Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mozilla Summit: 5 Hacks to Make the Most of Your Time

Learnings From Last Time

Waaaaay back in 2011, 560-odd Mozillians were in one place for one week for a company All-Hands. Although this Summit will be very different, the size at each location is about the same. Here are some tips I learned during that last large Mozillian fest that can be applied to help you get the most out of the coming SUMMIT!  

Why You Should Care

By putting a little thought and preparation in beforehand you'll get more from your experience. This is important since you're giving up one week of actual work so it's crucial to use this time to seize opportunities you don't normally have

The most important principle not listed below (due to it's obviousness) is to contribute to the Summit itself. Moderate a session. Give a talk. Be a site host. Don't just consume it. Create it. Luckily this comes naturally to Mozillians. Here are tips that may not be as obvious. 

Top 5 Summit Hacks

5. Vote with your feet
The most valuable guideline I remember during all-hands is to not feel obligated to stay chained to a session that's not benefiting you. Get up and leave. I can't imagine not doing this; there were several instances when going from one session to another completely transformed my experience. For example, I left a fairly elementary career talk and happened upon an amazing "How to present yourself" session where the room was buzzing with excitement, and I learned a lot. Of course, don't do this during the all-hands sessions!

Tip: Yes, this is a bit brazen and may feel rude. If you're going to use this tactic consider sitting towards the back of the room. Or, simply leave your bag on your seat when you leave (it looks like you're taking a bathroom break) and don't come back. Fetch it afterwards.

Open Question: How about designing an alliance [that'sTRIBE/LEAD speak] where doing this is okay? After all, a non-valuable session for one person could be totally valuable for another. Let's setup the understanding that it's not personal! 

4. Party, Brah
For me, approximately 60% of the value was derived from social events. It's an informal way to get to know people you don't normally work with. Or who you do, but don't have much of a personal relationship with outside of, say, Bugzilla and IRC (sound familiar?). By attending the optional group dinners I got to talk privacy with Sid, dine with such delights as David Dahl, and otherwise bond with my fellow workers. Sure, you'll be jet-lagged  Yes, we're basically a pack of introverts. But fight the urge to head back to your room for a quiet night and get out there

Forming a real relationship with someone over IRC? 
May take months. 
Forming a real relationship with someone in person? 
Takes one round of drinks. 

3. Do Not Lobby Work
I noticed a good number of people 'lobby working' - not attending sessions to work. While this is somewhat unavoidable for some, for example: fire-fighting a security breach in Firefox, that's understandable, maybe. If not, who are you kidding? All your co-workers are at a Summit. No normal work is getting done. Participate! I can't imagine having missed David Eaves brilliant negotiation session or Mitchell's "History of Mozilla" session - two of the most valuable sessions that will forever change the way I approach my work. But a lot of people missed sessions like these in order to Lobby Work.

2. Introduce Yourself
Don't recognize someone? Now's the chance to introduce yourself. I ended up meeting plenty of people that work in my own office that I hadn't met or talked to before. When else are you given as easy a social license to meet someone without having to deal with the otherwise slight guilt of not having introduced yourself before? Now's your chance. Go for it. 

Tip: Having established "openers" before approaching new people can be help (ahem, introverts...). Here's one to use: "Hey there, I don't think we've met, I'm Jim and I work on Persona. Whats been your Summit highlight so far?" Have you met someone but forgotten their name? Simply say "It's so nice to see you again. How have you liked the summit so far?"

1. Eat With The Strangers
It's challenging to step out of your social comfort zone but totally worth the rewards. Challenge yourself to sit at a table where you recognize no one, or at a table where you see someone you want to get to know better. For example I remember making myself sit with Tristan because I had never really had a chance to chat with him. We had a great talk, and then Mitchell sat down and I was able to ask her some personal questions I've always wondered about (mainly about being a non-technical person in a technical org). Had I chosen the table right next to that, full of my lovely friends (who I greatly adore and otherwise love to dine with), I would have lost that opportunity. Three meals a day means there's a slew of great conversations waiting for you to make happen.  

I hope that helps! Have a tip? Add it below.

Further Reading

If you're interested in other related "conference hacks" the best book I've read on this topic is the "Conference Commando" chapter in Keith Ferazzi's "Never eat alone." He's extreme, but offers great ideas. Here's a free summary.  


  1. This fantastic! Hope everyone is able to read and follow these tips.

  2. I think designing an alliance where it is okay to vote with your feet is a great idea. I think if we got the people organizing the various afternoon sessions (and I am one of those people) to agree to that... hmmm... lets talk more. These are wonderful tips, thanks Laura

    1. Glad you agree! It's one of the most useful "unconference" principles, IMHO.

      This quote explains the benefit better than I did above. Maybe we can use it as guidance:

      "In the unconference culture it is not viewed as impolite to walk out of a session. If you are neither learning nor contributing, it’s your responsibility to respectfully use your two feet to find some place where you are learning or contributing."

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  4. My favorite tip for any conference is to pick presenters, not presentations. A great speaker makes any topic fascinating and insightful, while a bad one deflates you and teaches you little about a subject even if you're really interested in it.

    1. +1 - great tip! Thanks for sharing Myk.

    2. Good tip for most any kind of lecture... professors, too.

  5. I'm so looking forward to this event and hoping to meet more Mozillians along the way!

    Great post, by the way.


  6. Thanks for the tips Laura! These are great. So looking forward to summit! which locale are you going to again?


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