Thursday, January 3, 2013

Are User Conferences Worth it?

Attending a conference of any kind can be an expensive proposition. There's the cost of the conference itself along with hotel and airfare and finally just the time away from work. You can easily end up spending $1500 or more. Apple charges that just for a pass to their developer conference. So attending is not something to consider lightly. Having said that, there are a lot of great reasons to go as well.

Long before I founded Real Software, I was a software developer using other development tools. I regularly attended conferences and seminars. I was in California and most of those that I attended happened to be in California as well which made it easier. At first I wasn't sure if going would be worth it. I would look over the session descriptions and there were always many that I found interesting but were they worth the cost and the time? Couldn't I obtain this knowledge elsewhere for less? In some cases perhaps, but in others I couldn't. Session descriptions rarely adequately describe the value of the session and almost always end up being worth it.

But the most valuable part of attending a conference I found was something not described (or at least not sufficiently described) in the conference marketing materials: networking and interacting with fellow developers. Spending a few days with others that use the same tools I was using was always extremely valuable. Talking to the developers that actually created the tools was great too. I better understood why things worked the way they did and often picked up pointers that I wouldn't have discovered any other way. Discussions with other users about how they use tools, the kinds of software they create, etc., were always far more valuable than I had thought they would be.

Seminars and conferences can also be valuable if you are just considering using a particular development tool. When NeXT was gearing up to start selling their new computer, I went to a seminar to check out the tools they intended to provided, talk to the people from NeXT and see what other developers like me thought.

Now that I run a development tools company, we of course have our own conference which will take place this April in Orlando, Florida. For me, some of the reasons I attend our conference are of course different than the reasons I attended conferences in the past. But the most important reason has not changed: talking to other users. Those in-person, one-on-one and group discussions with Real Studio users are terrific. It's not just being able to put a face with a name. It's getting to know these developers and understand them better. To hear what they are doing with Real Studio and why they do it, is extraordinarily valuable and there's just no other way get it.

In this amazing world of technology in which we live, there's really nothing that can replace face-to-face. With all the time we devote to our tools, the cost of a conference continues to be well-worth the value.

Picture courtesy of  Thomas Tempelmann


Gavin said...

Of course, not all conferences and seminars are worth it - I've been sent to such things in the past by companies I worked for, some of them being on vague topics such as "IT Security". I often find little of use in these kinds of seminars - they are so vague and wide-ranging and there's little that couldn't have been learnt from a book or website.

But something like WWDC or the Real Studio Developer Conference which are much more focussed and are attended by people who are invested in learning new stuff and invested in networking with other likeminded people, are absolutely invaluable. I'm in Europe at the moment or I'd be attending the Real Studio conference - maybe next year. And Geoff, I know you've been pestered before about recording the sessions and making them available to those of us who couldn't attend - I hope you will consider it again this year. I would happily pay, say, $100, to access these sorts of videos - never as good as attending, but very valuable nonetheless.

Dale Arends said...

If information from the hosts' presentations and attendees' efforts in what they are doing is all you take away from a conference, then you are generally well repaid for the costs of attendance. However, if that's all you take away then you are missing what I feel is an important opportunity.

One of the aspects I always tried to look at was to hear about the other developers' experiences with their customers. Often I would learn something that made me rethink my approach to the customer and what their needs were. By learning about the customers, I was often able to create a better, more usable application - from the customer's point of view.

Patrick Delaney said...

Hi Gavin

I've paid out for the conference, hotel and flights from the UK. Without going into details - the conference is going to cost me a lot of money.

To me, it's worth it both for the training and networking opportunities. However, I would take a VERY dim view of videos being made and sold for $100 when I've spent all that...

I know Paul has done a couple of Webinars - if you can't go to the conference maybe you could ask REAL Software for more of those.

john said...

I would take a VERY dim view of videos being made and sold for $100 when I've spent all that...

It's a good job that not everyone feels the same way or we'd not have been able to watch the olympics on tv last summer...

Patrick Delaney said...

That's a poor comparison…

The broadcasters in the Olympics paid an absolute fortune to televise the Olympics - far more than I would have to in order to attend. Plus all attendees knew, in advance, that the events were to be televised.

REAL World is being marketed as a conference not a webinar and people have already paid a lot of money to attend. It's not really acceptable to change that marketing so that some have access to the content for what amounts to 1 nights accommodation. Is it? After all, if people don't attend then the event doesn't happen and I'm not interested in subsidising other people to watch the sessions.

I had to think long and hard before investing the time and money to travel nearly 4600 miles and to me it's worth it. If it's not to you, for whatever reason, so be it - that's fine.

john said...

Plus all attendees knew, in advance, that the events were to be televised.

My wife went to London 2012, paying a lot for flights, tickets etc so that she could have the live experience. I don't think she felt that it was of any less value to her because the rest of the world got to watch too.

You're going to Orlando, you're getting what you paid for.

Others aren't going, some, presumably, because they can't afford to.

And if REAL later sell the videos, so what?

Patrick Delaney said...

I live about 10 miles from the Olympic stadium - you should see my tax bill to pay for the damned Olympics! In some ways I subsidised your wife's experience, I'll send you an invoice and you can thank me later ;)

(That was an attempt at humour! Want to keep this a debate not a troll-war :) )

But, that's one of my points. Your wife knew that she could either stay at home and watch or pay out for the trip. She chose the later and I trust she had a wonderful time… I haven't got that choice - when I signed up the only way to see the sessions is to travel, not really acceptable to change that now.

Orlando isn't my thing but that's fine, I'm going for a great conference. I would much rather it be staged in London where I could have cut my bill by ¾ but thats the way it is. If REAL Software sell the videos then I'll invoice them as my money went towards paying for the conference and I wouldn't have had to travel ;)

Unfortunately not everyone can afford to go, that's the way it is :( It was touch and go that I could justify it. Christian organised a European conference last November (2 days I believe) which I couldn't attend but may be more accessible to us Europeans.

Gavin said...

Patrick - a few points for our little debate... Firstly, it would be good business sense for Real Software to release or sell videos of the conferences. I work with a number of languages and development environments and Real Studio has always had far and away the least amount of info available to view, read or purchase. Secondly, Apple give away every single WWDC conference session for free. They used to charge (and I used to pay) but now it's all there to any registered developer. This is good for the developer community and good for Apple. More than that - this stuff is expected. Thirdly, your desire for Real Software to not release the videos so that you feel you got your money's worth, kind of undermines Geoff's post that these conferences are much more than just the content.

I wouldn't worry too much about it Patrick, I doubt they'll release videos again this year. If I hadn't been in Orlando in November I'd have considered going myself but I certainly wouldn't begrudge the rest of our little community access to these videos, especially if they were paying towards the future of the environment.

Patrick Delaney said...

Hey John/Gavin

There is definitely a lot of added benefit to attending - networking etc and I hope to meet lots of people out there - I'm REALLY looking forward to it. My point is not actually about trying to keep things quiet or my value for money. There are very good arguments for releasing session videos, a lot of which you both have alluded to, a lot of which I agree with.

I suppose the crux of my point is that if session videos are to happen then they should be announced when the conference is announced rather than after people have started to pay up which is what your suggesting.

If the cost of access to the session videos is $100 (or whatever is deemed appropriate!) then I can judge whether the added value is worth it to me and make a call accordingly - in my case
⁃ Time away from my family (5 month old child in April :) )
⁃ Time away from my business
⁃ Increased conference registration fees
⁃ 7 nights hotel
⁃ Return flights from London Gatwick
⁃ Airport transfers
⁃ Living costs while I'm there

Given my final bill I would have to say that I probably wouldn't attend if I could get the session videos for, say, $500. if REAL Software were to announce videos at this point then it would be difficult to not feel hard done by. I.e. I've spent $x not realising I could have waited and spent $y and got the same content.

I'm not the only person in this position - I would suggest that a lot of people who have already paid for the conference would feel hacked off if videos were announced.

I think your probably right that the videos won't happen this year so this is all academic. Anyhow, I hope you can see my point.

john said...

Time away from my family (5 month old child in April :))

I think we have the nub of the issue right here :)

Gavin said...

I do see your point. I guess Real Software will get attacked from all sides on this issue. Some of those who attend would feel hard done by if videos were released. I'd argue that it's like Apple releasing an iPhone 6 sooner than people expected - people have just purchased an iPhone 5 will feel hard done by! But they still got what they paid for and it's up to Apple to do what they want.

And those who can't attend (and not just for financial reasons - the money isn't an obstacle for me personally) will feel frustrated and distant from an already small community.

Anyway, hope you have a great conference :)

Jim said...

All this talk about the negativity of videos JUST because you paid 5X more to attend in person is just ENVY talking. It is quite revealing about the overall reason for attending, and in this economy who can blame anyone for realizing the huge cost investment. BUT videos of the conference would be greatly serving for attendees as well. You can take as many notes as you want, but your not going to write it all down, your not going to remember everything, even inspirational ideas you have while you are there will fade in a couple weeks or months. Maybe there is a session you attended for interest, but not application. Now six months later your wanting finer details so you can implement it, wouldn't a video be nice to refresh your memory? Re-inspire you again?

There are other reasons, for not attending and videos would take up that gap. Maybe your schedule didn't allow date, weddings, births, etc. Maybe you only attend every few years in person.

There are benefits, even if the cost is more, as discussed, the interfacing; the ability to dot the eyes and cross the tees on sessions by asking questions of the presenter or other attendees at the time. Collecting contact information, leaning about personalities of other developers, who knows when you might need help on a project, if your personalities were a mesh, you'd know who you could partner with.

If NOT having videos is just based on a cost; those attending in person getting their noses bent out of shape; REAL "cancelling" because too many people would stay home waiting for the videos and not enough attendees to cover their costs; these are all sad reasons for not having videos.

As for REAL's marketing, there is a long time between conferences, some periods more than others. It would be nice to bring newbies into the fold or evangelize between events.

Pat Delaney said...

hmmm… I thought I'd explained my point - I obviously haven't!

⁃ it's not envy.
⁃ 5x what? My guess is your still NOT EVEN CLOSE! (I'm sure those in the States have significant costs as well!)
⁃ Not sure I explained what my "real" reason is for attending.
⁃ Session videos can be a great idea for all the reasons discussed. Not disputing that at all.
⁃ There are huge added benefits (as pointed out) in attending
⁃ If you can pick up something for nothing - good luck to you. If your able to pick up session videos for a minuscule fraction of the price of attending - good luck to you.

My point is;
If Session Videos are to be made and sold then that should be made clear at the outset when the conference is announced. That way, people can evaluate whether they want to pay to attend or simply buy the videos. To announce session videos at this stage penalises those who have already signed up by removing that choice. I know my thought process would be vastly different.

I run a small 2 person business. Time away from that business costs me on so many levels so disappearing to the States for 7 days is a big decision for me as is the financial outlay. The current financial climate is a whole other subject.

I've run training courses that cost £1100 per person per day. My clients would go ballistic if after paying the course fees, travel costs and hotels I turn round and say

"Hey, you know what, I'm going to video the sessions and sell them for £100! Isn't that great, we're opening up the sessions to everyone who can't attend! But it's ok you get all these networking opportunities"

My clients wouldn't give a monkeys about anyone else, their view would be "You mean I'm spending £1000 more than I need to? Why wasn't this clear before we paid?"

Maybe I've got this all wrong and the added benefits are worth the extra cost, I won't know that until after the conference but I stand by my point however the conference pans out.

I know my posts seem incredibly negative - their not meant to be - I am incredibly positive about the conference and I think it'll be worth every penny to me and it would be great if every REAL Studio developer worldwide could attend in person.

Hopefully my point has now been made fully. I won't be posting anymore on this thread as this is starting to get silly and go round in circles.

Hector Marroquin said...

Would you feel comfortable if RS sold the videos (imaginary videos at this time) at say... $1,000 ?

I'm hoping I can attend the conference but do to a project I'm working on I can't know yet if I'll be able to attend.

And just to give my opinion on the matter: I watched many youtube videos on the show at the Mouline Rouge, granted they were not uploaded by the administration, but I can't compare the experience to actually being there. I also had to pay for a flight to Europe, hotels, meals plus the admission cost. I got my money's worth! Being there costs more money than buying videos because being there is a completely different experience.

Hope I can make it to the live conference or at least be able to purchase the videos.