Although attendance was down this year (around 280 attendees) due to it being held Easter weekend, I thought this was easily the best of the Orlando Code Camps so far. More volunteers, better logistics, and definitely a great site (same as we used for SQLSaturday#1 in Orlando) all combined to make it a first class event. Kudos to ONETUG leader Shawn Weisfeld, Jessica Sterner, Fabio Honigmann, and the rest of the volunteers for doing great work and providing a terrific service to the community.
Saw a lot of old friends and made some new ones, too numerous to list but here are a few; Roy Lawson (Lakeland .Net Users Group), Kathy Malone (great talk about organizing and sustaining community events), John Pharris from Comsys, Jack Corbett, Ryan Dorrell from Agilethought in Tampa, Jim Wooley (Linqman and part of the Atlanta .Net Group), Michael Webb from Cybreze (DNN master), Diego Samuilov, Wes Dumey, former student Jeff Mullen, upcoming student Cassandry Nealy.
As always, I pay a lot of attention to logistics, looking for ideas that will help make the SQLSaturday format more successful (and which we share back with ONETUG), so here are the ones from this time:
- The day started a bit weird because the security guard had instructions that no extension cords could be used. The facility has no wall or floor outlets in the sponsor area. Finally had to get the facility manager to come to the site who insisted on the rule, after more discussion the head of maintenance arrived and clarified what would work (a mininum number of cords, all tied off and taped down, and surge protectors used. The facility also decreed that we could not use blue painters tape to affix stuff to the wall. After some heated discussion they agreed that we could use the gummy tack strips. As it's the third time that we've used the facility for a community related event you would think all of this would have materialized sooner; the impression we get is the facility manager sees her job as protecting the facility at all costs, even if that means no one uses it! Not sure what the lesson is, but the ideal is to have the site sponsor actively and happily involved whatever it takes, not get into an adversarial relationship...if you can help it!
- Shawn came up with a great idea for managing books. Wrox, Apress, and MS Press have all been great community supports, there were easily over a 100 books to give away. At past events they have been raffled off at the end of the day, turning it into a 45 minute marathon that no one enjoys. Shawn gave each speaker 3 book tickets with instructions to give them away during their session using whatever criteria they wanted; best question, first arrival, etc. Winners took their ticket to the 'prize desk' to redeem their book. The tickets were for a specific book, I think it would have been slightly better if they could just choose from what was available. Totally a win though; good for attendees, and good for speakers too (though because the system was new, many speakers forgot to give them out until the end of the session)
- There were a lot of other raffle items, I think we're all missing out by not advertising them on the event site in advance. Lots of software in addition to the books, and several more expensive prizes including the One Laptop Per Child laptop that we (End to End Training) provided.
- There weren't enough sponsors on site. This was mostly attributed to some delays the event team ran into during planning, but it was definitely a missed opportunity, both for sponsors and for funding the event.
- One nice thing they did was provide each sponsor (onsite or virtual) a box for their raffle tickets. All the vendors that weren't physically present were all set up on one table, attendees could just walk by and drop in their tickets. Very nice.
- I'd like to see first time attendees identified - maybe a different color badge. I saw more than a few that looked a bit lost/overwhelmed/nervous, wouldn't be a bad idea to pair them up with someone.
- Shirts for the event speakers and volunteers were green. Good enough shirts, they just didn't stand out from the crowd very well.
- I'd also like to see the speakers more visible. Quite a few seemed to spend hours in the speaker ready room working on their presentations. I think they are missing out on a great chance to interact more, and presentations written an hour before delivery often aren't the greatest. Maybe a speaker table in the main lobby where every speaker has to do 30 minutes, just answer questions, etc, would be a nice way to give them more visibility without making it a hardship.
- Even with the books gone the raffle at the end of the day went slowly. Many of the software sponsors were giving away 5 or 10 licenses, takes time and strangely enough, just trying to pronounce the names of the winner often slows people down. Might be useful to give everyone an attendee id so that someone can yell #177 instead of trying to say a very complicated name. Also need a better system to track winners; easy if they can collect right then, but many of the prizes require that the email address be sent to the vendor so the key can be sent back. In particular we did a bad job of this at SQLSaturday Orlando.
- The event finished up a little earlier than expected, about 5;15, and the after party was due to start at 6:30 with the food not available until 7. As you might expect this really lowered attendance, when I left about 7:15 there were perhaps 20 attendees there, primarily volunteers and speakers. The after event needs to be immediately after or it's not going to succeed as while as it might.
Great event, and some of the conversations helped me better form a couple ideas that I've been working on, will try to blog in more detail later this week.