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Chad Miller

Chad Miller is a Senior Manager of Database Administration at Raymond James Financial. Chad has worked with Microsoft SQL Server since 1999 and has been automating administration tasks using Windows Powershell since 2007. Chad is the Project Coordinator/Developer of the Powershell-based Codeplex project SQL Server PowerShell Extensions (SQLPSX). Chad leads the Tampa Powershell User Group and is a frequent speaker at users groups, SQL Saturdays and Code Camps.

Tampa IT Camp 2011 Lessons Learned Part 2

In part 1 I provide an overview of concept of IT Camp, how the plan was developed by borrowing ideas from similar events, and how we did on venue, sponsors and attendees. In this blog post I provide more details on overall event feedback.

Sessions

SharePoint, PowerShell and SQL topped the list of sessions which were mentioned by attendees in their feedback forms.  The Intro to SQL for IT Pros session wasn’t DBA related, but more admin related giving them an overview of how things work and what to look at when there are issues. What I found interesting about the SQL session is the similarity to PowerShell sessions at SQL Server events, both are not core to each other jobs which is why I think DBAs favor PowerShell presentations and sysadmins appreciate SQL Server sessions. They each get to see an overview of technology they may not work with regularly.

One of the attendee comments asked for Windows 7 and Windows Server OS related sessions. Having an Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows 7 session seems kind of obvious now. I’ll try getting a core OS session added to the agenda next time. Along the same lines  I felt my own presentation on SQL Server PowerShell Extensions was out of place and an intro session PowerShell session would have been better. I also felt I didn’t do as good of a job with my presentation as I could have as the work in organizing the overall event meant I didn’t devote as much time as I should have preparing. My advice to anyone organizing a one-day IT community event—don’t present a session unless you really need to fill out the schedule.

A couple of presenters asked for repeating sessions. My take on repeating sessions (a common practice at larger multi-day conferences) is  that we are already asking a lot  of our presenters, but if there’s a willingness to repeat by them then I’m OK with it. Next time, I’ll leave this as option for presenters.

One of the comments I received mentioned they would have liked hands on labs. At first I thought this was very odd, I mean a hands on lab—no does those at code camps, SQL Saturdays or SharePoint Saturdays. However, this shows a couple of things. First we’re reaching someone who has never attended an IT community event (or else why would they ask for hands on labs?). This person is probably an IT Pro and there just hasn’t been IT Pro community events before.  Second, hands on lab are usually part of some type of optional  pre-conference training. SQL Saturdays will often have an one-day, low cost ($99) optional pre-con they will advertise with their events. Since there’s interest we’ll see if we can arrange a pre-con for IT Camp next time.

Location

A few attendees traveled from out of town and mentioned they would like to see an IT Camp in their cities: Jacksonville and South Florida. The good news is South Florida IT Camp 2011 is already scheduled for Saturday, July 23rd 2011 at Nova Southeastern in Ft. Lauderdale-Davie. As for Jacksonville –if you’re an IT Pro, interested in kick starting a Jacksonville IT Camp contact me and I’ll help  and for that matter really for any city —The way I setup http://itcampsaturday.com/ using WordPress MU, I can quickly create a sub-sites for an IT Camp very quickly: (http://itcampsaturday.com/tampa, http://itcampsaturday.com/southflorida ). The site needs a little CSS work to format things nicer, but the general organization with registrations, schedule, sessions and sponsors is there.

Schedule

Some attendees remarked they would have like to had seen the schedule prior to the event. At first this comment confused me. We had the schedule posted online three week prior to IT Camp. It would have been sooner but we needed an extra week to round up speakers. We also included a printed schedule in the attendee bags. After thinking about the comment it occurred to me, IT Camp like SQL Saturday, SharePoint Saturday, Code Camps and even the big multi-day conferences; registrations for the event opens before the schedule is published. What I neglected to do was notify those who had registered for event the final schedule had been published. Since I used Eventbrite for registrations a simple email out to attendees informing them the schedule is posted would have worked. This is something I will definitely do next year.

Session Downloads

What to do with session downloads which includes presentations slides and any demos?  Conferences will often have deadlines and a set PowerPoint template. At these paid events, speakers are expected to upload their session downloads prior to the event. This approach simply doesn’t work for free IT community events which are often called un-conferences. My take is speakers should post their content on their blogs.  Community-driven events are NOT conferences as such we don’t have the resources to do content aggregation. It has been my experience that because community are NOT conferences, there aren’t things like deadlines being enforced for content upload which  means we see a very low content submission rate when we’ve tried to.  Making speakers responsible for posting content to their blog also helps increases their community exposure driving traffic to their blogs. A few folks had asked what if the speaker doesn’t blog—my first thought is why would a speaker not have a blog? Really you should start one today even if you only use it for posting your presentation content. Go on, it takes 5 minutes to setup a WordPress account. Not up to starting a blog? We’ll at least setup a DropBox account to share files. And if you’re really serious about starting a blog, check out Brent Ozar’s (blog|twitterHow to Start a Blog. If you don’t want to do any of these, I’ve had speakers just handout out their contact info so they can email them slides and demos scripts.

As an event organizer the expectation that speakers are responsible for their content should be clearly communicated. You should also indicate sessions downloads will be made available by speakers to your attendees (something I didn’t do until after the event). Next year I’ll be sure to include a email to attendees informing them sessions downloads are available from the speakers as well a note in the attendees handouts.

To make it easier for attendees to find speaker blogs I created a quick web page with just speaker blogs and bios:  http://itcampsaturday.com/tampa/2011/03/21/speaker-blogs/. Someone had a really good idea to include a one-page printed sheet in the attendee handouts of speaker blogs. This is something I’ll be sure to do next year.

Lunch

This brings us to lunch, the one and only area we were rated as fair.  Lunch is the biggest expense of any IT community event including IT Camp and its also has the highest potential for waste. At the Tampa IT Camp I went with 40 pizzas, half pepperoni and half cheese. I figured I could feed about 160 people with 3 slices each. The cost was around $300. There were 10 or so pizzas left after lunch, but they were eventually eaten. If we step up to boxed lunches which includes a sandwich, chips and cookie then we’re at $8 a person times 160 = $1,280, nearly $1,000 more than pizza.

Why didn’t we go with boxed lunches over pizza? The problem is IT Camp had almost a 50% no show rate, while I was calculating a 30% no show rate based on typically what is seen at other IT community events. We would have had about $300 in wasted food had we gone with box lunches. I’m told the other IT community events also get a 30% to 50% no show. If you actively manage cancellations by reminding attendees to cancel you can drive the number closer to 30%, but still this is very high.

The reason for the high no show rate with IT community events is simple. It’s a free a event on a Saturday! I’m sure most people who register don’t purposely plan on not attending, but the day of the event they wake up to nice Saturday morning and think what should I do today, go to IT Camp or go to the beach?—such is the reality of community events.

As an organizer you want to provide a better quality lunch however your attendees who said they were going to show up, didn’t and now you’ve wasted money when running these events on a small budget is hard enough. What can be done to address wasting money on lunch?

I’ve seen two ways IT community events have been able to step up lunch while at the same time limiting waste. First charges an optional small fee for lunch, around $10 collected at time of registration. If you choose not to pay the $10, well then you  don’t get a lunch ticket. I think this is good compromise in order to provide better lunch. The second way I’ve seen an IT community event deal with this is really venue specific. There are some venues that have onsite food services and only charge you per head for the folks that actually show up. This is different than a catering approach which requires an exact number ahead of the event and again is very event specific. The only event I’ve heard of this working at is South Florida SharePoint Saturday hosted at Nova Southeastern University. Nova has a food court and if you haven’t been to a college in a while they resemble mall food courts more than the old cafeteria style food you’re used to seeing. They’ll give you vouchers which you’ll hand out and only pay for the used vouchers.

The voucher approach really isn’t an option unless we change venues and I’m not sure I want to collect money from people for lunch. I’m not sure how we’ll handle this next year, but at least I have a couple of ideas.

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