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Last week, I went to summer camp for geeks, and I had a great time! That Conference is a three-day, developer-focused, family-friendly technology conference. Camp was held for the first time in 2012. I heard such great things about it from last year’s campers that I decided to go this year!

The sessions focused on mobile, web, and cloud development. Being a SQL Server geek, I was a bit of a stranger in a strange land. I confess I couldn’t answer any of the .NET Rocks! trivia questions during the prize giveaway at the end, but I still took a ton away from this conference. Here are my five favorites!

#That5K

I love running, and I try to find fellow runners at SQL Saturdays, PASS Summit, and even at our training classes. I saw that there would be a group running each morning of That Conference, so I decided to join them. I’m glad I did! I got to know a couple fellow runners and geeks better. The second day, one person told us it was the first time he’d ever run 3 miles straight, and another person said it was the first time in his life he’d ever woken up with the intent to exercise. Those comments made the early wake-ups worth it. Your physical health ties directly into your mental health and ability to enjoy life – don’t neglect it.

Technology-Agnostic

My primary focus is SQL Server, but when I work with clients, I’m not working with just the DBA. It’s frequently a group – a server admin, a manager, and a handful of developers that work with the system. They may not speak my language, and I’m not fluent in theirs. Most conferences focus on one topic – SQL Server, SharePoint, .NET. Not this one – it was a mix of .NET, PHP, Ruby, Java, mobile development, and more. Thus, this was the perfect conference for me to attend – learning what’s important to developers and speaking their language.

I attended sessions on PHP, Git, DevOps, website development and optimization, PaaS in the cloud, and Azure HA/DR, among other topics. I learned a ton. I also learned what developers care about – and it’s not how long the database backups take each night!

Fellow Campers

I met great people. Everyone that I sat down next to at breakfast or lunch was friendly and willing to chat. The speakers were top-notch.  It’s a great community-focused event where we were encouraged to network and share – and everyone did.

Arduino

Arduino is “an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software.” Let me rephrase that: Arduino lets you make dancing robots.

arduino

I had the distinct pleasure of watching Sharon Cichelli give a talk about Arduino. Rather than a dry, boring presentation, she showed us how she learned electronics and this programming language to make a dancing robot. Having never owned an electronics kit or touched a breadboard before, I wasn’t sure I would understand a word. However, in 10 minutes, I was captivated and understanding electronics diagrams. When she wrote simple code to make her robot fret and wiggle, I was in love. The best talks are given by people who are passionate about a topic, and she clearly was. I’m tempted to get a “100 Electronics Projects for Kids” kit and let my inner geek out now!

Open Campfires

The difficulty with every conference is that there are always topics I want to talk about or learn more about that aren’t on the schedule. There are times I want to find a group of people sitting around a table, chatting, and join them. The Open Spaces concept fills that void perfectly. There was a large hall set aside specifically for this. Half of it was tables that anyone could use at any time – to work, to chat, to program. The other half was set up in four circles of chairs. If you wanted to lead a session at any time – whether you had a question you wanted to ask other people, or toss ideas around – all you had to do was put a topic and your name on a post-it note on the board.

The board was filled with topics from “Bitcoin” to “Unblocking Creativity” to “Improving the Workplace”. I sat in a couple of them my first day at lunch and was hooked. People were sharing ideas, confidently talking about what worked for them and what didn’t, and teaching me a ton.

I decided to throw my own in, and put down “Performance Tuning: What and How” on the second day after lunch. I wanted to find out what steps developers took to tune their code, and how they would get to the point of saying, “It’s a database problem.” I also wanted to know what questions they had about SQL Server performance tuning. The worst part about this? It was only an hour. It flew by. Ten or so of us discussed everything from how indexes work to caching, execution plans to baselines.

My Open Space discussion

My Open Space discussion

What really impressed me was people’s willingness to talk. Everyone at that conference could have taught me something. Most people are scared of talking in front of people, so they never submit a session. But when you put them in a small group and let them talk about a topic they care about, they will open up. I learned most from those people, sharing their day-to-day challenges. It was inspiring!

Let’s Have S’mores!

I didn’t think anything could top the sessions and networking, but the conference ended with a s’mores and bacon bar. Perfect!

I can’t wait to go camping at That Conference next year!

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  1. Omigosh, I’m honored. Thank you so much. I’m really glad the electronics clicked for you. \o/

  2. If Arduino interests you, I’d recommend the Sparkfun Inventors Kit. In Chicago, I believe Microcenter carries them.

    https://www.sparkfun.com/products/11576

    This is a very easy way to get into microcontrollers, and many people are using such devices for data collection. Or you can build a robot.

  3. In addition to the Arduino, you might consider the Rasperry Pi.

    http://www.raspberrypi.org/

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