NEW ORLEANS -- As memories of the NCAA Final Four tournament were being hosed down and swept off of Bourbon Street, IT pros from around the country began filtering into the Big Easy for Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine's 2003 TechMentor conference.
The city's basketball hangover, evident and amplified by the empty streets, rainy weather and barren bars and restaurants, did little to dampen the spirits of those who had made the journey. "I'm having a good time," said an attendee from Florida, who was riding the elevator down to Wednesday's keynote address from University of Utah basketball coach Rick Majerus.
"Some elements of the conference seem disorganized, and I spent most of my free time on Monday trying to find the time to go out and buy a coat, but I'm enjoying the workshops," he said.
Held at the Hyatt Regency hotel in The Big Easy's business district, the five-day event was focused on IT professionals looking to sharpen their skill sets. TechMentor offered attendees hands-on experience with emerging Microsoft technologies, the opportunity to take discounted certification tests on site, and the rare chance to get up close and personal with some of their favorite industry personalities in whiteboard style consultations and technical training workshops.
Paul Reno, a systems administrator from Communications Data Group in Champaign, Ill., explained his reasons for attending TechMentor: "I am looking to learn about tools that will help me do my job better. I sometimes feel like I'm stuck in a box. I work with the same people day in and day out." He went on to explain that he wanted to talk to others in his profession about best practices and to broaden the scope of his ongoing education.
There were noticeably fewer attendees at many of the workshops and seminars than organizers expected. The panel, "Ask Microsoft: New Certifications for Windows Server 2003," for example, had less than 25 people show up in a room that was outfitted for 250. An inquiry at the registration desk delivered some quick attendance figures from the conference sponsor. There were roughly 700 registered, about half having signed up for courses. The remainder, it's assumed, were lecturing, presenting or carousing in the French Quarter.
Dian Schaffhauser, editorial director of MCP magazine, began the proceedings with a traditional Louisiana greeting, "Laissez les bon temps roulez" (let the good times roll). Pausing to look out at the half-filled room she asked, "Where are they all this morning? I expect this is a tough town to train in," before turning the floor over to basketball coach Majerus.
As head basketball coach for the Runnin' Utes, Majerus focused his speech on successful team building. Noting that hotshots are a detriment to any profession, he mused that there was no more room on an IT team for an "Iverson" (NBA hotshot Alan Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers) than there was in basketball.
At the conclusion of the keynote, the crowd dispersed to once again attend workshops and "Certification Slam Sessions." These refresher sessions were offered to give quick reviews to anyone who needed one before taking one of the many onsite certification exams.
Daylong workshops with well-known authors and experts such as Bill Boswell's "Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003 Administration Essentials" and Roberta Bragg's "Windows Security Academy" were among the most popular.
"I just love him, he's so funny," remarked Jane Wright, a security expert from the Tennessee Valley Authority after sitting through Boswell's lively, humorous and ultimately enlightening presentation.
The Windows Server 2003 lab pulled double-duty as it gave those present a chance to kick the tires on Microsoft's latest platform juggernaut under the watchful eye of Gary Olsen, an HP Active Directory "guru."
The lab, full of about 40 desktops, was quickly converted into the "Gaming Zone" after hours where folks could kick back and relax after a busy day spent soaking up all the readily-available tech know-how. Popular games played on the network included Age of Empires 2, Monster Truck Madness and Unreal Tournament 2003. Sessions usually lasted from 8 p.m until midnight, but it was rumored that the competitions went on quite a bit later on at least one occasion.
Thursday saw the arrival of the exhibit area, comprised of booths from about 20 tech companies from around the country. The 101 Communications booth featured product demos on screens draped with traditional Mardi Gras beads. The theme ended there, thankfully, with the "Girls Gone Wild" camera crews nowhere to be seen.
A jovial Roberta Bragg could be seen signing copies of her book, "CISSP Training Guide," at the Que Communications booth. With the line of people waiting to talk to her stretching to more than 20, one would have thought Stephen King had arrived after finally writing a book on the horrors of certification.
Boswell was cranking out schematics on a white board for a woman as a curious group gathered to watch. Microsoft's Press booth was fielding leftover questions from those who didn't make it to the panel the night before -- and there were a lot of them.
The conference ran through Saturday, at which point attendees shipped themselves home –- their PDAs likely bursting with new ideas, interests and contacts gained.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
TechMentor: Admins curious, but not rushing to Windows Server 2003 certification
Ask Roberta Bragg a question about security.