Dann's Unofficial Guide to Finops X

By Dann Berg

Published or Updated on

Dann’s Unofficial guide to FinOps X

(Disclosure: I’ve been working part-time in a community support role for the FinOps Foundation since early 2024, which means I’m definitely a bit biased. But everything in this article is my own thoughts and ideas. For more information on my background and more disclosure, see my About page.)

FinOps X is next week (June 19-22, 2024). That’s so soon. I missed last year, so I’m excited to be going back this year. I’m looking forward to seeing familiar faces and meeting new people!

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about the conference and doing some of my own preparation. I decided to write this post to document my process in case it could be useful to anyone else.

But as I started writing, I realized just how much I had to say. What began as a simple post documenting my own process turned into more of an unofficial guide for anyone attending the conference as a practitioner.

First, to give some background for anyone unfamiliar, FinOps X is the event in the FinOps world. “FinOps” is a relatively new technology discipline that serves as the bridge between Engineering and Finance. The focus is on all things related to cloud infrastructure costs1.

Now in its third year, FinOps X is a half-week conference organized and hosted by the FinOps Foundation, a non-profit organization that’s part of the Linux Foundation. The Foundation works hard all year to “advance the people who manage the value of the cloud.” FinOps X is where all the people who work in this small-but-growing field can come together, network, and share knowledge.

Needless to say, it’s an extremely valuable conference to attend for anyone in FinOps or FinOps-adjacent roles.

There are several things that I do before, during, and after the conference to help me get the most out of my time/money investment. If you’re attending FinOps X next week (or any other conference in the future), here are some conference tips.

Before the conference

Consider your intentions

What’s the overarching reason you’re attending this specific conference? Are you trying to bring specific value to your company? Trying to answer a specific question? Trying to grow yourself professionally?

You may have more than one intention, so make a note of each and in what priority they rank.

Next, imagine yourself at the end of the conference, looking back at your time at FinOps X. With your intentions in mind, what are the activities or conversations that this future-you is most happy that you had? Prioritize these interactions.

Does this future-you want a specific project you can bring back to your company and deploy? Then you should prioritize attending specific sessions and taking good notes, or finding and talking to people who have done something similar. Does this future self want a new role? Prioritize as many conversations as you can, and get comfortable with selling yourself.

Plan your time

The full agenda for FinOps X is posted online. Each day consists of a morning keynote followed by a full day of breakout sessions and chalk talks.

My advice is: plan to attend the keynotes. Then, look at the agenda to see what breakout sessions and chalk talks catch your eye. Prioritize the chalk talks over breakout sessions, since the breakout sessions will be recorded and can be viewed later. But only prioritize them slightly—there’s definitely value to being in the room watching a breakout session live.

If you view this agenda website on your phone, you can mark the sessions you want to attend and save them (assuming you don’t clear your browser session or clear cookies). Then, during the event, you can use this website as a live reference. Note that this doesn’t work cross-device, however.

Alternately—and this is what I’m doing—you can add the sessions you want to attend to your calendar, and use that as your source of truth during the event. Personally, I’m (trying to) keep my schedule light in order to prioritize 1) the hallway track2 and 2) keep myself open to word of mouth.

Think about after-hours

FinOps X offers a full day and evening of activities. But there are also tons of after-hours, both official and unofficial. Start thinking about how you want to be spending this time.

The official FinOps X agenda lists several afterparties. These sponsored events on on the conference grounds, so they’re all easy to attend. My advice is to RSVP to all of these3, that way you have the flexibility to attend the events that you want to attend in the moment.

Outside of these events, there will probably be people milling around anywhere that alcohol is served. This unofficial gathering type may be more your speed, so keep an eye out for that if you so choose.

Additionally, rest and recovery is also a very valid option. Sometimes you just need to recharge, or to take care of personal matters. If that’s you, then don’t be afraid to say “no.”

But… I urge you to err on the side of “yes.” There’s a reason that you traveled all this way to attend this conference in person. Don’t lose sight of that.

Pre-planning your networking

There are two things you can do to help maximize your networking effectiveness at FinOps X.

First, make a list of all the people or companies you’d like to meet or interact with while there. Maybe there are certain FinOps names you keep seeing everywhere that you want to meet in person4. Or there’s a company that has a particularly advanced practice and you want to meet the team.

Write down a list of names. Or you can keep it in your head, but I recommend writing it down. Then, at the conference, seek these people out. This conference is the perfect size to allow you to actually be successful in this pursuit.

Next, think about how you plan to grow your network. Meaning, how do you want people to contact you? How do you want to contact other people? What sort of tangible connections do you want to make?

For example, maybe you’ll want to connect with people on LinkedIn. From what I hear, each attendee’s badge will include a QR code on the back that links to their LinkedIn profile. These can be scanned with any smartphone’s camera app to navigate directly to someone’s profile. You may also want to review how to pull up that QR code yourself, just in case. (Pro-tip for other conferences: take a screenshot of that QR code and keep it handy in your phone’s photos.)

I personally like using LinkedIn, but maybe you want to connect with people a different way. You can generate your own free QR code that links whereever you want. QRCode Monkey is a great website to generate basic QR codes that don’t expire.

Whatever system you choose, I recommend also have a place where you can jot quick notes about people you meet. This will make your post-conference life so much easier, since you’ll be meeting a LOT of people.

During the conference

Each morning, look at your schedule that you prepared (see “Plan your time” above). Does this plan still appeal to you?

If there are any sessions you know you 100% want to attend, set an alarm on your phone five minutes before the scheduled start time. These will be gentle nudges to remind you of your priorities throughout the day.

These alarm reminders can make a huge difference. Not only will you be able to attend all the session you want to attend, it will also help you stay in the moment throughout your entire day, since your brain will never be wondering if you actually need to be somewhere else.

Taking notes

Everyone will have a different strategy when it comes to note taking. If you already have a system that works well for you, just do that!

Here’s what my system looks like:

  • During the events, I take notes in a physical notebook
  • I don’t try to write down everything a speaker says. Instead, the goal of my written notes is to trigger a memory of a concept or idea
  • All my notes are in bullet-list form
  • Jot down both ideas from the speaker and your own ideas inspired by the talk
  • Process these notes within one week of the event (see section below for more details)

Keep in mind that the breakout session will be recorded. This means that you can put a timestamp next to notes that you take in order to quickly find that section again once all the talks are posted.

Hallway conversations

FinOps X is unlike any other tech conference that I’ve attended. The difference is that the niche subject matter (FinOps) means you can have meaningful conversations with literally everyone.

There are two ways that you’re really going to be initiating conversations with people. The first is chatting up somebody who is alone for a one-on-one conversation and the other is joining an existing group conversation.

For one-on-one interactions, I recommend pre-planning a few conversation starters that you can easily use. These can be more general, like “what is your connection to FinOps?” or more specific, such as “what talks have you attended?” or “what has been your favorite part of the conference so far?” Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with anyone who is standing alone because everybody is at this conference for the same reason. Plus, everybody in this community is super friendly.

Jumping into existing group conversations can feel a little bit more intimidating, but don’t be afraid to do that, too. You can either go up to the group and just start listening and add when you have something to say. Or, don’t be afraid to just ask “do you mind if I join this conversation?” when you hear a lull in the conversation.

Finally, here are a few miscellaneous pro-tips:

  • Looking at your phone signals “do not talk to me.” If you’re alone but open to conversation, keep your phone away and look around the room, seeing who else is open to eye contact.
  • This part of the conference can feel awkward, even to people who attend lots of conferences. The best way to overcome your own sense of awkwardness is to actively work to minimize others’ sense of awkwardness.
  • Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself people who have familiar names/faces. The reason why some people are well-known in the community is because they’re friendly. Just try it!
  • Plan to be “on” the moment you step out of your hotel room. You’ll definitely bump into people in hallways and on elevators.

Mental and physical health

Lastly, make sure you’re taking care of yourself while at the conference! This will look different for each individual person, but there are three main areas you’ll want to maintain balance:

  1. Sleep/rest
  2. Diet
  3. Movement/exercise

Take breaks from the conference when you need to, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night. The reason that you’re physically at this conference is to be mentally present, so take the rest you need to make sure you’re fully there.

Also, it can be easy to let your diet slip at conferences. Between catered lunches and fancy vendor dinners, these events often lead to overindulgence. I try to make sure I’m consuming at least one vegetable each meal. It’s a low bar, but sometimes harder than I expect.

Lastly, make sure you’re moving enough for your body. Maybe the default amount of walking between sessions is enough for you. Maybe you’ll want to add in a morning run or trip to the gym. Whatever it is, don’t let it slip while you’re attending the conference, and you’ll find yourself much better equipped for each day.

After the conference

Congrats! You made it through the week. Unless you’re a vendor trying to process leads quickly, you should take a few days after the event to just relax and reflect on your experience.

Did you do everything that you wanted to do? Did you meet the people you wanted to meet? Learn things you were hoping to learn? Share things you were hoping to share?

After FinOps X, there will be two categories of work you’ll want to do: internal and external. Internal work means processing your notes and internalizing what you’ve learned. External means connecting with people and companies that you met at the conference.

Internal Work

Tools matter less than process. In terms of tools, I use Obsidian (in case you couldn’t tell) but you should whatever note-taking system that works for you. Apple Notes or even a Google Doc works just as good.

In terms of my process, schedule some time with yourself to process your notes from FinOps X. An hour should be good.

Go through your written notes and digitize them. But don’t just copy word-for-word from paper to digital. Instead, your digital notes should be richer and more fleshed out. Your handwritten notes may just be a word or phrase to trigger your memory—when you’re processing these notes and digitizing, capture full ideas and thoughts.

Also, don’t just write down things that the speaker said. You should also be writing down your own ideas inspired by the speaker. For example, don’t just document a speaker’s process for re-tagging their infrastructure5. Write down some of your own re-tagging challenges and your thoughts about how you might solve them.

Another exercise you might want to do (although this might be a bit overboard) is some sort of personal retrospective. Even just three questions can really help you make the most out of the time you spent at the conference:

  1. What went well?
  2. What didn’t go well?
  3. What should I do next time?

Just down a few answers to each of these questions. Then, keep it in a handy place so that next time you’re attending a conference you can quickly review.

External work

The most valuable part of attending any conference is the connections you build and the relationships you make. After the conference ends, you should make sure you’re doing your part to help foster these relationships and help them grow.

After a conference, there will be both 1) people who reached out to you and 2) people you want to initiate contact.

That first category easy to manage. Just make sure you’re responding to the people who message you. Most of these messages will be coming through email, LinkedIn, or Slack.

The second category, people you want to contact, requires a bit more effort. If you’ve been diligent during the conference, you may have a list of names of people you want to contact. If that’s you, you’re already doing better than me.

Instead, I’ll look back through my recent connections on LinkedIn and see if there’s anyone I want to follow up with. I may also have a few business cards in my pocket, and I’ll shoot off an email or two to specific people.

Final thoughts

If you work in the field of FinOps and you haven’t yet been to a FinOps X conference, you’re missing out. It’s a fantastic way to network, build community, and advance your career.

If you’re attending FinOps X this year and you see me, please say hi! It’d be great to meet people.

Happy conferencing!

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  1. This definition is my own, and way over simplifies things. If you want to learn more about FinOps, check out finops.org. ↩︎

  2. The hallway track is the term that communicates the value of those in-between session conversations that you have with other conference attendees. Sometimes, these can be more valuable than any session. ↩︎

  3. RSVPing is “free” but also not free—you’re exchanging entrance to their party in exchange for being added to their lead list. This is totally a fair trade in my mind. Even if you’re not actively looking for a new FinOPs product now, you may be in the future. And hearing different companies’ pitches will help you stay on top of what’s happening in the industry. ↩︎

  4. Or maybe blogs you read *cough* *cough* where you want to meet the author. ↩︎

  5. Or whatever. ↩︎

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