Saturday, May 2, 2009

Speaking at Southwest Fox 2009

I’m very excited to be able to announce that I was invited to speak at the 2009 Southwest Fox conference in Mesa, Arizona. I could tell you all about Southwest Fox but if you are reading my blog, chances are that you already know about it.  For those few who may not, you can find out more by visiting

Speaking at a FoxPro conference has always been a goal of mine but it is something that I’ve always questioned whether or not I had what it takes.  The established speakers in the FoxPro community have been excellent and I’ve learned so much from them over the years.  I’ve always wanted to find ways that I could give something back to the community, but I’ve struggled to find out what that could be.  Most of the people whom I’ve met over the years attending the various FoxPro events are either independent programmer/consultants or work for companies that distribute a commercial software application.  I write software that is only used by my company, in support of the over 500 customers that we provide mailing and other services for.  While we are all using the same programming language, the goals and objectives we strive for can be very different. The question in my mind was whether I knew or did something new, cool or interesting that would benefit the community. 

At last year’s conference, I really started to believe that I could be a speaker and started to think about topics I could present.  I was able to participate in the “Show us your apps” session at Southwest Fox 2008 and received good reviews on some of the work I had done building developer tools with Intellisense to generate basic search/edit table maintenance web pages using West Wind's WebConnection. I was able to show this presentation again in a little more detail at a smaller gathering in Toledo this past January and again received very positive feedback.  In conversations with other attendees, with some of the organizers and with members of my programming team, I started to bounce session ideas around and get some feedback as to what others thought about what I’ve done and what I could share.  When speaker submission proposals were due in the spring, I decided to propose three topics for sessions related to Intellisense, SQL Server and SourceGear Vault.  

A few weeks back, I was humbled by the receipt of an email from the conference organizers informing me that I had made the cut and they had chosen my Vault and SQL Server sessions.  There was an immediate reaction of excitement – “I made it!” immediately followed by steadily growing burden of expectations – “What did I just get myself into!”  Speaking in front of people has never been a problem for me (if it was, why would I even consider submitting a proposal?) and I’ve very comfortable in my knowledge of the topics and in my belief that what I have to share is something people should like.  The biggest area of concern for me was in the requirements for a white paper for every session.  Technical writing (and writing in general for that matter) has never been one of my strong points.  This was the area I decided to focus on first in my preparation for the conference.

Many of the established speakers have been very kind and helpful to share tips and tricks that they use to prepare for speaking and they have shared with us access to a website where many speakers have contributed notes and resources directed at helping the conference speaker be the best they can.  Since the white paper was my biggest source of angst, I jumped right in to the advice given for this.  There were several recommended reading items given and after a little research, I decided that Write to the Point by Bill Stott was the best selection for me.  A common theme of the reviews provided for this book was “encouraging the beginning, or the intimidated, writer”. This was me they were talking about. 

I’m only about half way through the book but so far, it has been very good.  The main theme of the book has been how a majority of us have all been beaten down and intimidated by our past English teachers by focusing so much on the technical aspects of the English language (grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, etc.) that we lost the ability to focus on what it was that we wanted to say in the first place.  The book encourages you to focus on writing something new and interesting and not to worry about bad writing skills.  No one will care about poor use of grammar or sentence structure if the material you are trying to share is worth reading.  If however you write boring material or simply rehash ideas or topics that have already been covered in depth without introducing any new angles or challenging the existing thoughts, then you are in trouble as everyone will notice the grammatical mistakes since there is nothing really else to get excited about.  That is now my goal – find a way to be what Stott refers to in his book – a “Good Bad Writer”.  In case you haven’t noticed, I’m going to try the concept with this blog by talking about what the speaking experience is like from a new speaker perspective.  How did I do?

Anyways, I’ll sign off with another plug for Southwest Fox 2009.  As a company owner, a programming team leader and a software developer, I cannot speak highly enough of the value obtained by attending a development conference.  I’ve attended close to 15 conferences in the last 10+ years and I’ve learned so much about the technology, different approaches in problem solving and made several close personal and business relationships.  My company and my programming team would not be as strong as it is today if we had not made a commitment to sending as many of our programmers as possible to a conference every year.  Whether you learn more about a technology or tool you may be considering, see a great session that solves a problem you’ve been fighting, have the opportunity to bounce questions or ideas off different speakers or peers in the break rooms or hotel bar or even simply get away from the day to day grind of the job and into an atmosphere that promotes fresh thoughts and openness to new ideas, the time I spend at a conference each year provides the highest return on the investment of my time and money that I could ever possibly hope to achieve.  I hope to see you all there.  

1 comment:

  1. Many congratulations Walt! This sounds like a very exciting and awesome opportunity. I wish you the best of luck!