A Newbie’s Guide to attending IBM Innovate

In preparation for the IBM Innovate conference starting this June, I’ve put together some helpful advice to newcomers who’ve not been to one of the conferences before. By no means is this a complete list, nor is it an official list. Its MY list. Enjoy:

What to bring

CLOTHING: Well, first off, this is Florida. I live here and know the weather well. The first time you go outside after being in the AC, your glasses will fog up. The conference rooms are on the cold side. Outside? Its HUMID! So, with that said, you need bring business casual for all the sessions (Sunday – Wednesday). You can rethread an outfit for Thursday, or do what most people do and go with shorts. You need to bring a few pairs of shorts, t-shirts or short sleeve shirts for the evenings away from the conference. Next week it is expected to be highs in the low 90’s, with lows in the low 70’s, but still very humid. That said, the weather can change, and we’ve already hit 97 here just few weeks ago. Take the weather report with a grain of salt.

You should bring very comfortable walking shoes, as you’ll be doing a lot of it. Bring extra socks also. Bring flip flops or sandals also. Don’t wear a business suit to the theme park event on Wednesday. You’ll think you look like a professional, but you’ll be a professional fool.  Wear nice casual clothes and relax (this includes the IBM executives). People are more likely to talk to you.

EQUIPMENT:

  • Bring your phone charger! An extra battery for your cell phone is good too. 
  • An extra supply of business cards. This conference is a great opportunity to network.
  • An iPad or tablet is better than carrying around a clunky laptop.
  • An extra luggage tag for you conference bag (you’ll get one of these at registration)
  • A long power cord for your laptop brick if you intend to carry it around
  • A decent pen – the ones in the conference bags suck
  • Aspirin or Tylenol – you’ll understand this the morning after a night at Kimono’s
  • Don’t forget your phone charger (yes, I said that twice)

What NOT to bring

  • A coat. Its Florida in late spring early summer. Leave it.
  • Books. You will not have time to read anything outside of the conference. Leave your heavy technical journals at home.
  • Anything wool. Ok. bring a suit if you’re a sales guy/gal, but seersucker is preferrable
  • Tobacco – people will think it rude if you smoke, plus its bad for your health
  • A bad attitude – this is a great place to make new friends and meet old ones. As the saying goes, you can’t shake hands with a fist.

Where to go

  • Upon your arrival, and after you check into your hotel, you MUST go to the area for the conference registration to get your bag and conference badge. You can’t go anywhere without this badge. Its open at 2pm – 7pm on Saturday, then opens early at 7am on Sunday.
  • Sunday: During the day, there are several deep-dive sessions and some technical workshops. This is a great time to get your hands dirty with code and tools. There is a conference welcome reception, which usually has pretty good Hors d’œuvres, beer/wine, and sometimes a house band. Plan on an early bed time because the next few nights will be late ones!
  • Monday: The opening general session is in the morning. Great sessions throughout the day During the day, many people network in the Dolphin hotel lobby near the fountain. This is the ‘Grand Central Station’ of the conference. The evening ushers in the opening of the pavilion where vendors will hawk their wares and services. You can get a lot of swag, free food, beer, and wine here. There are also several other side events. Kimono’s is one of the hotel restaurants that gets packed at night with lots of IBM’ers, customers, and business partners, and often stay until they close it down.
  • Tuesday: If you’ve not attempted a certification exam, you should plan on taking at least one. At the very least it will give you an idea of how well you know your product. In the evening there are more side events, such as a reception for POWER and System Z customers. Its the only night there is not anything formally scheduled, so this is a good night to make a trip over to Downtown Disney and enjoy some of the great restaurants over there. There are some great Birds-Of-A-Feather sessions in the late afternoon and early evening.
  • Wednesday: In the evening, we will go to one of the local theme parks. We’ll have the whole area to ourselves, and the theme park event is always a favorite of mine. You’ll get a chance to meet others who probably share some of the same business challenges you do, so don’t be afraid to meet and greet. After this ends, plan on meeting fellow colleagues or new friends at Downtown Disney.
  • Thursday: The closing general session is usually poorly attended. Use this to knock out your last certification exam, if you have not already. After the closing of the conference, go check out some of the Walt Disney World parks. You can get some good discounts in the Innovate Concierge area. If you have a car, and want to go get some great BBQ, drive up I4 to Winter Park, FL to 4 Rivers BBQ. http://www.4rsmokehouse.com/. This is the best BBQ in Central Florida. If you are interested in other sight seeing, you can check out Blue Springs State Park, Kennedy Space Center, or just go for a hike on one of the many nearby trails. Central Florida has many great trails, and lots of beautiful flora and fauna that is very different than the highly manicured landscape of Disney.

What to Know and Prepare For

  • Its HOTTER than LotusSphere. If you ever been to that conference, well this is a similar schedule but higher temps and humidity.
  • Lots of walking – sessions are spread out between 3 hotels and a session you may like might be on the other side of the conference. Wear good walking shoes.
  • Wifi access is touchy, but accessible. Don’t expect blazing speeds, but its usable. There will be conference laptop stations where you can check your mail (if web based) or other sites. 
  • Plan your agenda for streams and tracks ahead of time.  The target audience for these presentations differ. Some are for gearheads like myself that want to know how things work, others are for business executives who want to know strategy.  Each session should have a target audience description. General audience sessions are high level strategic. Intermediate and advanced sessions are very technical. Build your agenda before you start Monday, otherwise, you’ll be lost wandering the halls.
  • Diversify your sessions – You are probably coming for a certain set tracks or streams. Don’t be afraid to check out adjacent technologies. If you do development, check out a session on requirements management session. If you do security work, check out a session on quality management.
  • Lots of eating. You can go Sunday – Thursday afternoon without paying for a single meal. 
  • Lots of swag, tchotchkes, and other give-aways to bring home. Be sure to leave room in your suitcase. 
  • European fashion. You will be introduced to men’s capri pants. Yes, I’m still disturbed by it.
  • Heat. Thick long sleeve shirts and brushed cotton khaki’s will make you miserable. Synthetics like UnderArmor wick away moisture. You’ll build up quite a sweat walking between the hotels.
  • Protect your conference badge. If you lose it you are screwed. You must pay a full conference fee to replace it. 
  • NETWORK! This is a wonderful place to meet new friends who are dealing with similar business issues that your but often in different industries, or even different countries.  Bring your business cards and feel free to interact with others.

One Response to “A Newbie’s Guide to attending IBM Innovate

  • Great tips Kenny!

    A few updates/comments:
    Birds of a Feather is Monday at lunch, 12:45 – 1:30. They'll have box lunches for attendees.

    There's not a keynote on Thursday this year, just breakout sessions. But still worth dragging yourself out of bed after a late night at Sea World, Foreigner, and Kimono's. You can always nap by the pool in the afternoon or sleep on the plane home.

    And no mention of your Watson challenge last year? Oh well, you (and everyone else) can try again this year.

    I'll see you there!
    Theresa