A few of us are lucky enough to attend professional conferences … some aren’t so lucky.
I spent the last week at INTEROP, in Las Vegas, a conference with an early-bird price of $2,800.
Of course, that is before Airfare, hotel, food, or any taxi fees. So unless you live within commuting distance, I expect the total cost would be more in the $4,000 range – plus there’s the work back at home you’ll be missing. The boss is going to ask “what do I get?”
What do you tell him?
For that matter, what can you even expect?
I came to interopt with my video camera on to give you some answers.
The show itself
The conference is at the Mandalay Bay Casino and Resort. Wikipedia tells me the conference center has over one million square feet, the hotel has 44 floors, and the center cost $950 million dollars to produce.
In other news, it is big. The complex basically spans a city block, and includes multiple pools (it’s really more of a beach), a 135-thousand square foot casino, a half dozen restaurants, a food court, and a shark reef. No really, a shark reef.
But that’s the facility; let’s talk about the conference, which is on the second floor. This is the experience you have getting to the conference:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/9k_M-OqJu74" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
Once you get to the conference, yes, there are keynotes, and plenty of conference presentations, but the big deal is the big show. Every major vendor – and most of the minor ones – are out on the show floor, vying for attention. Want to know what that’s like? Check out my walkthrough of just one (tiny) part of the tradeshow:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/iRYJhgZoXrQ" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
What else did I get at interop? A one-day presentation web security testing, for one thing, organized by David Rhoades of Maven Security Consulting. Here’s a clip from one class:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/KFmq-gLS210" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
Not only did David talk about security, he had us install a “Web Security Testing Dojo” from a DVD, create our own virtual sandbox, and use common open source tools to attack our own private web site.
If you want the tool they offered, you can download the freeware and install it yourself, but nothing is going to quite match the conference experience.
And it gets better
After the tutorial, I found myself on the show floor, having a discussion with Jim Ciampaglio of FireHost networks. Firehost is a cloud hosting provider built from the ground up to address issues of security. When telling me about his offerings, Jim showed me a part of his management dashboard that actually measures and tracks common incoming security threats in near-real time! Check it out:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/E66COGjVuG0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
Perhaps you have deployed an intrusion detection system, and sit just fine, but unless you have something like those detailed graphs, you don’t know what to be defending against.
One Last Gift
After all this great conference goodness, you may be in the same position as my friend, Parks Fields, a team lead for the US Department of Energy. He thought the show was great, he was excited about it … and his organization had no budget. So he stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn (free breakfast all the time, dinners on most weeknights!), took the (free) Marriott shuttle to the show, and got the “expo pass”, for free with early-bird registration. That got him in the expo, the keynotes, and any vendor bonus session he wanted. If that isn’t enough, and you have airfare or hotel troubles, there are usually credit card offers to help you bridge the gap – I even have a very specific blog post on how to do it.
See you at the next big show?]]>
Professional Conferences give you new ideas to try, to grow your network, and can provide a chance to reflect and charge. I can’t recommend them enough.
Yet when I mention how wonderful conferences are, one of the common responses I get is “that’s great Matt but …”
Folks don’t get to attend them because it isn’t in the budget, isn’t in the travel budget, or just plain isn’t on the radar.
If you are in that boat, well, this blog post is for you.
I’m going to tell you how to get to a professional conference in the next eighteen months.
You do the work, I can get you to a conference.
I’ll stake my reputation on it.
Step One: Find an Appropriate Conference
It doesn’t matter if your expertise in MS Exchange, HelpDesk, Windows Server Admin, or Software Testing — there is probably a conference for it. In fact, there are probably multiple conferences for it. Pick one that offers tutorials (day-long courses) that offer specific skills that you can use at work; skills the team recognizes that it needs to grow in.
To actually get to the conference we just need to overcome a few setbacks: Airfare, Hotel, Conference Fee, and Time off.
It’s time to get busy.
Step Two: Creative Financing
Did you know that the Marriott Rewards Premier Card provides 50,000 points on first use – along with a free hotel night? That’s enough for five or six nights, depending on how you stretch things; more than enough to fly into a conference on a Monday and fly out Friday afternoon.
The next step is to sign up for a Delta Travel Rewards American Express Card. This one will give you 25,000 points out of the gate (plus free luggage). Use if to gasoline, groceries, and other things you would buy anyway, and after a year or so, you’ll likely have enough points for a free trip.
Both of these cards have an annual fee, but it’s waived the first year. There’s nothing to stop you from canceling the card after eleven months … or ten, just to be sure. You can also cancel the cards but use the points later.
Step Three: Waive the Fee
Generally speaking, conference organizers get the fee waived.
So become an organizer.
No, you don’t have to be a speaker. That may be the most obvious/easy usually way in, but there are plenty of ways to serve for people not interested in public speaking: you might serve on the program committee, work the registration desk, introduce speakers, organize lightning talks, or serve as a “runner” in some capacity.
To do this, look on the website for contact information, explain your situation, and offer to work hard. Unless the conference is full up of staff, they’ll likely find a slot for you. (If the conference is next week, they may be full up. That’s fine. Ask about next year!)
Oh, and don’t worry about everyone reading this blog post and having ‘competition’.
Despite all the information in the world about how to get to conferences free, despite down economies and reduced conference budgets, I still find that very few people will do the legwork to actually line up hotel, airfare, and waived fee.
So be one of those people.
Step Four: Ask the Boss
Let’s put this together. You figured out a way to get your conference fee waived, plus get you company name in the program brochure. You figured out a way to get your airfare and hotel covered. The conference causes no new expenses; all you need is time off.
In addition, you picked this conference for a reason. It has the exact tutorials that will provide you the specific skills your company can benefit from right now.
What’s not to like?
Say you provide all this information to the big boss. Hopefully, he realizes that just by letting you go, he is meeting his goals for professional development for the team … and no additional cost.
If not, if he says no? Well, take vacation the same week.
See? Just like that, you’re attending a conference.
The Final Cost
If you follow the strategy I outlined above, you’ll need to pay for taxis to and from the airport, a couple of dinners, and possibly your parking at the airport. (Or you could have a friend drop you off.)
You will also have set a precedent: Under some conditions, it is now possible for some people at your company to go to conferences. Over the next few years, it is likely that the influential people, the ones who know how to pull the strings, will find ways to go to conferences as well — more expensive ones, and they will have the company pay for more.
That’s okay. Our goal was to change the work environment, from a grind to one that offered occasional training and reprieve, and we’ve done that.
That’s a win.
Now go out there and win!]]>