Fox Forward : Analysis of the conference

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I owe everyone a wrap up entry, eh? One week ago today, Kim and I were printing stuff off, stuffing books, shirts and paper into the attendee bags. Today, my office is a mess with the remnants of the conference. {g}

Wrap up. What to say. I’ve spoken with so many people and emailed with so many people, it’s hard to feel as if there is anything left to be said. Of course I haven’t spoken with everyone or said everything to everyone so its time to get it down in writing.

Bottom line is that I think FoxForward was a success. No major blunders. There is a lot of room for improvement for next time. �Next time� is the big question of course. The jury is still out on that one. New acronym: ITIANT is �If there is a next time�. {bg} If there is a next one, I’m going to have to structure it a bit differently financially. I’m not out of pocket for any money luckily beyond my own admission cost. Yes, I got in under the �Early Bird� rate. {g} I probably lost out on three weeks of billable time however which adds up to thousands.

This is all sounding very harsh to put this talk first. Lots of people have told me not to talk about the finances but I feel differently. I hope that the conference is very �open�, and that includes all discussion from technology to finances.

My main purpose of the conference is to get technology people together where the people have similar goals and interests. This year, most of the presenters spoke on Foxpro. Next year, I’d like to see more diversity in subjects. I’d love to see more presentations on Linux servers. Perhaps a topic such as �Running Fox Apps where the data is on Linux servers�? How about just a topic on �PHP Web Development�? I’d love to get Ed Leafe down here again to talk Python/Dabo. Lots of attendees really had their eyes open wide on how cool Dabo is and that cross platform development is for real. More of that. It’s still application development. It’s still database talk. But to expand out a bit to include more technology. Dave Bernard spoke on MS English Query and Alan Stevens spoke on Team Foundation Server. More of that. Of course, presenters submit their own topics which is cool. The conference is self organizing. I don’t really dictate the topics. It’ll keep it interesting and varied. If the presenters are interested in it, the attendees probably will as well.

Lets get back to the numbers for a bit. There were 55 total attendees which includes the presenters. There were 17 presenters and 38 paid attendees. 74% of the paid attendees took advantage of the �Early Bird� rate of $275. 10% paid under �Regular� registration at $400. 16% paid the �Late� registration of $500 including one that learned about the conference on Friday! The day of the conference. We, of course, had room and extra books and shirts to accommodate him. Happy to do it too!

Our total expenses were $12,000. Of that amount, Food and Beverage was the largest line item at $5,080 which includes service charges (20%) plus tax (7%). The conference rooms only cost us $3,429 including service charges and tax. AV equipment is a huge expense as well but RoomWide covered 2/3 of that. Thanks Matt Clark! Other large line items were book printing and T-shirts. There were lots of other smaller line items in the minutia but they all add up. Whew! A $12,000 party! I’m glad that I don’t have any girls where I would need to pay for their weddings! {g}

One of the biggest hiccups was the screencasts. The company that was to capture the screencasts backed out on us last minute. Bo, Matt and I got our heads together to try to decide how to capture them. Bo and I were advocating that each presenter run screencast software but to write it out to an external hard drive that we supplied. Matt was advocating some sort of VNC and to capture the screencasts remotely. We should have listened to Matt. The VNC idea has the burden of having to set up a network between each presenters laptop but should offload most of the CPU burden. The screencast software approach allowed for the presenters to install and test the software before their presentation but proved to be too much of a burden on the CPU to make the presenter feel comfortable running their presentation plus the software.

I’ve asked the speakers to screencast capture thier presentation at their home/work and I’d work with them in distributing the screencast. The attendees missed almost half of the presentation because there were two tracks and no repeated sessions. I know it was a tough choice between multiple sessions for many people, including me!

Other point where we should have done better is on dinner locations. Alpharetta is growing so fast that it’s hard to find a restaurant close by that could accommodate 20 +/- people for dinner on a Friday and Saturday night. We had some ideas but we should have checked them out before hand, and had maps printed and backup phone numbers for those out of town. There are lots of great restaurants across the street but most are small. We should have checked out the larger ones to see if they would have met our needs.

Beer. Several people wanted us to serve more beer. I’m hesistant to do that because I can’t tell if someone has a �problem� just by looking at them. Plus, the hotel charges over $6 per beer (including tax and service charge). I stated to several people that I couldn’t bring in beer and alcohol, but that THEY could. We’ll have to coordinate that better next time. (ITIANT)

Lunches were so good! I couldn’t believe it. This factor alone may bring the conference back there. It sure makes me want to return. I may go there for lunch during the week sometime. Yes, it was that good. Feeding that many people and having it be that good is an amazing feat.

The long, thin presentation rooms were an annoyance to several of the people. We may have to look at that issue.

If that’s all that went wrong, that’s not too bad. The conference evaluations were very kind. Many people really seemed to enjoy themselves. We’ll have to see about moving the conference to another time of the year as well. Really though, most Fox developers go to zero conferences a year. How many really go to two or more? If anything, I might move it a couple weeks earlier to move it farther away from SWFox. If I were to move it to the spring, I’d need to wait a year and a half to do so. A 7 month turn around is too quick for a not-for-profit conference.

That’s it for me. I’m still tired and I haven’t fully recovered yet. I’ve got to get some boxes put away, stuff straightened up and out of the way. It was my pleasure hosting the conference, and I’m certainly considering doing it again. I just need some time to think it over. {g}

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