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I make it a point to attend some professional software development conferences every year; I consider this continuous learning. I usually end up taking my own vacation time to do so. Should I ask the company to allow me to go without using up my vacation time? I mean I ultimately believe that my career is my responsibility but my firm will benefit from me attending conferences too so it doesn't seem completely unreasonable to ask them to help me out by giving me time off so I don't have to use up vacation time.

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Ask. What have you got to lose? In the worst case, you have to continue to use your holidays. But any half-decent company should allow it.

If it's a week or less per year, and you're not asking for the cost of the conference itself, I wouldn't have any issue with it. The improvement in your morale as a result of personal improvement would be enough to justify the time.

If you were asking for the conference costs then you'd have to tell me what the company gains from it. But it wouldn't be a difficult sell. In all the times I've lobbied for this kind of training for people who work for me, I've never been rejected.

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    +1 This answer says much of what I would have said. All that I would add is that in companies I have worked for (or now, when I'm in charge!), when you receive reimbursement for professional development, it's assumed that's your job that day and you don't need to burn vacation hours. However, if you don't get reimbursement, you just have to have that conversation so that it's clear you're doing that activity instead of sitting at your desk that day. – jcmeloni Jun 20 '12 at 20:36
  • +1 - Most decent companies will pay all the expenses to send their employees to conferences. They know it helps to retain their talent and keeps up morale. Of course making a case for how it will help with your current work will certainly raise its priority in the overhead budget. – Dunk Jun 25 '12 at 15:53
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You should definitely look to get that time off covered.
It's not "Time Off", it's "Time On, learning skills and improving in order to be of greater value to the organization" :)

If the company does not have a clearly defined plan to keep you current in the ever changing swirl of technologies and skills needed, you should definitely push hard for the elements of one. It's usually not too hard to sell such a plan with clear repeated requests that focus on the value in:

  • advanced skills for the current technologies being used.
  • continuous training in new and emergency technologies and skills.
  • retaining and attracting employees.
  • encouraging an environment of learning and change.
  • giving employees a break from repeated tasks.
  • employees getting a chance to look at different or bigger viewpoints.

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