Rekindle your passion for programming
I'm sitting here at MacWorld Expo in San Francisco. I flew more than a thousand miles to get here, and I'm paying for it out of my own pocket. Why? Because it gets me excited. I'm surrounded by cool technology (I've waited my whole life for Apple's new GarageBand software). I do it because I'm happier and more productive if I stay enthused, and attending conferences has always worked for me. So I pay it for it myself, even if it has no direct *business* value.
Life's better when I'm motivated and passionate. And yeah, sometimes it's *easy* to stay enthused, like when I worked as a game developer. But as much as I deeply appreciate enterprise Javabeans, as an EJB developer the most thrilling part of writing and deploying a bean for me was coming up with a JNDI name (and we had a naming convention anyway, so that pretty much sucked the creativity out of *that* decision). So when I moved from doing fun GUI things (which I loved) to doing server-side enterprise things (which I, well, did *NOT*, unless it was Jini, but that's a whole different story), I had to find my own ways to stay pumped up. I don't mean pumped up for *life*-- that's what skiing is for. I mean pumped up for *work*. I'll be damned if I'm going to spend 7 to 12 hours a day with no passion. Life's just too short (or is it too long? I can never remember which one works best here) to spend that much time without this level of excitement.
So I go to conferences. That's *my* way. I've been doing it for the last 15 years, and it has always been worth every penny (although I try desperately to get my employers, when I'm employed, to pay for them).
Do I go to learn? Yes, but that's not my main goal. I go to become swept up in the enthusiasm. To risk my life trying to catch the t-shirt tossed to the crowd at the end of the demo. To see the dog walking the floor with a webcam on his back.
I'd love to hear about conferences (or any other events or activities) that get YOU excited, but here are my all-time favorites:
MacWorld San Francisco.
The Game Developer Conference (I don't care WHO you are, or whether you have ANY interest in building games, you'll still love this one)
GeekCruise (to be honest, this is one I have not paid for myself... I went as a speaker)
Now, I have to say that my experience with a conference will be very different from someone else's... a lot of people don't like JavaOne, for example. But I always go in with the attitude that I WILL get something beneficial from the show, by allowing myself to be caught up in the excitement. I don't go in with the expectation that I'm going to learn a gazillion killer tips and land a new job/promotion/raise. Last year's JavaOne, for example, was worth it just to hear Josh Bloch do his "Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright" poem. Not as cool as a Coldplay concert, but this guy has a lot of fans (me included), and most of the (standing room only) folks in the room were pumped up about Tiger after that. And yes, that enthusiasm fades as you get back to your cube and realize you have still MORE to learn (and still no time in which to learn it), but I believe that in some dark corner of your mind, that sense of excitement still hovers, waiting for you to encourage it. To water it and keep it alive.
To rekindle the flame and help remind you why you DO love Java, and why writing Java (even if it's not what you get to do on your day job) makes you part of a very exciting group. ; )
So, some might say that it's an employer's job to keep that spark going, by paying for the development of the developers. And I believe that this is one of the best investments an employer can make. But I'm not willing to make my level of personal passion dependent on my employer. Yes, my employer DOES benefit by the enhanced quality and productivity and creativity that comes from my having attended these conferences, both from a learning-new-things and feeling-more-excitement perspective. But if my employer's too short-sighted to see that, I'm doing it anyway. I'm doing it for the quality of MY daily life.
And to get the latest iSkin for my iPod (in a shade of blue that matches my eyes, of course).