Over the course of my professional web developer career (spanning a whopping eight years now!), I've attended exactly three conferences geared toward web developers. I wanted to share my views on conferences in general and really just document what I think makes for an awesome conference.
The first conference I ever attended was in Denver, Colorado. It was the National Association of Government Webmasters conference. This was my first chance to mingle with web developers that were in the same position (or similar) of being tasked with web operations within municipal government.
I have to say that attending this conference was a huge eye opener to a lot of things for me, but the biggest take away was that other people struggle with problems very similar to my own. Easily the best part of this conference was being able to share our "war stories", get feedback on how things went when we did something a particular way and learn how others had tackeled the same problem.
I was then fortunate enough that NAGW decided to host a conference in my backyard in Reno, NV a few years later. Being in municipal government, spending on trainings like this was very limited so not having to pay for travel or hotel was a huge boon and I'm sure pushed me over the hill to get my ticket punched.
This was my very first time speaking at a conference. I'm not going to lie, I did horribly. I didn't prepare nearly well enough and really flopped because of it. I feel I let the organizers down by not putting on a talk that was up to snuff and currently don't feel that I will speak again because of it. Never say never though I guess, right?
Overall the conference had the same outcome. Yeah the talks were great, but easily the best parts were the in-between mingling in the halls, sharing more war stories and hearing how others were tackling problems we were facing or about to come across.
Finally, and most recently, I attended php-tek. This one was a lot more fun to me personally as it was themed toward what I'm working in day in and day out: PHP. I felt as though in each tutorial or talk I was able to take away at least a tidbit that I'd be able to immediately use in my day to day coding.
While I was able to garner those tidbits during the sessions, I still found that the most entertaining and thought provoking times were had outside of the session hall and out in the hallways. There were just spur of the moment opportunities to discuss our profession, and from that comes a lot of passion which in turn leads to amazing discussions.
So in short I guess I'm saying that for me, conferences are all about the people that are attending with you. If you have awesome people around you, I'd bet you're going to have a great time and will learn a lot.
Looking toward the future I would love to myself put on a conference, with one being brought up to a couple of people at tek that seemed to spur some enthusiasm. Time will tell if that comes to a "broil" or not...