Recently, I was talking with a local guy who wanted to get more involved with the community, as he wants to eventually go the MVP route with hopes of one day working for Microsoft.  He mentioned that some people told him about conferences like TechEd and VSLive.  While those are great conferences, they’re also expensive – not just the ticket price but also accommodations and other incidentals.  In my reply back, I had to recommend looking at local conferences.  Here are a few reasons why I recommend local and regional conferences over the big conferences.

Quality of Speakers

Something to keep in mind is that speakers have some place they call home, even though they may travel a lot for work.  Here in the Heartland District, we have all sorts of speakers who’ve spoken at the bigger conferences (TechEd, VSLive, etc.) who call Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, or Tennessee home.  Even here in Cleveland, we have quite a few hometown greats who have spoken at national conferences.  So just because we’re in the Midwest and not on either coast does not mean that we’re exempt from having awesome speakers.  What’s nice about having these speakers calling this home is that it’s easy to woo them to speak at a conference close to home – not travelling far from family, giving them time with both the community and their own families.

Cost of Attendance

Looking at TechEd, the student rate is $995.  The student rate – as in a discounted rate –  is close to $1000, which is expensive for a typical student’s budget.  While I may be out of college for almost 10 years now, I remember what it was like to live on a student’s meager budget.  There’s no way I could have afforded going to something like that.  The professional rate is $2195 or that and an additional $400 for the pre-con.  While the “big names” are presenting there, it’s quite a bit of money to see content that we can find online, perhaps by the big name or someone else.  Add to it that this rate doesn’t include travel or hotel accommodations.  All of these numbers add up.

Now let’s look at some of the local conferences that can attract the big names at a fraction of the cost.  Take a look at conferences like CodeMash (in Sandusky, Ohio in January) and devLink (in Tennessee in August).  These conferences have attracted well-known speakers including Steve Smith, Scott Hanselman, Eric Meyer, and Mary Poppendieck.  These are multi-day regional conferences that are typically more affordable – both in terms of conference costs and accommodations.  They offer typically conference talks, workshops, and open spaces, amongst other networking opportunities for their attendees.  These are the two closest to my home and held here in the Heartland District.  Similar conferences include MADExpo and That Conference.  Other conferences that attract similar caliber of speakers include Stir Trek,  CodePaLOUsa, CodeStock, and Kalamazoo X.  The ticket price of these, even at the professional level, aren’t much greater than $300 for multi-day events – much more affordable than even the student rate of TechEd.

Networking on a Local Scale

While you may be wanting to network with people throughout the world, it might be even more helpful to network with those in nearby communities to achieve whatever goal you’re trying to achieve.  Local and regional events are greater for reaching the local audience (as opposed to the larger conferences that target a wide network).  Other local and regional events in this area that are great to check out include  DevDays, Days of .NET, SQL Saturdays, PowerShell Saturday,  TechNet Events, and MSDN Events.  The costs for these tend to be minimal – usually to cover food.  Some of these events may also be free.

Conclusion

In an economy where employers may not necessarily pay their developers well or even cover their training, events like TechEd and VSLive become even less of an option for training.  However, besides going to user groups where you usually hear about one topic and network with the locals, there are other options.  When budgets are tight but you still want to get a great quality of presented content, take a look at local and regional conferences.  Once you look at them, you’ll find a great way for growing your career perhaps in your own backyard!