What a free day of learning can do for a community.
You need to meet Sidney Moore. Really. You might know Jeffrey Snover or Bruce Payette or Ed Wilson. But, you need to meet Sidney Moore. Because Sid is one of the most dedicated and passionate advocates for PowerShell learners that I’ve met.
Sid works in IT for Bank of America in Jacksonville, Florida, a hot and humid spot that is, nevertheless, home to a growing IT industry. A few years back, worried that IT operations techs would become obsolete, he dedicated himself not only to learning PowerShell, but to teaching it to his colleagues. But, that wasn’t enough. He wanted to teach it to his community. After attending an IT Pro Camp far from home, he was determined to bring an IT Pro Camp to Jacksonville. That was five years ago.
On June 11, 2016, I showed up with more than 500 of my closest friends at the 6th annual Jacksonville IT Pro Camp. Yes, I believe the number was 574.
SAPIEN Technologies, Inc. was a proud sponsor of this event, so every t-shirt had a huge SAPIEN logo on the back. We were joined by lots of other great companies, including Microsoft and Checkpoint.
The one-day conference offered eight speaker tracks, from beginner to advanced, on a wide range of IT topics. Joining me on the PowerShell & DevOps track was Ed Wilson, the Scripting Guy, accompanied by Teresa Wilson, the beloved Scripting Wife.
SAPIEN also hosted a table where I got to distribute some swag, but also to demo our products, answer PowerShell questions, and talk to folks — lots of them — who had never tried PowerShell before.
The real power behind this conference was that it was absolutely free of charge. The conference was free. The breakfast and lunch were free. The speaker sessions were free. They even gave several rounds of Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) exams and those were free, too. You could take as many as you wanted.
Being free changed the atmosphere and attendance. Expensive conferences attract managers, leads, and experts. Expensive classes attract lucky people in businesses that invest in their employees. Free conferences attract everyone. It has been a long time since I’ve met so many students, entry-level IT folks, recent graduates, people changing careers, and even people with long and deep experience in IT who just can’t get enough. And there were dozens of women — far more than at other technical training conferences. I had such a great time talking to these people.
My day started with a “Women in Technology” panel. I typically decline these panels, because my experience isn’t typical for IT, but they didn’t really ask me. They just put me on there before I could refuse. I was sad to hear that women in IT are paid less than men for the same work, not encouraged or helped to train and advance, and not followed when they’re given a chance to lead. But, they still keep trying. I was beyond impressed.
I did two talks that day. An “All About Objects” talk for beginners and a fun presentation version of my “Class of Wine” lab on PowerShell classes. When the speaker after me didn’t show, we extended into a full-hour Q&A session on technical trends and new features of PowerShell, including Azure and DSC.
The day ended with a wrap-up talk, a presentation of awards and prizes, and a fantastic cake with the logos of all sponsors rendered in sugar frosting. It’s the sweetest SAPIEN logo I’ve seen.
But the best part was great conversations with great people. IT folks who were in the field long before I knew it existed. Students who were so excited to learn that they tried to go to every conference track. A talented guy who took 4 MTA tests and passed them all. A single mom who got an entry level IT job, then studied everything she could find to move into a higher level job, and then an IT security job. A cool guy who’s building VB scripts dynamically from snippets in a database (we brainstormed ways to do that in PowerShell — yes, you can! I’ll tweet a link to his blog post when it’s published).
In our post-mortem, after the usual complaints about food, we decided that the next step is to get these folks into local user groups, where the presentations are also free, but tend to have fewer students and fewer women. So, next year, user groups will be offered free demo tables to collect contact info.
And, I hope to be there again, with SAPIEN as a prime sponsor. Because free conferences are terrific. Thanks to Sid Moore and everyone who arranged this one.