In our business—like many others—there are two things that you need more than anything to succeed: the right skills and the right people. The best place I know to get both is at conferences.
The development team here at eLabs—Anders, Jonas and I (CJ)—just got back from the absolutely amazing FutureRuby conference in Toronto. It was hands down the best conference I've ever been to. The presentations were great, the people were great and everything was organized with such an amazing attention to detail by the good folks at Unspace. While the total cost (including the conference fee, hotel rooms, flight and loss of income) probably exceeded US $20,000 for us, here's why I think it was worth it:
The Right Skills
The most obvious benefit is of course the things you learn from the presentations at the conference. Perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, I find that I get more out of the presentations that aren't really trying to teach something. For learning the ins and outs of a technology I prefer a good book or online tutorial. No, the presentations that I think help me the most when it comes to improving my skills are the higher-level, more philosophical ones that make me think in new ways. That's much more important in the long run.
FutureRuby got this right. While there were some presentations that were too focused on some technology, the great presentations by Jon Dahl, Brian Marick, Dr. Nic Williams, Foy Savas, Matthew Knox and others more than made up for it. These talks will inspire us to improve and expand our skill sets for a long time.
The Right People
While getting the right skills is important, getting the right people is much more so. The right people can always acquire the right skills. The inverse is not necessarily true. So how does going to a conference help you get the right people?
First of all, you can of course meet the right people at the conference. If you're looking to hire developers a conference is a great place to be looking (though I think a user group is even better). And even if you're not hiring at the moment you're bound to meet a bunch of great business connections, helpful peers, and friends. We certainly did.
Getting the right people at a conference is also about keeping the right people. Going to a conference as a team is a great way to strengthen your company. Having inspired and motivated colleagues is just as important as being inspired and motivated yourself.
So far, I've only been to technology conferences—such as FutureRuby, WWDC, Scotland on Rails and RailsConf Europe—but next month I'll be traveling to Florida for something different altogether:
BizConf is an exclusive conference for entrepreneurs, consultants and people who run web development companies. The presenters they've lined up sound fantastic, but I'm just as excited to meet the other attendees. A couple of people I met at FutureRuby—Dr. Nic Williams of Mocra and Gustin Prudner of Entryway—are going to BizConf too. It was great talking with them at FutureRuby and sharing ideas on running a web development business, and I can't wait to meet them again along with all the other attendees.
BizConf is limited to 75 attendees and the early bird pricing ends today (July 15th) so make sure you register now! I hope to meet you there, or at another conference.
PS. FutureRuby also inspired us to dust off our old dream of NordicRuby again. We'll see what happens.