Clinton D. Judy wrote:
> So I'm just finishing my first year at a real job, and thinking about
> asking to go to RubyConf. I really don't have the money to pay for this
> out of pocket. I also know that this company sends TONS of people to
> heavy construction conferences every year (it's our business), so I'm
> sure that if I asked right, they would do it for me.
> 
> But I've never asked for that before. I don't think I want to do it
> casually; to easy for them to say 'no', even when this would be really
> beneficial. See, that's another problem, I'm going to this conference
> 90% to learn Ruby and keep up with the Ruby world, and 10% or so to meet
> and hang out with other Rubyists. No offense to the other attendees; if
> this conference were in Minnesota in the dead of winter, the office
> would know for CERTAIN that there were no other reason for me wanting to
> go there. November in Florida? Boss may want to go instead (not a Ruby
> user).

This is a business question pure-and-simple. You're asking your company 
to make an investment in you by spending money to send you to the 
conference. You have to justify it by showing how your company will make 
a profit on their investment.

So consider, what's the benefit to your company? I assume that part of 
your job is to write Ruby code. (If not, it's going to be very hard to 
explain how going to a Ruby conference will make you a more valuable 
employee.) As you said, some of the benefit will be education: You'll be 
attending presentations where you'll learn about how to use Ruby more 
effectively to do whatever it is you do at your company. You'll learn 
about ways to use Ruby in your job that will lower costs or increase 
profits. (Lowering costs is good, increasing profits is better, but 
since your company is in heavy construction and not software it's more 
likely you're using Ruby to lower their IT costs.)

It would be nice if you could point to a specific Ruby project that 
you're working on right now, or will be working on very soon, and say 
"Boss, with what I learn we'll be able to complete this project 
sooner/make it more robust/do more than we thought we could." (And 
implicitly, "Boss, this will make you look good to your boss.")

So a large benefit from going to RubyConf is education. There's another 
benefit from RubyConf, and conferences in general, and that's the 
intellectual stimulation you get from just being around like-minded 
professionals and hearing about their work, ideas, problems, and 
solutions. I almost always come back from a conference full of energy 
and ideas about ways to do my job better.

Another huge benefit is the opportunity to make connections. Ruby is 
open source and an important benefit of open source is the community. 
You'll be able to meet other Rubyists face-to-face, share a glass, get 
to know each other. The community is a great resource for solving 
problems and sharing code and ideas.

So, from RubyConf you get education, intellectual stimulation, and 
connections. It's up to you to show your boss that you'll come back a 
more valuable employee, sufficiently more valuable that their investment 
in you will be repaid.

Good luck!
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