This is a post about wanting to grow as an engineer and having my management block me from doing so.
I frequently go to tech events for networking, learning, or some mix and I’m an active member in several online tech communities as well. I came across a tech event that was being advertised in several of my groups and it turned out that it was in the same city I worked. I had just started at the company I was working at a few months before and hadn’t yet encountered conferences as part of developer growth. I was about to find out what the organization I was in thought of that.
Firstly, I thought I should make sure the content of the conference was relevant to my company in an effort to convince them to sponsor my attendance or at least let me take that day as a work day and not a vacation day. I collected the following data about my organization and company goals:
- My company at the time had an company Town Hall describing how moving to “the cloud” (AWS in this case) was going to help them go global.
- My organization at the time was working on reducing the overhead of devops in their service maintenance and was looking into solutions for implementing Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment
- The organization needs to maintain both their on-premises datacenter and new AWS clusters at the same time.
- The organization wants to move to building a platform instead of a product.
The bold words are meant to prepare you for the next segment of my proposal.
Second, I tried to relate the content of the talk to the organization goals. These are some of the titles of the talks scheduled at the conference:
- What does it take to build an enterprise SaaS product?
- I may need hybrid cloud, but where do I start?
- DevOps in an immutable world
- Serverless and Containers: a Match Made in the Cloud
- Building a Notification System at Scale
- From Infra Ops to Platform Development: T-Mobile’s Approach to Cloud
- Does your SaaS automate enough?
- Not Your Mother’s Cloud: Best Practices for Enterprise Hybrid Cloud – from On-prem, Cloud, Containers, and Beyond
I’ve highlighted some terms in case it wasn’t clear that just the titles of the talks directly related to what my organization was advertising to be it’s goals. If you had, for some reason, built a heuristic function to rank conferences on how relevant to your organization they were based on your organizational goals, I thought this conference would rank pretty highly.
Thirdly, I tried to quantify the cost of this so I could be transparent to the company what I was asking for. Here’s what I got:
- Cost at the time: $345 for a single ticket
- Duration: 1 day
- Location: Across the street kitty-corner to my office building (I could see the conference building from my desk if I chose to stand up)
As a finishing touch, I noted that my company was listed as one of the Gold Sponsors of the event. That’s right. I was asking to attend a nearby event at relatively low cost to learn about technology related to the goals of my organization that was sponsored by my company. Let’s see how that went.
Me to direct manager (DM): Hi DM, I’m really interested in this tech conference that’s across the street from us and sponsored by us. You can find the info here at http://www.notareallink.com. Do you think I’d be able to either get funding to go or be able to go without taking time off work?
DM: That looks great! I think we should try to send more people to that conference and even I want to go. It looks really relevant and it’s right nextdoor. I will talk to our director to see how funding for conferences work.
That went really well. I didn’t have to negotiate or bargain at all. Unfortunately, my direct manager, DM, at the time had only started 2 weeks after me and was optimistic that such a prominent tech company would of course sponsor sending its employees to go to a conference they themselves are funding. Sadly for both of us, he was wrong.
[A week later]
DM: I brought up the conference thing at our manager strategy meeting.
Me: How did that go?
DM: Well… I tried asking about it and then our director said it wasn’t important so we’d talk about it at the next meeting.
Me: I see… well, I bought my tickets because early bird pricing was only on until 2 days ago.
DM: That’s okay, at the very least our Sr Manager said we can’t fund it but we can look the other way if you go on your own.
Me:… I’ll do that.
Okay, so that wasn’t the best news but there’s still hope that they might reimburse my tickets and possibly send a few other people, right?
[Another week later]
DM: So, I asked about the conference again…
Me: Ah… that sounds like it didn’t go well.
DM: Well, I was a little surprised by the response. The director said we would need to make a case for its relevance and we’d consider sending people but we’d have limited budget.
Me: Does he know we’re sponsoring this?
DM: He didn’t seem to care.
While both my manager and I remained confused at the lack of investment my organization had in its developers, I carried on and made sure to give ample notice to my managers and teammates that I would be out all day for one Wednesday to go to the tech conference next door. Tickets sponsored by myself.
I thought that was it. Sure, it was disappointing that the company wasn’t supportive of professional development but at least I would be able to go and not lose a vacation day. A week before the event, I overheard a manager say we were doing a mandatory all day off-site the following week. Knowing I had sent out my notice of my absence a month before, I was sure it wouldn’t conflict with my plan to go to the conference. Just in case, I sent a reminder to my managers:
Me: Dear Managers, The agenda for the conference is up and can be found here: http://www.notarealsite.com. Some of the topics are fairly relevant to our organization, particularly those about migration from on-premises to cloud and hybrid cloud. If there is a talk that you’d like me to attend, please let me know and I will try to make it.
Skip Manager (SM): That conference conflicts with our all day off-site that I was planning to schedule tomorrow. Do you really have to go to this conference or can you go to another one?
Me: Given that this one is very close (across the street), only one day long where others on this topic are typically 3 days long, and I’ve already paid for it, yes, I will have to insist on going.
SM: I’ve rescheduled the off-site to the day after. The talk on hybrid architecture sounds good to me.
Not only was it a bit of a struggle to get people to tolerate my going to a job relevant conference, they also try to stop me from going because in favor of plans that don’t really exist yet. So much for the CEO’s proclamation that the company “attracts and develops top tech talent”.
I ended up going to the conference and enjoyed it greatly. I wrote up notes and made sure to send them out to my teammates and managers. No one cared. I didn’t go for them though so that’s fine by me. As for the offsite, it was rescheduled and delayed two more times before they eventually decided I no longer needed to attend. I’m glad they had all that hammered out before they asked me to cancel my conference attendance.