conf YouTube channel.

    About the author

    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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