I'll admit it, we got a late start on planning the 2014 thwackCamp experience. A host of factors, such as major product releases, competing schedules, and several new employees (including me!) - vied for attention, and before we knew it the calendar was running short on pages.
With weeks, rather than months, left to plan we wondered if anyone was interested, and if anyone would even bother to come.
Our concerns couldn't have been more unfounded. When we put the question "Should we have another ThwackCamp" to the community, the answer was A resounding "Please Say Yes!!"
And so, like geeky little elves in a Fry's workshop, we set to work. In order to create the best possible experience, we gave ourselves as much time as we could spare by setting thwackCamp 2014 right before the holidays - thus the thwackCamp Holiday thwack-tacular was born.
There was one thing which was clear from the outset, a lesson driven home from thwackCamp2013: while in-depth product reviews are nice, what the thwack community craved was discussions about solving real-world problems. Those problems might be around the way to best implement SolarWinds tools, but just as much it could be centered on taking an issue IT pro's face "in the field" and showing how to bring SolarWinds products to bear.
Between takes as we were taping episodes 17 and 18 of SolarWinds lab, we began a series of "water cooler conversations" - the usual "I remember this one time" stories that geeks who've been around the block tend to have, but with the goal of asking ourselves how SolarWinds could have helped.
In the "Fill Up Your IT Toybox" session, Patrick Hubbard helped me articulate one of my ongoing concerns: helping IT professionals get better and translating technology issues into management buy-in. Then Patrick Hubbard, Mav Turner, and Francois Caron more or less sat down, turned on the microphone, and had the same type of discussion they have ANY time they end up in the same room talking about ways to perform an end of year "Inventory and Security Clean-Up". Finally, my experiences being saddled with supporting SQL servers led to the "Accidental Admin" session with "SQLRockstar" Thomas LaRock.
After putting hours of work into each session - hours often sandwiched in between flights to conventions, hosting webinars, filming SolarWinds lab episodes, and getting up to speed on the amazing features baked into upcoming releases of our products (which my NDA forbids me from discussing. But by Grabthar's Hammer, I gotta tell you guys, some of the stuff we got in the pipeline is SUH-weeeet! If you aren't already subscribed to the "What We're Working On" thread on thwack, do it NOW!) - we knew we had some killer sessions.
So where we stood as thwackCamp loomed nearer was that we knew the thwack community wanted it. We knew we had sessions that would hold people's interest. But we wanted it to be an EVENT. Further, we wanted people to tell their non-thwack friends about it.
That's when the SolarWinds management team delivered a true holiday miracle, in the form of a $5,000 budget to spend on prizes and give-aways. That gave us all the excuse we needed to let our childlike, creative, holiday-fueled minds run wild. What would thwackCamp attendees want? What else? The same cool stuff WE'D want!! Lego gift cards, Herman Miller chairs, espresso machines, kegerators, and OMG A TETRIS DESK LAMP I MUST HAVE ONE NOW!!
But that's all run-up; preparation; prologue. You may be asking, how did it actually GO?
It went beyond anything we could have dreamed. Over 1,100 people signed up for one or more of the sessions, with several hundred attendees making time for all 3 sessions. Both during and between sessions, the chat box was spinning with ideas, jokes, questions, and comments to the tune of almost 8,000 messages during camp. At its peak, we were seeing over 10 messages per second. That's an incredible amount of interaction (even if a lot of it focused on beer, cake, and flatulence).
On top of that, new heroes were found - the Rob Boss video was so popular that Rob made unplanned appearances both in Vine and during the live session. Our video team - themselves heroes both behind and in front of the camera - went nuts creating spontaneous vines mid-session as well as running some of their best creative videos from the past. The term "AppFart" has now taken on a life of it's own.
It was a free-for-all of communication, creativity, and community appreciation.
Our feeling at the end of the sessions - 6 hours of constant typing, sharing, advising, joking, and very fast bathroom breaks - was not "what a long day, I need a drink".It was,
"How soon can we start planning the next one?!"