I recently attended DUBJUG's JUnit meetup, hosted by Java Rockstar Barry Evans and I have to say, diversifying the means by which you further your career can really add a bit of spice to your self-education.
I usually just read books and work on side projects, but it seems as though the more social aspects of skill development can vary between themselves quite a bit (And that money plays a big part). For example all meetups, conferences, career fairs and events I've ever attended that focus on software development or technology at some point involved alcohol and finger food. But this doesn't mean that they're all fun and games, or that they're all just more work for you to do after you've finished your day job for the evening. I noticed this firstly at DUBJUG's second-to-last meetup as of the current time of writing. We set down to business pretty quickly and got to coding quite soon. Laughs, drink and pizza were had, but you were there primarily to learn.
Now admittedly, this was a paid-for event, but it stood in contrast to the free-to-attend Functional Kubs meetups that I go to whenever they're held north of the Dublin city quay. Whether the event involves money or not seems like a pretty good indicator of the pace/mood that will be set once the official starting time is reached. I'm not saying that everyone immediately performs a Jekyll/Hyde transformation from jovial software stranger to stone-faced programmer with a terminator-like determination to murder-complete the objective at hand. However, people get down to work with the intention of making as good a stab as they can at it. This doesn't always happen at less formal gatherings, and I don't know if that's a good things or a bad thing. If people have less fun, does that mean that they're socializing less? And if so shouldn't that affect how well they're networking at the event?
On the other hand, most events are not paid for so it makes sense that they'd be more casual to begin with. So does that mean that you network less at paid events, but learn more? This seems to depend on how big the event is, which in turn somewhat determines how much it will cost you to attend said event. It seems that a good rule of thumb is that if it is a paid event, then it is more formal and work-oriented, or at least more serious. The degree of this seems to be related to the size of the event as well, with the event becoming more formal the larger the event is.
So basically, if you want to learn go to a big or paid event. Or if you're just plain tired after work? Go to a cheap and cheerful meetup.
Want to make networking friends? Meetup.
Want to connect with some hiring people? Big paid event.
Hope you enjoyed reading this,