Blog Post

The Conference ROI


I saw recently that Brent Ozar wrote a blog about justifying the cost of attending the 2009 PASS Summit. I tend to agree with the reasons that Brent listed and think he presented a good case, but I thought I should give a few thoughts from my perspective. PASS has their own ROI page as well that you can check out.

A Boondoggle

There are a lot of people that think a conference trip is a boondoggle. I think the people that think this are usually the type of people that would take advantage of the time to make it a boondoggle, but I could be wrong. What can you tell them? Read on.

I've been lucky enough to attend dozens of conferences in my career. Working for SQLServerCentral I'vet typically been to TechEd and the PASS Summit most years, but I've also added in the Microsoft BI Conference, the Business of Software conference, and a few more. At corporate jobs I've also attended a few user conferences for specific vendors, the Microsoft PDC, Comdex, and others.

That's rare, in my opinion. Most employees never get to attend a conference. A select few seem to go more than once, and I think I know why. Actually I think there are two reasons:

  • They're motivated
  • They are motivated.

That might sound like one reason repeated for emphasis, but there are two reasons here. The first, they're motivated, means that these are people that ask to go, which is the all important first step. I've learned in my career that not much is given to you. If you want something (a conference trip, a raise, a new monitor), you need to ask. Not a lot of employees are willing to even try to ask, and fewer still know how to ask. I assume you can do the former, I'll leave the latter for another blog post.

The second reason, these people are motivated, is a result of their professionalism. The people that work hard, that go the extra mile, that solve problems, get things done, and are effective (one of my favorite words), are motivated to do well in their careers. This type of employee reads technical books in their off-time, they go to user groups, they try to improve their skills and do a better job, and often they also help others to get better along the way. Either by mentoring, teaching, and coaching, or by just setting a great example.

These people are built to do a good job and sending them to a conference does two things.

  • It helps them learn
  • It helps retain them

While a lot of companies don't seem like they give a pile-of-the-stuff-I-shovel-out-of-horse-stalls about whether you stay or go, often managers to care. Not because they love you, but because if you're a good worker, their performance will suffer if you go.

And the trip is less likely to be a boondoggle.

I've been to many conferences and it's rare that I've taken a day off, or even a session off to go goof off. I'm usually listening to speakers present, talking with colleagues, or in general working on my career or business. I've longingly looked the pools in Fl , the beach in LA, the ...., well Seattle, and thought I should take an hour or two and do something else.

But I usually don't.

Even last year, sick, I skipped a couple sessions one day to sleep in and felt guilty. Maybe that's why I go to so many conferences. It's not a boondoggle for me, it's not a vacation, it's work. I recharge, I see friends, I might not be heads down coding or tuning, but it's work and I am learning things. I'm getting inspired or motivated to do more when I return to work.

Show your boss that you're this type of person, and I bet you have an easier time getting funding for a conference.

FYI, if you get funding for PASS, use the SSC3D code when you register. You can come meet me at our Monday night party.