Are Tech Conferences Worth It?

In September, thousands of IT professionals, developers, and trainers descended on Orlando, FL, for Microsoft’s Ignite conference. This was Microsoft’s chance to make big announcements about artificial intelligence, Azure, SQL Server 2019, DevOps, and much more. The keynotes were live-streamed, and all the sessions are available for streaming on demand. From a distance, there was a palpable excitement seen from tweets and blog posts about the event.

I didn’t go to Ignite, but I did attend PASS Summit in early November. This is the premier Microsoft Data Platform conference, and it is typically held in Seattle. This was the 20th PASS Summit and the 15th for me. I had quite a few responsibilities at the event including speaking, the Women in Tech luncheon, and other Redgate related commitments. I did manage to attend four sessions. I do wish now that I had attended more, but I know that I can always watch the recordings later. It was a hectic week and it took me a couple of days to recover once home.

Conferences are expensive to attend. Travel costs, conference fees, and time away from the office are often difficult to justify. Some shops allow only one or two team members to go per year so that everyone eventually gets a chance. I think it is a good idea to send multiple people from a team so that they can attend different sessions and bring back what they learned.

For some people in tech, attending their favourite conference each year is an important benefit that may cause them to consider other employment if the benefit is taken away. For a few people, it is so worthwhile that they spend their personal time and own funds to attend if the option is not available from their employer. I had to do that for a couple of years when my former employer cut back on training. I felt it was worth it, and I was happy not to miss the conference.

Even though there is a high cost, there are many reasons to attend. Not only do these conferences have outstanding educational sessions, they are a chance to chat with industry experts from the community and engineers from Microsoft and other vendors. It’s also beneficial to meet peers (eventually they become friends) to share war stories and ideas. There are an overwhelming number of options for learning and networking at every conference. It’s a great way to find someone you can ask for advice or, possibly, find your next employer or employee.

Conferences are a great way for companies like Microsoft to showcase their latest technology. I think the biggest benefit for organisations from conferences is employee satisfaction and morale. Employees come back from conferences energized, enthused, and recharged. They will have new ideas about how to solve old problems and learn what’s happening next in their field. Some may be inspired to boost their careers by becoming speakers at future conferences.

Even in this digital age where just about anything can be done remotely, nothing beats attending a conference in person.

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