Make the most of your next unconference


The “unconference” conference has been very popular especially for information workers. An unconference is a conference where the format is loosely structured. The idea is an informal exchange of ideas, interactions, and information rather than a tightly structured program. ProductCamps, BarCamps, CityCamps, WordCamps, and others are a popular type of unconferences and this year I have attended a few and each one has its own experience and energy but all are equally rewarding.

The nice thing about unconferences is they are generally completely put together by volunteers and are often times free. This not only makes them an awesome value but also means that people organizing have the best interests in mind when putting together.

Attending an unconference is rewarding but truly engaging in an unconference is awesome. Here are some tips to make the most of your next unconference:

  1. Meet new people: Do not be a wallflower and instead get to know people. This does not mean trying to collect as many business cards as possible but have genuine conversations with others. Get peoples names and follow up with them after the conference by grabbing coffee or conversing on email. Try to meet at least three new people at each unconference.
  2. Participate in discussion: The exchange of ideas and information is essential and you can participate in the discussion by either speaking up in sessions or hosting a session yourself. The nice thing about an unconference is presentations are less formal and more of a discussion rather than a lecture. This allows for a lot of people to contribute. Know if you are contributing to the discussion you will feel more benefited from the discussion.
  3. Volunteer: This may mean you volunteer to speak or you volunteer to register people at the door or a number of things. You will feel more invested in an unconference if you helped make it what it was.
  4. Be thankful: Make sure to thank the organizers, volunteers, speakers, and sponsors for their role in the event. This will not only give you the opportunity to meet other people but also is a nice token of gratitude for the contribution that these people played.

Take a look at your community and find an unconference that catches your attention and sign up. Or, maybe next time you are on vacation you can take the opportunity to go to an unconference in another city and meet a whole new set of people and perspectives. Either way keep on learning and keep on helping others learn, as these are both some of the most pleasurable things to be human.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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Always be a student, always keep learning


One of the most rewarding things being human is learning. After going to post-secondary school for 10 years and now working for 10 years my interest in learning is even greater. Being a rock star information worker requires a never ending thirst to learn.

Nowadays more than ever there are a variety of opportunities for us to keep learning. Some of these opportunities have had barriers lowered by free or near free learning opportunities. Some of the key avenues for you to continue learning include:

  1. In-Person Classes: No matter if it is undergraduate or graduate coursework or continuing education that best fits your current needs and interests take the opportunity if it makes sense. Something to always ask when taking expensive formal college courses is the return on investment and what other avenues are there. Often times employers will help contribute to your continued learning if it will benefit your employer. There are many community colleges that are doing specialized training that once required attendance at a formal four-year college and you will get the benefit of reduced tuition. There are also more schools that offer certificate options which is often times a good and cost-effective option when looking to make a career change. There are even a new breed of “bootcamp” training where you go for 8 to 12 weeks generally and learn some marketable skills like programming, data science, and design.
  2. Certifications: Many different industries have certifications available through different associations. These certifications are often achieved by one or more courses, tests, and industry tenure. Certifications are often times beneficial and well worth the time and money and many employers will help you with both of these and encourage you towards this path. If you are newer to an industry then it is good to get the opinion of others on the benefit of one certification over another. One thing to be careful about is going certification happy and sometimes you will see people get so many certifications and really the knowledge between the certifications does not vary and really you are just paying for additional letters without the value of learning and the continued return of each certification usually is greatly diminished.
  3. Online Classes: There are tons of online classes today and this can be from MOOCs (massive open online courses) or it can be through free or minimal cost online go at your own pace training. These opportunities let you learn everything from programming to history to chemistry to whatever. This can be a good way to just take a course that you had always wanted to but never did or to learn a new programming language to enhance your marketability.
  4. Online Portals: Previously if you wanted to read about a topic you would generally have to pick up a book and then you may have gotten lucky and a magazine or two started writing on your item of interest. Nowadays there are so many other avenues including: blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn groups, online forums, websites, and more. So pick your preference and engage. You will benefit most from these portals when you are a contributor along with a consumer. One line of advice here is to not drink from the fire hose and instead select a group of things where you can consume and from the higher quality sources. For example, there are dozens of blogs on nearly every topic so look at a variety of them and see what others say also and then pick a couple to read.
  5. User Groups/Professional Associations: User groups and professional associations are both good ways to not only continue your learning but also network which is also rewarding. When you are new to your career it is good to get input of others that you look up to and get advice on user groups and professional associations in your area that others find of value. Your goal should be to engage more highly in a couple of these groups or associations as this will allow you to build deeper connections with others in these groups and eventually take on leadership roles if that is of interest. At first try a number of these out until you settle on a couple associations or groups that fit your career or skill interests. Remember user groups and professional associations are also good avenue for those that are looking to make a career change.
  6. Conferences: There is nothing quite like a good conference to focus a lot of learning in a short period of time. There are a variety of conferences available and more than ever there are even free or near free conferences available for us to keep learning. Going to a conference and not just attending sessions but participating in other activities that may be available before or after normal conference sessions is also important as you are continuing your learning. Two of my favorite conferences are the BarCamp conferences and the Product Camp conferences and both of these occur in a number of cities across America and even the world.

In short, there are tons of opportunities for you to be a student and take advantage of this and your career and life will be more rewarding — an engaged mind is a happy mind.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

Links of Interest related to above:

  1. The Ultimate Guide to Coding Bootcamps: Really more than just coding for some of these bootcamps including things such as data science, user interface design, online marketing. http://www.skilledup.com/articles/the-ultimate-guide-to-coding-bootcamps-the-exhaustive-list/
  2. Coursera: Coursera is a MOOC and is simply awesome. It provides a great way to take classes from some of the most prestigious professors across the country and learn some cool things whether it is gamification, irrational behavior, or probabilistic models — all courses I in fact took and were great. Coursera does a great job in breaking lectures into small very consumable chunks with questions to check understanding. You can audit classes for free all the way to very inexpensive formal certifications. https://www.coursera.org/
  3. edX: Similar to Coursera in that it is a MOOC where colleges like Harvard, MIT, and Berkley have a number of courses on nearly everything. There are hundreds of courses available currently. https://www.edx.org/
  4. Khan Academy: Khan Academy is a site geared at teaching people of all ages nearly everything in easy to digest chuncks of information. https://www.khanacademy.org/
  5. Udemy: Udemy is a platform where people put together courses on nearly anything. Key here is to know that nearly anyone can sell their course on Udemy so ensure that the course is rated well and a number of people have purchased. I have had good luck on a couple Udemy courses but did my research beforehand. https://www.udemy.com/
  6. Lynda.com: Lynda.com has thousands of online courses taught by experienced professionals on technology, business, design and many more. http://www.lynda.com/
  7. ProductCamp: ProductCamp is an unconference geared at product management, product development and product marketing professionals. http://www.productcamp.org/
  8. BarCamp: BarCamps are an unconference geared at anyone working in technology space. These conferences are generally free and people speak on nearly anything and everything related to technology. http://barcamp.org/
  9. Meetup.com: Meetup.com has thousands of different Meetups occurring all over the world. Anyone can start a Meetup and some are more engaged than others. It is a great avenue to see what types of groups are meeting in your area.  http://www.meetup.com/
  10. Eventbrite: Eventbrite similar to Meetup is a forum for groups to host and advertise events. Another good forum to learn what type of events that may be of interest to you in your area.  https://www.eventbrite.com/

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