Attending ThatConference

Last week I had the opportunity to attend ThatConference in Wisconsin.  Sub-titled "Summer Camp for Geeks", it really is a great three days of fun, geeky, IT learning.  The schedule of sessions was really wonderfully diverse, so I was always able to find a session that was interesting, informative, and relevant.  Each day started with a Keynote (after breakfast of course! can't start your day without some bacon!) that gave me plenty to think about.  The opening day's keynote from Elizabeth Naramore was particularly inspiring.  Titled "Ripples in the Pond" she went on to challenge us in the IT community to be the best us we could be.  To be helpful, welcoming, understanding and generally "good" people to work with, instead of falling in to the traps of being negative, and critical and difficult to work with.  There were many good examples and lots of good food for thought which was really a great way to kick off everything.  Tim Huckaby's keynote on Tuesday was full of great techno-geekery that was exciting and fun.  And Mike McGee's keynote on Wednesday was inspiring and challenging, to see what is possible when you really put your mind to accomplish a big vision.  Great job was done by all of them.

Then each day we would break out for four sessions for the morning and afternoon.  There were really so many sessions to choose from it sometimes became difficult to nail down just which one I wanted to get to... But I was really happy with the sessions I ended up at.  I saw several great session on mobile development, talking through some topics like mass, cross-platform notification using Windows Azure messaging hubs, to cross-platform development with Xamarin and Azure Mobile services, to fun applications like Geo-fencing capabilities baked in to the Windows Phone development kit. Great stuff.  Then I was able to see some interesting ALM-related sessions, including one from the TFS Whisperer Angela Dugan, which was a great lesson in real-world problems and was very informative. I was also able to catch a session on Automated Build and Deployment on Wednesday.  That session covered tools that I was not really super familiar with, TeamCity for build, and Octopus for deployment.  Now, as a TFS ALM geek, I fall in to using the Microsoft tools like TFS Build, and Release Management to handle these tasks, so this was a great opportunity to get exposure to these other tools, and to see how other people are utilizing them in the real world. Very good for me.

For all of that learning and experience, there is another side to ThatConference.  I was amazed by the great group of people that were assembled for the three days.  I was able to meet, and chat with some great people doing impressive things from all over the area... Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, and even Florida and Texas.  Great to be able to get to chat and learn from them.  Also ThatConference, even with the amazing set of scheduled sessions, goes above and beyond and sets up "Open Spaces", where people can sign up to have an open discussion on any given topic that they are interested in learning or talking more about.  As if it wasn't hard enough to pick a session to attend, now I had an even wider selection! I didn't end up finding my way over to any of the open spaces talks.. I really had my sessions picked out, and didn't waver, but it was really super cool to see some ever more amazing topics pop up on the schedule every time I refreshed it.

Now for all of that, it was a huge win for me to be able to attend! I got so much out of the three days.  But one other really big win for me was having my boys be able to attend the family track sessions.  I loved seeing my oldest son Jacob especially get excited about the opportunity to learn more about computers and programming.  The boys attended a Minecraft mod-ing session, and then Jacob really wanted to go learn what he could in the "Teaching Junior Campers to program with Grown Up Tools".  They were introducing the kids to using VisualStudio and C#! How cool is that! And Jacob loved it! You know that they're enjoying their time, when they want to go to a conference room to LEARN instead of running around the water park all day! Awesome! 

Also, (shhhh, my boss may be reading) there was a ton of fun things to do in the down time.. of course there is the amazing water park (including a fun late-night private party at the water park!), and pig roast, and game night! and Badge ribbon collecting! it was a total blast to be there..  we had a great time!  And there was even a group of "campers" that would get up early to go run.. they called it "That5k" and that served as an excuse to go run and exercise, so that helped keep me motivated to get out and try to keep up with my marathon training, sweet!

Here is a shot of my badge and my son Owen's badge at the end of the conference.. the ribbon collecting got infectious!


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