Saturday, January 4, 2014

Andy's Guide to Connect-o-sphere 2014

It's that time of the year again, kids.  January is upon us and for those that are involved with IBM Collaboration technologies, it's our favorite time of the year.  It's the time when we get to head to Orlando from what used to be called Lotusphere but now is a part of the bigger IBM picture and renamed Connect. Connect incorporates both the old Lotusphere technical tracks that we have all come to rely upon over the years but also features sessions on the Kenexa family of technologies.  
This conference has also been an important part of my professional career and this year will mark my 12th trip south for the event.  So, over the years I've complied a list of things tips that have helped me over the years make the trip more pleasant and enjoyable.  Normally I try to go with a theme for this list, but this year, we're going to keep it simple and straight to the point.  So, let's get to it!

First, this year features something that I find pretty interesting. Onsite testing for IBM certifications are FREE.  Yes, FREE.  This is a PERFECT opportunity for someone that possibly has never taken a certification test an opportunity to maybe get over some test anxiety and take one! Give it a shot, it is free after all. I plan on sitting for one or two to see how I do.  What do I have to loose, right?
Okay, so far that's pretty much the big new news that I'm aware of for 2014.  The rest of the post is going to pull heavily from the past years post.  But it still holds a lot of weight in my opinion.

(And now, the yearly disclaimer:)
What you will not find in this blog post is who the secret OGS speaker is.  What you will find here is a somewhat practical guide on what you can do to get yourself prepared and ready for the drinking of the fire-hose of knowledge that is Connect.

Part 1 - The Prep:

Like any good plan to work, preparation is KEY. If you are an Domino administrator, Domino developer, someone that manages a Sametime environment, someone that manages a Connections environment or someone that wants to see that there is other life out there beyond Failpo...I mean Sharepoint, the Connect conference is the place to go to learn from IBM and others what their software CAN do and how people ARE using it. It is also the place to get the inside track on things to come!  So, if you haven't already, GO ASK YOUR BOSS!  I'll wait.
Oh, you're back.  And the answer was...yes!?  Great.  Okay now that you are allowed to go you have to prepare yourself for a week of drinking from the fire-hose of knowledge.  This will be my 12th time at the conference and every year when I get back home it's the same thing.  Soar feet and brain overload.
Here are some of my usual tips that have not failed me yet!  Remember, preparation can save you some time and money later.
 1.  Internet Resources
  • Follow Connect 2014 website for up to date information.
  • Follow   Many of the sites listed on there will have information regarding the conference. Both posts and podcasts.  
 2.  Go and get yourself a new pair of tennis/walking shoes NOW. Wear them and break them in. If you can, get two pair so you can switch back and forth during the week.  This will save your feet some pain after the first day of walking around the conference. And you will do a LOT of walking around while you are there. You may also want to get a new pack of white socks at Walmart or Target. The real cushy kind. Those help a lot too.  Also, bring multiple shoes to swap out during the week.  Give your other shoes a chance to air out.

3.  Before you leave on your adventure, stop by that section in cosmetics at the Walmart or Target that has all the neat little travel sized stuff and pick up anything you can think of that you may need! Aspirin, Advil, Tylenol, NyQuil, baby powder, Q tips, etc, etc. But most importantly PEPTO-BISMOL. I got REALLY ill once and had to dish out a lot of money at the little store in the Dolphin for supplies. Bringing a small drug store with you can really save you some bucks. It's usually 3-4 times more on site.  After all, you are staying at Walt Disney World.  Also PRESCRIPTIONS! If you have some that you need to maintain your quality of life, make sure you bring them with you!  When you stay on-site and you don't have a car, it can be a real task to get to a pharmacy.

  • Building on that point about bringing your drugs with you, Susan Bulloch, whom you should all know, respect and fear, brings up a great point in last years comments.  GET A FLU SHOT!  Being sick in Orlando sucks.  I know. So get your shot and start slamming the Vitamin's C, D3 and B12 NOW!  
4.  If you need to, order more business cards now, if you still use them. You can go through a lot of them. Downside - Your phone will ring for a couple of weeks afterward.  (Yes, people still use business cards)

5.  Pay attention to the weather forecasts leading up to (insert conference name here). Orlando can be really nice and warm in January but it can also get downright cold at night. Pack appropriately.

6.  Dress for Connectosphere is casual. Jeans, shorts, polos and t shirts seem to be the norm. Even kilts for some! But no mankinis, please.

7.  Bring a plug strip, or two, with you. Most hotel rooms are limited on power outlets and having several outlets extra can always come in handy.

8.  And don't forget all of your accessories power cords for charging your stuff! You don't want to show up Saturday and realize that you are short a power cord for your iPhone. Not that I've ever done something like that, ever.

9.  If you can, get a portable charger like this. I brought one of these with me and saved my phone from running out of charge during the day.

10.  If you have access to a Mi-Fi or cellular wireless card for your laptop, bring it.  Yes, wifi is made available during the conference for your use.  Good luck trying to get on it.  There are several thousand other geeks there with you all trying to get connected at the same time during the day.  Access points can only do so much.  Historically, on Monday, the wifi is usually unusable because of overload.

11.  If you have a tablet...BRING IT.  I have found that carrying a tablet around in a small bag all day is MUCH easier on the body the lugging a huge bag o' stuff with your laptop in it.  This year, I'm going to try to exist on a Surface Pro with my Notes clients and VPN connectivity back to work.  Will be a lot nicer just having to carry that and not my work laptop!

Part 2 - You're There!: 

So now that you packed all your power cords, plug strips and comfy shoes, you arrive in Orlando to hopefully warm, sunny skies and are ready to begin drinking from the fire hose of knowledge that is Connect.

1.  Since Orlando is a tourist mecca, there are several ways to get to and from the airport.  The most expensive option is of course a private car or taxi.  But those can be a little costly.  For $32 (plus tips) round trip, you can take advantage of the Mears Shuttle.  This will get you to the hotel and back relatively easy.  But, you do need the coupon. Click here for coupon.  If you are staying at a Disney property (non-Swan or Dolphin hotel), you can also look into using the Magical Express for free.  See your hotel information for details.  However, I'm not sure about the Swan, but I know the Dolphin has car rental drop offs available which is important to note further down the list.

2.  If you are staying at the Swan or Dolphin, great.  You're right where the action is.  The Yacht and Beach is the next closest official hotel right within walking distance of the event.  If you are staying at one of the other Disney properties, get to know early where the conference shuttle pick up and drop off is at.  It's usually right out front of the hotel and you can always ask an ever helpful Disney cast member where they are.  My first year down there, I missed Saturday night registration by 10 minutes because I used the Disney transportation to get me to Downtown Disney first, then back to the Dolphin.

3.  To go along with point #2, don't be afraid of getting stranded at the Swan or Dolphin after the conference shuttles run.  You can use the Disney buses to get around.  From the hotels, they go to Downtown Disney and from there you can catch a bus back to your hotel. (Disney properties only)

4.  Once you checked into the conference DO NOT LOSE YOUR BADGE!  There are no mulligans.  You are Gollum and that is your precious. You loose it, you either go home or buy a new one.

5.  Meet people and make contacts. Very useful and fun. Sitting in your hotel room at night is no fun. There are not a whole lot of cable channels anyway.  So, get out and mingle, network and collaborate! Get social, dangit! If you arrive on Saturday and have nothing to do, wander on down to the Boardwalk area and stop in to the Big River Grille & Brewing Works. On Saturday afternoon, the Bloggers -and friends- Annual Lotusphere Dinner, BALD, takes place. It's nothing more then a bunch of Lotus geeks hanging out for a few adult soda pops and enjoying each others company. Very family reunion-ish without that odd aunt nobody likes anyway.  Then later in the evening on Saturday, wander on down to the ESPN bar for The Turtles get together. Always a fun time!  The Lotus community is one that is very accepting and social.  Very social. Make some friends, dang it! Seriously, get out and have fun.  You will meet people from ALL over the world and they will become your friends. But watch out for "handsy" Australians.  That's right Mat, I'm still talking to you.

  •  As I was reminded, our pal and all around great guy Bill Malchisky, has set up a fun Saturday  morning event that's free and right out on the sandy beach between the Swan and Dolphin.  Soccer Saturday returns this year and is open for everyone!  Check out the link to Bill's blog with all the details!

6.  While we're on the topic of getting out and having fun, go to the vendor sponsored events usually on Tuesday night's in past years but with the Disney park party on Tuesday this year, I'm sure that may change. They are always a lot of fun! (And saves you from having to find something for dinner that fits your expense account.)  Seriously though, if you are a customer of a vendor there, ask them if they have anything going on that week.  Remember, you are spending money with them normally.
Also, there is always a party or event to be found on either Monday or Tuesday night.  Work the show floor and you can usually score an invite.

7.  If this is your first time at Lotusphere/Connect, it is like your first day at college. You will be wandering around wondering where in the hell SW10 is. Ask people! Or if you look lost enough, (like I did my first year), someone will help you out.

8.  If you are certified take advantage of the Certification Lounge. Hang out, get some eats, and get a chair message (if they have them again.)

9.  Don't miss breakfast and lunch. I've really enjoyed the food that the catering folks put out for us. Especially at breakfast, drink lots of OJ, eat a bran muffin or two and have a bowl of cereal. Really pays off for the rest of the day. Also, be sure to thank the nice folks that are there taking care of us. They are always real nice people and seem to appreciate someone thanking them.  Also, do not be wary of approaching anyone there. Make yourself sit at tables with those you do not know and engage in conversation. Sometimes you meet awesome people. Sometimes it doesn't work. Either way it is how the community grows.

10.  Speaking of food, one thing I did different in recent years was rent a car to get to and from the airport.  One of the reasons why was that I wanted to stop at the store and grab some room snacks.  Pop tarts, pork rinds, green tea, etc.  Just general munchies.  There's nothing worse on one of the nights getting the munchies and not wanting to spend $8 bucks on something that's $2 at Walmart.  The rooms in the Dolphin have a fridge, so there's a plus right there.

11.  During the morning and afternoon, there are break stations set up throughout the conference.  Usually coffee, water/juice and a snack. Grab couple extra waters and snacks and throw them in your bag for either a late night snack (if you don't have a car) or just to have the water around.

12.  Keep yourself hydrated while you are on the go down there.  A full day of sessions and running between hotels can be draining.

13.  Stop into the developer labs and have all your burning questions answered! All of the top folks from IBM are there to help you through all of those tough questions you've been meaning to ask! Also, if they have the User Experience lab again this year, it's really cool! Check them out!  They are there to listen to us, the customer!  Do not be afraid of them, they won't bite, mostly.  You can have some very open and honest dialogue and work through your problems. 

  •  IBM'er Chris Reckling added to the comments - "Yes, there is a UX Lab this year, renamed to the "IBM Design Studio", but same location in Asia 4 (left of the elevators going down to the showcase. I guess I need to post a blog about that soon! The photo booth returns! And yes, we'll be doing research, asking questions, listening, and showing cool, new stuff."

14.   Take Visio's with you of your environment. What better way to explain the layout of your environment than to have the graphical representations of it with you.

  • IBM'er Wes Morgan suggesting the following: "As a longtime staff member, I'd add one to your list:
    "When visiting the labs, be kind to your fellow attendees. Yes, it's a great opportunity to brainstorm with IBMers, but remember that others want to talk with them too! Basically, it comes down to "if a line is forming behind you, wrap it up and give someone else a chance."

15.  When "the conference" is over and you're getting ready to jump a plane home, be sure to check your receipt from the hotel. The Swan and Dolphin are notorious for charging you for things you didn't use, like the mini-bar in the hotel room. They almost got me one year. I'm sorry, $3 for a Snickers bar is just insane!

16.  When you see me, buy me a beer!  Oh wait, that doesn't belong here, moving on.
17.  Now here is the MOST important thing you can take away from this blog entry/guide/manifesto:
Lotusphere, Connect, WHATEVER it is called is what YOU make of it! Take advantage of everything that you can, but pace yourself. You will be absorbing so much knowledge and sometimes by Wednesday, you may start burning out. Take it easy, take care of yourself, but just have fun!  Be Social!  I know it's a year of change for many things.  But sometimes change can be good. 
Like I've said before, this conference has been a huge part to my professional career as a Domino Administrator.  The wealth of knowledge I've picked up from this event over the years has been immeasurable.  But even as important as the technical knowledge is, it's been the personal relationships that I've forged over the years going to this conference.  I've never met a group of more talented, passionate professionals as I have in the "Yellow Bubble".  It's great knowing that if I ever truly need help with an issue, I have a network of experts that if they can, will help be solve my problems and get me working again. 

Stay tuned to this blog post.  As new things become available, I will be updating it.  If you have anything to add, please leave a comment below and I will add it in!

Revision History:
1/5/2014 - Fixed Mears link and added Bill's Soccer Saturday info.
1/5/2014 - Chris Reckling's comments.


Jackson said...

Thanks dude for explaining all the crucial features regarding IBM Collaboration technologies. It's indeed an amazing program that happens every year January period. I hope lot of people have used the advancement of features by joining this event.

Chris Reckling said...

Yes, there is a UX Lab this year, renamed to the "IBM Design Studio", but same location in Asia 4 (left of the elevators going down to the showcase. I guess I need to post a blog about that soon! The photo booth returns! And yes, we'll be doing research, asking questions, listening, and showing cool, new stuff.

Wes Morgan said...

I'd add this one - DON'T BE BASHFUL!

If you hear an IBMer or another attendee discussing something of interest to you, jump right in! Now, don't interrupt folks talking in the Meet the Developers Lab, but down on the show floor, out by the Dolphin fountain, or over lunch? Go for it!

Oh, and about lunch - be adventurous. Sit at a table where you know no one! Get to know your fellow attendees; you never know when one of them might have solved some thorny issue that's on your mind.

Joni Snyder said...

Regarding a rental car. If you rent from Alamo or National, you can rent one away way from MCO to the Dolphin or vice versa. You can make all your shopping runs and turn it in the day after you check in and not have to pay the $15 per day parking charge. Alamo usually offers get last minute deals too - As of today you can get an Economy car for $20 including taxes! Join the Alamo club and save more. I usually charge back the price of the Mears shuttle too :)

Mat Newman said...

Andy, as always - you nailed it mate.

Looking forward to getting "Handsy" (you meant like this, right? :-D ) with you again, and definitely sharing a refreshing beverage!

See you soon (hug)

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting the hints and tips again. I am traveling with a coworker this year and we are going to try the rental car method.

Chad Smith said...

This is some very good information for me, as this will be my first trip to Connect! I'm definitely looking forward to all of the networking, seeing the things people have come up with, and of course the warm weather.

This may be the wrong forum, but could someone tell me if there will be a shuttle from the Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort hotel to the conferences?

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