I have been a software developer for over 20 years in Upstate New York. In that time, I have had the opportunity to attend over a dozen professional conferences. Usually these conferences are offered in venues that are thousands of miles away from where I live. Attending one of these conferences involves paying for flights, hotels and car rentals. In addition, these conferences usually cost a few thousand dollars for their registration fee. Once you arrive at one of these large conferences, you and thousands of your peers are herded into huge rooms to listen to keynotes and breakout sessions.
However, large developer conferences do offer some advantages over smaller conferences. One major advantage is that they generally attract more seasoned speakers that are experts in their field. In addition, platform specific conferences are usually the stage where the host will reveal their latest developments in new technology. There are usually more vendors to explore at larger conferences because they would like to market their product or service to the massive amount of attendees. These conferences also offer other perks like better food, swag (in the form of t-shirt, technology, etc.) and nightly entertainment.
In contrast, I started attending free and inexpensive conferences that are within a day’s drive from where I live. Besides the obvious benefits of saving money and reducing travel time, these local conferences offer some unique advantages over large conferences. Usually a small conference is not centered around one platform or hosted by a major company. Therefore, the sessions are usually offered across a variety of topics. This allows you to explore a technology that you may not have had a chance to learn about at a larger developer conference that is centered around a certain platform. Furthermore, these small conferences allow you to interact more directly with the speakers since they are more accessible than they would be at large conferences. Similarly, it is easier to network with other developers at the small conference since you will most likely be interacting with them more frequently.
This fall, I have had the opportunity to attend four small conferences for a fraction of what it would have cost for me to attend a large one.
VERMONT CODE CAMP(Burlington, Vermont) - Free
In September, I attended the ninth annual Vermont Code Camp. The day offered 252 attendees a chance to attend 34 different sessions with topics ranging from latest Cloud and IoT technologies to the Technical Art of Mead Making! The conference was offered free to the public and was funded by local sponsors.
.NET CONF (Online) - Free
A new trend in conferences are live streaming events that are usually offered for free. Microsoft's .Net Conf was a three day online only conference that was offered in September. The online conference followed the same format as most in-person conferences with a Keynote on the first day followed by multiple breakout sessions. Since this was a Microsoft hosted event, all of the topics centered around their latest offerings of their various developer platforms. Unlike some live streaming conferences or webcasts, some of the sessions were only available in the live stream and were not recorded. This required the developers to take time off work and watch the session just as if they were attending a physical conference minus the travel.
TECHBASH (Kalahari Resort, Pocono Mountains, PA) - $329 + Hotel
In October, I traveled down to the Poconos to attend the second annual TechBash. I attended last year when it first began and I was so impressed that I returned again this year. The conference was offered over three days with a keynote on the first day and 58 breakout sessions on a diverse range of topics. Donovan Brown, who is a Principal DevOps Manager with Microsoft and one of the best presenters I have seen, presented the keynote. Various speakers ranged from Senior Developers up to Technology Evangelists and MVPs conducted the rest of the breakout sessions. The unique venue was divided between being half conference center and half indoor waterpark. However, on the last day, when asked how many had attended the waterpark out of the almost 300 conference attendees, only two people raised their hand.
Azure Red Shirt Dev Tour (Variety of major cities or streaming online) - FREE
Microsoft decided to offer another unique conference format where they would travel to five major cities within a week to offer a one-day conference. The Azure Red Shirt Dev Tour was named after the presenter, Scott Guthrie’s, unique clothing choice of wearing a red polo shirt when doing any presentations. Scott conducted a full day of interactive demonstrations on utilizing several Microsoft Azure services. The venues that were located closest to me were Boston and New York City. In order to attract more attendees, Microsoft offered free shuttle buses from surrounding cities for all those that would like to attend.
Although I still plan to attend a large conference once in a while, I will more likely try to attend smaller conferences more frequently. The advantages of less crowds, less travel and unique sessions make smaller conferences worth exploring. Not to mention, when is the last time you attended a conference where you had a session on how to make Mead?
About the author
Shawn has left Hallam-ICS to pursue other endeavors, but his contributions to the company continue to be valued.
Hallam-ICS is an engineering and automation company that designs MEP systems for facilities and plants, engineers control and automation solutions, and ensures safety and regulatory compliance through arc flash studies, commissioning, and validation. Our offices are located in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Vermont and North Carolina and our projects take us world-wide.