When we kicked off last year with our CUGC XL: Texas event at Space Center Houston, none of us had a clue it would be our only in-person XL of 2020. The global pandemic may have slowed down our momentum, but our local group leaders stepped up to the challenge and we were able to quickly pivot and shift our remaining XL events into the virtual space. We pulled off a total of 8 virtual XLs last year, and brought in fun keynote speakers and happy hours to keep that community feeling. And since those events were virtual, that meant that more of you could go to multiple XL events, right from the comfort of your home!
CTP and Nashville CUGC leader Patrick Coble was one of our XL frequent flyers last year, and managed to make it to almost all of our events. We thought he’d be the perfect candidate for a little Q&A to recap the year:
HQ: You experienced last year’s XLs both as an attendee and as a speaker. (Wait, didn’t you pinch-hit as an emcee too?) Share a little insight into the experience of switching from in-person to virtual.
PC: Yeah, I have been blessed to be able to present and attend a couple XLs over the years and they have all been epic. I always learn so much, which is my favorite thing about XLs. This year was definitely different – doing things virtual – but that was also how all the other conferences turned out too, so it was par for the course for 2020. I think for me, the toughest part is that I make a lot of jokes and use memes to break the ice and also help people remember things through humor. It’s basically impossible to know how it’s being received when you’re just staring at yourself and a presentation and a chat window while streaming. I always ask questions in my presentations, which now in this new format doesn’t really work. A two-second hand raise in an audience answers the question in-person, but now you ask a question and wait X seconds and just have to move on without knowing if it resonated. That is hard to just pass on.
I had to get some better gear at the office to make it a studio, which was a change, but that was like getting lots of nerdy presents at the beginning of the year. With so much help on Twitter and YouTube, I learned a lot and I have a lot of respect for professional streamers and podcasters now seeing, the other side of the curtain.
I did pinch hit for the August Great Plains XL with a swap-a-roo of emcees for the pregame and prizes, and a session too! It was a wild year for me and I’m so glad that it worked out that I was able to help out that day. Another point is that we were able to do sessions that were so far away from “Nerdy,” which made it that much more fun with astronauts, magicians and much more doing keynotes and pregame sessions from drink-making to Fortnite and beyond. Those were great touches that I hope we can keep doing when in-person events happen again. I also got to join more local CUGCs this year than I ever have with their virtual events and that was so much fun.
HQ: Which pregame sessions did you enjoy most?
PC: I think my random idea, “Fortnite for Boomers,” was my favorite because it was just out there, and I didn’t think it would get chosen. It was fun to walk down video game memory lane making and presenting that session on how far games and FPS have come, from not-realistic (graphic quality and style) to ultra-realistic to now you can play as a banana. Then, I would have to say the Southeast Session for BBQ Sauces by Region was great because first, I’m a T-Rex BBQ machine, and it was something I thought I knew but still learned more about, which is always great. The variety of these sessions was off the charts and I think that was an amazing addition to the whole XL event type.
HQ: Favorite Keynote presenters? What did you learn? What wowed you? What made you go “Whaaaaat?”
PC: Since I missed a couple of the first keynotes, the one that I did the swap-a-roo for with Ron Garan the Astronaut at the Great Plains XL in August was my favorite. When you think of a job that only has around 40 people each year that are active, and under 400 that have actually blasted off, you are working with legends. My “Whaaaat?” moment of the presentation was this picture from Apollo 8 Earthrise: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthrise, which was the first time three people had seen the earth in one viewing. Then I think of the bravery of all the astronauts that went and all the scientists, manufacturers and the nerds from human computers to the actual computer and hardware to pull it off. It was awesome to hear Ron talk about his experience and answer questions. But, the best part was thinking planet (earth) versus global (social construct), because we are all on this planet together outside of countries and borders and we don’t have a plan B.
Brian Seely with his DDos Attack – Problems and Solutions was a great one too, because the content and his stories were great, and I found out we were in the Marines and in Iraq around the same time frame, which was really cool connection too. I also loved Taylor Hughes, the magician, and signed up for his courses, where I learned even more which was fun at the event and after too.
HQ: We had a LOT of great technical sessions Which ones stood out for you?
PC: It is hard to pick a favorite out of so many awesome sessions, but here are a few that stood out to me because of the speaker, content and how forward thinking they were. I will bet that between the six sessions below you will learn something from each that you didn’t know.
- Jen Sheerin– “Citrix Web Application Firewall (WAF)” She explained things in a great, easy-to-understand way, including how to eventually test and deploy WAF.
- James Rankin – “Logon Optimizations – Busting the Myths” Straight-talking legend on things that will truly benefit your users by being able to get into their apps and desktops sooner. Always good stuff and I loved his session with David Brett too, “Security vs User Experience.”
- Joe Shonk, CTP– “Unoptimize Your System For Great Scalability, Reliability and Stability” I love getting “Shonked” which is the verb that describes when knowledge has been released that you didn’t know, and it surprises you. Joe is an expert at so many things and with his clients he has been through some interesting things and deployments. When a problem comes up, he solves it with relentless research and debugging until he discovers something that will “Shonk” you when you hear about it. Steve Greenberg and Joe rock out at Thin Client Computing and I love to hear them both speak any chance I get.
- Chris Twiest, CTA – “Let’s Just Build a MicroApp” was awesome because I think this is the way things may head to, doing the small things in a big way to save time and money overall.
- DJ Eshelman– “How Mentoring Enhanced My Career” I think this was cool to hear some of the experiences he has had in this space. This is one thing that I think may be a sign of bigger things to come, learning from experts in the field in a smaller ratio versus the traditional college/university track to get working sooner and learning those practical things instead of those book things that may never get applied.
- Carl Webster, CTP Fellow – “Powershell Scripts” I always learn something when Carl speaks. He has had an amazing IT career and has also helped the community so much with his scripts and by sharing his knowledge with the world. If you don’t know PowerShell yet, then you must follow him and Guy Leech because they will learn you up in two different ways. (Both are awesome, one just has more dad jokes than the other)
- Guy Leech, CTP – “Top 10 PowerShell Commands for Troubleshooting” if you want to take a gander.
HQ: Best Happy Hours and Post-Game Fun?
PC: These two sessions were fun because I learned more than just how to make a drink, but how the drinks that are ingredients to drinks are made, which was neat. I think all these Happy Hour sessions were fun and still educational, but just like many of the pregame sessions they are a nice tangent and different topic to keep things rolling along.
- Southwest XL Tequila Mixology & Happy Hour – This was cool because I’m a bourbon & whiskey kind of guy and it was neat to learn more about tequila too.
- Great Plains XL Microbrew Class – The Nitro crew was representing with questions and more knowledge, but it was nice to learn how things are made. I have been on a couple of brewery tours before, and I thought I knew an ok amount, but I learned more which is always nice.
HQ: Looking ahead to 2021, what do you hope to see in the virtual XLs to come?
PC: For virtual XLs, I hope they keep coming up with killer keynotes and prestigious pregame and post game presentations. The CUGC team and the local teams have been like a Top 40 DJ picking all the hits! Even when in-person events kick back off someday, I think these virtual events should stick around as more people can see them all over the world. We will see content here that we normally wouldn’t be able to see because of the venue and the time needed to present too. I look forward to, hopefully, a mixture of virtual and in-person events next year and to learning more at CUGC events.
HQ: Final thoughts?
PC: Getting to attend so many XLs physically and virtually, I can see that the structure & agenda may be the same going forward, but the content, dialect, speakers, mannerisms, jokes, interests, and participation vary. The friendships that are created and maintained are the things that shine in my eyes. When you’re in the same field as someone else, it is awesome to “talk shop.” But it’s even better when those same people have the same or different areas of interest outside of work where you can connect. CUGC is community, and communities are built on friendship and friendships are started with a conversation (or a chat log these days) and then the cycle continues and grows exponentially.
Ask that question, send that LOL, unmute and say the thing on your mind so that you can connect with the community and make some friends! I have created some lifelong friendships because of CUGC and that puts a smile on my face while I write this, and it also makes me hopeful for a great 2021 to meet more. Seeing people and having random conversations is the thing I miss the most, having a running chat for the event is good but not the same for sure. One of the random things I miss the most from the in-person events is the local food of each area, I love eating and trying new things and when I hear “this place has the best” I raise my hand and say let’s go!!!! I miss the three H’s of 2020 that have been almost outlawed this year: handshakes, hugs and high fives, but I know we are coming around the bend and it will be “more better” soon.