Professions of a Silicon Valley Double-E
Thursday, August 16, 2007
  Conference Attendance
All too frequently I hear from folks who have been told by management that they cannot attend or (even if accepted) present at a conference. The reasons vary from cost to schedule. Naturally we accept this if the reason happens to be "you can't disclose this" - but it shouldn't necessarily mean that you can't attend such a conference.

Should you take vacation, and pay to attend yourself? At this point you should look at the value of that conference to you knowledge, skills and network. After attending many such events I often have a hard time putting a value on them. But in my mind, attendance is practically NOT optional. I will go to great lengths to make sure I can go.. Either by participating in the event organization and planning, or by presenting at some point. Certainly I make sure my manager (and prospective employers) know that I will attend if at all possible.

Thus my involvement in the IEEE. I have accepted and internalized that value to such an extent that non-participation is un-imaginable to me. For you it is probably not yet the case, and its worth an attempt to think about and articulate the reasons.

Why I [attend|plan|present|travel|organize] Professional Events:
  1. Meet People - By now most of these folks are friends, or at a minimum, long-term acquaintances. These are the folks solidly in my network, that I help, and am helped by as we navigate our careers. Whether we are connected on linked-in or have never even shared each others business cards. The more often you see each other around, the smaller, and yet larger, this industry gets. When times get tough, these relationships will be, are, have been "our" buffer. Tough times include the times your team needs help as well as when you or your team needs work.
  2. Learn. Engineering is a field where you must CONSTANTLY be learning new things. Even if you just learn who the experts are in some arena that is not your own, when YOU have to interface with that later, you have more familiarity with that area, and a broader range of folks to go to. You ALSO get a better feeling for which papers you can put more trust in. The moment you close your mind off to learning new things is the start of the end of your career - at least that this engineers humble opinion.
  3. The Unexpected. This is the SAME reason that Nassim Nicolas Taleb says its better to live in a city than in a small town. You don't know WHAT new idea, person, book or discussion will happen at the meeting. The more often you can be in a situation where you can encounter these unexpected goodies, the luckier you will be. Of course disasters can be Black Swans too, but you can minimize this risk by preparing well when its YOUR turn to be the presenter.
  4. An archive of expertise. While certainly not the same as a daily blog, which Penelope Trunk says is a MUST today, the archive of papers, presentations, seminars that you give over time, becomes a log, or portfolio, of your expertise. It demonstrates your communication skills, AND experience to those who must or might work with you in the future. Certainly one of the things I look for in a prospective employee is what they have published over time. And I think that might override concerns about the embarrassing photos they forgot to take of their facebook account.
Ok.. But why should your boss pay for you to go (if there is a travel cost - or schedule impact)?
On the other hand
Both you and your manager need to set expectations for the number of events, conferences, etc that you plan to attend and that they will pay for. Do it early. Don't let it be a surprise in the middle of tapeout (or what ever kind of deadlines you have) - either that you want to go, or that they would say no.

I think that covers most of MY reasons for going.. Will I see you at a meeting?

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Ruminations about the Electrical Engineering profession as practiced in Silicon Valley by an IEEE Senior Member. Disclaimer: All Posts here are official IEEE business in that they are messages about IEEE activities from an IEEE volunteer. These messages do not constitute official records of R6-PACE activities, nor official IEEE or IEEE-USA policy statements. Website:

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Location: San Jose, California, United States

When he is not working on IEEE stuff, Jonathan does Mixed Signal Design Verification at Qualcomm. Senior Member IEEE. Founder IEEE-SCV-SSC (the first Solid State Circuits chapter). Past Section Chair, Santa Clara Valley Section - the Largest Section. Co-founder IEEE-SCV-CAS. IEEE-SSCS Membership chair 2001-2003. IEEE SSCS chapters Committee member. IEEE-SCV-PACE committee member 2001- IEEE-SCV-PACE Chair 2006-2007. IEEE R6 PACE coordinator.


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