While attending conferences, sometimes some folks approach me. I can sense they are nervous, I can sense that they have some questions to ask, and I can sense that they look up to me – and I always get the impression that I am frightening some of these folks. The bottom line is: all of us “celebrities” are only human. You can contact us, and you can have a chat with us most of the time. Here are some things that I did in the past.
Early in my career, I read a lot of books, blogs, articles, and contributed to a bunch of mailing lists. Whenever I read something, I needed to try that out the next day back in office, and often this helped me to learn more.
Over time I started to reach out to the authors. I remember when I wrote my first mail to Jerry Weinberg after reading Perfect Software. He recommended Quality Software Management to me for understanding the Satir communication model. I provided him some feedback on some of the typos that I found. I did similar things with Kent Beck, James Bach, Lisa Crispin, Janet Gregory, Gojko, and so on.
Usually us authors are very approachable. We like to read stuff that other folks come up with while they read our stuff. We like to hear war stories from folks who tried to implement our ideas, and the experiences they made. These stories help us learn, and see beyond limits. We are very open to discuss questions, and provide feedback, or give out additional thoughts since that will help you as well as us. A classical win-win.
Let me add a disclaimer: So far, I haven’t been overwhelmed with questions in my inbox. That might change at some point. Right now, I usually follow up on emails within a week. If you get in touch with me, those numbers might have changed.
At conferences, you may talk to a lot of folks. Some of them are well-known for their contributions to the field, and might be crowded by lots of folks. Others are not so well known, but maybe maintain a blog that has some pretty good thoughts. I always find it great to put faces to names and writings. So it pays off to get in touch with these folks – at least have a small chat with them, even if it’s just about the weather outside.
At conferences as well as user groups you have the opportunity to get in touch with some great folks. You can directly engage with discussions, and get an answer to your “I ever wanted to ask”-question. Take that opportunity. All of us speakers, and authors like to hear from others, and like to exchange ideas, explain stuff, hang out with folks. Asking someone for dinner options is always a good pick, usually. Besides the celebrities, you can also get in touch with other folks that share their passion – and yours. Over the years, I have met many interesting folks at various conferences.
Early on, I was surprised at conferences when they approached me with “hey, aren’t you the author of shino.de? I read your blog. I like it.” Most of the times I replied “oh, you’re that guy. Thanks, now I know my only reader.” I then could explain that I keep that blog for my own reflection, and always find it surprising to hear such stories. But honestly, don’t tell me that you read this – ignorance keeps me at writing. :)
Nowadays, social media is big. Beyond mails, I like to have chats with folks over skype, over twitter, or just read stuff that is on their minds on facebook. I am bad at following up on forums these days. That’s mostly because I am on the road mostly, and flaky hotel wifi combined with lots of hours on the train don’t combine well enough with online forums.
Usually there is some kind of overlap between these communities. People want to help out, and you will find like-minded people in all the different forums. At times, some of the gurus also contribute, and you can grasp easily some thoughts from them when they do. That’s great.
Get in touch
We’re all humans. We have our great moments, and our bad moments. Sometimes we’re up to capacity, and can’t contribute to stuff, at times we do more of that because we have the bandwidth available.
Guru, or not, we’re all approachable, and connecting on the human level with folks usually is a good starting point. Most of us are here to help.
Finally, I would like to share an experience that I gained from one very large conference last year. There were more than 2000 attendees, and of course also some gurus in that community. Some of them had track sessions.
What I disliked were the various gurus that sat in their hotel rooms – I don’t know what they did there – rather than hanging out in the hallways, chatting with folks, and getting in touch with the folks that try to incorporate their ideas into their working life. Some of these gurus only showed up for the 90 minutes duration of their talks. I found that disappointing to me as a participant since I really wanted to hang out a bit with these folks.
But not all were like that. Some other gurus were always present in the hallways. These folks were approachable, and said hello every morning. When I am attending a conference, I usually see myself as a peer, I want to learn something as well. For that to happen, I need to stay in touch with folks.
In the end, we’re only human.