In the almost ten years that I have been developing software professionally, I've never had the opportunity to attend any kind of conference -- technology-related or otherwise. For one, I could never convince an employer to foot the bill to send me to an event that, as far as they were concerned, was just a bunch of geeks goofing off: Any time I'd bring it up I would be met with a resounding "NO," followed by a detailed explanation of how I get paid to sit in my cube and bang out code, not to go schmooze with other developers...so I better get my butt back in there and keep on writing code and stop all this crazy talk.
Of course, the alternative would have been to simply pay my own way, but when you do the math and look at the combined price of admission, lodging, travel and so on to most of the well-known conferences it's just too much damn money out of my own pocket -- and nowadays I could never get approval from my accounting department (A.K.A. my wife), anyway. It's kind of hard to convince the wife to spend that kind of money when there's a mortgage to be paid, kids to feed, etc...go figure.
At this point in my career, I'd just resigned myself to the fact that I would likely never get to go to a conference.
So earlier this year I received a bit of a surprise from my current employer when it was suggested that they would be willing to send a few developers to a local conference. They didn't have a huge budget to send us to something like JavaOne, or some other equally high-profile (and expensive) conference, but the suggestion was made to us to attend a No Fluff Just Stuff conference, which had come highly recommended by a few other developers in the organization. It was also reasonably priced, and rather than being a big conference in someplace like California, it was actually a series of smaller conferences held throughout all parts of the country, making it more accessible to the average schmo that can't afford to hop on a plane and stay in a hotel room for a week.
For those that have never heard of, or attended a No Fluff Just Stuff conference, the name pretty-much says it all: It's a conference where presentations are given with little embellishment or market-speak, or crazy pie-in-the-sky promises that a technology will end world hunger, save the whales, cure diseases, do the dishes, put the kids to bed, blah blah blah...you get the idea. It's real geeks talking about real-world technology to fellow geeks. The topics covered are all related to various new or up-and-coming Java technologies, along with many discussions covering project management-related stuff like Agile processes, Test-Driven Development, and so on, each of which are also covered within the context of various Java technologies.
So, not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I said "what the hell, let's give it try." I'll take whatever opportunity I can to listen to, and possibly pick the brains of, some of the guys in the Java world that are way smarter than I am. So my colleagues and I were given an initial verbal agreement that we would be able to attend the Northern Virginia Software Symposium, held in Reston, Va. on November 7-9.
Now, in all honestly, I still was not completely sure my employer wasn't just blowing a bunch of smoke up our collective butts when they first told us this -- just holding out the possibility of attending the conference like the proverbial carrot-on-a-stick -- until the day I received confirmation of the ticket purchase in my email. It's not that my employer is terribly untrustworthy or anything...it's just that I've been around the industry long enough to know that some like to play those kinds of games with their employees -- I'd grown a bit cynical.
So, after getting the email confirmation that we were most definitely attending, and (thankfully) having my cynical mind put at ease, we were all set to go to the Northern Virginia Software Symposium.
At this point, I just needed to get prepared...which really only involved me trying to figure out which presentations to sit in on based on the schedule that I'd received. There were quite a few topics that piqued my interest and several were in the same time slot together, which meant I really had to figure out which ones were worth my time. I'd recognized many of the speakers' names, as I'd either read or knew of the books they had written: Brian Goetz, Richard Monson-Haefel, and Jared Richardson, were just a few of the many smart guys in the Java realm that would be speaking during the conference.
Sadly, I couldn't sit in everyone's presentations, but once I had a general idea of what topics I wanted to hear about, all that was needed was for me to hop in the car and head to Reston for each day of the conference.
And so, I arrived in Reston on the first day of the conference with my agenda set (for the most part) and eager to start learning what some true geeks of the Java world were up to...