Alcohol and Geek Conferences

So there was a lot of tweets today about alcohol at conferences and folks feeling left out.

The original post was actually making a point about not being able to have meaningful conversations with smart folks once they get sauced.  I’ve definitely ran into that at some conferences.  While at the Microsoft MVP conference last month there was someone who had consumed too much and abruptly interrupted a conversation I was having with someone else.  I’m always opened to including anyone in any conversation I’m having at a conference, but this was overbearing and obnoxious.  It wasn’t the conference’s fault but the person who consumed too much.  Now that I think of it, this happened twice on two different nights at the conference by different people.  Hadn’t thought about it much before.

A lot of the article seemed to address something that I haven’t ran into – conference organizers talking up the booze.  Most of the conferences I have gone to are Microsoft conferences.  From Convergence with big budgets for their partners and customers who spend millions of dollars on different ERP systems (like Dynamics AX, GP and NAV as well as Dynamics CRM) to Gamefest which has just a few hundred game developers (mainly guys from AAA studios and some indie folks like myself) along with those in between.  I’ve also been to some community conferences like Codestock.  There was alcohol available but it wasn’t a drunkfest – or at least I didn’t see it if it was.  So perhaps it is just the JS conferences where this occurs or perhaps I’m too blind to see it.  There typically is some party event but it seems that most folks leave those to go to a bar to hang out and/or really get hammered.  I’ve not joined anyone at the bar after the main event closes down at 10 or so.  It seems it is common for folks to not come back until 2AM or so.  They typically miss the sessions the next morning.  I’m not going to miss a session when I’ve paid money for the conference.  Some folks go just to socialize and have those conversations while sessions are going on.  I typically don’t.  I could see great benefit in that, but unless there is no topic I’m interested in or the speaker is having a hard time I tend to stick to sessions.  I do like open spaces for the times when nothing else fits.  

Regardless, I didn’t feel excluded because folks were drinking and I wasn’t.  I chose not to go to the bars in wee hours of the morning but even if it wasn’t at a bar I’d probably not go anyway since I’d want to get to the sessions in the morning.  I’m definitely not a Brogrammer. Oh well, wasn’t cool in high school, why should I start now?

Warning: Contains Offensive Language

This has nothing to do with conferences, but when thinking about feeling left out I recall going out to dinner with some coworkers and their wives about a decade ago.  We all had a good time, I thought.

A couple months later I found out that the group had done a couple more of those dinners but I hadn’t heard about them.  I was confused as to why I wasn’t asked to join them again.  When I asked a good friend why we weren’t invited he told me.

It seems that my wife and I were the only people that didn’t order any alcohol. I was shocked to hear this was why I was excluded.  I asked if I came across as descending or anything. I was assured that I wasn’t but they didn’t feel comfortable drinking around us.

That blew me away.  So I felt left out but it was because I made them feel uncomfortable.  I didn’t say anything about them consuming the beverages.  Just the act of me ordering a Mountain Dew instead of a Budweiser caused discomfort with my coworkers.  I still don’t understand this.  Regardless, you won’t hear me passing judgment on someone who is drinking beer or wine. I hope people don’t pass judgment on me because I prefer carbonated drinks.

So I guess when it comes to drinking at conferences I think the thing I try to do is make sure I’m not making someone else uncomfortable.  I’m not uncomfortable talking to someone with a beer or wine glass in their hand. I don’t want them to be uncomfortable with me because I have a soft drink in mine.

There are better ways to have meaningful conversations than at a loud bar or party event.  I typically don’t stay at those too long because you can’t have a good conversation.  I’ll go back to my room and write some code and reflect on the things I learned.  I hadn’t really considered those events really part of the conference so I didn’t mind.  Of course, open bars have got to be expensive.  I sure hope I’m not paying for that in the price of my conference ticket.

In my opinion conferences are there so we can learn and be around folks with the same interests. Meaningful conversations are easier to have when someone isn’t plastered but I’ve only seen that a few times.  Of course, I head back to the hotel room around the time folks are looking for a bar after the party so I probably avoid seeing a lot of it.

As with everything, moderation is the key.  Anything to excess is bad – including coding non stop and constantly thinking about work.  That is excess and it isn’t healthy and I constantly do it.

3 thoughts on “Alcohol and Geek Conferences

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