Tomorrow I'm hopping a plane to Philadelphia - from the city of angels to the city of brotherly love, it should be one poetic journey - where I'll be speaking at Ruby East on ways to kick ass with IRB. I did a nice dry run of my presentation tonight at the Pasadena Ruby Brigade, which was fun. Amy Hoy will be there, by the way - only fitting as a post on her blog set off my IRB obsession.
I've met Amy before - at OSCON, RailsConf, and Canada on Rails. Obviously, I go to a lot of conferences. I think everyone should. The huge benefit from conferences is peer pressure. If you read a lot of blogs and every blogger you read tells you to use Cruise Control, you'll get on it sooner or later. If you're sitting at a table with a bunch of really smart people, and a really smart person asks, "Who uses Cruise Control?", and every single hand but yours goes sailing into the air, it won't be a sooner or later thing. You'll remember that moment of shame, and you'll set up Cruise Control soon.
The truth is every developer has some habit, practice or idea that they know they should use and which they're going to start using, any day now, as soon as they get around to it. Conferences can be a nice kick in the butt that way. It's not just the shame method; it also works in reverse. If you meet people who think you've got something to say, and you mention you're not yet up to speed on some technology they think you're easily smart enough to be using, that's a much nicer kind of kick in the butt.
Conferences also, more simply, teach you new stuff. It's good to learn new stuff. The big secret of learning is that teaching is one of the best ways to learn - which is why I think every developer should present at conferences. People think if you're presenting at a conference, you must be an authority on the subject, but the reality is, the presenter isn't really a teacher. The presenter is just the lead student. If you've got questions you want answered, the best way to ask a large number of people for those answers is to show them the answers you've figured out for yourself so far.
Also, it's wise to get as much training as possible. It isn't really possible to be done learning if you're a developer. (In fact, that's probably the best thing about being a developer in the first place.)