Who is responsible for your career?
There has been a lot of talk on a lot of the blogs over going to PDC, the cost of PDC, etc. There is an argument made that the cost of an event like PDC is prohibitive, preventing folks working at smaller employers, or even the self employed from attending. This sort of begs a question: Who is responsible for your career?
I have worked for larger employers, smaller employers, and am now happily self employed doing software development. In all cases, I have discovered that as nice as my employers may be, they are by and large not that concerned about my professional growth. They are concerned about what I can do for them, and in a couple of cases where it was clear a conference was an advantage for the facility I worked for (for instance, a Microsoft Healthcare Users Group conference) my employer happily paid for my trip. I gained something from the experience, but clearly the hospital system gained more, as I was able to bring back an understanding of several technologies that helped the hospital for years to come.
In other cases, I had to negotiate a deal that made both my employer and I happy. I have spoken at several conferences, and arranged for my employer to pay for my time, I ate the travel expenses, and got into the conference for free as a speaker. In other cases, I just arranged to pay for everything, and just negoatiated to take the time without pay so as not to disturb other vacation plans.
In any event, I am doing better, career wise, than folks who did not make the same kind of effort to ensure my continued value to employers and clients. I am not sure it is fair, and it certainly would be great if your employer would be deeply interested in your career, but these days, most folks do not stay at a single employer for more than a few years, either by their choice or at the insistance of their employer. As an independent consultant doing work for a number of clients, it is even more critical to be percieved as someone who is up to date and able to move to new technologies as they arise.
It is not only conferences, but books, magazine subscriptions, etc., that can help you maintain a career even in this chaotic world known as software development.