Learn one database developer's top reasons for attending developer conferences, if they're worth the money and will he attend again. This particular article offers the authors opinions on the recent Developer Connection Visual Studio 2010 Launch Event.
I've been to a number of conferences over the last ten years but this is the first time I've had to cough up the $2500 myself. After some inner debate, I decided this Developer Connection Visual Studio 2010 Launch Event was going to be worth the time and money. What follows is the reasoning that prompted me to "pull the trigger" on attending, followed by a post-mortem of whether it was worth it or not.
7. Be a Part of History
Ok, this may seem really trivial but how good does it feel to say, "I was there" for a major developer event. In a prerecorded interview, Scott Guthrie reminisced about the old days and how they literally "bundled" the first version of Visual Studio by physically taping together the boxes containing the various developer tools. There was so much included that few developers had enough disk space to load it all so they had to pick and choose what to install. I remember those days. I was one of the developers who got that "bundle" of developer tools. I was there.
I think Visual Studio 2010 is a significant event in the history of Microsoft product development. Maybe that assertion is outside my area of expertise but from what I saw and from what I've experienced over the last dozen years, this release of Visual Studio coupled with MVC and Silverlight is going to have a major impact for developers. This is history in the making and I was there.
6. Training Resources
Sure, the Internet is loaded with resources and tutorials for developers. You can't swing a virtual cat by its virtual tail without hitting someone's blog or an article on development topics. Which is exactly the point. I find the sheer volume of information overwhelming sometimes. At past developer conference events, the presentation documents, PowerPoint slides, demo code and even video feeds were made available after the event. I found those resources easy to use and very comprehensive.
This was the most unfulfilled of my expectations in Developer Connection Visual Studio 2010 Launch Event. There were no video recordings of the sessions, the CD of session materials was lame and the post-conference web site is amateurish. The only "resource benefit" I received came from some of the vendors who worked the conference. I got a certificate for a free hour of Silverlight training and other training and book offers that I will be taking advantage of. In retrospect, this Top 7 Reason is not so compelling after all.
5. Professional Networking
Maybe it's just me, but I find I have to look for ways to interface with my peers at least in person. I mean, I've got hundreds of "friends" who I know only through online discussions. Some of those relationships span a decade or more and it's ironic that I couldn't even pick them out of a crowd. It's just nice to meet people in person and actually shake hands.
More than that, though, is the importance of the professional connections one can make. At one convention a while back, I was approached and asked by an editor of Sybex to write a book on SQL Server Certification Training. I didn't have the necessary experience, nor the time, so I turned her down, but she became a contact for me in the publishing business.
At the Las Vegas conference, I'm happy to report that the networking benefit was fully realized. I expanded my LinkedIn network, chatted with fellow programmers about new technologies, reminisced with some about previous events and made one very important contact whose contribution will show up in a future article.
4. Stretching The Technology Envelope
I signed up for the SQL Server track at Dev Con 2010 but there were also Visual Studio and ASP .Net tracks. I've done some Dot Net coding over the years, but not enough to feel comfortable with it. My original goal for the conference was to figure out what new features of SQL Server 2008 I need to concentrate on. After getting the full schedule for all sessions, I quickly realized there were ASP and VS sessions I really, really wanted to see.
In the end, I went to more ASP and VS related sessions. It's honestly not too dramatic to say that this convention has changed the direction of my career. What I saw got me enthused about Microsoft's implementation of MVC and the potential of Silverlight. I went into it thinking that we'd never have need of Azure (cloud computing) but that's now back on my radar. I have a stack of books on my desk to read and reminders to schedule training sessions. I have to concede that the conference has lit a fire under me.
3. Learn From The Experts
Just because a person is asked to speak at a conference, it doesn't mean he/she is an "expert." However, these speakers were chosen precisely because they are the ones who have paid the price to learn the new technologies. They are the ones who have spent the time writing the books that we will use to learn it. At a minimum, you have to respect them for that and even more so for being willing to do public speaking on the topics.
Some are great speakers, some are great coders, a few are both. I can usually tell in the first 5 minutes if I'm going to benefit from a session. Sometimes I figure out who the best speakers are and look for their presentations. With an event like the one in Las Vegas, multiple sessions take place simultaneously so if you are bored in one, you just hop into another. With so much going on (up to 15 sessions at a time), there's no reason to be bored.
That approach proved useful on a couple of occasions, sometimes because the speaker didn't thrill me and sometimes because I realized the session topic wasn't really what I wanted. I especially enjoyed SQL Server presentations by Don Kiely, Kimberly Tripp and Paul Randall and will gravitate towards their sessions in future events. The funniest session was about UI design presented by Markus Egger. Bob Muglia, the president of Microsoft, gave the Keynote and while it was a great presentation, his voice and mannerisms reminded me of George W. Bush and I just couldn't seem to look past it. While I'm not one to worship personalities, it was cool to hear the legendary Scott Guthrie (the "Gu") give his keynote address. If anyone can be called an expert, it's Scott Guthrie.
2. Free Software and Swag
First let me say that there was no promise of free Visual Studio 2010 when I signed up for this event. In the past, Microsoft has given away developer versions of their products at these events but I go into it knowing that no such promise was made. Still, the prospect of getting $549 worth of software contributed to my decision to attend.
Sadly, there was no free handout of Visual Studio 2010. That's not to say there weren't some freebies. Came home with a bag full of t-shirts. Could have loaded up on ball point pens, Rubik-cubes and other similar swag. If I'd been standing closer to the A-Press kiosk at the end of the last break, I would have walked away with a book or two. There were also lots of raffles, none of which I won. All in all, my number 2 reason for attending was a bust.
1. Refresh, Renew, Repeat
I sometimes need a break from the routine. Vacation is good for that but there's something about being away from the office and getting paid for it that feels really good. If you're a self-employed consultant then there is no paid time off for training but at least there's still relief from the daily grind. Other than an occasional glance at email, I didn't think about the office for 3 days.
I put this as my number one reason; others may disagree. When I was first starting out in programming, an old timer told my wife "his enthusiasm for coding will burn out in about ten years." I think that's a real danger if you fail to keep it fresh. For me, keeping up with technology and continuing the learning process is an important part of longevity.
I don't believe I need to attend a conference every year to stay fresh but from time to time it's a necessity, at least for me. It was refreshing to get away with a bunch of my geek peers for a few days. It renewed my zeal for technology and prompted me to expand my knowledge. I think that in the final analysis, it was worth the time and money and it's something I'll do again.