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Why IT Conferences Matter

Here we go again! I am packing my bags to go to the 2011 Microsoft SharePoint Conference in Anaheim, California (#SPC11, if you want to follow along on Twitter). For the last week, there’s been a flurry of activity – phone calls, printing confirmations, and wrapping up items at my client site so that there will (hopefully) be no surprises that arise during my week away.

Last night, I was thinking about just how busy this last year has been, and how many different conferences Marlene and I have attended. Obviously, the Microsoft SharePoint Conference is a big one for us, as it does not happen that often. We have also attended or presented at SharePoint Saturdays in Virginia, San Antonio, Houston, and New Orleans.

I am an independent consultant, with my own little consulting firm (GUIO). At this point in GUIO’s existence, there are currently only two employees, myself and Marlene Lanphier. As “Indies”, every hour away from the office is non-billable – in other words, if we aren’t working, we aren’t getting paid. Additionally, going to these conferences has additional costs such as hotel, airfare, and other expenses.

So, why go?

Training

Unlike a formalized training class, which focuses on a particular topic for the duration of the class, conferences present more of a “cafeteria” opportunity for training. I would challenge you to go to classes that are not only specific to your experience range, but also to go to classes that are outside your normal realm of expertise. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve met Infrastructure and Development experts that did not understand each other’s roles in a SharePoint deployment, much less what SharePoint is capable of from an End User/Information Worker standpoint.

Experience

A lot of times, the people presenting at these conferences have been in your shoes. Whether your focus is on Infrastructure, Development, Information Worker, or Executive skills, odds are that (a) there is someone who is presenting a topic specific to your skillset and (b) that they may be at your experience level, working through the same issues you are on a daily basis.

Networking

This is probably the most valuable part of a conference – getting to know others in your field can be extremely valuable in the long run. Without exception, every person I have ever worked with in SharePoint knows something I don’t. Meeting and interacting with these people results in new acquaintances and friendships – put this together with social media such as Twitter, Blogs, and Facebook and you’ve got a solid network of people who are experiencing the same trials and tribulations that you are.

So, are you convinced yet? If you have a tight travel budget, there’s likely a conference near you. Here are a list of SharePoint conference providers that you can check out (in no particular order):

  • Microsoft SharePoint Conference 2011 (sold out) – http://www.mssharepointconference.com
  • SharePoint Saturday (mostly free, regional and international) – http://www.sharepointsaturday.org
  • SharePoint Best Practices Conference – http://bestpracticesconference.org
  • SPTechCon: The SharePoint Technology Conference – http://www.sptechcon.com
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