Conferences and professional gatherings of programmers are sometimes a scary subject for employers to consider. They might be worried about recruiters trying to poach their developers, or think that a conference is a waste of money that enriches the individual developer and not the business itself. If you are attending conferences and meetups, you already know that it can be an important part of your personal development. This is great for you, but did you know that it's also great for your company?
Community is cost efficient We personally need reasons to spend our money and time on something outside of our normal routine. A good business also needs justification for supporting the endeavors of it's employees to "maximize" return on training costs. Sometimes bringing in outside consulting is thought of as a good strategy since it's hyper-focused on the needs of the business and team at the time. This is also usually a very expensive way to train people. Yet, when a developer is invested in their community and making an effort to participate they actually have more access to knowledge, help and people than they would waiting for their company to train them.
Sessions and talks In the past I have used the talks as a selling point. Usually your employer is looking for relevance to the actual work you are doing, so for example you are using AWS, a talk on AWS should give the developer new insights into the platform. A sort of osmosis is expected to occur by sitting there and listening to speakers and reading slides. In reality talks are bait, and what they are really meant to do is inspire the developer.
Inspiration Programming is a creative activity. Problem solving requires developers to be inventive and conscientious. We also tend to live in our own bubbles, worrying about the problems we are dealing with now. Without new ideas it's hard to stay motivated. Motivated developers write better code, and as a developer you will never walk away from a conference without something new to think about. In fact if you are anything like me, you won't be thinking of anything else for days.
Access to important people This is my newest selling point: if your business runs on open source tools, you can talk to the people who work on and create these tools. You can bug them with your questions. No really! They want to help you, because the community exists to help each-other! A concrete example: my company is using AWS for a lot of things. Thousands of dollars go to amazon monthly. Our developers interact with amazon using it's sdk. We are heavily invested in the future of this platform! Guess what: the guy who works on it will talk to you! Hell, he will probably sing you a song about it. I asked him questions about the future of the sdk and i got answers! for free! with a smile!
Lasting Relationships It never hurts to have too many friends. Employers might interpret that as: "My devs are going to be looking for a job at that conference!". In a way they are right. We are all evaluating our opportunities, hopefully all the time. Business people actually do understand this. What they don't always understand is that supporting your developers pursuit of community creates a massive dose of goodwill. Developers entertain employment offers, recruiting emails and calls all the time. If programming were a sports team, business owners would be trading developers all the time as well. Besides, if your developers are part of the community, they will be going with or without your consent. But a developer with a bigger network has a greater chance of knowing someone who can help with a problem. Hell, smart companies might even try to attract developers by supporting the community! At the end of the day, we all need a few more friends.
Hopefully this post gave you some ideas if you find yourself in the position of having to justify your participation in the community. A healthy community benefits companies and developers, and ultimately end users of the products we make and services we provide. If you have built your business OR career on a language or tool, find a way to participate! Get on a forum, write a blog, and spread the word.