I help with Melbourne Perl Mongers.
I spend an awful lot of time talking about Perl, and have had my picture in the Australian newspapers with a camel. That's rather scary.
I'm pretty fond of conferences, a fact that's fairly well known. However I sometimes get questions asking "Why aren't you attending XYZ?" To answer this, we need to look a little more closely about why people attend conferences.
When applying for funding, everyone says they wish to visit a conference because it's educational, or because they'll be exposed to industry experts and valuable new ideas. While that may be true, conferences also represent a holiday away from work for many employees. Conferences mean a paid time away from work, with groovy people, and often excellent food and free drinks. Sounds like a holiday to me.
The reason that conferences are holidays for many people is because their employer pays for them. If they were paying for themselves, then attendees may consider saving the money and going scuba diving in the tropics. If you're self-funding (which ultimately I am), then the conference rapidly loses holiday value. That leaves the networking and education.
Now, here's the rub. While I find many conference presentations interesting (and some... less so), the main reason I attend conferences is the same reason I attend user-groups. It's to meet people. People are so much more important than the latest tech-tool or newest way of doing unthinkable things with XML.
However meeting people is hard work. There's all these wacky social protocols and handshakes in order to open communications and find a common topic, and even then you're not even sure if any useful information is going to be transferred. Conferences often provide very little time to actually talk to others, since talks and presentations take up so much of the day. Luckily, there's a simple trick that turns all that around. You give a presentation.
When presenting a wonderful thing happens. You get to provide an idea to hundreds of people. Now anybody you meet for the rest of the conference has something to talk to you about, meaning you can immediately skip a lot of the more difficult parts of the opening protocols. Even better, people you meet will tend to self-select for ideas and interests similar to your own. By presenting, one gets the most bang-for-buck out of a conference.
Now I can finally answer the original question of why I don't attend conference XYZ this year. It's probably because I didn't hear about the Call For Papers (CFP). Some conferences tend to only send their CFP to a very narrow band of people, and in those cases I don't even have the opportunity to present a paper. That's a real shame, because inbred conferences are often prone to repeated content and poorer presentations.
Sometimes I'll catch the CFP, but not actually be accepted as a speaker. This primarily seems to be when the conference is very technically focused, and I submit papers that are on non-technical topics, such understanding social APIs, or practical mind control. While this is a shame, I don't blame the organisers. Picking speakers for a conference is hard, and if you haven't seen them present before then it's only sensible to go with the on-topic ones. All it means is that I simply haven't met enough people yet.
So, if I'm not at a conference, it's usually because I've missed the CFP or otherwise don't have an opportunity to present. Occasionally it's because I'm just plain busy. After all, I do have a life around here somewhere...
I think it must be on a backup tape.