I have never been to a professional conference–not one that was outside of the town I lived in, or longer than a single day, anyway.
That changed this past week as I was dispatched to Orlando to attend the IAITAM ACE Conference.
First off, let me explain something: I work in IT Asset Management, which usually requires a great deal of explanation to help people understand what it is that I do. But in short, I am supposed to know, understand, and make sure that my company is complying with those software EULAs that no one reads. And I’m responsible for making sure we have a fairly accurate count of our hardware as well.
That’s the basics, anyway. The specifics are way, way, way more complicated.
So it was nice to be able to sit down at a table at breakfast and chat with other people who understand the frustrations you have in your job. Or instantly recognize the terminology you’re throwing around without you having to explain it.
It was great to hear from people in the sessions who talked about their experiences, or shared their expertise.
It was a little depressing to hear from people who worked for smaller companies who had substantially larger teams doing this job. But at the same time, it was helpful to be able to talk to people who were trying to do the job on their own for a company half or a quarter the size of mine.
I could talk about software audits and people would roll their eyes and give me a figurative hug, because we’ve both been there. And it was really nice to learn that the process we use to handle them in my team is really very strong.
I learned that IT Asset Managers are an odd group–not quite the uber-nerds that you expect in other IT conferences, but still nerdy enough to be an odd mix of introverts, extreme introverts, extroverts, and accountants.
After 3+ days, 1 mixer, 3 keynote addresses, 11 sessions, a users group meeting, vendor fair, 3 lunches and 3 breakfasts, I have to say it was a rewarding, if not tiring experience. We were booked pretty much from 7:30 am until at least 5:30 or 6 pm, later for a couple of days. On the last evening there, my colleague and I skipped the vendor fair–after all, that really wasn’t going to change.
I went to sessions with such energizing titles as “Case Studies in How IBM’s Changing Terms and Conditions Drive Exponential Financial Risk for Organizations,” “Optimizing Engineering Software – A Case Study,” and “Licensing Oracle Database & IBM Products.”
Exciting, right? Actually, it was, at the very least, mostly interesting. Some stuff I already knew. Some I didn’t. But again, it was refreshing hearing the same language I speak professionally outside of work.
So what about the weather?
Orlando this time of year, I was told by the weather forecasters on the TV, is not supposed to be terribly hot and humid yet. But it was terribly hot: 90s for highs the whole time I was there. The humidity, they gleefully explained, was low, so it would be comfortable.
It was not comfortable.
Sure, I spent almost all of my time in my hotel room or in the conference hall. But walking from one to the other was outside, crossing the parking lot of the hotel. And a 60+ degree dewpoint is when we Minnesotans begin seriously contemplating our life choices while closing up the house to turn on the air conditioning. That is humid up here, and we find it most certainly unpleasant.
But whatever–different strokes for different folks, right?
It was a good time. Maybe one day too long–by Thursday late morning, both my colleague and I were just mentally exhausted. It was a lot to take in and process, and we were ready to go home and not try to absorb another session. But I’d do it again, and just a little differently next time: I’d try to socialize more and concentrate on the sessions less. The true value of the conference seems to be in those opportunities to talk to your peers and not necessarily cram in all the learning you can.
Maybe, the way things have gone for my team, I’ll go again in 4-5 years. We’ll see.