A few weeks back I heard about SpiceWorld through Twitter and discovered a few friends would be attending. Not knowing much about Spiceworks beyond the cursory look I decided to take a little bit deeper peak and wanted to learn more about both the company and their event. I reached out to Spiceworks and had the pleasure to work with Raychelle about securing a pass and visiting the conference.
Living in Austin certainly made the trip quite easy, a short drive downtown (past the Spiceworks office no less!) and I was there. Monday was essentially the pre-party/get together. For those of you that attend VMworld, I would compare it slightly to #VMunderground, heck even Brian Knudtson was there! As many parties go before conferences, there was food/drinks and many a technical conversation to be had. My biggest thoughts pre-conference was how diverse of a group there was attending, but more on that later.
Reminiscent of a time long ago
Not knowing much of what to expect I arrived Tuesday morning early and ready to kick things off. I was greeted with the usual registration lines, folks running around and a HOT breakfast. You are reading that right, a HOT breakfast at a conference and it was actually good. The 1500 or so folks attending were getting right into the swing of things and I have to say the energy was really refreshing. One thing quickly evident about SpiceWorld, it is very admin-centric. It hasn’t been invaded by 1000s of executives and overly ‘salesy’ folks.
To preface, I’ve been working as a consultant, product manager, architect and various other roles for the last 10 years, but before that I had the usual IT administrator day job. I ran our corporate IT data centers for a pharma company. We had AS/400s, Windows, Citrix, you name it… Back then I remember the struggles with users, printers constantly breaking, remote access (dialup back then!) and all of the other pains.
Not dealing with users day in and day out I’d compartmentalized that portion of my brain and rarely thought of the struggles of the IT admin. Yet, here I am being confronted with them again and how difficult a job they really have. No amount of software or hardware can change the personal interactions and struggles that still exist in IT today. Nothing can change that ‘marketing’ person who constantly breaks the printer or wants the overly customize their wallpaper and turn mouse trails on.
Listening to speakers talk about all of this and then giving advice on how to deal with different situations and personality types was great. It was great to see IT admins really open up about difficulties they face and also hear very constructive conversations on how we can fix these things. During the Q&A was when it hit me, no one is really afraid to open up at this conference. Normally, in a room of 50 or 100+ when Q&A comes around, folks get shy and there are one or two people who will start things off. Every session, without fail, there were 5 – 10 hands going up for the mic and people wanted to interact. It was very refreshing to see so many people interested and not shy about speaking up.
Unlike so many of the other conferences out there, most of the speakers were not paid for vendors OR 100% use our products from vendor X. SpiceWorld had THE BEST speakers in terms of knowing their audience, content & participation. Each session I attended was very well-tailored to the conference and never strayed to far from topic. I was very impressed, as always, by Stephen Foskett and Chris Whal, but enjoyed all of the presenters immensely on topics from Marketing to users to Storage to Networking. I honestly cannot say enough praise to Spiceworks for getting such a great lineup of folks to speak at the conference.
Not knowing much about Spiceworks, other than a lot of friends work there, I really enjoyed learning more about their platform and what they are looking to do. Essentially, they are a social media platform and forum for users to ask questions, interact with vendors and leverage as a helpdesk. It even has some really neat features for monitoring and reporting. The platform itself is free, although there are portions you can buy for more feature completeness, and they have a large user base so it stays pretty active.
I’d say the biggest difference to sites I am use to, mainly VMTN, is that the user base is mostly SMB. For me, it’s almost a time machine back 5-10 years on the ESX side of things as questions tend to be around getting up and running, configuration and architecture of SMB designs. That said, some of the other areas that I am not an expert in, ie. Networking or Storage, do have a large mid-market and what I call ‘departmental-enterprise’ feel to the questions. Overall, I can say I will be visiting more often now that I know about the resources.
One thing I do think about is the sheer amount of data that Spiceworks has and the massive analytics that could be done on that platform. Everything from machine types, cpu sockets, applications running etc… there is so much data there that is just begging to be analyzed, I hope that Spiceworks will leverage that and/or open that up to the community to start doing some data mining.
If I had to boil it all down to a single word for SpiceWorld Austin, I would say ‘community‘. Even being new to Spiceworks/Spiceworld, every person I met was genuinely kind and inquisitive about what brought me to the conference and then just opening up about what we do and how we all do it. The conference was a huge success in my mind for both Spiceworks and for myself. I can certainly see myself back next year and hopefully I can snag a speaking slot.