Innovate 2012 In Review

It has taken me over a week to fully recover from the conference. I usually bounce back much quicker but I had a slew of work waiting for me once IBM Innovate 2012 ended.

I wanted to post my thoughts on the conference because there doesn’t seem to be as much information about the event itself from attendees. Are you an Apple Developer? There are plenty of Google searches that will lead you to what the WWDC is like. Into videogames? You know what to expect from E3. Go to Innovate? Well, good luck.

And that is where I am coming from. In my past life I went to E3 every year. I’ve been to a single MacWorld event. And I already mentioned WWDC. Since WWDC, E3, and Innovate are all so close to each other time wise, when I’m at Innovate I feel like I’m going to the least fun of the three conferences.

I’ve gone to the IBM Rational conference every year since 2009, and I went to just one Telelogic conference in 2007. So while I’m not exactly a veteran, I’m not a newbie either, and I’ve seen enough to compare them to each other and contrast to Telelogic’s conference.

The Good

Yet again, the IBM Rational Conference was held at The Swan and Dolphin Hotel at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL. I believe the conference will be here in 2013 as well, and likely 2014 and 2015.

The facility is definitely able to handle the amount of people, and if you’ve been before, you basically know the layout. The registration desk is always in the same place, as is the keynote, the vendors, and the lunch dining hall.

This year had some great keynote speakers. The two best were Dr. Michio Kaku and Jamie Clarke. In fact, Jamie Clarke’s speech is one of the best I’ve ever witnessed. It was funny and inspiring and should be required viewing for anyone reading this. Check it out at the 1:19 mark here. Of course, my personal highlight of the event was when Dr. Kaku got asked, “How can I use my knowledge of physics to my advantage with the ladies?” That was just one of two questions of mine that got asked, and it made getting my butt out of bed early each morning to attend the keynotes worth it.

Also, for me personally, this was the best networking I’ve ever gotten done. Conferences can be draining and I’m used to being brain dead after going to so many sessions, after show events all while having to support my clients, but this year I really chose to focus on saying hi to old friends as well as making new ones. Making connections and then maintaining them is a lot of work, but the event is ultimately about the people that attend, is it not?

You must participate to get the most out of Innovate.

I know I sound like a lawyer for OJ Simpson or something, and it sounds obvious, but it’s true. Showing up is just the first step. You have to read up on the sessions, make up your agenda, plan to get your certifications, try to get invited to lunches and dinners, and try not to get too hungover. Network. Social Network. Connect. There’s so much going on that it’s easy to forget that meeting people at Innovate is the best reason to go.

I competed in the IBM Code Challenge (Current gen vs. Next gen), met Dr. Kaku and Sarah Backhouse. Attempted to meet Jaime Clark. Spoke with a few vendors. Attended sessions. Got certified in DOORS and Rational Team Concert. Spoke with some old friends. Met a Twitter friend in the flesh. Spoke with some of the DOORS development team. Rode roller coasters at SeaWorld. And ate. A lot. Boy did I eat (the beef brisket was to die for).

Each attendee got a nice folio big enough for an 8.5×11″ notepad and an iPad. Some of the best SWAG I’ve gotten from a conference, any conference.

This was the best IBM Rational conference I’ve been to yet. But of course, it wasn’t perfect.

The Bad

The Network

The room where the keynote was held did not have WiFi of any sort. This is inexcusable. I hear Apple may have denied WiFi due to problems at their keynote a few years ago that caused a live demo to fail, but IBM encourages everyone to tweet and facebook throughout the conference, including the keynote.

Instead of paying attention to the keynote, I vented on Twitter about the lack of WiFi. Of course, because there was no WiFi, the cellular networks got clogged (at least AT&T’s did), and posting a single tweet took over 10 minutes, if I was lucky.

And the WiFi at the conference was much slower and unreliable than in years past. I saw more iPads than ever, and I think that’s a clue. I have an iPad, iPhone, and my laptop. The iPhone is for my personal stuff, the iPad for writing, and the laptop is for real work I have to do for my clients. Yes, it’s a lot of gear and you can critique and insult me all you want. My point is that I had three devices, and my guess is that most people had at least two.

This puts an unbelievable strain on the network, and I understand that. But this is a tech conference. This is an area that needs to be bolstered next year, badly. For one of my clients I couldn’t VPN at all. For another I could, but it was so slow it was unusable.

I did not stay at the hotel but I heard that the hotel Internet connection was no better for those staying.

The Keynotes

The guest speakers noted above were fantastic. But just about everything else was, like last year, terrible. The Day 1 keynote could have been given last year. There was a creepy focus on “efficiency and automation.” We have to do more with less resources (people and funds) and that’s what business demands nowadays. While that may be true, I can tell you that I’m overworked (luckily by my own choice) and that at a conference I don’t want to be reminded of how much pressure there is on me to succeed in my job. I personally do not think this way (my pressure comes from within, never from the outside) but I can empathize with those who do.

And that’s the thing: the audience for the keynote should be the attendees. Instead, the keynotes (IBM’s presentations, anyway) are geared towards CEOs and CIOs. Again, as an attendee, I don’t want to be reminded of my good colleague who got laid off last year and whose work IBM is helping me do more efficiently and now that I am doing his work too and barely keeping up it’s all being reported up the chain that I can handle more.

None of that was explicitly stated, but it was implied throughout the keynotes. I am reminded that American productivity over the past few decades is through the roof, yet somehow we are, by and large, an overworked nation. But I digress.

Another thing about the keynote….one Rational Team Concert live demo was actually pre-taped with people narrating slowly and trying to keep up with a video. It was horribly written, horribly performed, and if I didn’t know what RTC was I would have been completely lost.

Each day’s keynote is 8:00 or 8:30am. The Monday morning one is the biggest. And like last year they tried to pep it up by making it a club-like atmosphere with some music. IBM, listen carefully, please: This comes off as completely lame.

Apple represents the cool kids on the block. Microsoft represents video games, word documents and spreadsheets. Sort of a swiss army knife, they now do a little of everything. IBM represents corporate CEOs, CFOs, and CIOs…and Engineers! Who is this conference geared at? (Hint: It’s engineers.)

Having keynote speakers such as The Mythbusters and William Shatner (as has been done in the past) is perfect. In the meantime, IBM, embrace that this conference is representing the nerds. You do not need the concerts and fog machines and the club lighting rig. Further, you do not need to also be completely scripted and awkward.

There was a roundtable meeting of some IBM philosophers but they did not all have the personality and opinions to make the segment work. It did work at first, though, as two days in, it was the first unscripted bit to occur on stage.

This is the IBM RATIONAL Conference. Focus on who the audience is. What companies are in attendance (and not just presenting or business partners). Go over the new features in RTC, DOORS, RQM, Rhapsody, and the like. I know there are detailed sessions for this but give the overview dammit. You wouldn’t expect Apple to announce a new iPhone at a conference but then relegate the demo to a prerecorded narrated video on the second day of the conference, followed by signs saying, “See the new iPhone in session RDM-1234,” would you?

There are amazing things that IBM does as a company–environmental initiatives and even encouraging their employees to donate time to charity. Ramp up why we should all be proud to be using IBM software, and why IBM’s solutions in the ALM space are the best. Don’t, however, sell me a server that does…um, I don’t know what it does.

TLDR: Hire writers. Be less awkward. Embrace your nerdiness. Free liquor/aspirin at the keynotes. Wet T-Shirt contests (my estimate is that 70-80% of attendees are men). Please IBM, anything but what you’ve been doing.

Agile Everything

I have a feeling that if I had gone to the conference ten years ago (assuming it existed), the buzzword would have been “open source”. This year, like last, IBM has assumed that everyone is using Agile Development.

I have nothing against Agile and in fact think it probably works very well when used properly. But Agile does not work in all industries, and not all of your customers use it.

Speaking of buzzwords…


I heard at least three different IBM people use the word “Productize.” It brings up visceral feelings in me. If you use the word “Productize” you have lost a huge piece of your humanity. Please dig deep and search for your lost soul. I sincerely hope you find it.


There is still no way to know whether a session is worth attending before you attend it. This is a sore point for me.

I presented at Telelogic’s conference in 2007. My white paper and presentation were scrutinized, in some cases I thought way too much, but, but ultimately I produced a better presentation because of it.

Some presentations are really good, but there are more really bad ones. Sometimes it’s as simple as a session being misnamed. Other times miscategorized (expert level for novice session–it has happened). But usually it’s because the speaker is just plain boring and their presentation is not polished.

The year after my presentation some people whispered in my ear that it was possible that I had been blacklisted from presenting because I plugged this very Web site. I didn’t pay attention to it, and the next year I submitted a great idea and then was denied. I took the denial personally and I let IBM know why.

Unlike many attendees, I paid my own way to the conference (that is, I went on my own dime, not my employer’s). Yes, it benefits both Baselines Inc as a company and me as a person, but the fact is that I do not like spending $2000 and then going to sessions that waste my time.

I posted thoughts on some of the sessions as I was attending them, and you can find more thoughts on the presentations here.

The iPhone App

I had the iPhone App but could never sign into it, even though I could sign into the Web site. My guess is because my password had special characters in it. That’s fine–but the App gave me nowhere to get help from within the App. I could not report this problem.

How IBM Can Improve Innovate

The Telelogic conference was in a different city each year. I understand that for logistical reasons this is challenging, and this conference is much bigger than Telelogic’s ever was. But can we get a change of scenery every couple of years, at least? I recommend The Bahamas, because I’ve never been.

The presentations are still all over the map in terms of quality. Since there were so many conflicts in what I wanted to attend, and I can only be in one place at one time, I believe scheduling should be rethought. Perhaps fewer presentations, bigger rooms, and stricter standards for the ones that do get to present.

Also, give training to presenters on how to talk. Make every single presenter go through some Toastmasters-like training for a few hours the day before their presentation. Prep these speakers. It’s sorely needed.

Increase the number of certifications from 2 to 3. You want to encourage people to get IBM Certified, right? Also, run certification tests in the evenings. I don’t want to miss a session in order to get certified.

Think big in terms of marketing and contests. Make people want to do your tasks. Yes, I personally had too much self-respect to pose for a picture for a measly 4GB thumb drive. But I’m sure IBM could think of something to get more people to participate.

Own your nerdiness or go all the way in the other direction. Either lose the club lights and dance music, or offer after parties at dance venues and strip clubs.

Lose the buzzwords. Don’t put the term “mobile” into the title of a presentation unless it’s specific to mobile applications.

Hire writers for the keynotes and segments. Know your audience. Target to them.

Why on earth does the conference begin on a Sunday with useless marketing sessions? I never understood this. Instead of ending with the event on Wednesday, as is traditionally done, why not start the event with a bang on Sunday? Oh, I know, that would be more expensive. OK. Well, instead of the special event on Sunday, make the keynote on Sunday huge, or just throw a huge welcome bash. Or get rid of Sunday altogether. It’s confusing, because the conference really starts on Monday morning.

Can we Innovate on the name? I’d rather it be called “Develop” or “Connect” or “Build”. Make it more human (you can develop relationships and Build yourself). We work with computers. They’re cool, but emotionless. Innovate is just another overused corporate buzzword that doesn’t mean anything to anyone anymore.

And please consider the wet T-shirt contest.

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