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By Jack Ganssle

Time or Money?

Summary: The Embedded Systems Conference is the best event for our industry. Did you go?

Though I'm a member of the Embedded System Conference's advisory board, I have no financial or business interest in the ESC (Other than the pittance paid to speak there). I do promote it here from time to time simply because of my passion for learning. The ESC is a valuable asset for any embedded engineer who wishes to take classes or meet vendors to learn about new products that can aid development. But I do get a lot of email from readers and conference attendees asking about various content and business aspects of the event.

Recently a couple of laid-off engineers complained that they wanted to attend the latest Boston event but just couldn't justify the cost. Cost? If you're local, other than a ride on the T or driving and parking, it's free.

The ESC has many components; so many even I lose track. There are the tear downs, the show floor theater, the vendor sessions, and more. But unlike Gaul, the event can be divided into just two parts: the so-called "Conference" and the "Expo." The former consists of a set of talks, and carries a hefty price tag. The latter is the show floor, which is open to the public at no charge. That includes the vendor booths, which are hugely important to practicing engineers. As the pressure to do more faster increases we need to know what sort of resources are available to help us meet our goals. The show floor includes the ESC theater, where tear downs and some talks - free - are held. Off the show floor, but included with the free pass, are the vendor sessions. Yeah, vendors pitch products. And I've been to a couple of these sessions which were dreadful. But most seem to be packed full of useful information and are a valuable - and free - asset.

The Shop Talks are moderated discussions - also free - that cover a number of subjects, and are the source of most of the emails complaining about the cost of attending the ESC. I ran one in Boston about the recession's impact on our careers which was attended by about 100 engineers.

But one wonders about the future of real-life events like the ESC. Will they be replaced by virtual events? I'm told some virtual events held by the same folks who run the ESC have been very successful. But the number of attendees to these cyber-shows pales compared to those at the bricks-and-mortar conference, so either the wags are wrong, or the future isn't quite here yet.

The most recent ESC showed an uptick to the number of attendees to the Expo - free - event, and a bit of a decline to the - paid - Conference sessions. Why? The Conference spans 4 to 5 days. Is it too long? (Though there are options to attend a subset of the event). A week is a lot of time; is it no longer possible to leave the office for a week? How about for a day?

Or is it the cost? Money is in awfully short supply today. Are companies no longer willing, or maybe unable, to invest in their people?

What's your take? Why are you willing, or not, to attend events like the ESC?

Published November 18, 2009