Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Southwest Fox 2011, Day 4

I planned on attending a couple of sessions Saturday morning, but ended up having a long chat with Toni Feltman and Steve Bodnar about .Net development, unit testing, version control, and other stuff. Again, this is one of the special things about conferences in general—discussions with other developers to help get a fresh perspective on things, solve problems, and spark new ideas—but especially SWFox: since we require all speakers to provide detailed white papers for their sessions, you still get the full benefit of all sessions whether you attend them or not. That makes the networking opportunities at SWFox even more valuable.

The one session I couldn’t miss, of course, was my own: the repeat of my ActiveX controls session. This time, I took special care to not miss any steps in my demo, so the attendees were cheated out of the opportunity to see a speaker squirm and learn from their mistakes. Sorry, guys!

The closing session was short but sweet. One of the things we discussed was 2012.


As many people suspected, this was a tough, scary year for us. By mid-August, we were in full panic mode, as we were so far below breakeven that it looked like a five-figure loss for us. Fortunately, a larger-than-usual number of people signed up after September 1; that combined with an increase in sponsorship this year took us over the top. However, we’re really concerned about next year: if the trend of decreasing attendance continues, 2012 could be a disaster.

So, one of the questions on our conference evaluation form was what type of format would attendees like for a future event: the traditional SWFox format, a less expensive “Code Camp” style (volunteer speakers, no food provided or perhaps sponsored food), an even less expensive one-track format (all sessions in a single room), etc. The reason for asking this question is to try to find out what we can do to minimize our risk. If we get the same number of people registered for 2012 as 2011 but they all register in June or July, there’s no panic and we can have the same format we’ve always had. But if the attendance goes down or people defer registration until fall like happened this year, we have to make adjustments so we don’t face an enormous loss. We don’t know what the answer to this is yet, but the takeaway from the closing session is that we did make a commitment to host an event in 2012.

Of course, asking people who paid a premium price to attend a premium conference doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the same answers as you do from those who didn’t attend for whatever reason. So, in the next month or so, we’re going to ask the community what kind of conference they’d like us to put on. When it comes time, please respond to the survey so we can get an accurate feel for what folks want us to do.

One other thing I’d ask: if you love SWFox like we do, and want to see it continue, do us a favor and register early next year. That would take out the panic for us and allow us to plan for the type of conference we really want to host.

I really felt that this was the best SWFox ever. The mood was upbeat, the sessions were amazing, the food was great, the conference center was wonderful … It wasn’t just me: I heard from lots of other people that they felt the same way.

The closing session ended with us giving away thousands of dollars in prizes provided by our sponsors, including some goodies like T-shirts that we threw into the audience (Tamar wisely counseled us against throwing the pins!).

After cleaning up the session rooms, we had lunch with Sharon, our main contact at the hotel and conference center, to do a post-mortem on the conference. We discussed the few things that didn’t work (Internet access and temperature control in the rooms) and the great number of things that did (dedication and hard work of the staff, the food, and the other things that make this a great venue). We also discussed some potential dates for next year.

After that meeting, Rick, Therese, Tamar, Marshal and I had our own meeting to talk a little about 2012, then met a few others (Bo Burban and his son and Steve Bodnar) for dinner. We went to Kona Grill, where Rick and I had some of the best sushi I’ve ever had.

Then it was time for the main event: the long-standing tradition of indoor go-kart racing. About 20 of us showed up at Octane Racing (formerly F1 Race Factory) to compete for the title of fastest racer. With Rick Strahl not driving this year, first place was up for grabs. I thought I did really well, but both Paul Mrozowski and my former employee Rob Eisler (just kidding, Rob!) beat me. In the second race, I finished behind Bo but ahead of Paul. See the Geeks & Gurus Facebook page for photos.

We got back to the hotel by about 11:30, too jazzed up to call it a night yet. Besides, there was still two jumbo bottles of champagne to drink. Which we, of course, did, sitting around the pool. I finally called it a night at about 1:30.

Sunday was kind of anti-climatic, as usual: a nice breakfast with the Schummers and Granors followed by a long day of travel home. I slept almost the entire flight from Phoenix to Minneapolis, something I rarely do.

Thanks to everyone who came to SWFox and made it the best one ever. We’ll see you next year for sure!

No comments: