Most organizations send their full time IT staff to technical conferences at some point during their tenure. At the places I’ve worked, each person in the team got sent to important conferences like Ignite or TechEd. They didn’t get to go every year, but everyone got their turn.

An investment in the staff

Organization’s that send their full time IT staff to conferences do so for a couple of reasons. For many it’s an investment in their staff. They send the IT worker to the conference in part as a reward (it’s always nice to go somewhere like Australia’s Gold Coast or Las Vegas) but also with the hope that they’ll learn something. A less often articulated hope is that the IT worker will learn something that they might pass on to colleagues or something that might be useful to the organization.

Not everyone gets a turn

Most organizations are only able to send some, not all of their workers to IT related conferences. While some organizations may be scrupulously fair in ensuring that each person gets their turn at a conference, others may take a more pragmatic view. This means choosing conference attendees based on the benefit to the organization rather than of the benefit to the individual employee.

Share your learning.

If you want to ensure that you’re always near the top of the list to attend a conference in future, make sure that you share what you’ve learn at every conference with your colleagues. A person that comes back from a conference and doesn’t share anything more than a “yeah, it was pretty good” isn’t as useful to an organization as someone who comes back from a conference and conducts several briefings for colleagues on what they learned.

So consider holding at least one briefing for colleagues where you put together some slides and hold a presentation on what you found useful at the conference and what you found to be a waste of time. That way your colleagues benefit from your attendance. They’ll feel better about your luck in going, and, when it is their turn to attend a conference, they’re more likely to come back and share what they have learned with you.

Not just training your colleagues

It’s not just about training your colleague. Someone that comes back from a conference and provides the organization with information about how a new technology or technique could provide a substantial business improvement provides a direct return on the investment that the organization has made in sending them to that conference. A worker that learns about an exciting technology at a conference and then doesn’t say anything about it isn’t providing that potential benefit. At a recent conference I spoke at, I suggested that attendees learn as much as they could about containers as in my opinion it’s a game changing technology that will change how we do things in IT in the next few years. Hopefully some of the people in my sessions will go back to their workplaces and start a discussion about how their organizations might use containers in future.

Rating the conference

Some organizations send their staff to the same conference each year. Others keep an eye out for alternatives that may be better options. In many countries there are multiple options when it comes to IT conferences. Some smaller conferences can provide a more intense learning experience than some of the bigger trade-show type conferences where you are just one attendee amongst tens of thousands. If you feel a conference isn’t worth the organization’s time, then look around and discuss the alternatives with management. It’s better to go to the right conference than it is to waste time at the wrong one.