How can you tell an engineering conference from a junket?

The SemiAccurate guide to technology conferences

SemiAccurate logoSome conferences are about technology, others simply claim to be but have no more tech than a rural school board meeting. With that in mind, we present you the SemiAccurate guide to differentiating the two so you don’t waste your money going to the wrong type.

Real tech conferences are awash in engineers, have slides with equations that you probably didn’t learn in college, and graphs that make you think very hard. They are usually held in less than spectacular locations, and you come away having learned an awful lot more than when you arrived.

Non-tech conferences are usually held in scenic locations, skipping the talks for a golf outing can be the right choice for learning, and the slides are almost always animated. You walk away feeling refreshed, tanned, and happy because you just got a vacation paid for by the company, and likely a few points toward your yearly accreditation as well.

The two types are diametrically opposed, but often are confused for one another. CES for example is a party to show off the size of your large screen TV. It is in Vegas, there are concerts, shows, junkets, and everything else your mother told you not to do. It sure sounds like a tech conference, but it is impossible to do work there. How can you tell the difference? Take a look at the picture below, and see if you can spot the subtle clues.

SemiAccurate conference guide

The simple test for tech at a conference

If you go to a conference and see something like the warning label above, you know that there are some very high level engineers around. Things like this are needed at hardcore tech conferences, but are not needed at the pseudo-tech gatherings. This is not by chance, there was carnage before such warnings were systematically implemented. If you see life saving tips like this all around, you know you are in the right place. See you there.S|A

Author’s note: Yes this was a picture taken at a recent hardcore engineering conference. As a result of the warning, there did not appear to be a single choking death during all three days, but I might have missed one or two.

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group.