I spoke for Microsoft at the 2014 Dev Connections software and IT conference this week (September 15-19). I gave two talks, “Introduction to Speech Recognition with C#” and “Developing Neural Networks with Visual Studio”. I’d estimate there were about 1,500 attendees at the conference. One guy I talked to at a lunch was a typical attendee: he worked for a mid-sized regional bank as sort of a Jack of all trades, doing IT tasks, and also developing line of business applications (both desktop and Web). My strategic goal was to educate attendees about Microsoft’s expertise and thought leadership with machine learning. My tactical goal was to demonstrate to developers that using the Microsoft technology stack (Visual Studio, C#, Azure, etc.) is a great way (actually, the best way in my honest opinion) to extract usable information from data.
The conference had well over 200 one-hour talks. In each hour time slot, there were between 12 and 20 talks for attendees to choose from. Each room held about 120 people, plus a handful of double-sized rooms.
The conference was at the Aria hotel in Las Vegas. Las Vegas is my favorite place for conferences. It’s relatively inexpensive, and easy to get to from almost anywhere. The hotels are huge (I read that 15 of the largest 25 hotels in the world are in Vegas) with enormous convention areas so there’s no need for attendees to be scattered across a dozen different hotels and have to bus or taxi to a dedicated convention center (such as in San Francisco). Also, the town is walking-friendly, close to the airport (about a $25 fare), and has lots of things to see.
If you haven’t been to a conference in Las Vegas before, you might not have an accurate idea of what goes on. These aren’t party-time morale events. You typically get up very early in the morning, and then attend in-depth technical sessions all day long. It’s actually quite exhausting, but in a pleasant way if you’re a geek like me.
Developer and IT conferences like Dev Connections are fairly expensive, typically from $1700 to $3600 for a 3 to 5 day event. Are they worth the price? In my opinion, yes. The true value doesn’t really come from the content in the conference sessions — much of conferences’ content is available online. The value comes from being exposed to new ideas and techniques that you just don’t have time to discover during day to day work tasks. Without crunching any numbers, I’d estimate that a developer who attends one of these conferences will pay back his company, in terms of increased and improved productivity, far more than the cost of attending.