Top 7 Reasons to Attend Developer Conferences


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.

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Danny Lesandrini

Danny Lesandrini
Danny Lesandrini
Danny J. Lesandrini currently works as the IT Director for Pharmatech Oncology Inc. at http://www.pharmatechoncology.com/. He holds Microsoft Certifications in Access, Visual Basic and SQL Server and has been programming with Microsoft development tools since 1995.

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