Well, it has been a hell of a week, which seemed to start even on the way to the airport with getting in a few last minute calls.
So, how was my week at COMMON’s premier event, POWERUp 2019?
Probably the hardest place is where to start. It seems like we have been here for a lifetime, and at the same time the days went by so quickly. Certainly, the highlight for me was seeing so many friends, customers, meeting new people, and spending time with the other iTech employees: Laurie, Rick, Richie, Steve, and Yvonne. We don’t all work in Danbury, so every chance to see them is a treat for me. There was much to do together, from booth setup, meetings, working the booth, common sessions we attended, speaking, and then social events. This conference, other conferences, our customer meetings, as well as meetings in Danbury allow us to bridge the distance of not working in the same office each day.
iTech seemed to be everywhere, not just the people — but our logo. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing us. We were the Diamond sponsor for the COMMON Education Foundation, we were the Silver sponsor of COMMON, we had the full page ad in the paper, our logo on the front page, our logo on everyone’s badge holders, we had our coordinated shirts on each day, we were introduced on stage during opening session with IBM, Freshe, and us (for Platinum, Gold, and Silver sponsors of the conference respectively). I got on stage for a 20 year volunteer pin, picture displayed during open session had our three IBM Champions, Yvonne was recognized during the meeting of the members and received a well-deserved plaque for her 6 years of service for being a member of the COMMON Board, I had a quote on opening session during Steve Sibleys presentation on 7.4, Steve Pitcher got re-elected to the COMMON Board, and our iTech buttons were all over.
Not sure if I missed anything, I think I got everything. In listing it, that kind of blows my mind how all over the conference we were. I did 3 sessions at the IT Executive conference, along with moderating the POWER9 panel, and presenting 5 other technical sessions during the conference
The booth constantly had traffic and everyone did an amazing job. Laurie, Rick, Steve, Yvonne, and Richie did a fantastic job talking to everyone who stopped by. I didn’t spend as much time at the booth as I would have liked, as there was so many things pulling me away. People loved the iTech “find your match buttons” and attendees were looking for their match all around the conference.
Our video put together by our marketing team looked great and was watched by plenty of attendees. Everything arrived at the booth thanks to Tammy. Everyone said hello to us by name, as if we were their next door neighbor that they had known for years. I think that resonates with our involvement throughout the year in so many IBM i community events. While we were away at the conference, everyone else was back at the office tending to our customer’s needs, which is a great relief knowing our customers are being taken care of when some of us are away.
The conference was exhausting, yet fun. The hardest thing to truly qualify is emotion, excitement, and interest. So many people came up to me telling me why they loved us, everyone wanted to come up and talk with us at the expo. Plus all during the conferences, I had people come up to me thanking iTech for their contributions, how they enjoyed the sessions from Yvonne, Richie, Steve, and myself. This was very evident in the expo, where people came looking for us, and wanted to have a talk about this or that. The excitement at our booth was overflowing.
If I had to summarize our experience this week, I would say great teamwork. On my flight home, trying to take the whole week in, I think I would change my mind to say “Proud”, Proud of what we have all worked so hard to put together.
I couldn’t really sum up POWERUp 2019 in one paragraph unless I used only adjectives. Let’s try awesome, inspiring, and exhausting yet invigorating.
The conference started two days early for me with Board of Directors meetings Friday and Saturday. Sunday through Wednesday is still a blur: I presented five sessions, two labs and one POWER Panel. Then there was the networking, booth duty in the expo, BoD duty in the expo, meals, conversations with customers and other experts. 22 hours to get there and 18 hours getting back. COMMON conferences are always a busy week for sure but the value received is so well worth it. Even as a volunteer, I feel that I owe COMMON something after a week like that.
COMMON has always been about the relationships I’ve built with the people I’ve met along the way. I attended my first COMMON in Anaheim 20 years ago, where I first met Pete Massiello exhibiting across the aisle from me. I also met Larry Bolhuis at my first COMMON. Fast forward 20 years and I work for iTech Solutions, and we partner with Larry for iInTheCloud. Who knew that meeting both of them at my first event would lead me here?
COMMON 2019 did not disappoint in being able to meet new people, whom I hope to have relationships long into the future. I was also able to meet someone I used to work with over the phone a dozen years ago, that I never met in person before. Meeting new people and creating new relationships are my favorite part of COMMON. Can’t wait to meet you next year!
POWERUwp 2019 was a rollercoaster event for me as my roles and responsibilities have grown within COMMON and iTech. It seems like you step off the plane and just start sprinting and you really don’t stop until you get on the plane to head home.
As I spent time in conversation both at the booth and in the hallways, I was happy to hear feedback that people know who we are and are very pleased with what we provide to the IBM i community. I had many folks come up to me and say things like “You’re Richie Palma, right? I recognize you from the POWER9 Panel webinar”. Knowing people are finding enough value in what we’re providing that they feel compelled to introduce themselves, is a phenomenal feeling.
At the previous COMMON POWERUp 2018 event, I had about 10 days under my belt as a member of the iTech team and as you could imagine, not a lot of customers recognized me quite yet. Fast forward one year later to PowerUp 2019 and I had multiple customers and potential customers engaging and interacting with the team and getting the value they deserve and expect from iTech Solutions.
Two people came up to me and jokingly complained that they wore a red button up shirt and had people walking up to them asking if they worked at iTech Solutions. That is a very powerful testament to the strength of our branding. All in all the event went great, the booth was hot (much hotter then the temp in Anaheim), the iTech team connected with new and future customers, and the future looks incredibly bright.
This conference was different for me as I transitioned off the Board and deeper into my role at iTech. I took the time to reflect on all the components that make a conference and a community work.
The clear respect this industry has for Pete, Steve, and Richie is very evident and displayed at the highest levels. Especially with IBM executives.
Involvement and Partnerships
The team was invited to all the main events, frequently overbooked.
Attendees were actively looking for our shirts! I had a conversation on the elevator with a guy wearing the 9 Lives one and the others were talking about still wearing theirs. As we know most conference tees get given away quickly or are considered disposable, from what these guys were saying the iTech shirts have made it into actual “things people want to wear.” Of course, these guys were treating conference tees the way others speak of concert tees so we were in a geeked out environment but at least we know our audience.
Someone else stopped me and told me he had taken advice from one of my sessions last year, gotten involved with Jr. Achievement at his kids high school and worn the 9 lives shirt. He spoke about the foundations of what he learned at about their age carrying him through his career and all the systems on the back, how that allowed him to raise a family, etc. He was excited for a new shirt to wear next time and how that pithy marketing helped him break the ice with a next gen, he would have been too nervous without our visual.
I think the best take away I have on that subject is the last day at the booth when we had other attendees actively getting people to get the buttons to win the match game. I know several of the ringleaders and they do not need the $10 at all, but it was a way to make conversation at the lunch table and it took off. It is fun without being silly, engagement without being obstructive, etc. The more we repeat that it will take on a life of its own.
In other news, it looks like iTech owns the vendor liaison to the BOD role. That is actually a compliment to us and the respect our peers in the expo have for iTech.
Lastly, it was heartening to see how iTech continues to thrive and grow to implement sound business practices and community leadership.