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I just returned from CMG 2011 (Computer Measurement Group), a conference that has been supporting performance analysts and capacity planners since the ‘70’s.  A common theme was the difficulty of getting to attend; the diminishing numbers at the many conferences highlight the problem.  As it was in the early days, again, management seems to see conferences as a boondoggle, rather than the valuable learning and networking opportunity it truly can be.

The economy doesn’t help; everyone is looking for a way to save money and the cost of a conference (registration and travel) can look like a great opportunity to save.  But a lot of the problem rests squarely on us, the attendees. We aren’t selling the value, perhaps because we have lost sight of it.  With the speed of innovation increasing logarithmically, “keeping up” is becoming almost impossible.  A technical conference is a great way to jumpstart your learning.  You have the technical training in sessions, but you also have the opportunity to learn from the vendors on-site as well as to spend time with colleagues who may be struggling with the same challenges you are.

Besides learning what’s new, you have to learn how to improve the way you do your job.  Each year, talented experts are figuring out smarter ways to work and vendors are improving their products to free you from tasks you don’t really have time to do.  But you can’t exploit any of it unless you know about it.  A conference is the fastest way to learn about working smart.

Finally, most of us can get deep in the weeds of our work.  At a conference, we pull our heads up and gain a valuable perspective we can take back with us.  It is a brief pause in a too-busy life, helping us to plan, rethink strategies and make a plan for the following year.  The value of this cannot be measured, but the failure to get this perspective or to get this education will translate into your company (and you) losing your competitive edge.

Financial advisors tell you to “pay yourself first.” By this, they mean that you should make sure that your first dollars earned go into investments, not impulse purchases.  In our careers, we also need to consciously invest in ourselves and one important component of this is to keep up to date.  With an information glut available to us and no time to sift through it all, a conference may be the only way to efficiently gain knowledge.  Make it a priority in 2012; insist on getting the education you need to provide your company with that “edge” they seek.  Then, come home and share what you learned with your team.  Sharing it reinforces it and helps move new ideas from concept to practice.