I tend to group conferences that are in some way related to software testing into three categories. One category is hard-core academic/scholarly conferences. These are usually attended by college professors and researchers. The WorldCOMP International Conference on Software Engineering Research and Practice (see http://www.world-academy-of-science.org/worldcomp09/ws/conferences/serp09 ) is an example. The goal of these conferences is primarily to provide a channel for researchers to publish scholarly papers.
A second category of conferences is commercial conferences. These are generally sponsored by a large company such as Microsoft and attended by people who work in the IT industry, often in mid-management roles. Software testing usually has a very small role in these conferences. The Microsoft Management Summit (see http://www.mms-2009.com/ ) is one example. The goal of these conferences is to market and advertise a company’s products and services.
A third category of conferences is hard to put a label on but I’ll call them industry-organization conferences. These conferences are sponsored by various organizations. The Better Software Conference and Expo (see http://www.sqe.com/BetterSoftwareConf/ ) is a good example. Attendees are often practitioners and individual contributors. The goal of these conferences is, typically, to make money for the sponsoring organization.
I enjoy attending and speaking at conferences. I usually go to conferences in Las Vegas because travel there is relatively cheap and easy. The main benefit from conferences in my opinion is that you get away from the day-to-day work grind and come back with fresh ideas.
It’s hard to recommend specific software testing conferences because they are all quite different and really target completely different types of people. The best way to evaluate a conference is to get an opinion from someone you know who has been to the conference in the past. That said however, the Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference (see http://www.pnsqc.org/ ) is often a good one (meaning good value) for testing practitioners.