COMMON 2009 Review

Well, I just got home from COMMON 2009 in Reno Nevada. This was a pretty significant conference … and for many reasons.

PERSONAL

As I mentioned in a previous post, this is the first conference that I tried my hand at presenting sessions.

All my sessions were scheduled for the last day of the conference … which wasn’t exactly optimal in my opinion, but I rolled with it.

I had a total of three sessions …

  1. System i Blogging (along with Trevor Perry)
  2. Introduction to RDi / WDSC Plug-in Development
  3. Email Security Techniques (anti-spam techniques)

The blogging session was a bust … nobody showed up at all. Disappointing, yes, but in actuality it was a good thing … Trevor wasn’t feeling well at all. Once we realized nobody was going to show up, Trevor went back to his room to take a nap (I think he was burning the candle at all 3 ends).

The plug-in session was much better … it started out with 9 people in the room and only 3 of them left once I started. They mentioned to Vern Hamberg (my speakers assistant) that the session was not what they were expecting. There were 6 people at the end, which was pretty good for a fairly esoteric topic. There weren’t a lot of questions though, which kind of surprised me.

The anti-spam session was also well attended … about 7 people total, and nobody left early until the very end (they probably had to catch a plane). Larry “Dr. Franken” Bolhuis was my official “Mentor” for the session and told me I did a good job. Mentor is actually a misnomer … as he really just did was critique my session. None the less, there were some good questions and discussion in the session.

All in all, I felt it went pretty good for my first time out. If asked to present again, I probably will. I will, however, be very interested in seeing how the official feedback is.

I did attend the “First Time Presenters Briefing” and “First Time Presenter Feedback” sessions. I gave some good feedback I think … some of which should be trivial to implement, so I’m hoping they will be.

By the way … a good suggestion if you’re going to be presenting at a technical conference … PLUG YOUR LAPTOP INTO THE POWER OUTLET during the presentation. I ran my laptop on battery power for both sessions where it was used … and ALMOST ran out of power. The lower battery light started flashing just as I was finishing up the 3rd session.

Since this is one of the rare times that Trevor and I can meet face to face, he took the opportunity to interview me for his “Twenty Power Questions” video blog … keep an eye on that side for yours truly.

EXPO AND CONFERENCE

Attendance to this conference was down significantly … mainly due to the economy. That said, MKS got a fair number of badge scans and talked to people who were genuinely interested in our product. Didn’t hurt that we had a popular give away (squeezy bowling balls … we had a bowling theme, right down to the garish bowling shirts. I suggested to the marking people at MKS that we include greasy pizza and stale beer to complete the look).

Using totally unscientific methods, I’m pretty sure I saw a lot more first time attendees than I had at previous conference. Of course this could because there weren’t as many repeat attendees.

Scott Klement started a personal project to create some videos that provided an overview of what COMMON is all about to people who couldn’t attend. He did a number of off the cuff interviews with people at the conference that are quite good. You can check out the results on his YouTube channel. I think he did a fantastic job.

Miss You AlMeeting Of the Members (MOM) was a bit of a roller coaster ride … partially for reasons I’ll describe below … but also for purely emotional reasons. As you may remember, Al Barsa passed away just as the last conference ended. Sometime in the opening session, someone put a post it note on the microphone (that’s usually used for audience questions) that said “Miss you Al”. Kevin Mort took a very touching picture of that. During MOM, that picture was displayed on the displayed … and Randy Dufault, the current (now immediate past) president of COMMON, pretty much lost it.

During Meeting Of the Members, I took the opportunity to thank the COMMON Education Foundation for creating the Al Barsa Memorial Scholarship. Later, Michelle August (Exec Director of CEF) thanked me for my comments. She confirmed that the idea for the scholarship came from the discussion on MIDRANGE-L.

SESSIONS

The conference itself was quite good … while the number of sessions I went to was down this time (I spent more time in the MKS booth … and stressing over my own presentations), the quality was up to the usual standards. I learned a lot and met a lot of good people.

I’ve become a bit of a fixture at COMMON …. many people know who I am … and I know who many other people are. This makes it a lot easier (at least for me) to just sit down next to someone and start chatting.

CONFERENCE FACILITIES

Sadly, the conference facilities were not all that great this time.

On the plus side, the various rooms that were used were closer together than in past conferences.

On the minus side, the wireless coverage was extraordinarily spotty. And my laptop was supposed to be given get priority access to the network because I was a presenter. I heard many people griping about the wifi. One minute there would be a strong connection the next, no connection at all. I was quite worried about loosing the connection in the middle of my plug-in session, as I was going to demonstrate how to write a simple plug-in that accessed an IBM i. It was even bad in the speakers ready room.

One big problem I had, as a speaker, was being able to print. The speakers ready room at 4 printers in it … but no printer drivers available. Someone mentioned a driver CD that was supposed to be available, but I couldn’t find it. I suspect it’s still sitting in someone’s CDROM drive in their laptop.

That said, I have to hand it to the folks on COMMON’s tech team … I needed to get access to a system and create some libraries & objects, and they got me setup quickly.

VENUE

The Grand Sierra Hotel & Casino was probably the first venue that I actively disliked.

First and foremost was the smoking … I can’t remember being in a hotel that actually allowed ANY smoking in the public areas. As someone who is hyper sensitive to tobacco smoke, I can say without a doubt I was miserable whenever I had to go near the casino floor to get someplace.

The hotel itself was very shabby and had clearly seen better days. Housekeeping was below par (I had to ask twice to get some replacement bath soap). The bed, while not uncomfortable, was not great.

While the room did have internet access … it wasn’t cheap … $13 / day for something that probably costs them pennies per day is silly. Even when I did pay for the internet access, the service was slow and prone to disconnection.

FUTURE CONFERENCES

During the Meeting Of the Members, it was announced that … due to the economy and COMMON’s general financial situation, there are going to be some rather significant changes to future conferences … starting with the 2010 spring conference in Orlando.

The most significant of these are …

  1. 15 session rooms (instead of the 20+ at the conference this year).
  2. Cut the total days of educational sessions from five to four, which cuts the number of sessions from about 500 to ~320
  3. Cut Expo from three days to two
  4. Cut out one evening social event (unless sponsorship is found)
  5. Reduce the size of the final “main event” (unless sponsorship is found)
  6. Reduce lab rooms down to one from three.
  7. Suspend subsidies for guest program
  8. Eliminate subsidized liquor for CUDS / Power Down
  9. Suspend Communication and Networking volunteer budget
  10. Suspend Leadership and Advocacy volunteer budget
  11. Reduce the budget for the volunteer Strategic Education Team
  12. Create a volunteer registration rate
  13. Speakers with one session will be eligible for volunteer rate, and speakers with two-five sessions would get 25% off registration for each session they present. There will be no reimbursement for travel or housing expenses even if more than 5 sessions are presented.

Number 13 is of especially important … and needs to be paid attention to.

I chatted with a long time, and very popular, presenter about the changes and was told that due to the change in speaker reimbursement policy … there is a rather good chance that they won’t be able to come to the next conference. This presenter also indicated that many other presenters are thinking the same thing.

This is key … because if the popular presenters don’t come to COMMON to present, then people won’t want to attend the conference … less attendees means fewer vendors in the expo and less revenue in general. It quickly becomes a viscious cycle.

Personally, I’m generally OK with the new policy for presenters … but I think it would be good to reward popular and prolific presenters by providing travel & housing compensation for those who present 10 or more sessions.

Because of these changes, I’m really worried that there won’t be a 2011 conference.

WRAP UP

All in all, I had a really great time. I hooked up with a bunch of friends again (people who I can usually only see at COMMON), met some acquaintances for the first time face to face (Hi Leah), and met some new people. I also made a few good connections with people that will probably be useful in the coming months.

Oh, by the way, YOU MUST KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!

Comments

  1. WRT issue #13, I’ve always felt that Common’s speaker reimbursement was broken to begin with, and now it’s even more broken. People come to Common to see speakers! Notfor the Expo, not for CUDS, not for ask the experts, not to see their friends, but for sessions. The rest is a nice to have. The favt that speakers weren’t comped the registration for doing as little as a single session blows my mind. It’s a registratino fee! It’s funny money! IMHO, 1 session = free, simple.

  2. Many good comments here David. I was with Kevin when he took that picture and there were a number of folks standing around that mic with big knots in their throats, myself included.

    I also had many conversations about the upcoming changes with folks including Randy, other board members, speakers and attendees. Every person I spoke to who was part of the decision said the same thing: “This was to protect the future of COMMON.” I didn’t get any ‘toeing the line’ feeling either. Probably the most important part of the message though was “We’re open to creative thinking!”

    Having said that though some changes were overdue at COMMON. Lotusphere has ten times the attendees and far fewer sessions. COMMON’s sister group in Japan has far fewer sessions and much larger attendance as well. This is one reason why you had no-one at your blogging session. As a consequence of this quantity of sessions the costs to COMMON to compensate all those speakers has been out of line for a few years. The reduction in session could clearly helps with room and AV costs.

    As one of the speakers who will be affected by this change it’s too early to say how that will affect my contribution to the group. Clearly I would have been un-known without COMMON. I begin speaking years ago with a few sessions and did well enough to be invited back. It took a while to win a medal. Because of COMMON I am now asked to speak to other groups. So should I bail out on COMMON just because they’ve lowered compensation? I think not.

    I sure do understand those who do education for a living though. These changes may having them ‘compensating COMMON’ to compete against themselves. Not a simple issue for sure. I don’t have the answer but I will be noodling this about to see if my Creativity can be applied to help the situation.

  3. Doc, wrt the speaker compensation … the biggest problem I have with the announcements about the next conference is that they were phrased as non-negotiable decisions … not as “This is what we’re considering” kinds of things.

  4. David, Yes I did catch that. Just my own conjecture here but I suspect that particular policy could bend if too many marquee speakers bow out of the 2010 Annual Conference. Clearly the policy was set by formula though it IS encouraging to note that speaking is the ONLY thing (besides Executive Board) that offers compensation beyond discounted registration.

  5. FWIW: I got my official session feedback …

    The RDI Plug-in development session got 3.7 out of 5. Not bad, but not great.
    The Email security session got 4.04 out of 5. This, according to my calculations, will get me a “Speaker of Merit” award.

    I HOPE they will ask me to do the sessions again, as I really enjoyed it. Based on the reductions in conference (discussed above) I have my doubts.

  6. I was watching Smallville on TV the other day and heard actor Callum Blue do a VERY poor attempt at the phrase “You Must Kneel Before Zod” … nice try, but he should take lessons from an expert.

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