Conferences offer wonderful opportunities for education and networking, but even the best can be expensive and time consuming. And there’s nothing worse than being stuck in a drafty business center with unmet expectations (and spotty wi-fi). With thousands of tech conferences available every year, IT professionals must be discerning when choosing the right one.
In this list, we explore ten IT conference recommendations across a variety of categories, so you’re sure to find the best fit for your professional development goals.
Best Large IT Conferences: VMworld and Dreamforce
Global conference VMWorld offers a wide range of sessions and hands-on labs that cover all facets of the tech industry, so there’s truly something for everyone. Meanwhile, Dreamforce lives up to its name by focusing on cloud technology and the latest cutting-edge business solutions — and you don’t have to be a Salesforce admin to benefit. In both of these conferences, professional development opportunities involve rubbing elbows with executives as well as networking with peers.
Bonus: Giant conferences often have the best after-hour shows. This year’s Dreamforce performance: U2.
Best Up-and-Coming IT Conference: SpiceWorld
Hosted by Spiceworks in both the US and Europe, this conference is great for IT pros and their colleagues. Past attendees praise the intimate community feel, which the conference has strived to keep up while growing in attendees year after year. Now, SpiceWorld offers a specific IT Pro track, so you can focus on sessions like “The 17 Hats You Wear and DIY Security Testing” and “The Benefits of Being a Lazy IT Admin.”
Bonus: Bring your swag bag. This one is known for the freebies.
Best IT Conference for Startup Geeks: TechCrunch Disrupt
Disrupt is not for everyone, especially with its hefty price tag. But if you’re seeking to advance in the startup world, this NYC-based conference (which is also held in other cities) can be an exceptional resource. Disrupt attracts innovators across industries and roles, so it’s important to do a little research ahead of time and go in with a game plan if you’re looking for IT-specific professional development.
Best IT Conference for Security Experts: Black Hat
Black Hat has been called a conference for hackers, but it’s more than that. The conference is a high-end event series geared toward security experts, and is a destination for the best minds in the industry. First held in 1997, it offers security briefings, technical training, and opportunities for career seekers and recruiters alike. (If Black Hat isn’t your style, try Defcon.)
Bonus: Strong, secure wifi. They operate a traveling command center on-site to handle the conference network operations. Because what can possibly go wrong?
Best IT Conference for Women: Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing
This conference, named for computing pioneer Grace Hopper, is a must for women, as it includes opportunities for professional development such as career guidance sessions, professional development workshops, and a career fair. They offer complimentary child care, a rare benefit in the world of tech conferences.
Best IT Conference for Sysadmins: LISA
LISA, the long-running conference dedicated to systems administrators, offers a balanced mix of informative talks and training, plus peer-to-peer networking for admins. The 2016 conference is structured around three topics: architecture (e.g. “Building a Billion User Load Balancer”), culture (e.g. “Personal Time Management: The Basics for Sysadmins That Are Overloaded”), and engineering (e.g. “Virtual Interfaces for Exploration of Heterogeneous and Cloud Computing Architectures”).
Best IT Conference for Microsoft Mavens: Ignite
Beginning in 2015, Ignite replaced six smaller events of the past, dedicated to SharePoint, Lync, Exchange, and others. These days, Ignite brings together tens of thousands of Microsoft IT Pros for a week of high-level industry information and technical sessions. Networking opportunities abound during the social events.
Best IT Conference for Google Groupies: Google I/O
I/O is Google’s premier event for developers, but you don’t have to be a coder to seek professional development opportunities here. The conference covers cutting edge topics across mobile and cloud computing, and is perfect for admins and other IT pros who focus on Google Apps, Android, and other technologies.
Best IT Conference for AWS Admins: AWS re:Invent
re:Invent touts itself as the largest global cloud computing conference. If you attend re:Invent you’ll get broad exposure to all things AWS, with hands-on experience coming in the form of deep-dive labs, bootcamps, and hack-a-thons. As with all the conferences on this list, there are also great opportunities for socializing, in this case with other AWS professionals.
When choosing which conference(s) to attend, try to keep your career path in mind. Make your selections based on where you want to grow in your skills and knowledge as you continue to develop your career.
Are there other conferences that should have made the list? Tell us about them in the comments below!