Virtually There

A lot of companies, ArcherPoint included, are allowing employees to work remotely. Webinars and other virtual events are more common than ever (nearly all ArcherPoint’s events are remote, and with employees throughout the country, remote communication is part of our culture). Today, both public and private high schools and colleges are offering online classes – some even have online requirements. I’ve not only taken online classes, I’ve taught them as well, and, having a technical background, I am not only comfortable with virtual learning, I’m a big fan of it. It saves on gas and travel time, and best of all, I don’t have to brush my hair, put shoes on, or look someone in the eye (I am a nerd, of course).

However, I recently had an experience that made me remember that, comfort and convenience aside, there are distinct advantages to physically being there.

Last weekend, I attended Florida Drupal Camp, a day-long conference covering various aspects Drupal, an open source Content Management System (CMS). If you’ve never heard of Drupal, it’s similar to WordPress. Although there are a plethora of online classes and self-study materials offered, the event was only an hour away and very affordable, so I decided to check it out…and I’m very glad I did.

I know one of the primary reasons for attending an in-person event is networking, but honestly, networking has never been comfortable for me, so that wasn’t a big motivator. However, from the moment I checked in, I knew I was surrounded by like-minded individuals—people who were there to learn and share ideas and challenges (and some horror stories) and become better Drupal programmers.

I also had an opportunity to meet several presenters, and after making that personal connection with them and gaining a better understanding of their topics, I decided to attend their sessions. I even got a chance to get to know several members of my local Drupal Users Group.

Here is perhaps the biggest advantage to attending this event. Drupal is a very versatile CMS, with over 20,000 contributed modules and over 1,500 themes. That’s wonderful—and overwhelming. If I spent just one second looking at each module, it would take me over five and half hours to simply look at each one, let alone learn anything about them. It was through attending conferences like this and being involved in the local user group that I have been introduced to several of the modules that I use today. I have been able to see them in action, ask questions, and follow up individually with presenters after their sessions.

I have often wondered about the merits of traveling to attend conferences and trade shows – is it worth the time and expense? This experience reminded me that, particularly for products that are your “tools of the trade,” the third dimension you gain by being there alongside other users and experts is unique experience and well worth the investment (and I believe it is better classified as an investment rather than an expense). Make it a point, even if it’s only once a year, to get out there, stretch your legs, remind yourself how to carry on a face-to-face conversation, and enjoy.