The Future of Technical Education

microphone-2009-10-15Some people just love to talk. I guess I’m one of those people. I admit it. But there is a time and place for everything. I’m not one of those annoying people that sits next to you one the airplane or on the commuter train that doesn’t know when to be quiet. No, I am not one of those people. At least, I hope not. But I do enjoy speaking and I’m fortunate that I get to do it in an organized setting regularly.

Different Types of Events

Over the next four weeks, I have three speaking engagements scheduled – two sessions at SQLSaturday in Orlando, two sessions at the PASS Summit in Seattle, and a session at the .NET User Group meeting right here in Music City, USA.

Combine those events with the remote User Group meeting in September, the DevLink conference, and the TechNet webcast in August, and I’ve spoken at most every kind of event imaginable. (The exception is that SSWUG Virtual Conference and I’d love to be a speaker at that one day)

The events that I’ve spoken at range from a single 90 minute session held during business hours to a full blown 150+ session conference complete with pre and post conference seminars. They range from 20 people to over 2,000 people. And they range from an absolutely free event to a hefty registration fee of a couple grand.

Here a Speaker, There a Speaker, Everywhere a Speaker

But despite the different formats and widely varying prices, there is one striking similarity in the events – the speakers. The same people who regularly share their knowledge and experiences at conferences frequently speak at user group meetings, code camps, and SQLSaturdays.

For example, this weekend at the free SQLSaturday event in Orlando, Brian Knight, Kevin Kline, Andy Leonard, Jonathan Kehayias, Joe Celko, Buck Woody, and I, among many others, are speaking. If you visit the Speakers page of the PASS Summit web site, you’ll notice that we’re all speaking at that conference, too. Brian, Kevin, and Woody are speaking at the SSWUG Virtual Conference. And the list of events and speakers goes on and on.

The Changing Landscape of Technical Education

So we, as technologist, have more choices and opportunities than ever before for education and networking with our peers. And that’s good. I’m glad we have these opportunities. Not everyone can afford, especially in this economy, to travel to a conference.

But all of these opportunities make me wonder about the changing landscape of technical education. How long can these different vehicles for technical education and networking coexist?

Some questions come to mind:

  • Are these complementary events? Or do they compete for attendees? If an attendee goes to a SQLSaturday event, is he more or less likely to attend a conference like the PASS Summit?
  • How long will top-notch speakers be willing to travel at their own expense to speak at free events such as Code Camps, User Group meetings, and SQLSaturdays?
  • With the proliferation of low-cost regional events that draw well-known speakers, will attendees continue to find a significant Return On Investment in distant conferences with a high registration fees?
  • What do attendees value more? Local and regional networking? Or networking at a global scale and with Microsoft developers and Product Managers?
  • Does all this really depend on each individual attendee? Will employees of Fortune 1000 always go to larger events since their employers pay for it? Will employees of Small to Medium size businesses gravitate toward the lower cost events?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I’m just posing them. But, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. What is the changing landscape of technical education? Or is there one?


2 Responses to The Future of Technical Education

  1. Brent Ozar says:

    I think there’s two kinds of training.

    There’s the kind your employer pays for because it makes you worth more to them.

    There’s the kind you pay for because it makes you worth more, period.

    SQLSaturdays and PASS local events are popular because people want to increase their own value. The PASS Summit makes sense to employers, but it can be tougher for individuals to make that kind of investment in their own skillset – even though it does pay off.

  2. Joe – fun post. I like thinking about things like this 🙂

    1) Do they compete for attendees? Of course they do. There are “x” people interested in an event and, when there are “y” events that feature the same speakers/topics within a “z” period, the market will be divided.

    2) Interesting question. They’ve done it for 15 years so I assume forever. If they don’t, there’s always someone waiting in the wings for their time to shine. However there are other factors at play (see comments at end).

    3) Impossible to answer as stated. If you said, “The regional has same content and same speakers” then of course.

    4) I attend more for content and generally pass up more network-y type of events. Whether I am in the minority or majority, I don’t have a clue. I’m a geek and I want technical content so local vs. regional networking is not something I particularly worry about.

    5) If the cost of attending events stays the same then I suppose your last point will occur. If the cost rises, it will be even more so. A typical four-day event costs anywhere from $1100 – $1800 depending on the promoter. This has been relatively stable for a decade, hasn’t it? I’m just thinking back to what I paid for Tech-Ed years ago and that was the range 10 years ago. If that’s true, then this is the comfort zone – people aren’t willing to pay more and advertisers won’t advertise for an event that costs $2400, for example. {no advertisers | no attendees} = no conference

    During the past decade, the cost of IT services, janitorial services, hotel rental, etc has no doubt risen by at least 5-10%. Will the comfort zone that people are willing to pay for technical events rise to $2400 in the next five years? If not, how will these events survive if the cost of services continues to rise? I don’t know… It’s interesting to think about though. One or more of these things has to happen IMO:

    (1) People have to get used to paying more for technical events
    (2) People have to get used to “less” from technical events
    (3) Advertisters have to step up and pay more
    (4) Promoters have to get more creative and find more ways to monetize events
    (5) Attendees have to get used to more advertising in more places
    (6) Promoters have to spend less

    Any combination of these (if not all) will likely happen in the next five years. Obviously #6 has a big impact on your #2 – if promoters have to spend less, what will they cut? They can’t cut “essential services” (like internet service for attendees, lunch, snacks) but they can spend less on “top-notch speakers” – they can use budget travel, budget hotels, lower speaking fees, and lower per-diems. Of course this is moot for certain promoters since they do not directly compensate speakers anyway! Bottom line: promoters have to get leaner and, if I had to guess, some of that will come at the expense of the speakers.

    Am I way off here? Give me a reality check, please, if I am!

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