This weekend, I drove just over 4 hours to Kalamazoo, MI for the Kalamazoo X Conference, an event that Mike Eaton dreamt up and led. Over the past few months, I had heard a lot of the joys and pains that went into planning this event, and I had looked forward to seeing it happen.
Mike had brought in a bunch of speakers from all over – as far south as Mike Wood in Kentucky, as far east as myself. Many of us had spoken at other events before, but this conference gave us a chance to do something we normally couldn’t do – we were able to listen to each other speak, as this was a one-track conference.

Morning Talks

The first talk of the morning was Brian H. Prince‘s “Soft Skillz” talk, in short form. He had 20 minutes for a talk that could normally go on for days (or maybe just a few hours). He actually cut it short, but he mentioned a phrase that was mentioned throughout the day – “Perception is reality.”

After Brian H. Prince, we had Chris Woodruff with “Using Measured Innovation”, Dave Giard with “Effective Customer Communication”, and James Bender with “Organizational Dynamics”. Then, it was supposed to be my turn to speak.

I’ve been on a roll with my presentations since PyCon – running into technical difficulties with each one that I’ve given. This time, when I opened my slides on the presentation laptop, I found bad fonts and things not lining up as expected. So, Mike switched the order and we had Clovis Bordeaux speak on Branding.

Mike had mentioned to me ahead of time that Clovis was a great speaker – oh how true! He didn’t have his slides, but he ended up talking through branding in the full time slot. From discussing what a brand is and how reputation and brand are different… that tissues and cotton swabs are objects and Kleenex and Q-Tips just happen to be brands of those objects… Clovis covered it all well! What I liked the most is that while he was asking questions of the audience, he’d pass out buttons with his company‘s name on it – way to promote your brand!

Sadukie’s Social Networking Talk

By switching spots with Clovis, this gave me the last time slot before lunch. So right before lunch, I got to speak to a bunch of geeks (around 80 people!) on social networking. I had been wanting to speak on social networking for quite awhile, as I’m all over the social networks and love encouraging others to get involved. So thanks to Mike for inviting me to come out and letting me give this talk. Basically, as geeks, we’re anti-social or asocial … we like coding in dark rooms, sometimes just by the glow of the monitor. Anyhow, if you want to go anywhere in your career (note: career, not just a job), you need to be good at what you do, and you need others to be able to vouch for your abilities.

As was stated later in the day in Jeff Blankenburg‘s self-promotion talk, it’s about who knows you. So I encourage people to use Plaxo or LinkedIn – get your resume up there and network with others. From job leads to finding experts on WPF who might be able to help you out, you never know who you’ll network with. I also made mention of something called Contribupendence Day, a day for writing reviews of those you work with in the community to get the word out about what they do. (For more on Contribupendence Day, check out the original blog post here.)

On a more personal note, I recommend checking out Facebook, MySpace, Tumblr, Plurk, and most of all, Twitter. These are better for learning more about a person’s personality, although “I need help with…” messages and engaging conversations about tech can happen as well. I mentioned that these sites also have mobile versions of their sites, so that you can access them from your phones. The last thing I showed with regards to Twitter was TweetDeck and the various columns that you can have (All Friends, Replies, Search columns, Twitscoop). There are other columns (like Direct Messages) – so check out TweetDeck for more information on the various columns out there.

Of course, to try to follow everyone on multiple sites gets crazy. So, rather than visiting multiple sites to follow everyone, I recommend FriendFeed, which aggregates feeds from many social networking sites. Then to get the word out to everyone, I recommend using ping.fm.

After showing the social networking aspects online, I included ways for geeks to be social and network with others offline – geek dinners (and lunches), user groups, and events. Finally, I gave my audience a challenge – they had to meet someone new that day.

I’ve been having trouble getting my slides up on SlideShare, so I’ve just uploaded a PDF version of them here.

Lunch

Panera provided lunch for us – sandwiches, chips, bread, and cookies. Some people ate inside the room, while others were eating in the hallway. I joined some of my friends who decided to take me up on my challenge, and we met a few new people. It was neat to meet students of all ages and backgrounds, and it was good to see that we had more groups than just developers.

Meeting new people at lunch

Afternoon Talks

There were talks of Josh not being able to make it, but in the end, Josh Holmes made it out to give us the shortened version of his “Lost Art of Simplicity” talk. I had missed his keynote at Central Ohio Day of .NET since I was finishing up last minute scavenger hunt work, but I always get a lot of ideas and inspiration when I hear Josh talk. And there is so much to say about simplicity – with quite a few definitions! Josh really covered simplicity well.

The other talks that really jumped out at me were Jim Holmes‘ “3 Tips for Improving Your Dev Process” and Mike Wood‘s “Community – Get Involved!”. Jim really hit the points home as to what we need to improve our processes in general. The best quote that I got from this talk was “It’s estimation, not exactimation.” As for Mike’s talk on community… it just really drove home what community means to him and it reminds me of all the feelings I have for this community.

Conclusion

Some people would think I was crazy for driving so long to give such a short talk. However, to me, it wasn’t about the talk. Even if Mike had told me that I wasn’t speaking, I’d still be up there, because for me, it’s more about being there for the community. I enjoy presenting at these events with my friends and meeting new people. And if there’s any way that I can help the community, it’s by getting out to these events.

This conference was quite unique – one-track, short talks, and very little code was shown (as Mike Wood and Leon Gersing both showed their code). It was nice to see talks on skills and things that we need to consider, from a business standpoint.

My pics from this event are available on Flickr.

I look forward to next year’s event, and I hope to see many of you there! (And if any of my fellow Clevelanders want to car pool out there, please let me know!)