Monday, March 30, 2009

Boise Code Camp Review and Soul-Baring Insights

This Saturday I went to Boise Code Camp, an amateur IT conference put together by a local developers group. I've been here ten years, but this is the first I'd heard of it. So of course I signed up to be a presenter. Here are a few highlights.

Keynote Speaker Bob Lokken
This fellow has started and sold two businesses, and is starting a third. He gave an excellent overview of the the economic and IT trends both globally and locally. While he did not paint a very rosy picture, he did have some ideas on how to survive it. I heartily agree: innovation is the key, coupled with community involvement. We need to produce a bigger local crop of IT workers or everything will continue to leave town and go where people can be found. He also did a good job of cheerleading for groups and events such as this.

The Green Room
I think they did a great job of taking care of their presenters. I almost felt guilty using the green room, but I had to remind myself I'm their partner, the "talent", that makes the event possible and successful. If a t-shirt, two bottles of water, a donut, and a table to sit at while I review my presentation are all it takes to make me feel appreciated we all win!

My Presentation
I was scheduled in a room that could hold 80 people. Fortunately I drew only about 25. They were a good group, and I quickly felt comfortable speaking to them. Yes, I could have been more comfortable, but that was my fault. I didn't finish writing my presentation until Friday afternoon and didn't rehearse it at all.

I got some good, positive feedback. One person said my presentation was one of the best organized he'd seen. I appreciated that, as I'd tried to make it flow well. Another suggested I'd been a little hard on developers. And he was right. They're not the only ones who dislike doing documentation. Nearly everyone does--myself included at times.

I'm no stranger to being in front of crowds, but I was more nervous for this than I've been in a long time. Like "I think I'm going to be sick" nervous. Thank heaven for theater instincts. Once I was "on stage" I was fine.

If anyone finds their way here instead of my site, you can find my presentation slides here.

I'm mostly vegan, so it was nice that they had vegetarian pizza available. I got one slice. Fortunately(?) I was still knotted up internally from my presentation and wasn't that hungry. Instead I spent the time speaking to a colleague I hadn't seen in a few years. It would appear that we're both still crusaders, trying to bring better processes to the resistant natives.

My Brother's Presentation
My brother is becoming something of a time management consultant, and he was presenting after lunch. I was already planning to go, and not just because he's my brother. I've been to one of his previous presentations and became a convert to the system he advocates. I've since fallen off the wagon and needed a kick start. He did a good job, and I was glad to be able to assist with a loan of my laptop. Yeah, I got to tease him about being his personal assistant, but I'm glad to do it. Heaven knows he's done a lot for me, not the least of which being my cheerleader.

Other sessions
I next started a session on virtualization. I was hoping to hear how they apply it on a corporate scale, but it appeared to be headed more into different packages available. I ended up bailing and catching the latter half of a session on copyright law. I doubt I'll ever need to worry about software copyrights, but it was just as applicable to other projects I have coming up. All in all, good stuff.

After that was a rotation where there wasn't really anything of interest to me, so I just picked something that sounded like it may be useful information. And it might have been. Unfortunately the speaker drew one of those annoying people who thinks that they're a co-presenter. If he disagreed with something the speaker said he made sure we all knew about it, and would start to debate it right there until the speaker would eventually cut him off and ask him to talk to him afterward about it. Annoying, selfish person. We were there to hear the presenter's thoughts and experiences, not his.

Unfortunately he interrupted so often that the speaker only got to give about half his presentation. He was trying to cover far more material than he really had time for as it was, and ego-maximus interruptus made the presentation even more scattered.

I had high hopes for the final session, which was a panel discussion on being a consultant. There were some good points brought up, but they opened up to audience questions too soon and it never really hung together after that. Few topics got more than cursory treatment. About all I learned about being an IT consultant is that I probably don't want to be one.

While I was there I had a flash of insight. I found myself becoming passionate about IT again. Then it occurred to me that it it wasn't because IT is my "calling" in life. On the contrary. I realized that I am a passionate person, though staid and mild-mannered I may appear. If something catches my interest and I get in far enough to get a feel for it I become passionate about it.

This causes me no end of grief, actually. I've struggled for years to determine just what my calling really is. The answer has always been "I don't know...I can't narrow it down". But now I realize that the answer is not going to be found by looking at what I'm passionate about. Call it Terminal Curiosity Disorder, call it Stockholm Syndrome--whatever. If I'm around something for awhile I start to care, whether or not I should.

Some things wear off over time. I was passionate about the local ITIL group my company was trying to start a few years ago. I was passionate enough to volunteer. And I did pretty well, I think. But the moment someone else came along and volunteered for my job I was happy to let them take it...and I haven't been involved since. Part of that is because of changes they made to how the group operates, but partly because reality set in and I realized I couldn't afford to stay passionate about something that did not directly relate to my career.

I've often done that. If I can see the benefit of something I find it easy to get involved to make sure it happens. That's how I became HOA president. That's how I became an editor on my college paper--and then Communications Board Chair in student government to defend the paper against student government censorship. Passion is easy for me. It's channeling it in the right direction I struggle with.

So the trick for me now is not to find what I'm passionate about. That will come easily enough. It's finding out what skills I have that I most enjoy using, then finding someplace to use them that will be worthy of my inevitable passion.

I know that sounds a shade egotistical, but it's true. Not every activity deserves a person's passionate participation. Not every organization rewards empassioned advocacy. I think that has been a major source of frustration for me in my current job. I've been spraying passion around like a fire hose, but it's largely gone unappreciated and unacknowledged. That's not entirely the fault of the organization (I know I get impatient with the speed of change, or lack thereof, but it's the nature of a beast this large), but it explains why my only regret about my pending unemployment is unemployment itself, not about leaving the organization. It's a simple equation: passion - empowerment = frustration.

So when it comes to "What Color Is Your Parachute"-style life-changing career searching, I think I just discovered at least one element of my "where". I need a situation where I'm either in a position to act on my passion, or where I get the support and appreciation to know that, even if things can't happen quickly, I'm not being ignored and my passion is appreciated.

Ah, more insights. This is why I blog (okay, one reason. It's cheap therapy. For me, at least. Reading this may be costing you dearly. <*maxwellsmart>Uh...Sorry about that, Chief!<*/maxwellsmart>

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