Should I ask my employer to sponsor my attendance at a professional conference?
January 3, 2012 7:19 AM   Subscribe

As a junior programmer at a tech startup, how do I tactfully approach my employer about sponsoring my attendance at a professional conference? Is that a common request to make?

The conference is PyCon and we're a Python shop, so the skills I'd acquire if I were to go would be useful for my work. I'm prepared to pay to attend out of my own pocket, but if it's standard practice to have these sorts of things paid for, than yeah, it'd be nice to save a few hundred dollars. But it's important for me to avoid appearing greedy.
posted by limon to Work & Money (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's a pretty common request in this industry. How about a quick email that says, "I'd love to go to PyCon and I was wondering if you might sponsor me? If it would help, I'd love to do an information share/show & tell when I get back. I think it would make me a stronger programmer." They can only say yes or no. The "not being greedy" part can be avoided in how you ask, in being willing to share the knowledge and the experience when you get back, and in showing how your attendance fits in with your goal of being a better programmer and a better employee.
posted by littlerobothead at 7:28 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is totally a common request and it is essentially using your company's training budget to help you learn things. In this case it is a conference instead of some traditional training class.

As for how to ask, there is a lot of different approaches. You could ask some more senior people what they do. You could also bring up the conference to your manager and show him or her the things that you could learn. It would be great if you could point towards sessions that directly effect your current and near term work load to show that there is a good learning opportunity. One last approach, that is definitely "less greedy sounding" is to ask your manager if the company is sending anyone to PyCon since it is a good networking opportunity for your company. The downside of taking solely this subtle tactic is the manager might send someone else in your place.
posted by mmascolino at 7:32 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, it is common. Yes, it is standard for them to pay and for you to submit receipts for meals, etc. for reimbursement when you return. This is how people get to these conferences, If I had to pay myself I would never go to programming conferences and I suspect most people wouldn't either.

This is the kind of thing they absolutely should send junior developers to in order to help them towards becoming senior developers.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:36 AM on January 3, 2012

This is a very common request in IT. How you ask depends on what form of communication with your boss you're most comfortable with. I personally would probably get the conference information online and forward it to my boss asking if I could attend on behalf of the company.

Also, Ad hominem is right. If attendees had to pay for these things out of their own pockets, very few people would attend.
posted by Maisie at 7:44 AM on January 3, 2012

He might not get you to pay for it, but will at the very least appreciate the commitment to your career and education, etc.

I would definitely ask, even if the answer is 'maybe next year'. There's no downside to it at all.
posted by empath at 7:51 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

This isn't just a common request, it's something that most of us senior programmers actually consider to be an important part of the compensation package. What I've always done is send an email like "Hey boss, I'd like to go to SOMECONFERENCE this year. Talks I think would be useful for us are: TALK A, TALK B, and TALK C. Flights and hotel will cost €XYZ, is that in our travel budget?" If it's a start-up, it might not be in the budget, but you'll never be looked poorly upon for asking.
posted by cmonkey at 8:29 AM on January 3, 2012

Absolutely ask. I got a large, non-Python shop to give me paid time off to attend PyCon 2009, and they were willing to cover my registration costs the following year. There really is no better way to get a feel for the pulse of the Python community or to gain an appreciation for its breadth than to attend PyCon.

In your appeal, it might be worth noting that Early Bird registration rates expire on January 25th, and that attendance is capped at 1,500 people, so the sooner you register, the better. Briefly enumerate the ballpark cost so your management can figure out if it's in their budget.

I would also strongly recommend trying to stay for at least one day of development sprints, if that sort of thing even slightly interests you. That'll give you a chance to work side-by-side with more experienced Pythonistas to advance an open source project, which is an outstanding way to hone your skills. For example, a friend of mine was able to make a few commits to Fabric at PyCon 2011 without any prior experience beyond being a Fabric user.

Lastly, PyCon is awesome. If they can't sponsor you, and you really want to attend, I highly recommend asking for paid time off and covering the expenses on your own. The Python Software Foundation can even grant financial aid if you need a little bit of help getting there, though the application deadline for aid is January 7th. If you pay your own way, don't forget to bring resumes and/or business cards so you can keep in touch with companies that do send their people to PyCon. :)
posted by SemiSophos at 8:33 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Personally, I'd be more concerned about a developer that wasn't interested in attending a major industry conference like PyCon. So ask away, even if they can't afford to send you, I think you gain something by showing the initiative.
posted by COD at 8:50 AM on January 3, 2012

Agree with all of the above, I don't think this reflects poorly on you at all. I hope you get sponsored!
posted by empyrean at 1:41 PM on January 3, 2012

« Older What is the best graphics card for a 300W PSU?   |   This tastes gross. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.