Building on Martijns post about why you should go to conferences. There are many thousands of software developers in London but from speaking to conference organisers the % of those that attend conferences is very low. I discussed with many of our members as to why more people weren’t getting involved and it seemed that many were sold on the benefits but the barriers were around cost and time away from work.
There are a number of benefits to employers for their developers attending these conferences so I spoke to several people in the industry with experience of this from various angles to see if we could help employers and managers become part of the solution rather than the problem.
This is not intended to be a completed piece, moreover I am hoping it will be a starting point and provoke further thought and lead to insight from other people on the subject. So far I have spoken to Trisha Gee, presenter from JavaOne and speaking at JAX London and Devoxx, from LMAX, a multiple award-winning Java financial exchange. Unruly Media’s CTO Matt Cooke, a forward thinking employer who has introduced conference budget into their benefits scheme. Martijn Verburg, Co-Organiser of the LJC, Co-Founder of TeamSparq, and a conference speaker that has spoken at over 15 Java conferences globally and has strong feelings on the benefits of conferences and Mark Hazell Organiser of many international conferences including JAX London.
LMAX’s Trisha Gee was the first I spoke to. She advised that it was the important to have someone senior from the technical part of your organisation onboard when trying to get out to a conference – you can help them to sell the benefits (recruitment, retention) to senior management. LMAX came to a unique solution to the problem, rather than giving out money randomly, they organised a training and conferences fund to be set aside that the entire team had to organise and distribute accordingly. They found that having one budget means that people are very careful with the budget and only use it if the conference is very important to them. The pot helps keep the idea of training and conferences at the front of everyone’s mind but the fact that it is a shared fund helps them stay creative and in many cases get free conference places, by offering to speak at them, something Trish highly recommends. Recruiting for LMAX has been made easier by the amount of candidates we have spoken to that have already heard the press about LMAX from JavaOne or seen Trisha or Mike (Lead Developer at LMAX) present. For those that haven’t heard of LMAX it’s easy for us to say to potential candidates to check out news stories or online presentations.
Trish mentioned the main barrier in her case was the time out of the office. This becomes very difficult with international conferences, especially those in America. Trish solved this problem by negotiating part of the conference as personal holiday days. She also recommended UK/European conferences as these can obviously mean it’s much easier to get away for 3 days instead of 5.
Matt Cooke is a forward thinking CTO with Unruly Media. I came to know Matt when we were approached to resource Java developers earlier this year. One of the things that stood out from the brief is that they had included £1500 conference budget and 3 days off into the benefits package. I discussed this with Matt and his motivation is that Unruly attracts ‘interested’ developers, those that are curious about the latest technologies. This benefit actually fits into a larger initiative that Unruly runs in which developers spend 20% of their time investigating new technologies, a trend that we have started to see across a few employers in London. Matt feels that these benefits help in terms of attracting and retaining staff and from a recruiters perspective I have to say it has made the company easy to sell. In such a competitive market, everyone is chasing talent but presenting a business, which clearly cared not only about recruiting talent, but also continuously cultivating it, meant we didn’t struggle to attract top developers.
I discussed Matts thoughts on people being out of the office, and how this was a barrier for many employers. His thoughts were that as an employer you know what you’re missing by letting people go to a conference – 3 days work, but you don’t know what you’re missing from stopping developers attending. He said it keeps his employees enthusiastic, developers that have just returned from a great conference come full of new ideas and are at their most enthusiastic. Not to mention the added skills and technologies it adds to the team.
As for the benefits to employers of their employees attending conferences Martijn Verburg has some pretty strong views on the benefits of attending conferences. It’s well worth reading his post on Oscon to understand how he sees the benefits to the conference attendees. However he sees a great deal of benefits to employers here are some examples from the latest JavaOne conference:
“Attendees may learn how to build prototypes faster (Grails), reduce the number of bugs (Integration testing with Arqullian), find out that a technology is being retired (Swing) and how to migrate to the new one (Java FX 2.0). From one session or one conversation your technical staff can learn something that can save you ££ or ensure that you avoid losing ££.”
From the initial research we have done it seems the important thing is to get your CTO on board. I can speak first hand about the recruitment and retention benefits of having companies represented at conferences.
At the LJC we work closely with Mark Hazell and JAX London who not only sponsor occasional sessions but also help with the organisation, marketing and strategy of the community as a whole. Many LJC members and organisers are speaking at the upcoming JAX London conference and we would recommend that you check it out and make sure your CTO is at least aware of what’s on offer.
As LJC members we often get heavily reduced rates on conferences. JAX London is just round the corner and you can get 25% off at JAX through your LJC membership (promo code is JAXLJC). If you are interested just visit: http://www.amiando.com/jaxlondonautumn.html
Barry Cranford is the Managing Director of RecWorks Ltd. An IT recruitment consultancy aimed at spotting and developing technical talent with a focus in Java and Graduate developers.