"Your invited to the Web 2.0 Summit"
When I received this email from the prestigious Oreily web conference I naturally assumed there was some type of clerical error. Perhaps they just sent these out to any one who requested one, in any case I was excited. Call me crazy but I love these things, such a great opportunity to meet fellow geeks and draw inspiration from speakers. Gleefully I clicked through to register and there it was like a 404 to my heart, "Register Today! Only $3500". Now to most of the attendees of this conference three large is not a big deal, or their company picks up the tab. In my case (independent with quasi cash) and many others who would enjoy this conference a price tag like that is just not within reach. So how can we enjoy the same events, or at least get some free drinks? For this I present to you the Poor Man’s Tech Conference Guide:
I didn’t know they made a rolle for you cheap ass, got into the club on a free pass
The exhibit only pass is your best friend. Companies pay big bucks to be in the hall, anywhere from 5-100 grand depending on the show size. A good conference knows the more faces exhibitors see the better and sometimes give out free passes to the exhibit hall. Check the conference web site and make sure to register ahead of time for one.
Fake it till you make it
A few years ago conference badges were pretty simple paper printouts. These could easily be reproduced with a little Photoshop and color printer. Now however many are moving to the "credit card" type badge which are more difficult to reproduce. A few options on how to handle this:
- If you have a friend with a paid ticket have him bring it over to see if you can create your own.
- Use web sites like this one to stock up on supplies. Many conference still use the same badge holder with a color strip to indicate the type of registration. Conference staff is typically looking at this and only this as you pass by.
- Look up the conference on Flickr to get badge examples. Thanks to the crack like addiction of geeks and Flickr, images usually show up within minutes of the conference starting.
Hack the staff
I used to do technical logistics for large conferences so I have a lot of experience with conference staff. They break down into three groups:
- Hired Goons: These folk work for large conference companies like Freeman or are sent from staffing agencies. As exciting as it must be to register business men while they talk on their cell phone, they usually don’t care too much for their job. They get startled easy so tread lightly, you best plan of attack is to walk up frustrated and say you lost your badge. Make a mental note of an attendees name and give them this. If they ask for ID tell them your badge was in your wallet and them grumble about having to call all those credit card companies.
- Suckers!: These are employees of the company behind the conference who got suckered into working it. While most of the execs have fun attending or running the show they get to stand behind an sign labeled "A-G Registration". These people are usually bad to try anything with, not only do they know the systems they might even know the attendee you are trying to clone.
- "Security Guards": Similar to what you find at your local bank these guys are actually you best choice for a hack. They hover around doorways and check badges like a hawk but they are easily distracted. During lunch time especially they seem eat at their "station" many times and are well involved with a tasty sandwich. Additionally many conferences host a lunch so almost all staff is enjoying the free food like our friend here. Sneak by into the promise land during this time. You may have to wait in a session room for awhile but once your in, your in.
Beware of Grandma Staff
Don’t even think about trying to pull a fast one on the many grannies you find at registration. What they lack in speed they make up for in detail and will maliciously check or ask about any issue. You little whipper snapper!
The lobby at these events can sometimes be more valuable than the conference itself. Better yet the bar next to the lobby if available. You’ll find many fellow geek’s and business folk will open up greatly after a few drinks.
Look on web sites like upcoming.org for events and parties related to the conference. Sometimes companies will book a place nearby filling up it with attendees (and open bar). Track down a way to get on the list or simply show up and try to get in. If you don’t have an attendee badge bring a business card for entry.
Want to go to a free geek conference and in your area? Attend a local BarCamp, these things are great and free as can be. I’ve been to a few and must say they have been some of my favorite conferences. Connect with other passionate and mostly independent geeks like yourself. Hell you can contribute by presenting your own session on just about anything. All you have to do is fill out a post it and stick it the wall. They also have powerpoint karaoke which is something amazing within itself.
So there you have, for those tech heads on their way up how you too can rub elbows with the a-listers and fellow digital friends. Naturally some of the above is a form of fraud so if you get caught don’t expect to be welcomed to next years event. Of course if you ever do make it big they will probably let you attend for free anyway.