Why You Should Attend a Conference

by Casey West

This year I'm attending several conferences. In July I'll be teaching at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention. In October I'll be at Perl Whirl, teaching again. If all the stars align I'll also be speaking at YAPC Europe. From the outside it looks like I'm going to conferences to teach.

But, I'm also going to conferences to learn. I'm attending a number of tutorials at OSCON, as well as tens of sessions throughout the conference season.

Of course there will be play. It's not possible to say that Perl Whirl in the Western Mediterranean is a purely business trip. Not with a straight face it isn't.

None of these reasons are as good as the underlying theme of any conference, however. We all participate in something more important, more useful. Conferences offer the highest potential to advance our field. Why? Face time.

Throw two hundred like-minded people in a room and you're bound to get something good out of it. Conversation is the inspiration for innovation. When you attend a conference the opportunity to contribute to technology is huge.

Conferences like OSCON present a unique opportunity for innovation due to the vast melting pot of expertise and interest. When Ruby programmers talk to Perl programmers the results can be impressive. Similarly, if SPF developers are talking with Microsoft Caller-ID developers... right, that already happened, now we have the New SPF, and a better technology.

To those who are attending a conference that interests them, I encourage you to get out and talk to people. You have unique knowledge and unique interests that can pollenate new ideas. Parties, more than conference sessions, offer a low barrier to entry to talk to like-minded geeks. Consider those sessions as the jumping point for new and interesting conversation. Sessions are designed to make you think. Conferences are designed to make you think together. That's where The Next Big Thing lies in waiting.

To those who are not attending conferences, but have the means, I offer a truism. Anyone can sit at home reading books and consume knowledge. Likewise, anyone can approach the world and provide knowledge. Choose to give back, that's how we grow.

Finally, to employers who use Open Source technologies. Sending representatives to conferences such as OSCON is very important. Your company can learn from tutorials and sessions. More importantly, your developers can get face time with the leaders of many projects that are important to you. Have a gripe or an interest? Your geeks can buy someone a drink and talk it over.

To conclude this thought, go to conferences to teach, learn, and play. But also, please, go to make things happen so technology can benefit from you today.