In my last blog entry announcing the upcoming SoCal .NET Technical Summit II, I wrote that it pained me greatly to just list the names of some (not even all) of the brilliant presenters that are lined up for this star studded developer conference on Saturday, September 23rd. Why all the drama and self-infliction of wounds, you may ask?


First, and most obviously, each of these speakers has accumulated such a long list of remarkable accomplishments and qualifications that it feels exceedingly miserly of me to just list their names out for brevity. I manage to only marginally re-dress this omission of speaker qualifications in my description of the conference in the Events section of my personal Web site, subliminal effect. Of course, the conference Web site also publishes the speakers’ personal biographies but these are brief and also fall short too.


To give each of this august selection of speakers their proper due would require covering a set of credentials resembling this enumeration (to pick on just one of them, Rockford Lhotka, as an example):

  • Author of Expert VB 2005 Business Objects, Expert C# 2005 Business Objects, Expert One-on-One Visual Basic .NET Business Objects, Professional Visual Basic 6 Distributed Objects, Visual Basic 6.0 Business Objects, and Professional Visual Basic 5.0 Business Objects;
  • Co-author of Professional VB 2005 (Programmer-to-Programmer), Professional VB.NET 2003, Professional VB.NET and VB.NET Programming with the Public Beta;
  • Contributing author for Visual Studio Magazine;
  • Creator of the CSLA and CSLA.NET (Component-based Scalable Logical Architecture) frameworks;
  • Principal Technology Evangelist for a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner
  • Initial inductee as Software Legend by Microsoft;
  • Microsoft Regional Director;
  • Microsoft MVP;
  • INETA speaker bureau member.


I don’t even want to attempt to list all of the conferences (international and across the U.S.) that Rocky has presented sessions and workshops at. And then there are all of the major corporations for whom Rocky has provided consulting and mentoring services. And I’m sure I’m leaving out lots of other good stuff, too.


See, that is one serious lesson in hagiography to leave unwritten when I only list the speaker’s name – I told you. Remember also, this is for just one of the speakers – there are twelve more. It is still only part of the (untold) story. Given the ample (over) qualifications of the speakers, you may think that organizing together the speakers and sessions for a developer conference like this one would be a trivial, “no-brainer” of a process…


Well, that’s not the way that I organize speakers and sessions for a developer conference though. Unlike some other developer conference organizers (who shall remain nameless – you know who you are and hopefully, you are not reading this blog entry!), I don’t just send out speaker invitations by bulk e-mail like some cattle call. I don’t just accept whomever responds. I don’t just let respondents choose whatever topics they have “in the can”.


My belief is that developer conferences should and need to be organized. An effective, organized conference agenda doesn’t just fall from the sky, or come together naturally by happenstance or, get this, by a “process” of first-come, first-serve to whomever wants to sign up as a speaker on whatever they want to talk about, for as many sessions as they want!


My belief is that the process of speaker and session selection requires considerable planning, negotiation and coordination. Anything less than this happens because someone doesn’t know better and/or (even worse) doesn’t care to put in the effort – which really begs the questions, how and why do these people get themselves into such a critical role in the first place?


Anything less is disrespectful of the attendees - whether the conference is free or for fee (don’t forget to consider your time or opportunity cost). Anything less is also disrespectful of the speakers and disrespectful of everyone else involved in actually trying to put on a quality event. I’ve participated at conferences and observed when there are multiple sessions basically covering the same content, where the advanced session precedes the less advanced pre-requisite session, when the presenter presents exactly the same session identically as before, and worse.


So the other parts of the untold story behind each name in that raw list of conference speakers (apart from their qualifications and expertise) are:

  • how they came to be selected in particular;
  • whom else I considered, invited, wasn’t available or pleaded with;
  • whom has greater name recognition with potential attendees;
  • how we came up with or agreed upon a topic;
  • how that topic fits into one of the tracks or with other topics;
  • what other sessions are going on at the same time and before and after;
  • logistical details like when and how speaker are getting to SoCal or the conference hotel; and
  • much, much more.


Unfortunately, this blog entry has gotten rather exceedingly long already and those stories behind-the-scenes of developer conferences will have to wait for another day…



<listening to… Possible Music from the Films (etc.) of Hal Hartley>