Call for speakers for 2017 released

We’ve issued the Call for Speakers for Southwest Fox 2017 and Southwest Xbase++ 2017. If you are interested in presenting at either conference, please read the document and consider submitting sessions via the Geek Gatherings Submission Web site.

Alaska Software has decided that their core staff members will not be presenting at conferences in 2017, in order to focus on their other commitments. This opens up several additional speaking slots for Southwest Xbase++ and we look forward to proposals from members of the Xbase++ developer community.

The conferences take place October 26-29, 2017. Session proposals are due by Monday, March 13 at 8 AM EST.

Southwest Fox 2010: Speakers and Sessions

The organizers know the biggest draw to get you to come to Southwest Fox is the sessions and the speakers who share their vast knowledge with you during your stay in Mesa. We have an extraordinary line up with some of the best minds in the Visual FoxPro Community lined up to cover some topical and interesting material. Our speakers include a mix of people who have presented at one of the six Southwest Fox conferences, and some new people who presented and even organized other Visual FoxPro conferences around the world.

Our speakers include Rick Borup, Craig Boyd, Kevin Cully, Bo Durban, Steve Ellenoff, Toni Feltman, Tamar Granor, Uwe Habermann, Doug Hennig, Venelina Jordanova, Paul Mrozowski, Cathy Pountney, Rick Schummer, Rick Strahl, and Christof Wollenhaupt.

You can find more details on our speakers page.

There are 24 conference sessions, 4 pre-conference sessions, and 4 post-conference sessions offered in seven different tracks. Please check them out. We believe you will be challenged figuring out how you can see all the sessions you want in the time we spend in Mesa. Fear not though, each speaker is providing an organizer mandated white paper for each session they present so you have reference material to read when you return back to the office.

We have a couple of new tracks this year with the Web Development and a Post-Conference track. The Web Development track is a direct response to feedback given to the organizers last year.

Based on last year’s attendance and expenses, we plan to offer three simultaneous sessions rather than four. If early registration warrants, we will select additional speakers and add a fourth session room. So please help us offer you even more content by registering early and by inviting and convincing other Visual FoxPro developers to attend this year’s conference.

In the coming weeks we will be blogging about some of the plans we have for Southwest Fox 2010.

For some reason it feels unbelievable there are only 160 days until we gather in Mesa.

Microsoft Virtual PC Video

Doug is doing a session at Southwest Fox 2009 titled “Microsoft Virtual PC for VFP Developers.” VPC is one of the indispensible tools every developer ought to use (or if not VPC, one of its competitors such as VMWare), and yet many haven’t embraced it. Hopefully, this session will convince you to start using it immediately.

Doug created a short (5 minute) teaser video showing part of his session: how VPC is useful to test application installers to make sure all dependencies are included. Attendees of Southwest Fox will receive a complete white paper on installing, configuring, and using VPC. See you there!

Southwest Fox Sessions and Speakers Announced

We announced the speaker and session lineup for Southwest Fox 2009 today. This year was the hardest yet selecting from the list of proposals because we had a record number of submissions. Once again, there are great topics such as using Visual Earth in VFP applications, implementing MySQL, getting the most out of FoxCharts, and adding full-text search to your applications.

Registration is now open, so be sure to sign up today for a fun three days in Phoenix in October. Take advantage of the “Southwest Fox Stimulus Plan”: if you register before July 1, you save $125 and get a free half-day pre-conference session, a $99 value. With sessions on Web development, source control, and refactoring legacy code, the hard part will be picking which one to attend.

We also offer an early-bird special: register before September 1 and save $50.

We’re looking forward to seeing you in October!

Choosing speakers and sessions: harder than ever

We’re deep into the speaker and session selection process and it’s harder this year than ever before. We have a record number of submissions, both of speakers and topics. What makes this really exciting is the number of submissions from “Southwest Fox virgins.”

We received proposals from 27 people, nearly twice as many as we need. About half of the 27 have never spoken at Southwest Fox before; some have previously spoken only at user groups. We’re really excited that so many people want to share what they’ve learned.

We have proposals for 92 topics; we need 28 to 30, plus 4 pre-conference sessions. Obviously, there’s some overlap among the topics proposed by different people. However, there seems to be less of that than in previous years. That’s both good and bad. It means we don’t have to do as much of “Do we want person X to present topic Z, or would we rather that person Y do that topic?” On the other hand, this means that we have a lot more topics proposed that aren’t going to make the cut.

The number of topics proposed per speaker ranges from 1 to 19! The median and the mode (most common) is 3. Veteran speakers know that giving us more than 2 to choose from is a good idea, and increases the chance of being chosen.

The topics proposed are pretty well distributed among the tracks. We allowed people to designate two tracks for each topic they proposed. Not surprisingly, the most common track is “Solidifying VFP Development” with 33 submissions. We have 29 topics that fit into “Integrating VFP” and 25 each for “Extending VFP” and “Technology for VFP Developers.” We got 9 proposals for pre-conference sessions and the same number for “Taking Advantage of VFPX.” What’s amazing about those statistics is that, for four of our tracks, we have enough topics to practically fill the whole conference.

So what does all this mean? First, that I’m really glad we gave people a VFP application to submit their proposals this year. Consolidating the submissions into our database was pretty easy. I just unzipped each submission into a separate folder and wrote a little program to loop through the folders and populate the master tables. If we’d had the usual mishmash of Word docs, with some speakers submitting a single document and others submitting one per session, I would have spent much, much longer. (And, of course, now that I have it working, the program is reusable. Maybe next year, I’ll extend it to handle processing the emails and unzipping the data.)

For the three of us, it’s meant somewhat more time working through the proposals and making our individual selections. Interestingly, though, the amount of variance among our individual choices isn’t a lot higher than in the past. We have a conference call scheduled to resolve the differences. (Think House-Senate Joint Conference Committee.)

For those who submitted, of course, it means more competition and that we’ll have to say “sorry, thanks, please try again” to more people than ever before.

For our attendees, we think it means the best line-up of speakers and topics ever. We hope you’ll agree.

It’s about time!

One of the most frequent comments we saw on the evaluations for individual sessions was “ran out of time” or “not enough time” or something else along those lines. A few people even suggested that we lengthen the time slots in the schedule to give speakers more time, while another suggested we tell speakers they have 60 minutes, but give them 75 as we do now. (We kind of think they’d notice that when the schedule was published.)

Making a session the right length is a challenge, even for experienced speakers. We pretty much all aim to have 60-65 minutes of material and leave 10-15 minutes for questions. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

Why can’t we get it right? Lots of reasons. Sometimes, of course, it’s because something goes wrong–the projector doesn’t work or your machine crashes in the middle of the session. Sometimes, something comes up during the session that eats a bit of time–a really interesting question, for example.

One big issue is that we all want to be sure we don’t run short. It’s not a problem if we finish with an extra 5 minutes, but finishing with 15 or 20 extra minutes is likely to make attendees unhappy. So we try to pack our sessions with plenty of material.

Often, though, it’s just individual variation. I’ve learned, for example, that each time I give a session, it’s likely to get a little longer. The more familiar I am with the material, the more I think of to say. So when I first rehearse a new session, I actually want it to run a little short. (Yes, I do rehearse every session before giving it the first time. I run through the whole session, running the examples I’m going to show, and making sure I know how to get from one topic to the next. If I haven’t given a particular session for a while, I’ll rehearse it before giving it, as well.)

Other speakers tell me that it’s the other way for them–the real session always runs shorter than the rehearsal. For these people, the issue is the addition of adrenaline, which speeds them up. Adrenaline is definitely a factor for me, too. On the rare occasions when it doesn’t kick in for me, I definitely run long (and I suspect the whole thing feels kind of sluggish).

Sometimes, a session is long by design. That was the case for the “We Used to Do it That Way, But …” session that I gave this year. The session is built from a set of discrete items, so I can present any subset of them that fits into the time slot. I started the session by announcing that that would be the case, and made it clear that anything we skipped was still included in the white paper and the example code on the CD.

What about the idea of going to 90-minute sessions instead of 75? First, that would cost us a session slot every day, and thus cut down on the total number of sessions offered. Second, it would put us out-of-sync with other conferences; 75 minutes seems to be the industry-standard. But Rick articulated the biggest reason not to make this change: “if we give speakers 90 minutes, they will deliver 97 minutes of material.”

Incidentally, while some sessions ran over a little, the conference center staff was quite impressed by the fact that we habitually started our sessions on time. That’s not what they usually see. Based on my experience with a non-technical conference I attend annually. I tend to agree with them. At that conference, the times slip and slip and slip and by the end of the day, we’re well behind. I’m not sure whether it’s the engineering point of view we bring or what, but I’m never been to a FoxPro conference that didn’t start most sessions on time.

Southwest Fox Sessions and Speakers Announced

On May 1, we announced the speaker and session lineup for Southwest Fox 2008. It was even harder selecting from the outstanding list of proposals this year than it was last year, and Rick, Tamar, and I are very excited about the sessions being presented this year. There are some killer topics such as taking advantage of GDI+ in your VFP applications, creating custom report controls, profiling and refactoring code using the VFPX Code Analyst tool, using WMI, taking advantage of the Sedna Upsizing Wizard, using Ajax and jQuery in Web applications … the list is long and exciting!

Even better, in my opinion, is the chance to see old friends again and meet new ones. Many people say networking is the real reason to attend conferences, and that’s absolutely true.

Registration is now open, so be sure to sign up today for a fun three days in Phoenix in October. Even better, if you register before July 1, you get a free pre-conference session, a $99 value. With sessions on Transact SQL, MySQL, and the VFP 9 report writer available, the hard part will be picking which one to attend.

We’re looking forward to seeing you in October!

Session Selection Process

Today is opening day for many baseball teams here in the USA. All the players went through spring training to prove to the team management they are the best of the best and will help the team be successful during the year. All the players dream that in October they will be playing for the baseball championship.

In many ways I see parallels with respect to Southwest Fox 2008. Each of the potential speakers have submitted sessions hoping they are selected and make the roster for the conference in Mesa this October.

At Southwest Fox I am both a player and on the management side of things. I don’t enjoy being on either side during the selection process. I believe it is the most difficult part of the entire effort to put the conference together.

As a speaker I try to find topics I am passionate about and topics people will be interested in seeing. I submit them hoping the organizers find them to be sessions that draw attendees to the conference. Then I wait for the decision with fingers crossed hoping I get picked and the session I really want to do are the sessions selected. The wait time seems like forever for most conferences. With Southwest Fox I can at least bribe the other organizers to pick my sessions. {g}

As an organizer I try to select topics I think developers find interesting and inspirational. We need to find a great mix of practical topics people can use when they get back to the office on Monday, as well as futuristic “visionary” topics people can think about as they manage new features and projects and their careers. I am looking for as many topics as possible for people to walk out of the session telling others “this session paid for the entire conference.”

The organizers are both blessed and cursed by the quality and quantity of sessions to pick from. The problem is simple, more great speakers than we have budget for, and more great sessions than we have slots for. The submissions this year are no different, and maybe even triggering more difficult decisions than what we did last year.

The selection process is in the final stages as Tamar, Doug and I have individually reviewed the proposals and made some of our own picks. We then get together for a conference call for the “Battle Royale” (image of the three of us in a wrestling ring comes to mind – but too many sports metaphors for one day) as we negotiate the slots. Truth is, I am very glad there are three of us to make these decisions because the perspectives give us a rounded selection. I guarantee you, we will do our best to pick the right sessions, keep as much of a balance as possible, and try to provide you with as many sessions as we can where you walk out feeling like that one session was worth the entire trip to Mesa.

199 days until we meeting in Mesa!