I've written on this idea before. Here in fact. Many other people have written passionately about it as well. As I am fresh from presenting at STPCon Fall 2011 in Dallas and am getting my notes and reviewing my presentation for TesTrek 2011 (http://www.qaitestrek.org/2011/) in a couple weeks in Toronto, I wanted to take a moment and beat this drum one more time.
When you are at a conference, CONFER with people. Talk with them, ask question. Answer questions. Express opinions. Be open to learning. If you disagree with someone, let them know politely - and why. Maybe you are closer than you might realize and simply are stating the same thing different ways.
One really important point.
When the "official" sessions wind down and the "official" "networking opportunities" wrap up - look around for people just hanging from the conference. Then ask if you can join them. Ask what they do, where they do it, what they like about it. You may well learn really valuable ideas you can take back to the boss.
If you see a group of people from the conference sitting in the hotel bar/lounge/whatever, a quick scan will give you some idea of the conversation(s) going on. If it is vaguely related to software and/or testing, ASK IF YOU CAN JOIN THEM!
I know from my own experience, that if I have ANY energy left and no absolutely pressing duties elsewhere, I like to talk with other test professionals and learn. Yeah. I learn a lot just from talking with people. This last conference, I had some fantastic conversations with Doug Hoffman, Fiona Charles, Tony Bruce, Scott Barber, Dawn Haynes, Lanette Creamer, Catherine Powell, Robert Walsh, Dani Almog... the list goes on - Those are the folks that popped into my mind immediately. Testing Heavyweights all - and I gained insight, if not actionable information, from each conversation.
So, I invite any TesTrek Symposium attendee. If you see me sitting in a chair in the hallway sipping the web, or in the conference center lounge, please feel free to join me. Really. I like meeting people and sharing ideas, experiences and viewpoints.
I'm there to learn, too. Please help me learn.