I drove up to Jacksonville Friday afternoon for the 2009 Jacksonville Code Camp led by my friend Bayer White. I left early enough to beat the Fri afternoon traffic and to give me some quality book store time before the 7:30 pm speaker party. Attendance at the party was good, I’d guess the majority of the speakers were there and it was well organized – wrist bands to identify members of the group and name badges (much appreciated!). Saw a lot of old friends, but ended up leaving early because not only was it a smoking bar, it was a real smoking bar and if you’re a non-smoker, you’ll appreciate how painful that can be. Notes for Bayer for next time:
That left unexpected free time, so I went looking for a late dinner, wound up at Ted’s Montana Grill having a bison burger and doing some reading, nice relaxing dinner.
Sat morning I came over about 8 am and noticed the lack of signage to the event. I knew where I was going, but it was easy to spot those looking for Code Camp by their driving. They did have a person waving a sign at the garage which was a nice touch. Then the lack of signage hit again, everyone looking around to try to figure out which of the many nearby buildings was the right one and ultimately people trying to follow people that looked like there were there for the event too.
Registration seemed to go very smoothly, nice full color event guide and a choice of a t-shirt or small bag. Plenty of coffee and donuts, decent number of sponsors set up though most of them seemed to be local. Especially at Code Camp I was hoping to see more of the tool vendors, I don’t follow the .Net tools as much and would have found it useful to watch some demos in person. One of things I noticed in the event guide was the branding – all the tracks had a sponsor name associated with it. Not a bad idea, just not sure it’s a good idea either!
I sat and watched the traffic flow for close to an hour, watching the sponsors and attendees interact. It’s the same pattern I see at all events and it works ok, but I keep thinking that we need a better (or additional) pattern – something that benefits both sponsors and attendees. Having the table and the giveaway or raffle works for some basic brand building and contact generation, but it doesn’t encourage the transfer of a lot of information and I think it could. More on this later, but as far as this event I thought the sponsors were treated well and getting good traffic by their tables.
Bayer started the day with a keynote and I was reminded my love/hate of key notes. It’s great to get everyone together and set the tone, but it takes a long time to get everyone seated – probably 200 in this case. Went pretty well, though I was on the fringes of the crowd and could barely hear Bayer speaking (no microphone).
First session of the day was about where clauses by Scott Gleason and I was astounded to see 60 people attend. It’s not that I don’t know there is a definite gap between developer and DBA, but this helped to clarify for me the depth of that gap. More importantly, it reinforces for me that too often the SQL presentations at Code Camps are really DBA centric and need to be developer centric. We tried this some earlier this year for the Orlando Code Camp and struggled, had a hard time getting a good set of sessions that weren’t DBA/admin focused. Fun to watch Scott present, this is I think his second or third time out and he’s great at connecting with the audience.
Took a break to assess logistics, was just noting that they had a coffee maker set up but no big carafe and had the interesting moment of watching an attendee grab the pot while the coffee continued to run. Accidents happen!
Next session was Why Do You Use a Staffing Company by Megan Hopkins from Kforce. I know Megan from her involvement with oPASS and SQLSaturday and I’m always interested in the hiring process. It was interesting to hear the comments from attendees about the value – resume comments, meeting them at the interview site for moral support, the general idea of having a support system during a trying period. That makes sense, but I was hoping to hear some deeper values. One of the values Megan cited was that they often bypass HR during the interview process where the key point is making sure you’re being assessed by someone with the technical skills to do it well, rather than a HR person who is looking for exact matches based on keywords and dates. She also said that HR tends to push for lowest salary to save the company money, where staffing people are trying to drive the salary higher because they are paid commission. One comment Megan made was that candidates should always expect a briefing about the potential employer prior to the interview. Obvious maybe, but still important. Part of that is “culture matching”, making sure the entire job is a good fit from the start. I thought a great point was that if you are working through a staffing firm you should get paid every 2 weeks, not when they get paid.
After lunch I went to an search engine optimization presentation by Jared Nielsen. He said Yahoo is better than Google for branding (showing your message), but not for direct conversion to money. He mentioned that Google includes page load time as part of it’s scoring. Most sites ignore what is passed through when pages are viewed a search engine. Home page should be the least visited, it’s goal is to segment traffic. Cache as much as possible as often as possible.
My presentation was the last of the day and it was nice to have 60-70 people present to talk about basic query plans and caching, show developers some of the magic behind the scenes. Took a lot of questions and had a nice time, no problems but fewer demos than planned due to the number of questions. Checked in with Bayer White before leaving and the final count was 460. That’s an impressive number! I heard a few people comment that it was noticeably better than in past years and I agree, the combination of a good location, good logistics, and good leadership all made a difference. Kudos to Bayer for a first class effort!
I left shortly after that to head home, wanting to get home in time for dinner with family. Didn’t turn out to be that simple though. About 50 miles from home started to get a serious vibration in the serious wheel, out of no where. Pulled over to check, didn’t see anything wrong and nothing flat, so start out again holding the speed to about 50 where the vibration seemed tolerable but not good. Pulled over again and this time I saw the problem right away, the left front tire was deformed, there was a visible hump/offset/dent in the tire itself! Hard to imagine the forces at play to cause that kind of damage but yet not produce a noticeable impact when it happened. Drive on or change the tire? Decided on safer to change and amazingly had it done in 10 minutes. Not that it should take longer, but usually something doesn’t want to work right. Back on the road, vibration gone, all is good.
But…no more than 5 miles from home on I4 traffic hits a complete stop. Not crawling, stopped. I was directly in front of a rest area about 3/4 of a mile from the closest exit, watched people coming up behind divert into the rest area to try to bypass the slowness, though clearly they could see traffic stopped over there too. Turned off the truck and just watched, thinking on things traffic after reading the recent book about it. Watched people treat the emergency lane as a forth lane so that the Highway Patrol had to drive on the grass to get by. Watched people pull into the rest area, see that it as stopped, and then drive aggressively back across the grass to get into the emergency lane. Some cutting across the center median to go back the other way until the police stopped (or slowed it down) anyway. Only pattern I spotted was that big four wheel drive trucks in particular seemed to dislike waiting in line, but I even saw a Jaguar (car, not cat) bouncing across the median. Once everyone realized they were truly stuck they seemed to calm down, people out chatting and talking on cell phones. One big thing I noticed was that there was no information provided – nothing on the radio, nothing on the DOT web site, etc. Transparency here would help, not only would people be able to call and adjust plans and schedules, but cars further up the road could divert cleanly instead of stacking up. In total was parked there a solid 45 minutes and then finally about to make the last couple of miles home for a late – and solo – dinner!