Dear Dr. Usability,
I am looking for some further training. I have been practicing HCI for over five years now and I would like to do something to keep up in my field. I am at a loss what to do. There seem to be a lot of conferences, and a lot of workshops and seminars. What is the right one for me? I want to keep up in my profession, and expand my skill set, so where should I go? I need to pick very carefully because I live in Nieuwe Vennep and it would be a long ride for me to show up for one of these things. Plus they are very expensive. What advice do you give?
Wondering in Holland
You are obviously in need of help but you have not said what kind. All of these seminars, workshops, and conferences are directed at particular needs. But let's start with the basics: First and foremost, you must not absolve yourself of your number-one responsibility to keep up with the literature of this noble profession. Luckily, you are pretty much doing this already since you read my column. Nevertheless, you may consider looking up high-profile publishers in the HCI domain: Addison Wesley, John Wiley, and Morgan Kaufmann are just a few that publish HCI titles, including work specifically produced for practitioners. I highly recommend this, because wasting $57 on a book is much better than wasting $3,488 on a seminar (plus expenses) or $800 on a conference (plus expensesincluding binge drinking and commitments you won't remember in the morningwhich isn't good for you, either).
If you really must attend a seminar, I'll consider crafting one just for you. You need to look at the various offerings very critically. First, look at your seminars, and check the laundry list of successful products the participants have developed. (See if they compare with mine.) Then compare clients: Not just the list of past clients, but previous clients with testimonials to their effectiveness naming which products they have worked on. (Compare this with my list. Although actually, my list so long that it is pointless to publish it, so you may take my word for it). More importantly, look at the work of the people giving the seminar. If they have no work to show, don't go. If they do let you see their work, is it relevant to your area of concern? Is it interesting work you want to learn to mimic? Is it important work? Do you like it?
Regarding conferences, it is also critical to look at the speakers of the conference. A conference may say they are about applied practical experience, but if the speakers are mostly from universities this may be more about research than application, or experimental application instead of practical application. Then look at the work of the people presenting (it should be easy to find links to their work). Then ask the same questions I suggested above: Do you like their work? Do you trust their previous experience? Then you have an indication.
Until the day comes when I am the keynote speaker, this guidance will just have to do.
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