Indian conferences might not be the best to network

MUMBAI / Musannif zahir

How my recent trip to India reset my expectations

I recently went to an IT conference in India, which had a strong list of speakers from all over the world. My last trip to India was over ten years ago and I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, with the likes of Vivek Wadhwa speaking about the “Brain Drain” in America, I was optimistic about what the nation’s software geeks had to offer. Regrettably, my experience was blasé.

Communication

Despite having attendants from over ten countries, all informal communication was in Hindi. This was incredibly disappointing as you’d hear random snippets such as “multithreading”, try to listen in on the conversation and then realize that it was in Hindi.

Cliques

The cheap tickets (~60% cheaper than the cost of a similar conference in the US) and company sponsorship amplified this issue but you would typically have several engineers from the same company interacting with just themselves (and the speakers) for the entire session.

Idols & Etiquette

The thought leaders commanded a lot of star power and were constantly mobbed by the cliques, with rapid fire questions. Even though there were a lot of good, through provoking questions, half of them were asked to assert the questioner’s intellect rather than to make an inquiry. A couple of times, a beaming questioner would answer the question himself or attempt to correct the speaker. A questioner even responded to a speaker: “Well, I expect better from you”, after the speaker responded to his question. During his talk.

Networking (or lack thereof)

There were tea breaks arranged between sessions to give the attendees a chance to mingle but the only circles that had an English conversation were the ones where a well known speaker was getting mobbed with questions.

Outside of the speakers, there was no networking whatsoever. The event planners had pushed the networking event as an afterthought, to the end of the conference. Since the event was held over a weekend at a remote location, most of the attendees had to pack up and leave as soon as the sessions were over.

There was another networking event on the Saturday night but it was exclusively for the speakers and sponsors with no option for attendees to pay their way in. Was this an isolated issue to this conference? Unlikely, since most attendees’ expectations were on-par with that of the organizers.

Conclusion

Despite the speakers and attendees having a lot of technical expertise, there was very little camaraderie among the groups, causing most of the discussions to be very academic. Despite the international attendees and speakers, the lack of English spoken outside of the sessions made the conference seem like a large-scale local conference rather than a regional or international event.

If you’re looking for a classroom-like experience and don’t really care for the water cooler talk or meeting new people, you won’t have a problem. But if you’re looking for a more dynamic event, it might not be worth the journey.

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