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I'm a software engineer, and interested in a submitting a talk to a conference.

The work I would like to talk about is about using an open source library, but my company uses this library, and I specifically use this library both at work and for personal projects, in relatively similar ways. So the talk would use my personal project as an example, but is based on work I have done in both settings.

I believe my company would support me speaking at the conference, and in most cases I would talk to them beforehand to get their blessing, and they'd likely pay for my conference attendance, and perhaps other colleagues as well. I believe it would appear very unusual and confusing to my manager and coworkers if I submitted and was accepted to talk at the conference without including my affiliation with my company, especially given how closely the talk is related to tech we use.

However, I am ramping up a job search, mostly related to a predicted move for partner's job, and in our estimated timeline, the submission will happen while I am at this job, and the event will happen several months after I leave.

It seem, therefore, potentially very awkward in either direction. If I do talk to my company and apply under their guises, they will potentially be upset about having paid for it, as well as having me speak on their behalf when I am no longer working there. Is there a chance they'll require me to withdraw?

On the other hand, it would be very notable/unusual if I applied as an individual, and would potentially notify them to the fact that I was searching for a new job anyways.

What is the typical/ethical/best course of action?

  • 1
    The thing is, do you really have to ask the company to pay for your participation? I think you could ethically apply with your current affiliation and simply not ask the company to cover your expenses. Does your participation hinge on your company's sponsorship in any way, monetary or otherwise? – Teacher KSHuang Mar 11 '17 at 13:21
  • Meanwhile, I think you could also inform the conference host about your situation if and when you're accepted to speak at it. At that time, you could ask them to change your affiliation to as an individual or to your new company (though that may carry its own nuances). – Teacher KSHuang Mar 11 '17 at 13:25
  • What do you think? About either suggestion. – Teacher KSHuang Mar 11 '17 at 13:25
  • @TeacherKSHuang, no, the conference would cover my costs if I were selected. However, in the past, when someone at my company is speaking at a conference, the company covers their fees instead, as a sort of donation to the conference. – segfault Mar 11 '17 at 13:50
  • In that case, I'm pretty much in agreement with Kate Gregory's answer below. Because you do not need your company to do anything, just don't mention anything to them. Do you think it would also be necessary and wise to put a note in your application not to contact your current employer? – Teacher KSHuang Mar 12 '17 at 14:37
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I would run it like this.

Step 1, submit your talk. Do not mention a possible sponsorship; do ask if the conference covers any costs

Step 2, interview for new jobs. Be sure to mention that you have submitted the talk. In my experience (spoken at hundreds of conferences) this is something to brag about. You also need to ask if the company will consider your time at the conference to be working, or force you to use vacation time, and whether your new employer would be interested in the sponsorship / donation end of things.

Step 3, learn you have been accepted. Get asked to pay your registration. Drop the speaker chair a note and explain you may be leaving your company. Confirm a refund will be possible if the company pays. If not, determine the last possible date the company can pay.

Step 4, book whatever you have to - plane tickets, hotel rooms, etc - in the way you would if you were not leaving the company. My guess is you use your own card and get the money back later from either the conference or your employer. It's possible the conference will book these things and pay for them. Whatever, get it all booked.

Step 5, continue interviewing, but now you can say your talk has been accepted (an ever bigger advantage) and again ask how they are going to support this aspect of your professional life.

Step 6, get a new job, and they or the conference pay for things. Tell your old job you're leaving. If they had already paid for something, arrange for them to get a refund. The speaker chair can be helpful here to make sure your boss doesn't get some impersonal refund-confirming note before you've given your notice. Also work with the speaker chair to change your bio and your registration, so the new company name is on your badge.

It's not a hugely uncommon thing. Conferences are run by humans who will help you.

  • 2
    When a conference selects you, it's because they genuinely want their attendees to hear what you have to say -- so it's in their interest to make it work. – mcknz Mar 11 '17 at 17:57
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Ethically you would acknowledge your workplace if they are paying for you to attend, or making a contribution whether in funds or time.

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