TL;DR - THAT Conference is incredible and if you have the opportunity to go, you should!
I had the honor of attending THAT Conference in Round Rock, TX last week. It was my first in person, multi-day conference and I could not have asked for a better experience!
If you’d like to learn more about the conference in general, I encourage you to check out their website. In this post I’m going to share my intention going into the conference, my favorite moments, and the takeaways I learned.
Intentions and Experiences
I went into THAT Conference with one main goal - make friends. I’ve been employed as a developer for 2 years and I’ve been chatting with people online about development for closer to 7. But I’ve met so few people in real life, and my personal friend network is almost non-existent at the moment. While I very much treasure the communities and friends I’ve made online and never want the option to connect digitally to go away, it can be hard to have deeper conversations through text. And especially right now, when I’m unemployed and really need some connections to help me find whatever’s next, getting to be seen as a real human was the most important thing to me. And wow did I deliver on that!
I have to give myself some huge kudos for sticking with my intention for three straight days. For a lot of people, introducing yourself to someone new or walking up to join an active conversation may be no big deal. But this is something I’ve never felt comfortable with.
I did this so many times over the course of the week, and each time was welcomed into the circle and felt like people were genuinely interested in meeting me. It was mind blowing and yet I got so good at it by the end of our time together! I’m really proud of myself for not giving in to my own fears and worries and putting myself out there.
Along with this - I decided to host an open space on documenting your journey in tech!
Open spaces were a neat thing about THAT - anyone in attendance could decide on a topic they wanted to discuss with people, write it on a sticky note, and put that on a board that showed available times and tables. Then you’d sit down at the table and whoever was interested could stop by and chat about it. There was a huge range of topics, technical and otherwise, and it was really neat to see so many people have ideas to share.
Mine was based on my first talk I did last October on the same topic (documenting your journey). I’d been getting so much value from others and was riding the high of being so proud of myself for talking to so many people that I really wanted to try and give back. I was SO nervous the night before and the whole next day until it was time for mine. I had one of my breakfast buddies stop by and we had a really nice chat all about why it’s worth documenting your career, ways you can do it, and also just general life and how to navigate around Notion and Discord. 😊 It was such a nice time and I can still hardly believe that I actually went through with it!
The last talk of the each day wrapped up at 5 PM so everyone could hang out afterwards. The first two days had planned activities, but even on the third I was able to spend time with some of my new friends. This was honestly one of the parts I felt the most nervous about, but each night was so much fun!
The first night was happy hour, where I got to chat with some of the crew, tease my old boss about meeting one of her good friends, and realize that one of the guys looks a lot like Jensen Ackles. It was light hearted and fun, and when it was time for me to leave it was easy for me to say my goodbyes and slip away.
The second night was a big barbeque. I ate with a whole new group of people, a few that have been on my fangirl list to meet. We had a lot of fun conversation, and ended the meal playing a goofy TikTok game and laughing our heads off. I hadn’t remembered how long it had been since I’d been able to just goof off and laugh with people.
The third night I got invited to go get tacos with some of the second night group and some new folks. I was still getting to meet new people even after the event was officially over! The conversation flowed like I was hanging out with people I’ve known for years, ranging from light hearted to deeper topics and ending with our whole group playing Draw Battle together.
All three nights were filled with laughter and connection. It felt like I belonged there. That’s not a feeling I’ve had often, so it’s also not one I take lightly. It was incredible to feel so welcomed and comfortable around such a wonderful group of people.
Probably the most life affirming things were the random compliments and absolute acceptance I felt from meeting some of the people I’ve followed and looked up to online for a long time. Only a few had I even had actual interactions with through smaller meetups, and even then there was no guarantee they’d remember me.
But I had some of the sweetest interactions:
- Mark Techson told me he was proud of me and really lifted me up about the path I took into tech.
- Abbey Perini gave me a sticker (he’s already on my laptop).
- Shaundai Person told me I was exuding positivity.
- James Quick helping me with his Astro course and offering to introduce me to anyone I wanted.
- Brad Garropy saw me wearing a shirt he designed and said he almost wore the same one that day. 😁
- Emmy Cao recognizing me from a women in tech meetup she’d spoken at months before.
- Jenny Truong inviting me to eat with her and being an all around sweet and fun person.
- Tejas Kumar saying he was glad we got to meet and encouraging me.
- David Khourshid liking my pusheen coding shirt and offering to help with any XState problems I might run into on an open source project I’m considering updating.
Plus so many of them offered to connect me with others, or boosted my looking for work posts, or offered help in some other way. I’d been following a lot of these people online for so long because of the authentic nature they shared, and it was so refreshing to meet them in person and see that it’s real. I’m still blown away.
Strangers to Friends
I also really value all the people I met who I either had briefly chatted with before online or that I’d never met. It was so interesting getting to learn everyone’s stories and hear all of the different paths people have taken to lead them here.
Special shoutouts to:
- My breakfast crew, Roxy and Sharon! We ate together all three mornings and it was really nice to have that little bit of consistency to start the day. Truly delightful ladies. 💖
- Kabrina, who hyped me up every time she saw me and was so lovely, and her daughter, who wanted to eat breakfast with us the first morning because we were a table full of women and was excited to do her own open space!
- Sarah and Ryan, the two people I’d actually talked to before. It’s rare I get to meet my online friends so it was really nice getting to chat with them in person.
And there’s so many other people I met that aren’t listed here. For every single one of you - thank you for being so awesome!
I went into this conference expecting to be exposed to some new ideas and potentially improving my knowledge on others, and that for sure happened.
I got to hear talks about:
- How file downloads work
- Building and testing GitHub actions
- Content creation
- AI and the next generation of web apps
- Using LinkedIn for career growth
- Git internals in VS Code
- Designing for augmented reality
- Cultivating confidence
- Data and storytelling
I also got to hear a lot of life experiences, and more vulnerable and candid conversations than I would have expected. Everyone opened up to each other so easily - it really did feel like a large family gathering, or like the best parts of a summer camp.
Clark Sell, the event host, did such a great job at helping us define our intentions for the day. He talked to us for a few minutes before introducing the keynote speaker each morning, and it was a great way to get ready for the day’s talks.
He started the first day asking us four questions:
- Why are you here?
- Who do you want to meet?
- What can you give?
- What will you do after?
And each day he asked us to remember our answers, and see if we were honoring them. I did and continue to hold true to my answers!
A few other key quotes from Clark’s intros:
- “Confine yourself to the present”
- “What’s old is new again” (as a middle-aged career changer, this is my new life motto lol)
- “The people in this room are the people that are meant to be here”
Shaundai has such a great sense of humor. I loved her archery analogy for transferable skills. She compared each skill we have to an arrow in our quiver, then reminded us that there are three steps to actually shooting our arrows:
- Ready: show the relevance of our skill
- Aim: sell the value of it, not the features
- Fire: tell a story
Her talk inspired me to change how I think of and talk about my core skills. She also finally put a phrase to my love of puzzles - pattern matching! I can’t put into words how long I’ve tried to define that better and failed, so I’m really excited I have a phrase for it now. lol!
You can watch her talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcKK2Yyr4nE
Danny had a very relatable story of his transition into tech, and used a great technique of swapping his name with someone else’s name, both well known people in the industry and people that are breaking into the field.
Other great points from his talk:
- Mental exhaustion is different from physical exhaustion
- We’re allowed to be a priority in our own life
- “A conversation lasts longer than when the voices end”
- “Be a connector for the unconnected”
- A reminder that we can choose our influencers
- Fail, pivot, grow
I also didn’t realize he’s in the Dallas area, and runs a meetup! So I’ve got a potential new group of friends to meet soon.
You can watch his talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgFBitwKd6g
Clark’s story was very moving. He made a great point multiple times throughout the conference that we don’t want to try and offer people solutions, but rather share our experiences. He was so open and vulnerable with us, and I definitely teared up a few times.
My favorite points from his talk:
- “Play the tape forward - is it the life you want?”
- “Be the designer of your own life”
- “Is this a one time and one time only event? or a one time, any time event?”
You can watch his talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_w8B2B-xyYI
Talks and Spaces
I got to hear a lot of deep dives into specific topics during the talks and open spaces which was really cool. I also was able to hear some more open-ended talks about telling stories and life experiences.
I took some notes during most of these, but I honestly didn’t try to make myself remember everything from it. I wanted to focus on being more present, and often when I’m trying to take notes I end up falling behind in the conversation and getting confused. So for most of these I was simply present, and just wrote down a handful of key phrases when they really stuck out to me.
These are a few of the phrases that really resonated:
- “Authenticity is key”
- “Creating content is a first round interview at scale”
- “This is the least known I’ll ever be” (HUGE reminder that now is the best time to be learning and making mistakes)
- “Only people who are worse than you will judge you”
- “When we think something is magic, we release our responsibility to be involved with it”
Overall, I cannot recommend this conference enough! For me this was a one time and one time only experience. I’ll definitely attend more conferences and continue to grow these new friendships. But the timing and size of the conference were exactly what I needed right now. For whatever reason, I was in just the right mindset to put myself out there completely. I left this trip feeling like I’d finally found my people, and they’d welcomed me in with open arms. That feeling is rare, and I’m doing everything I can to hold onto these memories as I’m back in my normal day to day.
While I don’t know that I’ll be able to make it to the Wisconsin event this summer, I’m for sure going to do everything possible to ensure I make it back to the Texas event next year. I hope I get to see a lot of these new friends again and also meet more friendly faces!