Conferences: for Fun or Profit?

Attending an IT conference is fun. You get to meet people, listen to interesting presentations, maybe even participate in a workshop where you can expand your skills. Furthermore, there is free food, evening activities including parties, and networking. At the very least, it is a break from doing time in the office.

Each tech community, including PHP, has some well-known speakers that frequently present at conferences around the world. Admittedly, we are among them. How cool must it be to get all this excitement of a conference, and even get paid to do it?

Wait a moment. Nobody said that conference speakers get paid to do their job. And in fact, they are not.

PHP, both the language as well as the community around it, have a strong history of being a bit "special". This also holds true for PHP conferences.

Setting the Standard

As far as we remember, Germany-based conference organizer Software & Support was the first to reimburse travel expenses for speakers at the International PHP Conference 2001. This set a standard for the PHP community, and other PHP conferences have followed. With the internationalization of conferences, and more and more speakers requiring long-distance flights to get to a conference, reimbursement of travel expenses even became somewhat of a necessity. Do not forget that at any given point in time, a significant number of PHP core developers were not paid by any company to work on PHP, but did so in their free time.

In other tech communities, the reimbursement of travel expenses is uncommon. Allegedly, sometimes even the speakers have to pay to attend the conference they are speaking at. In a world of large companies trying to reach their markets, paying to present at a conference – for example as part of a sponsorship deal – is quite common, and makes perfect sense.

Getting Paid

But the PHP community has never been a commercial playground. Granted, there are many big companies that use PHP. The number of players that provide products and services around PHP, however, is rather small.

We know of no professional PHP conference speaker, including us, who would expect to get paid for giving a conference presentation. And even if we would receive payment, the one hour that a conference presentation usually lasts is just a small fraction of the time we invest in preparing it.

It takes days to prepare a one-hour presentation. And even if we give the same presentation multiple times, the content will always be different. Sometimes, we have adjusted entire presentations on the same day when we felt that the vibe and the audience of the conference required it.

Our presentations are not based on books (except maybe our own books), but are based on years of experience in the field. Last, but not least, we need to travel to the conference and back, which easily adds up to a three- to five-day trip, depending on location and scheduling, just to give one or two one-hour presentations.

Of course, there is all the fun that we would not want to miss, plus the "community factor" that is important to us as individuals, and as a company. But how much would we need to charge for one conference presentation? One hour of our time, the three days we spend traveling, the whole week it took us to prepare the talk, or even a whole lifetime of experience that went into it? Clearly, there is no simple answer to this question.

Investments

So without getting paid for the time you invest, how many conferences each year can you do? We spend 20 to 50 days attending conferences each year. Of course, as consultants, to some extent, we promote our services through presentations. But we also do not earn money while we attend a conference.

We would not do all this if we did not thoroughly enjoy it. We are willing to pay for our travel ourselves a couple of times a year, especially when the conference is organized by a user group or another non-profit entity. We also do this when we can help a new conference get off the ground and to invest in visibility for our brand in a new market.

Some community conferences are for "fun", others are for profit. When the conference makes money, it should cover travel expenses for the speakers. This is why we generally ask for a sensible budget that gets us to the conference and back home.

About the authors

Sebastian Bergmann
Sebastian Bergmann
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Sebastian Bergmann, creator of PHPUnit, is an internationally sought-after expert who has played a vital role in professionalizing the PHP community.

Arne Blankerts
Arne Blankerts
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Arne Blankerts has created solutions far ahead of the times already years ago, and finds security issues with magic intuition.

Stefan Priebsch
Stefan Priebsch
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For over 20 years, Stefan Priebsch has been finding sustainable solutions using a unique blend of new ideas and proven approaches.

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