We already talked about how to prepare for Connect by getting everything together, like batteries, chargers, comfortable shoes and questions for the IBM developers. But you also should plan ahead for the sessions. You will spend hours listening to experts from IBM as well as from business partners from all around the world. There are always several sessions at the same time, sometimes making it hard to choose. There are also the longer Show n’ Tell sessions, sometimes overlapping other sessions you might want to attend. So picking the right ones, at the right times, is crucial to get the full benefit of the conference.
Previous years some popular sessions have been repeated during the week. They are listed as R1 and R2 in the pocket agenda, making it easy to tell that they are repeating sessions. Hopefully this will be done this year as well. In the past, Ben Langhinrichs used to create an online session database, and Gab and Tim Davis built a smartphone app you could download. This is no more, but hopefully IBM will offers some of that functionality through the conference website. With the focus at IBM on mobile technologies, one would hope that IBM would have developed a conference app using their own tools. But I would not hold my breath on the last one…
Back to planning. What I do is that a couple of weeks before the conference, I go to the conference website and look at the list of sessions. I print the ones I am interested in (there is usually a way to print them with the session abstract), then mark them from 1 to 3, with 1 being the most important to attend, and 3 meaning “if I have time”.
Next I try to puzzle together my schedule, using the tools on the conference website. The last few years there has been a scheduling tool, letting you select your sessions to build a personalized agenda, which I print. I bring that printout, together with the session printouts, in a folder to Connect. After I get my badge and pocket agenda, I take a pen and mark all the sessions I plan to attend in the pocket agenda as well. This way I have that information at my fingertips. You could of course download all the information into the calendar in your smartphone, but sometimes an old-fashioned analog solution is the fastest and easiest. And it works even after the battery died and I forgot the portable charger in my room… 🙂
As a developer, I usually focus on the AD (Application Development), BP (Best Practices), SHOW (Show ‘n Tell) and JMP (Jumpstart and Master Class) tracks. Sometimes I pop over to the ID (Infrastructure) track for a session or two. New this year is the Innovators and Thought Leaders track, and I will absolutely take a closer look at the sessions in that track and see if I can find something that would benefit me or my organization.
For the last couple of years, there have been additional keynote sessions Tuesday and Wednesday morning. On Tuesday, Scott Adams (creator of “Dilbert”) will speak about how he used his failures to be successful. Last year one of the keynotes had Jonathan Coulton perform, followed by game designer Jane McGonigal. This was a very interesting session, I wish IBM would take a cue and put some of that energy into the OGS (Opening General Session) on Monday morning.
The OGS is not geared to the technical audience, but more to press, analysts and CIO/CEO type attendees. There is usually a panel discussion, some customer testimonials and (towards the end) some demos of current, new or sometimes upcoming products or technologies. The big draw of the OGS is the secret guest speaker. In the past we have seen names like William Shatner, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael J Fox, Walther Cronkite and Neil Armstrong on the stage at Lotusphere. Who will it be this year? Guess, and you can win $100!
Finally, don’t forget to visit the Showcase Exhibit. Not only can you pick up some cool give-aways, but you will also find information about all kinds of third-party tools and products, and meet business partners that could help you and your company. Some of the tools I use daily today I originally found at the showcase, like NoteMan from Martin Scott and the Teamstudio Notes Tools. I try to hit the showcase several times, it is easy to get stuck there talking to the vendors. So plan accordingly! For the last few years the afternoon coffee breaks have been in the showcase area, use this to your advantage and schedule some time in conjuction to them to visit the vendors.