Whether as an attendee, a speaker, or a vendor I wanted to know what the unspoken rules of etiquette are at software conferences. Other than the blindingly obvious ones (like don't assault the winner of the iPad raffle because you didn't win).

What are some of the rules that should be followed, even if you feel they don't need to be said?

Please, one rule per answer, with the summary in bold leading the answer. Post multiple answers if you have multiple rules.

  • 9
    There's always Wheaton's Law that applies to all conferences and social interactions: "Don't be a dick". :)
    – Adam Lear
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 19:03
  • 2
    -1 to the OP for not following Wheaton's Law.
    – jmort253
    Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 19:10
  • Nice guys do not win hockey games.
    – Job
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 3:23
  • 3
    Excrete only in designated receptacles.
    – Crashworks
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 6:10

13 Answers 13


Treat Q&A sessions like you'd treat StackOverflow:

Ask per don't be the guy who asks all the same questions over and over again and make sure your questions are:

  1. short,
  2. to the point,
  3. can be answered,
  4. wouldn't obviously violate the dude's NDA and
  5. actually matter to 85% of the other attendees.
  6. Aren't some sort of subterfuge to insult or embarrass the presenter.
  • 11
    And there's nothing worse than that guy who asks "questions" that really are just poor attempts to embarrass the answerer.
    – MIA
    Commented Jan 17, 2011 at 16:42
  • @Jim L, that's a good one. Commented Jan 17, 2011 at 16:45
  • 14
    +1 for point 3. Basically make sure your question is a question, not a statement of opinion. If people wanted to hear what you thought, you'd be the one on the stage... Commented Jan 17, 2011 at 17:36
  • 2
    Also the guy who asks questions just to show off how smart he (thinks he) is...
    – Benjol
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 9:31
  • 2
    I really agree with Benjol. At a conference I visited a session on security, which was was mildly interactive. Guy in front of me apparently already knew the answer to all (his) questions. At one point actually raising TWO hands to get the speaker's attention. If you already know everything on the subject, visit another session and learn something. You can always look the guy up on the conference floor for a one on one or something.
    – Syg
    Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 10:17
  • If you're in doubt about the t-shirts, just wear something neutral - go get some solid-colour, logoless (or logos unrelated to the nature of the conference) shirts that won't offend anyone.
  • if it's a MS-sponsored conference and they allowed a Wii booth, then there's nothing wrong with playing it. If you're the vendor who provided it, I'd still not worry too much. I very much doubt the XBox team will send thugs to trash it. ;)
  • Not sure about cancelling if only one person shows up, but even if there's one person, you can talk to them one-on-one (rather than go through the whole power-point schtick) instead of just telling them to go home.
  • Shower (always!) - why was this even in question? Would you want to sit next to someone else who hasn't showered in a few days? And on a similar note: Brush your teeth (no, mouthwash alone is probably not good enough)! Do you want to listen to a sales pitch from someone with really rank and nasty breath? Do you think people will buy from you if you are making a pitch with nasty breath?
  • talking during while someone else is speaking is rude. Anything more than a handful of words exchanged, then leave and go talk in the hall. Eating isn't as bad as long as you're quiet and neat.

Codemash has an anti-harassment policy, which should be followed whether there's a policy or not. This is about fanboy-ism and taking that to the level of bullying.

The following is from http://www.codemash.org/About:

Anti-Harassment policy

CodeMash is dedicated to providing an outstanding conference experience for all our attendees, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, financial status, hair color (or hair amount), platform preference, or text editor of choice.

We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form, and we would like to take this opportunity to remind all attendees of the basic premise CodeMash was founded on: passionate, but respectful dialog between our attendees. Please treat your fellow attendees with respect, regardless of the context you’re interacting with each other.

Harassment is not appropriate for any conference venue. Conference participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference, without a refund, at the discretion of the conference organizers.

  • 3
    +1, I would hope conferences would have similar policies, but this is an excellent rule to follow even if it's not explicitly stated. Commented Jan 17, 2011 at 16:11
  • 1
    +1 - Things like Booth babes, sexist jokes on slides etc irritate me no end, it's Frakin insulting for my female colleagues to start with, nuff said. Commented Jan 17, 2011 at 16:59
  • 6
    Does this really need to be stated explicitly? How sad. Commented Jan 17, 2011 at 20:48
  • CodeMash is a polygot, multi platform confrence at a water park. So I am sure they have had at least one issue relating to Vi vs Emacs, Mac vs Windows, or programmers of size in the water park. So if they are going to establish an anti-harrasment policy for one reason (no heckling the speaker for booting up Windows), they have to cover all legally actionable bases so as not to be viewed as endorsement via omission in policy WRT discrimination on one of the other hot button issues (which they have never had an issue with). It sad on multiple levels, but ultimately needed.
    – shemnon
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 18:43

Ask Questions about the Content, not the Company

Just because the presenter is from Microsoft does not mean its ok to take the opportunity to ask pointed and leading questions about what really happened to Netscape, and why "M$" hates puppies.


There's always Wheaton's Law that applies to all conferences and social interactions: "Don't be a dick". :)


Remember, you are acting as a representative of your employer whether you like it or not. Think about this long and hard before you have another drink and/or make a pass at inappropriate female reference here.

You should try to have a good time, but always be polite, aware of your surroundings, and above all else respectful.

Here is a list of the types of trouble you can get into:

  • Personally looking like an ass in front of a client. (Or scaring away existing clients.)
  • Accidentally leaking information and/or juicy quotes to members of the press. Bashing on your competitor's product can and will get quoted.

The list goes on, but you get the point. You won't be able to know the extent of your influence or who is listening to that private conversation.

  • 1
    This is why you should not wear a badge with your company name on it. If someone asks, just mention you freelance.
    – JeffO
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 1:52
  • 1
    @Jeff, I actually disagree. You shouldn't try to hide the fact you have a day job. In fact, conferences are an excellent opportunity for networking and/or engaging with customers. To not take advantage of that defeats the whole point of going to a conference. Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 2:44
  • @Jeff O: But of course you would not suggest that if you are paid to be there by your company as their representative, right? Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 14:32

If your talk IS NOT explicitly advertised as a product demo or marketing pitch, don't do a product demo or marketing pitch.

I've often seen this happening, especially in academic conferences, where talks are advertised as being a concept, an idea, a technology, etc., and it turns into a demo or product pitch.

Obviously, we all work somewhere, so it's legitimate to say "we at company XYZ do this". It's ok to mention some features. But focus on the topic that you promised.

I recall a keynote at a major academic software engineering conference which was supposed to be about collaborative work. Instead of presenting a talk with interesting slides and novel ideas, the presenter spent 90% of the talk showing a product demo of the next release of a major IDE. I have never seen people getting up and walking out in disgust.


To me, the main thing is to be respectful to everyone - for we are all students of each other. Respect means being polite, never-interrupting, smiling, complimenting good ideas, etc


No groveling during Q&A

Let's say you've just listened to an amazing talk by your idol (Gosling, Knuth, Spolsky, et al.) and they've opened up the floor for questions. It's your turn at the mic. Please do not waste time announcing that you are their greatest fan, you own all of their books, you read their blog every day, and could you get into a picture with them.

Hate that.

Ask your question, listen to the answer, and get out of the way for the next person.


Wireless device limitations Do you really need 5 devices taking up an address at the same time? Laptop - OK. A cell phone? Get a data plan you cheap-skate.

  • Hehe, I remember a scott hanselman session where he said something along the line off: "I already downloaded this to my c drive, because I don't trust the wireless connection here; you guys are propably all sharing torrents right now".
    – Syg
    Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 10:22
  • Any conference center I've been in has had terrible-to-no reception - in this case, I would think having a phone on wifi would be acceptable
    – Nicole
    Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 21:29

Do not do your work at the conference. Included are talking with colleague (oral or via cellphone), fire up IDE on your laptop and working on it, etc. If you don't have time to go to the conference then don't


Make sure your laptop isn't spewing malware all over the wi-fi

This happened at one conference I attended about eight years ago. Someone had a virus on their laptop and it systematically started spreading itself to everyone else in the room. And then the newly-infected PCs started looking for new hosts, too. Brought down the network in short order.


Don't pitch me on your social app idea. I don't really want to be pitched at all, but if you're going to do it...

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