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How to Bring a Baby to a Tech Conference

By Steph Skardal · April 27, 2015

Tags: conference, rails

Last week, I brought my 4 month old to RailsConf. In a game-day decision, rather than drag a two year old and husband along on the ~5 hour drive and send the dogs to boarding, we decided it would ultimately be easier on everyone (except maybe me) if I attended the conference with the baby, especially since a good amount of the conference would be live-streamed.

Daily morning photos at the conference.

While I was there, I was asked often how it was bringing a baby to a conference, so I decided to write a blog post. As with all parenting advice, the circumstances are a strong factor in how the experience turned out. RailsConf is a casual three-day multi-track tech conference with many breaks and social events – it's as much about socialization as it is about technical know-how. This is not my first baby and not my first time at RailsConf, so I had some idea of what I might be getting into. Minus a few minor squeaks, baby Skardal was sleeping or sitting happily throughout the conference.

Here's what I [qualitatively] perceived to be the reaction of others attending the conference to baby Skardal:

In list form:

  • Didn't Notice: Probably about 50% didn't notice I had a baby, especially when she was sleeping soundly in the carrier.
  • Stares: Around 50% may have stared. See below for more.
  • Joke: A really small percentage of people made some variation of the joke "Starting her early, eh?"
  • Conversation: An equally small percentage of people started a conversation with me, which often led to more technical talk.

Here are some reasons I imagined behind the staring:

  • That baby is very cute (I'm not biased at all!)
  • Shock
  • Wonder if day care is provided (No, it wasn't. But with a 4 month old who hasn't been in day care yet, I probably wouldn't have used it.)
  • Too hungover to politely not stare

Pros & Cons

And here is how I felt after the conference, regarding pros and cons on bringing the baby:

Pros
  • A baby is a good conversation starter, which is beneficial in a generally introverted crowd.
  • I realized there are helpful & nice people in the world who offered to help plenty of times.
  • The baby was happiest staying with me.
Cons
  • Because children were the focus of many conversations, I missed out on talking shop a bit.
  • It's tiring, but in the same way that all parenting is.
  • I couldn't participate in all of the social/evening activities of the conference.
  • Staring generally makes me feel uncomfortable.

Tips

And finally, some tips:

  • Plan ahead:

    - Review the sessions in advance and pick out ones you want to attend because you may not have time to do that on the fly. - Walk (or travel) the route from your hotel to the conference so you know how long it will take and if there will be challenges.

  • Be agile and adapt. Most parents are already probably doing this with a 4 month old.

  • Manage your expectations:

    - Expect the conference with a baby to be tiring & challenging at times. - Expect stares. - Expect you won't make it to every session you want, so make a point of talking to others to find out their favorite sessions.

  • If not provided, ask conference organizers for access to a nursing or stashing room.

  • Bring baby gear options: carrier, stroller, bouncy seat, etc.

  • Research food delivery options ahead of time.

  • Order foods that are easy to eat with one hand. Again, another skill parents of a 4 month old may have developed.

  • Sit or stand in the back of talks.

While in these circumstances I think we made the right decision, I look forward to attending more conferences sans-children.

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