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I'm considering asking my boss about sending me to STARWest, but I'm wondering if it's valuable enough for me to justify the expense to the company to him (there is no way I could afford to go on my own). I've never been before, and I'm not sure what to expect. All I know is that I recognize a lot of the names there, and the idea of being around lots of other software testers for days sounds amazing!

Has anyone been to this particular conference or a similar conference (STAREast, etc.)? In general, is the cost of a big software-testing conference likely to be justified by the benefit of the conference? I'm guessing there is no one answer to this question, so, what factors should be a part of this decision?

Edited title to make more generic :)

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This is a good opportunity to ask for tips on how can an attendee get the most out of a testing conference? I don't want to listen to product sales pitches disguised as information sessions given by "experts." –  Laura Hensley Jul 12 '11 at 21:59
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@Laura, if you make that a separate question, I'll vote it up. I think it deserves its own replies. –  Ethel Evans Jul 12 '11 at 22:31
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thank you for the suggestion. I did. –  Laura Hensley Jul 13 '11 at 21:31
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5 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I went to PNSQC in 2009, and it was a great experience. A few of my colleagues went to the STARWest, and they shared the same experience.

What you get
Sitting through various lectures and presentation provided a lot of knowledge on what kind of problems are being faced, how the professionals deal with those, and the solutions they have used - whether succeeded or failed. You definitely want to go through the schedule to learn what is being offered.

It was also a great networking opportunity.

Exposure to different technologies, techniques, processes and work-arounds.

After the conference
We (3 of us went to this conference) decided to summarize our experience and present it to the rest of the team at work. Of various lectures and presentations, we decided to pick the ones that could directly impact our team, and decided to do a separate brown bag for each.

Choosing and attending a good QA conference can be very helpful to the individual and the team, depending on how the individual selects the lectures and shares the knowledge.

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Did the brown bags work well for you? Please share... –  Squirrel Aug 2 '11 at 8:21
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WRT value, a conference is similar to other types of education. You can sit there and expect to be spoon-fed answers, or you can be an active learner and participate in your supplementing your knowledge.

People who just 'show-up' to any form of training (including a conference) and expect someone to give them the answers to their woes tend to get very little actionable value from that training or conference.

Someone who prepares and participates, asks questions, interacts with others, discusses different ideas, situations and personal experiences with speakers and participants, etc. is more likely to get more from a conference.

Deciding which conference to go to depends on your motivation for attending in the first place, and your expectations.

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Personally I find that I get the most value out of conferences between sessions. I.e. it is the new people that I meet and the interactions that I can have with industry leaders that I get the most value out of.

The sessions are then just a bonus :-)

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Bj Rollison makes the best case, and it was the attitude I went with when I went to my first conference. I am a self-learner and in QA there is a lot of material, but most of it is broad, so I checked out sessions that suited my interests and what we were doing at work then went in thinking about things that were issues for us. When a section came up that was about a question I had I noted answers from the session, or asked them, if I had no time I sought out the lecturer for a one-to-one (many are amenable to tech discussions) so it was a win-win for me.

Go in with the attitude, and preparation to learn and you will get a lot out. Expect to sit there and come out with osmotic knowledge and you will be disappointed. Look for times to network with colleagues to discuss issues or see what people are doing and you will get more out of it.

Good luck and enjoy!

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In terms of justifying the expense to your boss, I'd say the advantages to the company of sending someone to a big conference are (in no particular order):

  1. It exposes you to a wide variety of ideas - different approaches to testing, different problems, different market pressures, different techniques - things you'd never have considered before.
  2. It helps raise the company's profile, potentially with customers, but certainly with potential employees. You look like the sort of company who invests in their people.
  3. If there are sessions covering tools/techniques/approaches you're thinking of applying locally, you get to ask the speaker directly about your issues.
  4. You come back full of ideas - enthusiasm is infectious. You'll likely keep on bringing new ideas into work for some time afterwards.
  5. If you're the only tester in your group, it gives you an excellent chance to make connections with peers that again brings more knowledge into your company, and gives you much needed moral support. (It always helps to be able to talk stuff over with other people who do what you do).

What makes it worth it for you? I think that depends on the individual - but for me, I went to Eurostar in 2008, and it was definitely worth it - it blew my tester brain! The people I met and talked to gave me a link to the wider test community, I came back with a huge list of stuff I needed to learn next, and it all kinda went on from there - it basically flipped the switch for me between "this testing stuff is pretty interesting" to "I have to learn about this. NOW."

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