marcia and i have just returned from prague, where we were lucky enough to be among the speakers for the third time. this was, and is, a great conference and this year had over 300 attendees.

however, the first time we went there (in 2002) they had 600+. why do i mention this?  well, i am told that advisor devcon this year had about 35 attendees for the vfp track (contrast that with advisor devcon 2000 in miami where there were over 1200, and with orlando in 1998 where there were more than 2000).

i also know that last year's southwest fox in phoenix had only just over 100 attendees.

it does seem to be a general phenomenon across the world that fewer and fewer people are going to it conferences these days and there are probably several reasons for this. obvious ones are budgetary constraints and increased pressure on deadlines that reduces 'training' time. however,  i also think that the ever-expanding scope of freely available advice and help on line has, for some people (especially those not directly involved), reduced the perceived value of conferences.

however i totally disagree with that viewpoint and consider that conferences offer three huge benefits that cannot be obtained in any other way:

 

[1] networking.

in our business, as in any other, "what you know" is important, but often "who you know" is at least as important. how can you know someone unless you meet with them, talk with them and spend time with them? in some ways the actual conference sessions are the least important aspect of a conference. it is the opportunity to meet others who live in the same world as you do and who do the same things that you do, to talk with them and discuss common issues and problems that adds significant value.

of course you also have to make the effort of going and talking to people! i have never understood people who go to a conference, attend the sessions and then disappear back to their hotel room – they are missing the most important part – the evening chat sessions in lobby, or the bar, or wherever the vfp crowd are congregating

 

[2] broadening horizons.

we each live our professional lives immersed in the day to day issues with which we are concerned. how often do we take the time out to investigate some new facet of vfp? or to look at some programming technique or issue for which we have no immediate use? not very often i would wager. this is the shortcoming that on-line forums and help sites cannot address. they are 'problem oriented' in that when a question is asked, the response is an answer to that question. what you do not get is the answers to unasked questions or general information.

for example, in prague this year i attended a session given by alan griver on "vb futures". this is something that i would not normally spend time researching, or even reading casually about, but it was an immensely interesting and revealing session and i learned a lot. will i use it 'today'? no! is it worth knowing about? definitely!

 

[3] learning new skills/approaches

one of the most significant benefits that i see from conferences is the presentation of alternatives. vfp is an immensely rich and powerful language and no-one really knows it all. (there are over 1500 commands, functions, properties, events and methods, and probably 10 times that number of variations on them). it is almost an axiom that there are at least two ways (and usually more) of doing anything in vfp. what most of us (including myself) do is learn one and stick with it. at conferences i get a chance to see other approaches to problems, other techniques for using vfp and its tools and other people's solutions to problems.

for example, at prague last week i was asked by someone whether i thought he should use bintoc() when creating an index on deleted() so as to minimize the index size and improve transmission over the network. this was something i had never considered, and i told him i didn't know. so we went and tried it out then and there and, you know what, it works fine! so there was something i learned that despite my more than 20 years working with fox i had never come across before and about which i would never have dreamed of asking on line.

 

what is the point of this blog? simply this;

 

this year we will have only one dedicated vfp conference in the usa (fox forward, although vfp oriented,  is, intentionally, much broader in scope) and i greatly fear that it could very well be the last ever 'true' vfp conference on this side of the atlantic unless people in the community show their support in a practical way – by going to phoenix in october!

 

the conference is being held at the arizona golf resort and conference center, mesa, arizona and starts with a keynote presentation at 7:30pm on thursday 18 october. formal sessions begin at 8:00am on friday 19 october, finishing at  1:00pm on sunday 21 october.  

in addition there are a number of 'pre-conference' sessions (3-hour workshops) being held on thursday 18 october.

 

for full details, and costs, go now to http://www.swfox.net/home.aspx and register

 

and remember, if we don't use it, we'll lose it - there may not be a "next year" unless we can all make "this year" a success

6 Responses to SW Fox, An Endangered Species I fear!

  • I wanted to go to Prague. Its always been a good show and Prague is a wonderful place to visit. But I have to tell you why I didnt go. There was nothing of interest in the sessions for me. I have seen you and Marcia before and for those that have not you are good at what you do. As is Steven but, I had seen it all before. This is why the others from the uk didnt go as well. I was looking for some new stuff like sedna, and it seems that was only available to the czech sessions. The other problem from the organisers was lack of time. I got an email only a short time before the conference so it leaves little time to organise. Maybe next year. Pity I would have liked to say hello to you guys again.
    allen
    allen@gatwicksoftware.com

    I am sorry that we didn’t have any ‘new’ stuff that would interest you. The choice of session materials is always down to the conference organizers and I know that the submissions covered a wide range of topics. The organizers pick those topics that they feel will best fit the needs of their audience and sometimes the “cutting edge” stuff is not what is wanted.

    Maybe, if you can’t make SW Fox (where there is definitely ‘new’ stuff) then you will come to Frankfurt this year – though I don’t know whether the topics that have been been selected for that one will be sufficiently cuting edge for you (http://www.dfpug.com for details). Hope to see you (all) somewhere this year.

  • Juan Antonio Santana says:

    Hello Andy,

    I definitly agree with you, but I would also add as a problem to go to conferences the cost of them. Even Prague´s could be one of the best in that point, SW ot Frankfurt may not.

    In addition to this, it is not only the conferences fees, but the travel. I would really like to go Arizona, but It´s quite difficult because of the money.

    It might be stupid but I think that it could be easier to move 10, 20 or even 30 speakers over the continents than moving 2000 people. It´s just an idea, the conferences organizers could arrange that so the same speakers and materials go at least over the continents.

    The problem is, of course, time. Conference speakers are not ‘professional’ speakers – we all have to make a living and so can usually only afford a limited amount of time. Going to Prague (a 3-day conference) required me to miss a total of 7 working days. Phoenix will require missing at least 5 and since I am going to Frankfurt too, I will lose another 7 days there. That is 19 working days – a whole month where I can’t really do paying work. To try and do a ‘continental tour’ of the type you describe would be impossible. That’s why conferences work the way they do – ti minizmize the elapsed time for everyone, not just the delegates.

    Any way I do agree with you in the point that conferences are differents, Prague has been my first VFP conferences I beleive that I will assist to at least one a year. Even if you have read about what ever it´s much better hearing by the experts, I mean, I bought the book “VFP best practices for next 10 years” from Hentzenwerke and had read your writting about data access, but I definitly understood better when I hear from you.

    It was lovely to see you both in Prague, and hopefully we’ll see you at another conference soon

    jasantana@galsaninformatica.com

  • Mike Potjer says:

    Hi Andy,

    Excellent points!  I think this is something which needs to be repeated over and over again.  I believe the networking and sharing of ideas makes all of us better developers than we could possibly be on our own.  I think the argument about the cost of attending a conference has validity.  As the father of a young family with one income, spending a minimum of $1200 to attend a conference is a serious consideration, which is why I hit up my employer every year to send me. 🙂  However, there are inexpensive alternatives which offer the same benefits on a smaller scale, namely local or regional user groups.  The cost is much cheaper, the time commitment is usually a small chunk of off hours spread out over the course of the year, and you can often hear the same speakers.  (Our Grand Rapids group was fotunate to hear several in the past year, including you, Rick Schummer, and Doug Hennig.)  The wider availability of web conferencing opens up many possibilities for user groups to hear and “meet” well known and respected speakers.  Yet in spite of all those benefits, user groups seem to suffer from the same waning interest as the conferences.  I guess I should get out of my VFP box and see what’s happening with some of the other languages, but I wonder if this same apathy is affecting the conferences and user groups for the “popular” languages, too.

    All the evidence I have seen suggests that this is an ‘across-the-board’ phenomenon and not just limited to VFP. Your point about cost is valid though, but if your employer can see the value that helps. If not, Rick Schummer has offered to call any employer directly and talk to them (see the SW Fox Webste for details)

     

  • Dave Aring says:

    Andy…
    I am right there with you. When you mentioned “perceived value”, I immediately thought of (and I have done this myself in the past) putting off signing up until the last minute. This usually means that I missed out on any “early bird special”. At Southwest Fox this year, if you register by July 1st (ONLY A COUPLE OF DAYS AWAY!) you can also snag a FREE (as in NO COST) seat at one of the $99 pre-conference sessions as well as save $75 on the cost of the main conference.

    Bestest to you and Marcia
    …Dave

    Hi Dave, Hopefully we’ll see you at SW Fox, and many more people too!

  • Boudewijn says:

    Hi Andy,

    SW Fox is, unfortunately, not possible for me. I will be there in Frankfurt again though. I completely agree with you on the point of Networking and seeing new opportunities. The last FF DevCon opened my eyes for the possibilities of Doug Hennig’s SQ. That is a complete market.
    I would love to come to Praque one day, unfortunately that DevCon is always around the time I celebrate my marriage on June 21. (yes I DO celebrate that).
    So we will meet in FF again soon.

    Look forward to seeing you in Frankfurt, then.

  • Jürgen Wondzinski says:

    …And now to something completely different 😉
    >> I was asked by someone whether I thought he should use BINTOC() when creating an index on DELETED() <<

    But isn’t that what the new INDEX ON option BINARY is for? It creates indexfiles 40 times smaller than a regular one, and doesn’t need special tricks…

    Correct Woody, but only if you are using VFP 9.0 – the version in question was VFP 7.0!

    See you at SWFOX !
    wOOdy
    Look forward to seeing you then, my friend. — AndyK

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