Software technology conferences are a great source of professional development for people working in the software industry. At a conference, you’re exposed to the latest ideas, technologies, and techniques available. You have the opportunity to interact with peers and learn from each other’s experiences.
But are conferences worth it?
Most conferences aren’t cheap. Some well-known conferences are really quite expensive. At the time of this writing, earliest bird pricing for QCon and UberConf is near $1700 USD for the conference alone. Once, you add in travel and lodging if you don’t live nearby, the cost easily exceeds $2000. Even more affordable, niche conferences like GopherCon and RailsConf are around $500 USD.
Whether your employer pays your way, or you do, this is a major expense that should be evaluated and planned for maximum benefit.
Why do we go to conferences?
Is it to watch the speakers present their talks? Hopefully, that’s not why anybody goes to a conference in 2017. Virtually all conferences publicly release session videos shortly after the conference. YouTube is filled with conference videos even organized into playlists for viewing ease. Other sites like Confreaks.TV and many others provide access to conference videos very shortly after the end of the conference.
Studying this content at your leisure with the ability to pause and rewind is a far superior way to absorb the content then being in a specific room at a specific time with no pause or rewind.
Make the most of your time at a conference
While at a conference, take the time to engage with your peers. Make connections and trade lessons learned. There is a wealth of information in the conference that goes far beyond the speakers and their talks.
- While at the conference
- Make sure to introduce yourself to your seat neighbors at each talk before it begins and if possibly connect on LinkedIn or exchange contact information.
- Make sure to purposefully sit next to different people during each talk and during each meal (if your conference provides meals).
- Take advantage of every event organized by the conference. If there is an after-party, attend and continue to meet new people. Most conferences have hundreds of attendees, so to increase your odds of meeting great new colleagues for your professional network is a numbers game.
- After the conference
- Use what you learn If the talk covers something relevant to your current work then it should be straightforward to incorporate it. If it’s not, then you can always write a prototype and publish it to Github.
- Share knowledge When you get back, give a talk or write a blog post. It can be a brown bag talk over lunch to your department or a talk at your local tech meetup. This has a double benefit of conveying information to your peers and also the act of preparing a talk will solidify your understanding of the material as you prepare to deliver it.
- Submit a talk! Don’t just go to learn and take away, but instead give back too. If the idea of giving a talk frightens you, then start small by giving a talk at a local meetup.