The Kalamazoo X conference isn’t like other conferences. Although it is targeted at technical people and the audience is filled with software developers, the content presented is typically not technical. Instead, sessions highlight soft skills, such as team building and education.
Another major difference between Kalamazoo X and other conferences is the session format: The length of each presentation is limited to 30 minutes – much shorter than the 60-90 minute presentations seen at most technical conferences. This serves to keep the audience focused. It’s rare to see any audience member get up out of his or her chair and walk out of a session, partly because they will miss a significant part of it and partly because the session is always close to the end.
The final major difference is that Kalamazoo X offers only one track. This provides all attendees the same shared experience, that they can discuss and compare afterwards. One never has to choose or feel he is missing something.
This year’s conference took place last Saturday at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and featured something for everyone. Nine speakers delivered ten presentations and the day ended with a panel discussion on Interviewing. A fishbowl exercise during lunch got the crowd excited. 5 chairs were placed in the middle of the room and a topic was thrown out. The ground rules of the fish bowl were: You must be seated in one of the chairs in order to ask a question; and one chair must always be empty. Attendees entered and exited the fishbowl area frequently and the conversation grew excited as ideas fired back and forth.
Kalamazoo X is the brainchild of Michael Eaton, who envisioned a conference that fill gaps he saw in the education of software developers. Technical information is readily available to technical people from a variety of venues, but soft skill training is much more rare and this lack of training often shows up in the lack of soft skills displayed by the developer community.
Kalamazoo X is now in its third year. I have attended all three – including the one last Saturday. I have spoken at two of them. Each time, the success was evident – The room was full, the content was excellent, and the atmosphere was electric. I’ve learned about leadership from Jim Holmes, about Community from Mike Wood and Brian Prince, about self-promotion from Jeff Blankenburg, and about life from Leon Gersing.
I’m already thinking about next year’s conference.