Every Cloud: My adventures as a delegate at a technology conference (Part Three)

by Steve

Computing diagram

For those catching up, here is part one. And here is part two.

I decide coffee might be easier than braving the minefield of buffet sandwich seconds.

There is a woman stood in front of the cups, making her tea. I loiter, as this seems easier than excusing myself, as it can’t take that long to make a cup of tea, and she was already mid-tea-making when I walked over. She should be on the final leg of the tea-making. She is not. She eventually turns and asks me if I want to be where she is. She seems irritated by this. She is still making her tea. I excuse myself, suggest I was just making up my mind what drink to get. And I stand by the cups and pick up a cup and a saucer. She then moves to where the coffee is. Still making her tea. How long does it take to make one cup of tea? I estimate that she has already dunked and stirred the teabag over a hundred times. Maybe nearer a thousand. It feels like a long time. I flick through the herbal tea options, although I really want that cup of coffee. I mull over a cup of hot water, as at least that is within reach. I am acutely aware that for some time I have been stood holding an empty cup and saucer. She is still making her tea. And now looking at me, even more irritated. I can’t ask her to move again. I wonder if I could just put a sandwich in my cup and walk away. Finally she moves. I think the tea had been made. But I’m not sure. And there is still a little bit of coffee left in the pot for me. There still aren’t any biscuits.

Suitably traumatised, I down the coffee and go to hide out in the auditorium. Well, I say auditorium, it is more a room. Well, half a room, as there is partitioning. There is another event next door, in the other half of the room. I hear general hubbub, ripples of applause, angry shouting. I wonder what that conference is like. It sounds fun.

I see the code for the glass doors by the toilets has been scribbled out on the flip chart, and a new code written by it. Well that explains that.

The tea-making woman is in the auditorium, alone. Alone with her tea. Flagrantly disregarding the protocol surrounding hot drinks in the auditorium. She has her coat on and is complaining that the room is cold, to nobody in particular. For the record, the lunch area was pretty warm. She calls someone over and explains, it is cold in here. She explains that someone had complained that the room was too hot, then they left. Left us in the cold. She stirs her tea.

The afternoon speakers are soundchecking. I didn’t realise conference speakers did soundchecks.

Everyone else returns and makes the old joke about how to stay awake after lunch. But we’re on the home straight now.

The last session is with two speakers, two guys in their fifties, a double act. I wonder about the life of a conference speaker. It must be fun, going from town to town, speaking for a bit, then heading home. Meeting the same old faces, staying in mid-range hotels, lots of train journeys. I’m sure there is more to it than that, but that sounds like fun. I mean, I like mid-range hotels and train journeys more than the average person. I’m not sure I could do the circuit in a double act, though. That’s a lot of time to spend with one other person who you aren’t married to. There is a palpable tension in their presentation. My suspicions seem correct.

The conference finished soon after. I dutifully filled out my feedback form. I was probably kinder than I should have been. I know most people just respond about the catering anyway.

So, I could pretend that I learned a lot about the future of cloud computing, about CRM systems, about enterprise models, leveraging, roadmaps and deployment. But I’m not sure that I did. I heard a lot about us heading towards a world where technology is ubiquitous, which I certainly didn’t understand, but sounds terrifying. But me not learning or understanding wasn’t necessarily the fault of the speakers, or the conference itself. I just think I probably walked in the wrong room.

But the day wasn’t a complete waste of time. I picked up enough so that I can get by at work and can sound vaguely clued-up on matters of new technology when anyone asks. If nothing else, I can throw around a few buzzwords and hope they leave me alone. I think it gave me some pause for thought on how technology is striving to be more user-centred, but probably isn’t really there yet. And that is probably the case for a bunch of services and products across many disciplines and industries.

We all like to say we’re here for the user/customer/beneficiary, but pretty often we’re just projecting our own thoughts, needs and desires. Once you become genuinely user-centred you kind of have to give up being the expert, in the old-fashioned sense. You don’t necessarily know best anymore. And that’s a scary prospect, I suppose.

And beyond all that, the day was a good thinking space. I found myself zoning out at various points across the day, but zoning out in a vaguely constructive sense. I wasn’t just plotting the best formation to win on Football Manager or mulling over my top ten albums.

I started thinking a lot more about my job, and what it means to me and if it is what I really want to do. And that led me to think about my career. Do I want a career, with progression and reward and development and all that stuff? Or am I just happy passing the time every day to pay the bills? And if I do want a career, am I on the right career path, will I have the right opportunities? Or should I just run away and join the circus, figuratively of course, and try something new? I guess removing myself from my usual day-to-day to a space both physically, mentally and thematically quite different made me consider if that my own day-to-day job is enough. If it is right.

I also thought perhaps I should be a little less judgemental about these kinds of conferences. They are safe spaces for experts, for those with a particular niche, for people who spend their working life being misunderstood, or not understood at all. Here, at these conferences, they can find like minds, hear anecdotes similar to their own. Feel a little less alone.

I made my way out of the Major Technology Company’s offices. I finally saw one of their products on display, hooked up to a flatscreen TV. There was some coloured seating around it. This appeared to be their one concession to the idea that Major Technology Companies can be fun and innovative places to work. It was sort of what I was expecting, just on a very small scale. There was nobody around it though. Maybe there never is.

Image from Internet Archive Book Images, via Flickr