6 March 2014 9:55:01 AM
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It’s been said that the Eskimos have 50 different words for snow because it’s such an intimate part of their daily lives. I’ve been building up my own list of words for “busy”…early last year my work was “really really busy”, then for a month or so it was just “really busy”, and in January it jumped back up to “crazy insane Defcon 4 duck-and-cover busy”. I suspect your work has been the same – tighter budgets, shorter deadlines, pressure to do more with less.
Whether you’re working in industry, academia, or government, or even if you’re running your own business, it’s getting harder to justify taking the time for events like OFC. I’ve given this some thought in recent months, and I’d like to offer 3 easy steps to convince you and your boss of the value from attending OFC this year. I can’t guarantee that this approach will work for everyone, but at least this should provide a way of thinking about the tradeoffs you make by deciding whether or not to attend OFC. Take a few moments and try writing down the answers to the following three questions, then show the result to whoever approves your business travel.
Step 1 – What’s the impact on your business ?
Whether you work in industry, academia, or government, your business needs to brand itself, get that brand in front of an audience, and leverage that awareness into sales or fundraising. OFC brings together over 30,000 professionals from around the world for a week of focused discussion on key topics in the industry. Take a moment to review the agenda, including the affiliation of the speakers and companies represented at the trade show; don’t forget, you can download the OFC app to your mobile device & review the trade show floor maps. Are these the people who should know what you’re doing, and who would be in a position to help you do business? Are any of them your clients, or prospective clients? If so, you should be networking at OFC.
Sometimes this takes the form of a big trade show booth, giving away cool toys just to get your attention. Often, it’s as simple as reconnecting with a colleague or business partner that you haven’t seen in awhile. Either way, plan your trip in advance to get the most out of OFC; schedule meetings with your customers, suppliers or partners who’ll be attending the same conference, or plan a side trip to nearby Silicon Valley. This can be more efficient than making the rounds to visit each of these people individually. If you’ve planned far enough ahead, perhaps you’ve had a paper accepted at OFC; or check out the post-deadline papers for the absolute latest in technology developments.
Step 2 – What’s the impact on you ?
Looking for a new job, or just trying to get the skills to do better in your current role? Consider the OFC virtual job fair and the many education opportunities such as short courses. While there’s an abundance of technical information at OFC, you can also learn about key business trends by attending events on the trade show floor, such as OFC Market Watch. All of this helps “sharpen your saw” so that you can work towards your personal goals of job security, promotions, or whatever motivates you every day at work. Your employer should be interested in this list, too; it’s a very competitive marketplace, and it’s in their interest to have you learn about all the latest industry buzz in a cost-effective way (again, this is also true if you’re self-employed). You won’t find a greater concentration of formal and informal learning opportunities than OFC.
As before, preparation is key; decide what you’d like to get out of the conference, and plan your agenda for the week. Be sure to leave some down time for impromptu lunch meetings or coffee breaks; flexibility is key when you have 30,000 potential colleagues to meet every day. Be sure to have a list of goals in mind, such as learning what SDN really means or what all the major telecom providers are talking about this year; this helps you bring back a focused set of results when you write a trip report after the event.
Looking for an opportunity to polish your leadership skills, or your presentation style? OFC provides great on-the-job training opportunities. Plan to introduce yourself to at least a dozen new people during the week, or to hand out 50 business cards (it doesn’t count if you give them to random strangers; you need to spend a few minutes “speed dating” in conversation with everyone who gets one of your cards, and you need to collect theirs in return so you can follow up later). Find a client who’s going to be at OFC, and take them to dinner one night. OFC gives you the opportunity for business interactions that you might not have otherwise.
Step 3 – What’s the impact on your future ?
What will you need to know in order to stay relevant a year from now? How about five years from now? You can’t take the pulse of the industry by sitting in your office; sometimes you need to get in touch with your global colleagues and find out what’s on everyone’s mind. OFC is an unparalleled chance to understand the future of the optics and networking industry; it’s the next best thing to a crystal ball (in fact, here’s a fun exercise; try typing “crystal ball” into the OFC home page search engine & see what comes up. Try sitting through a symposium on a topic you know nothing about, just to see what you can take away that’s interesting and relevant. Re-ignite your passion for the field, and come back energized to put what you’ve learned into practice.
OFC is where technical and business professionals meet to stay ahead of the curve in optical technology; don’t miss out on your chance to experience this firsthand. Remember, the conference isn’t just for master inventors, CEOs, and executives (although you’ll find plenty of them, as well). If you have a story to tell, there’s almost certainly an audience somewhere at OFC waiting to hear it.
I hope these tips help you justify the trip to OFC this year. If all else fails, remember that in today’s connected world, you can probably get just as much work done on the road as from your office. Drop me a line with your story from OFC, and maybe I’ll use it in a future blog, or connect with me at the conference on Twitter (@DR_Casimer).