It’s not your employer’s job to keep you at the top of your game

This past weekend I attended the TrueNorth PHP conference, hosted by the GTA PHP user group. It’s the second year that the event has been held and I attended last year as well. Based on my experience it’s a great event, and the only PHP focused conference that takes place in the Toronto area.

As with most conferences, sometimes the most insightful things come from the hallway conversations that happen outside of the scheduled talks. This conference was no different. There was one specific conversation that got my attention. I was talking to a couple of guys that were lightly complaining about how their employer doesn’t send them to any conferences, and that the were only able to come to this one because it happened to be in the neighbourhood.

My opinion on this is that as a developer, you need to take responsibility for your own professional development. Your employer hired you to perform a specific job, so as long as they are providing the tools required to get the job done and paying you your agreed salary, they’re holding up their end of the bargain. If you want to learn new skills, experiment with new technology, sharpen your saw or whatever, that’s up to you (although don’t be surprised if you later get canned if you never attempt to get better at what you do). Your company being willing to foot the bill for these things is a perk, not a term of employment. It’s a little different if there’s a course or conference that your employer asks you to attend, in this situation they have decided that there is some business benefit to be had by you attending, so I do feel they should cover your costs.

For me, my employer probably would have paid for my conference ticket to True North but I didn’t ask them to. I wanted to go because I have a strong connection to the PHP community and I knew that there was going to be the possibility for some great conversations. It’s the same reason that I watch lots of online tutorials, listen to podcasts and reach out to others on sites like Stackoverflow. I need to constantly be in a state of growth, otherwise I quickly start to feel like I’m stagnating or falling behind and that’s just not acceptable to me, and it shouldn’t be acceptable to you either.

So take ownership of you skill development, you’ll be happy that you did.

Update (Nov. 15th, 2013): So it turns out that through absolute serendipity a friend of mine that I met through the PHP mentoring community just happened to post a similar post on his blog a bit over a week before I wrote this.  I think he’s managed to distill the idea better than I have, so you should check out his post over at


I definitely agree that developers need to take charge of their own professional development, but in a fast-changing field there should be some consideration given by employers to training and development. Maybe not flying devs out to events far afield, but allowing attendance for a day or two at a conference without cutting into vacation time would be a good start. Odds are the employer is going to benefit from developers experimenting and learning even if they don’t adopt those exact technologies.

I would also say that if an employer doesn’t care about or is getting in the way of professional development, it might be time to look at replacing the employer.

Absolutely! It’s typically in an employer’s best interest to invest in their employee’s skill development. I just don’t like hearing how some people complain that they’re being left behind because their boss wont do it for them.

For sure.

That they mention only being able to go to this one because it’s in their back yard got me thinking, though – there also might be a regional difference at work here. My sense is that a lot of people I follow in the US go to conferences more than those in Canada. I wonder if any of that is to do with cost – in the US $250 gets you from one coast to another and back. Up here, I think that gets you from Toronto to Montreal and back, if there’s a sale.

It might also just be that I follow a different crowd of Americans than I do Canadians.

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