Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Kaleidoscope is NOT the new Solutions (and guess what, that's a good thing)

I’ve heard over the last couple of years that this conference or that conference was going to be the “New Solutions”. It got me thinking back to when I went to the old Hyperion Solutions conference and what was so special about it. I remember having a lot of fun when I went, seeing old friends and colleagues, etc, but I was trying to remember what I really got out of the conference. Did I learn anything? Honestly, the answer is not really. At the end of the day, Solutions was a Sales and Marketing conference. It served one main purpose – to get me to buy more software. It wasn’t about making me a better developer. Yes, there were a few technical sessions here and there, but they never got too far below the surface. Most of the time, the sessions were “success stories”. This is where someone who just spent a bunch of money implementing a product stands up in front of a room and describes all the obstacles they have overcome. Mind you, many of these individual’s experience with the software is limited to the implementation they just went through, not exactly “experts”. Of course, I’m not saying there isn’t value in learning from someone else’s experiences. But as a professional who has been through a number of implementations myself, I’m looking for something a little more advanced than the standard fluff you fit in a 45 minute session, where 20 minutes is devoted to telling me about your company. The reality is Solutions wasn’t much of a value. I still found myself paying for training throughout the year and I never brought back anything really amazing to provide value to my employer. Looking back, I am quite unhappy with myself for spending the amount of money I did those years to sit through a live infomercial. I think this is why I have embraced ODTUG’s Kaleidoscope conference as much as I have.

Kaleidoscope is distinctly different from Solutions. Solutions focused on marketing, Kaleidoscope focuses on training. At Solutions they talked about new functionality, at Kaleidoscope you are taught new functionality. A Solutions presentation usually amounted to pretty power point slides, at Kaleidoscope there are hands on labs and many of the presentations contain live demonstrations. The most notable distinction is that Solutions was about a company; Kaleidoscope is about developers.

Kaleidoscope focuses on how to improve the individual and provide value through training, networking opportunities, and a chance to hear from the product managers and developers first hand during the full day symposium. Speakers and presentations are vetted by a panel of industry experts. Speakers aren’t given a slot just because they bought something this year. Speakers and their presentations are chosen based on a mindset of what is going to provide the best educational opportunity for attendees. This mindset permeates throughout all activities that are planned. This ensures attendees are getting the most value for the money they are spending.

Kaleidoscope has become the one event I plan for every year where I know I will get value and improve myself for my career. So, regardless if my company’s budget has room for me to go, I know I will be there because I will pay out of pocket to attend if I have to. I’ve done it before. Now I know some people might not be able to afford that, but I don’t see how I could afford not to attend. In the past, I would have been willing to miss a Solutions conference; I’m not willing to miss a Kaleidoscope conference.