I started writing this the day after Code Camp and I finally got a chance to finish it. These are my thoughts about Orlando Code Camp 2010, which was my first major event as an organizer.
I had attended all 4 of the previous Orlando Code Camps. Last year I helped run the event by taking care of website changes to the original site developed by Fabio, our former vice-president. He and the president at the time, Jessica, ran a really awesome event. Around the middle of the year they both had to step down for (Fabio moved and Jessica went off to help her entrepreneurial boyfriend), so I took over as president of ONETUG. So this year was my first time in charge of organizing the event and I knew from the start that I had my work cut out for me. By now, Orlando Code Camp had already gained reputation amongst the Florida developer community as a great event to attend. I was really fortunate to have the ONETUG board to help me. We really have a great mix of people, with each of us bringing something different to the table. Without them, this event doesn’t even come off the ground!
Preparing for the event
The venue was our first concern. We knew that it would dictate the amount of people that we could accommodate and also a lot of the logistics surrounding the event. As in previous years, Seminole State College stepped up and offered us their facilities. One of our board members, James Taylor (JT2, as we like to call him) facilitated the initial meeting with John Delgado, who took me around the buildings and showed me all the rooms that would be available to us. They were going through some renovations at the end of the Fall semester, so we knew that some of the classrooms would change by the time Code Camp came along. I was introduced to Melinda White, who is one of the programming professors at Seminole State. From that point on, she was our point-person at Seminole State and helped us coordinate all the logistics for the event. She made over 15 rooms available to us, with the possibility of more rooms if needed. We had a firm commitment from Seminole State at the end of December and we were able to have all the rooms reserved by end of January (once Add/Drop had ended). As the event approached, myself and Will Strohl (ONETUG VP, ODUG Prez) met with her one more time to tour the rooms after the renovations and we were able to make some determinations based on the new room layouts and projector capabilities. Melinda was of great help guiding us through that and making suggestions on what rooms would be better suited for the event. She also took us around to talk to the Media department to make sure that we would have microphones, speakers, and the right projector configurations where needed.
With the venue in place, our attention turned to things like sponsors, speakers, food, prizes, and more. Brian Mishler, our Director of Marketing really did a great job the past few months building relationships with a lot of sponsors. We’ve had tremendous success getting more prizes than ever at our regular ONETUG meetings and that translated into a ton of support for this event. Brian contacted all our existing sponsors (and a bunch of new ones) and got us the money and prizes that we needed in order to pull off the event. We got a lot of money from DevExpress, Microsoft, Linxter, Infragistics, and KForce, and many other sponsors (in total we had 14 money sponsors and 10 prize-only sponsors). Really, the amount of support that we had in this economy was way more than we originally expected which at the end helped us spend money on things like attendee t-shirts which was not something that we had been able to do recently (More on t-shirts a bit further down). We also got some amazing prizes to give away, things such as software components, subscriptions, books, t-shirts, and of course Ninjas! A few nights before the event, we all got together at Brian’s house for a “bag-stuffing” party. The ONETUG board and a few volunteers made it all go pretty seamless and we were done in just a couple of hours!
Of course, one thing is to get a pledge for money, and another thing is to actually get the money in, and of course, spend the money wisely. Our treasurer, John Torrey (JT1…see, the #2 from earlier makes sense now), kept us in check and did a great job at sending out invoices, collecting the money, and making us aware of what we could and could not spend the money on. We had a couple of moments where we thought that we would not be able to get everything that was planned, but at the end, all our great sponsors came through and JT1 gave me the green light to buy stuff 🙂
The food was handled by JT2. He got us a few proposals and at the end we decided on Jason’s Deli. Mark, the manager was very accommodating and flexible and at the end ended up being a great choice. We ordered 550 lunches and we were able to cover everyone there with a lot of different choices of sandwiches. We were even able to get some gluten-free salads since I got a couple of emails inquiring about that. We also got a few proposals for breakfast. We got Panera bagels and I picked up a bunch of cream cheese, OJ, and coffee from Sam’s the day before. With such an early start, we knew that most people would get there just in time for the sessions and they would not spend a ton of time on breakfast.
Around February, I started thinking that it would be really cool to be able to get t-shirts to all of our attendees. You know, like a proper conference usually has. And not just some cheesy shirt that people wouldn’t wear, but something that people would get excited about. Joe Healy, our area Microsoft DE (and super supporter of our community) suggested that we should contact Diane Leeper. She is a designer from Tampa who is doing a great job at trying to bridge the gap between developers and designers. I was able to meet her during the regional competition of Speaker Idol in Orlando and a few emails later, she had a really cool design for us. The design incorporated the State of Florida and within it, all our speakers and their session names. Everyone really seemed to enjoy the shirts!
We worked with Kim from Dylen Monogramming to get the t-shirts and speaker/volunteer polo’s made. Kim was fast, very flexible, and gave us a great price. I was so impressed that we are actually getting my company’s polo’s made by her now.
Of course, we could not have this event without speakers. We were lucky enough to get a lot of submissions in. We had a great mix of first-time speakers, MVPs, book authors, local speakers, and a few from out of state. Topics ranged from bleeding-edge to intro-level. I think that overall we had a really great lineup and I even got a few comments from people on how great it appealed across the board. There really was something for everyone. Logistically, the toughest part to do was to trim down our session list and setup the schedule. Will was super helpful with this part. He and I spent a few nights going back and forth on this and finally came up with 12 tracks with 6 sessions each, for a total of 72 sessions. We had to make a few changes as the event got closer because of a couple of last-minute requests and cancellation, but overall it all worked out.
Our call for volunteers went great. Will was in charge of everything dealing with volunteers. We had a few of the ONETUG regulars come out and help and I even saw a few new faces. The red shirts that we got for our volunteers was a really good idea since it allowed them to get a lot of visibility and our attendees knew exactly who to go to for help. Sometimes people don’t realize how much we rely on volunteers to help out at these events and I am so glad to have had all the help. I don’t know if it was because of the distinctive shirts or just because I was in the middle of all the planning this year, but it really felt like we had a lot more help than usual. Either way, it made our jobs so much easier, knowing that things were entrusted to the right people.
So with all of that in place, all of a sudden it was the Friday before the event. There were just 3 things left on my list of things to do: Go to Sam’s to buy all the supplies for the next day, go to Best Buy to get the grand prize, and go to the Speaker Party. So I took the day off from work (I have a great client and even better partners at M2E). I set out to Sam’s in the morning and stopped by UHaul on the way there. I picked up a 5×8 trailer and hooked it up to my SUV. Once I got to Sam’s and the people saw my shopping list, they quickly hooked me up with Bud, the “Shop and Pull” guy. Now that I know about that service, I will be using it next time I have an event like this. Basically, you go online, select what you are looking for, and you stop by the next day and they have it all ready for you. Bud literally ran around the store with me picking up all the stuff that we were looking for. Within a little over an hour we had picked up everything that I was looking for, including over 1,100 soda sand 1,200 waters, lots of bananas and a ton of other stuff. Then I came home, actually took some rest, then in the evening I headed over to Tatame for our speaker party. On my way there, I stopped by Best Buy to pick up the XBox that we were giving away as a grand prize. The folks at Tatame were great hosts and all speakers and volunteers there really seemed to enjoy the event. We gave out the speaker and volunteer polo’s and the speakers that were doing the live-stream sessions the next day were able to get their laptops tested and ready for the next day. Once the festivities ended at around 11 or so, i rushed home to finish up the demo for my Azure presentation the next day (which I had mostly neglected that entire week). Once that was done, everything was all set for the event.
So after all the preparations, it was finally the morning of the event. I pulled up to Seminole State at 5:30 am with a UHaul truck full of supplies. Will had arranged for a bunch of volunteers to be there early and help us setup and they were already waiting for me when I got there. We had a little snag with the doors not being open for us yet, but Melinda from Seminole State helped us get that straightened out (yes, she was up and available at that time!). We got everything unloaded to the cafeteria area. JT1 got the registration setup, coffee was brewing, and sodas were iced down. Jessica and Brian went around campus posting road signs towards the event, while Will went to all the rooms and posted signs on each room. Once everything was setup in the cafeteria, I went around all the rooms and verified that all projectors were setup and mic’s were working. We found that we needed some video adapters and John Delgado got everything connected for us. Time flew by and all of a sudden it was 8:00 am, time for the opening announcements and for us to get everything rolling. With a packed auditorium we kicked it all off and then it was all downhill from there (well, mostly).
We had a “Live Feed” room, where we moved 6 sessions from various tracks into. All sessions in that room were broadcasted through LiveMeeting. Originally, it was going to be an MSDN event, but a few behind the scenes things led to us moving it to LiveMeeting. This was setup by Joe with help from INETA’s and Space Coast .NET’s Ken Tucker. It was the first time that this was done at a Code Camp event and the plan is to be able to give other Code Camp organizer’s a “how to” guide so they can do the same at their events.
I gave my Azure Table Storage presentation at 9:45 am in the Live Streaming room. The night before as I was cleaning up my presentation a bit, i mistakenly changed my config file to use OrlandoCC as my Azure application name. The problem is that when setting up your connection to Azure, you have to use all lower-case. So from about 8:45 til 9:30 I was frantically debugging my application getting it ready for the presentation. I had Mark (from M2E) there helping me troubleshoot it, and finally with just enough time (and BSD mixed in there), I figured out my mistake and ran into the room to setup. I had pretty good attendance onsite plus about 18 people online and overall the presentation went really well.
By this time, the event was really running itself. Everyone knew where to go, and all the kinks had been worked out in all the rooms. We had all sessions going in the regular rooms and the live room, and Speaker Idol was underway. Pretty soon it was lunchtime, which really was the last major logistical hurdle for the day. Again, thanks to everyone’s help, we got that going right on time and everything ran smoothly. We even flew in some expert help from California! About half-way through lunch I got a really cool surprise when my family came by to see me. March was probably my busiest moth ever and my wife and son were very supportive and understanding throughout. It was so cool to get to see them during the event, even if it was for 20 minutes.
During the afternoon, I managed to catch the end of some of the sessions. Then came the closing ceremony where we gave away our prizes and got to hear from our sponsors. We also had the Speaker Idol prize presentation, which was a huge hit. The event ended when we gave out the much awaited XBox to a very deserving attendee.
It took us about half an hour to clean up and load up the UHaul with our stuff (it’s so awesome when you have help) and then we headed over to Route 46 Entertainment District. Wow, this was an awesome place to have the after-party. JT2 definitely came through with this place. The food platters were great, they had a very good beer selection, and they setup a good sized area for us. The turnout was about what I had expected. We had about 50 or so people there. By this time, I was completely worn out, so I left early, around 7:30 pm or so and I know that some people stayed there until past 11:00 pm. Will and JT1 stayed behind to take care of our guests (and the check). I came home to a hyper little boy that brought a huge smile to my face and after a little while (very unlike me) I was sleep by 9:00 pm, and slept for 12 hours.
There’s still a few things to take care of to wrap up the event. We are going to post pictures this week, and speakers have sent us their presentation files to make available on the site. And sometime late summer, we’ll start all over again and try to top this year’s event.
Again, I have to thank all the volunteers and the ONETUG board for everything that they did. Especially Will Strohl, I am sure that at least once he must’ve felt like I was asking him too many questions, but the fact that he had been involved organizing events like this one before really helped me! He let me do things the way I wanted but at the same time reminded me of things that I needed to do when he saw that I was going too far off. I think that we worked really well together. Also, Joe Healy who was so supportive throughout the entire planning and the event itself. I think that we are really lucky to have him as our Microsoft Developer Evangelist here in Florida. My M2E partners (Marius and Mark) were great too, I know I was a bit neurotic as the event came close and they put up with all of that. And of course, my family was super supportive, especially the week before the event when I was really going crazy with barely any time to hang out with them! I really could not have pulled this off without all the people that helped!