I went to my first major software conference in 2003 - the Open Source Conference in Portland, Oregon. It was at OSCon I met Danny Faught, Andy Lester, did a lightning talk about Test Driven Development, and my career changed for the better.
Oh, it wasn't that I met someone who instantly hired me, or any kind of cliched "networking" event. Instead, I got a bit of the joy
Actually, I'd argue that the life of a technologist attending a single conference a year is just ... better than the life in isolation.
At conferences, you meet peers. You share ideas. You commiserate. You realize that all companies have problems, and that some problems are worse than others. You get a chance to relax, and, if your team comes along, do actual team building, by talking about the work reflectively - instead of climbing ropes or doing skits or singing songs or any other 1-hour HR-driven "Teamwork
I've been to a lot of conferences; I've presented at them, keynoted them, helped organize a regional conference
and a peer workshop.
Then, about a year ago, I started to notice people giving a different response. Instead of "I'm trying to get to (conference X) this year", they would say "I'm just lucky to have a job."
And, sometimes, "I'd be lucky to get a job."
From what I can tell, conference attendance is down across the board. The Craft of Software Confernce was canceled, the famed SD conference shut down, at least temporarily. This is not good.
So let's run the cost if you wanted to attend, say, STAREast
Hotel: After Taxes, $158.00 a night; arrive Sunday, fly home the following Saturday = $1,383.72.
AirFare: From the midwest, about $300.00 round trip, plus $20 for baggage
Mears Shuttle from Airport to Hotel: $25 for round trip
Dinner Meals in Hotel ($30/meal) - $180
Sunday Lunch, Monday Breakfast - $30
Most other breakfast/lunches - Provided by conference
A book from the conference table - $120.00
Some Coffee and Snakcs - $30
Conference Fee - $2,795
---> Total Cost is roughly $5,000, plus you miss a week of work.
"Gee boss, I know we had a tough year, and our projects are behind, but can I have a week off and $5,000 to go take a trip to Orlando?"
I can see how that might be a challenging. And I'd like to help, so I'm going to offer some suggestions:
1) Never, ever pay the full conference price.
There's an early-bird special for the conference that cuts the cost down from $2,800 to $2,400, and it doesn't expire until Feb. 26th.
2) Never, ever pay the full conference price.
Many conferences have incentives and special discounts
that are available just for asking; like $200 off if you've been to STAREast before - or they'll give a conference code to the speakers to pass out as a free discount. Well, hey, what do you know, I am a speaker at STAREast this year; you can use the code 'SKES' (no quotes) at regisration time to save another $200 off.
2) Look carefully at the conference schedule.
Do you really need the VIP Package with it's Friday executive session
? You can just another $400 off the pricetag (and save $150+ in hotel and food) by flying home Friday. (Then again, they've got Goranka Bjedov of Google and Rob Sabourin. Choose wisely.)
3) Do we really need travel expenses at all?
About the same time as STAREast (April 21-23), STPCollaborative is offering training in San Mateo, California, for two or three days, in the $1,400-$1,900 range. If you live in the bay area, you could just drive to the training and go home at night. If you're in the mid-west, the Conference for the Association for Software Testing will be in West Michigan in October. Pacific Northwest? PNSQC
will be in Portland, Oregon, likely in November.
If you're Mid-Atlantic, I expect the STPCon
will be in Boston again, but the STPCollab team hasn't made a final decision yet. If you're in Denver, I would start attending Software QA Denver (SQuAD
) and ask about a conference or some possible tutorial events. Research Triangle area in North Carolina? There's TISQA
, which, historically, hosts and annual conference.
Actually,if you live in the United States or lower Canada, there is likely a chapter of the Quality Assurance Institute
near you. Some of these have conferences; nearly all will organize local training events and meetings - the meetings are usually free.
Nothing near you? Look for a chapter of the Agile Alliance
or a Software Process Improvement Network
You might still need a hotel and travel costs, but you might find the hotel less expensive, the conference closer, and save $100-$200 on airfare - or you might just drive. Looking around at conferences also creates more choice, to attend one that suits your organizations goals in a more unique way; and there might be other ways to drive costs down. More about that later.
4) Who says you need to stay at the conference hotel?
The orlandp Red Roof Inn
has rooms for $70/night. Of course, you'd need to rent car and pay parking, pushing your total to the $130 range. They also offer a $10/night Triple-A discount. Not comfortable with Red Roof Inn? Marriott
has affiliated hotels in the $90/night range (with AAA discount).
Want the best of both worlds? Apply for a Marriott Credit Card
, get a certificate for your first night free and, if you get it right now, enough points for your second night to be covered after your first charge and statement date.
5) Offer to split a room
Most hotels offer a double-queen bed option, cutting costs in half. I felt generally uncomfortable doing this, but the reality is, I did it for a year in college, splitting a tiny room (called a 'dorm') and sharing a bathroom with thirty other people on my floor, I can probably survive a week. Assuming we split the cost of the car, that takes our costs down to $60/night for the Red Roof Inn. (And comparable if we stay at the Marriott and use the credit card offer.)
6) Look closely at the schedule
Tuesday and Wednesday night
both have a hosted reception, with appetizers, soda pop and beer. Unless you are really cheap (it's hard to fill up on chicken-wings), this won't eliminate the cost of dinner, but it might cut it down to just the cost of a burger. Now, if you're staying at the hotel, a burger might be twelve dollars plus tip, but if you're renting a car ...
7) Split the airfare
American Express has several credit cards that offer "complimentary companion airline tickets" (these generally have a high annual fee) - or bonus points on enrollment
enough to pay for the companion ticket. (Or, pay for the conference with the Amex and earn enough points - perhaps - to pay for your own ticket.)
If you have good credit, two credits cards aren't going to knock you over the brink.
You can also use a research site like Kayak.com
to compare airfare, alert you in the case of a sale, etc.
7) Do you really need to pay conference registration at all?
It's a little late for STAREast, but most conferences waive the registration fee if you are speaking - and most volunteer/non-profit conferences are willing to waive the fee if you do some volunteer work, like staffing the registration desk. Three prominent non-profit conferences are PNSQC
, and GLSEC
Regional and non-profit conferences are also typically shorter - so you'll miss less work, and cost less per day. If you don't have a travel cost, then the $450 full-price fee for GLSEC
starts to look pretty appealing.
Putting it all together
Here's a few options to get to a conference in 2010:
1) 4 days at STAREast, early bird, stay at the red roof inn, rent a car: Around $3,000
2) 4 days at STAREast, early bird, split room at red roof, split airfare: Around $2,600
3) 3 days of local, public STPCollaborative training in the bay area: Around $1,900
4) A local conference link PNSQC, hotel+conference, airfare, 3 days: Around $2,600
5) A local conference like PNSQC, conference fee waived, hotel, airfare, 3 days: $1,200
6) A very local conference or training, no travel: $1,900-$500 for just registration
7) A very local conference, no travel, fee waived by volunteer work: FREE.
(If you have other ideas to save costs on conference and travel, please, let me know in the comments. If you're a regional conference struggling to get volunteers, leaving comments - or asking for a post, might be a quick way to make everybody's day a little bit better.)
Right now, most people are in a challenged financial state; conferences are cutting back on travel compensation and hotel rooms - even for speakers. A number of us are getting out to conferences anyway, and either independent or not asking our company to pay for it; there's a group at STAREast nicknamed the "rebel alliance", and we're going through all the cost sharing details right now.
Join us, and we may not be able to rule the galaxy as father and son, but we might just be able to get down to a conference and break bread together in 2010.
I think that's something worth fighting for. What do you think?
The SQE conferences (and some others) offer a further discount to people who propose sessions but don't make it into the conference program. Just saying.