Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Southwest Fox - reasons to go

Southwest Fox 2008, Mesa, AZ, October 16 - 19, 2008

Although I'm certain that anyone that reads this blog and has interest in VFP already knows about the fabulous Southwest Fox conference, it is possible that they might not have seen the new brochure the organizers have posted.

They crafted this brochure to help would-be attendees convince decision makers that this conference is worth attending. (If the low cost and modest hotel prices weren't enough.)

I think they've done two great things in this brochure. First, they published the GLGDW style session abstracts which tell you exactly what you'll be getting out of the session. Instead of just reading the title "Introduction to Transact SQL" and having to guess for yourself whether you're ahead of or behind the session concepts, you can see exactly what the speaker is going to discuss.

There have been many times I've attended a session at a conference because the title sounded like something that might be of interest but turned out to be some other interpretation of those words that I hadn't imagined.

The other thing they've done is to post the speakers bios, which is fairly common, but demonstrates something that should be emphasized: Many of the speakers posted contact info right in the bios.

I think the brochure should have emphasized a couple things more strongly. One is that these speakers are all very accessible. I'm certain that nearly all, if not all, of the speakers will post their contact info during the session if they didn't do it in the bio. I've often heard - even at this conference - that the speakers seem to be "clique-y" (how the hell would you spell that word if it existed?) With some rare exceptions, this is far from the truth. I once might have even shared this opinion, but found that it was my perception that was wrong, not the speakers' attitudes. The fact that they all stand around in groups laughing with each other and talking about things both professional and personal demonstrates their inclusiveness and nothing else. Each of these people started out as some sort of attendee or "outsider" and got to know the others in person or online over time.

Any attendee should feel free to approach any of the speakers throughout the conference, whether it be around sessions, social events or the bar.

The second thing that should be enhanced is the value of networking. Some employers might see networking as an opportunity for an employee to find a better job. (And this is true.) The thing that the employer needs to recognize, though, is that this network gives a developer a peer group with which to bounce things around. There are countless shops that have a single developer or perhaps a pair. If these people aren't familiar with or don't have access to local user groups or online resources, they may be living in a vacuum. A developer really needs to be exposed to other ideas and procedures. (Also an argument for the conference.) Interacting with this peer group at the conference and after the conference can yield incalculable benefits for the employer in terms of better productivity, better code, and new resources that can save time and money down the road.

Finally, it might not happen to every developer, but I'm sure that it happens at least once per conference where an attendee feels that one session "paid" for the conference. This may sound ludicrous, but it does happen.

So, if you know someone who needs help getting approval, steer them towards the brochure and tell them to emphasize the openness and accessibility of the speakers and the long-term benefits of networking.

(Oh, the brochure is a PDF! It drives me nuts that the registration form is a Word Doc for the nth year in a row.)

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