One of the aspects about Information Technology that I really enjoy is the “requirement” for lifelong learning. Picking up a new technical skill and figuring out how to use it to solve a business problem is something I enjoy very much. If someone asked me “what’s my motivation”, well … that’s it.
One way to stay up-to-date is by continuous learning – and the Internet provides a lot of that nowadays. Everything from podcasts to live (or recorded) webinars to online classes are available, and all you need is an Internet connection. But sometimes I want something more than just a connection via electrons. A personal connection is nice; after all, we’re business people solving problems for other business people. My focus is software asset management (SAM), but it could be anything IT related.
So where do I get that something “extra”? The answer: Conferences. Unless your company has a vast education budget, these can be hard to come by, and none of the ones I’m interested in ever appear to be local. (I’m based on the east coast of the United States). You normally get one, maybe two opportunities yearly, so you want to be wise when you pick one.
I recently had the opportunity to attend IBM InterConnect 2017. It’s not a SAM conference per se, but it does have a track on IBM’s SAM tools – the IBM License Metric Tool (ILMT) and BigFix Inventory (BFI) – and as a consultant for the deployment of these tools, I wanted to understand future directions and learn tips & tricks from the experts who created the tool. As a participant on the BigFix and ILMT Forums, I wanted to also try to meet some of the people who have provided assistance to me, to simply introduce myself, and offer my thanks for their help. I also wanted to get answers to some ILMT questions that were not answered in the forum, because those weren’t technical – and the forum’s strength seems to lie in getting technical answers to technical problems.
Here’s an example: I was able to get an answer about a grace period regarding ILMT 7.5 data. Basically, if you are transitioning from ILMT 7.5 to 9.x and you are still generating ILMT 7.5 style audit reports after April 30th, 2017, the reports will still be accepted as long as you can show that your company is in the process of upgrading. (If you haven’t started this transition yet, you’re really running out of time; ILMT 7.5 is supported only until April 30th.) Let's also suppose that you upgraded from ILMT 7.5 to ILMT 9.x in 2016, and you collected ILMT 9.x data in 2017. If you were to be audited by IBM in 2018, your ILMT 7.5 data from 2016 would still be accepted because that's what you were running in 2016 (the first year of the two year audit period).
Before InterConnect 2017 began, there was a national BigFix user group meeting held in the same venue, and I made sure to attend. While IBMers attended the user group, the speakers were primarily from other companies, and it was great to have them speak on issues they’ve overcome or discuss their relay strategy. I also got the opportunity to meet many of the people who participate in the BigFix forum, and to simply thank them for all that they do. A big shout out goes to Stacy Lee of Stanford University and James Stewart of UC Berkeley for setting up the user group meeting; I’m sure there were others whose names I don’t know who also helped. This is a great way to learn and meet others who have the same technical interests, jobs or issues as you.
At InterConnect 2017, I went to several BigFix breakout sessions; one in particular was held early one morning at 8am and it was probably the best breakout session I went to in the conference. Lee Wei of IBM talked in great depth about the BigFix agent and how it uses CPU, and showed us things we could try in a lab to see how BigFix clients send their data back to the server. It was so worth getting up really early that morning to see this session.
The conference isn’t just keynote speakers and breakout sessions. There were a multitude of hands-on labs that you could try as well, most of them self-guided but some of them were instructor led. I tried out part of the self-guided "installing BigFix on Linux" lab, and it was quite good; I got about 2/3s of the way through it before I ran out of time and had to run to another breakout session.
Regardless of how you spend your time at a conference, one of the great things about it is that you come backed excited about the technology again. It’s worthwhile even if all you come back with is a single idea… because that one idea could eventually change your entire landscape, or trigger a project that becomes very worthwhile to your company.
So get excited about the technology you use. Seek out and attend a conference, and then thank your boss for it. Your boss will thank you, too, for taking the initiative to advance your personal growth and benefit your company.