This blog is written by Alan Seiden, an authority on PHP development with IBM i, who helps companies achieve best practices and top performance when combining PHP, Zend Framework, IBM i, RPG and DB2. An award-winning speaker, Alan is project manager of Zend's open-source PHP Toolkit for IBM i and owner of Alan Seiden Consulting, Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J. You can reach him at https://www.alanseiden.com, [email protected] or @alanseiden.
At conferences, I'm swept up in the excitement of high-energy professionals learning, teaching and sharing. For weeks afterward, the adrenaline rush fuels sharper thinking as I use the information and techniques I've absorbed from presenters, vendor booths and people I've met. More IT professionals deserve to enjoy that “conference high.”
Some IT executives hesitate to send staff to industry meetings: it's too expensive, they think, or they can't spare the staff time. But I've seen staffers often return to work energized, revitalized and psyched to put what they've learned to practical use.
Sometimes a bit of knowledge has surprising benefits. For example, Jeb Bouchard, systems analyst at Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom (WCVT), Waitsfield, Vt., saved WCVT $100,000 per year in printing and consulting fees by adopting InfoPrint for IBM i. Without the guidance of experts she'd met at COMMON, such a cost savings and enhanced self-sufficiency might have remained a dream.
Another conference success story involves Jorge Sanguinetti, IS Manager of ACIS Enhancements at Apria Healthcare, Lake Forest, Calif., who learned at the OCEAN Technical Conference how to enable mobile interfaces by adding Web services to Apria's legacy applications, avoiding an expensive and risky rewrite.
Jeb and Jorge achieved quick wins by seeking answers to their targeted questions. Conferences can also provide valuable “delayed wins” by exposing attendees to technology that they can call upon later. For example, yesterday a client asked me how to accelerate cached data stored on the Integrated File System (IFS). I remembered Margaret Fenlon's “IFS Advanced Topics” talk from COMMON 2011, at which IBM's Fenlon introduced temporary file systems, which are memory-based and fast. This solution will speed my client's application without code changes. How much is that solution worth?
To reap the most value from conferences, plan to approach IBM execs, reps or vendors for a solution to your issue. What you've assumed would be an expensive, time-consuming project might be simplified by a future release or Technology Refresh. At COMMON, you can submit requirement sheets directly to IBM.
To find an answer to a burning question, contact speakers or vendors ahead of time to let them know your staff will be there and suggest the topic you'd like discussed. Attend “Ask the Experts” events and panel discussions. Collect business cards and follow up after the conference.
I've heard secondhand that some IT executives believe that reviewing conference presentation slides online, after the fact, is sufficient education for their staff. In my experience, however, slides serve as reference material at best. They can't motivate and guide IT professionals toward success in adopting new ideas. For real value, attendance and active participation are crucial.
If your budget hasn't included a line for conference participation, consider the benefits of adding one. You're likely to find it a wise investment.
What have conferences done for you? Share your story in the Comments section below.