SpiceWorld 2013: the power of community

If you believe that all technology shows are created equal, you're wrong. Spiceworks' SpiceWorld is so much more than just SWAG and vendor fluff; it's a community. And cool software.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

Spending three days in the spiciest community on the planet has made me a certifiable SpiceHead and I think that's a pretty good thing. It's true that Austin, Texas is a party town but SpiceWorld is more than just a fun time; it's also serious tech—three days of serious tech. One of the vendors told me Tuesday evening that he was exhausted. "This show is different", he said, "The attendees are really engaged and ask a lot of good questions". That was my experience as well. Spiceworks, the company, is an energetic group of very talented, intelligent, and fun people who still behave like they're in their first year as a start-up, which is a very good thing. The excitement rubs off on everyone.

In case you don't know Spiceworks, it's this hyper software company, located in Austin, Texas (aka "Silicon Hills"*) that develops and gives away software.

In its own words:

"Over 4 million IT pros. 2,300 tech advertisers… all getting their jobs done in one place. What started in 2006 as "the free IT" revolution has turned into a way of life for many in the IT world. How? Spiceworks is the first place people go to share and find info on all-things-IT…so much so that some tech products are now even built in Spiceworks!"

SpiceWorld 2013 is more than just a bunch of pre-inebriated techies running around collecting SWAG. It's a bunch of pre-inebriated techies running around collecting SWAG and helping build one of the largest, fastest growing, and most active technology communities on planet Earth. For Spiceworks and SpiceWorld, it's all about community.

It's a very odd concept to many but it works.

SpiceWorld 2013 was a mixture of bacon, coffee, cool tech, and a gaggle of breakout sessions. And the breakout sessions weren't just about Spiceworks software, there were sessions such as:

  • Good Morning, Tech Marketers! Game On. - Tech marketing strategies
  • Windows Server 2012: R2 Details + Upgrade Strategies
  • What I Wish I'd Known Before Starting My Business
  • Scripting as a Second Language: Intro to PowerShell 3.0
  • Been There Done That. How to Win Social IT Street Cred...and Keep It!
  • Beyond Boxes: The Future of Networking

And, of course all of the Spiceworks application-oriented ones, such as:

  • Inventory Deep Dive
  • Help Desk Deep Dive
  • What's New in Spiceworks?
  • Can't Do It with Spiceworks? There's an Extension for That.
  • Grok Your Network, Keep it Healthy
  • Managing Mobile: Take That BYOD!
  • Testing Out What's New in Spiceworks 7.0

SpiceWorld is also about engaging with vendors. And, FYI, they're not just there to sell you stuff or to hand out goodies, they're there to answer your questions, to take your suggestions, and to help you solve the tough problems that you face at your job. Most of the vendors at SpiceWorld are very familiar with and actually use Spiceworks. Many of them have products that work with or are part of Spiceworks, so at this conference, you're talking to the source.

To be honest, it was hard to get time with some of the vendor reps because of the level of engagement with the end users. Often I was a hanger-on, listening in on other conversations between tech users and vendor reps. But that's OK. That's what the conference is for—to engage in face-to-face conversations with members of the community who use the products.

I was happy to see that in most cases, we media types were well-received by the vendors—not all, but most. 

I'd like to say to vendor reps that I'm there for your benefit, not mine. I'm there to engage with you and to carry on conversations that are meaningful to your customers and to your users. Let's say that there's a particular product or service you offer that you consider of very high value, yet no one knows about it. That's what I'm there for—to hear about it, to write about it, and to tell as many as people possible about it through my venues and networks. 

I'm not there to hinder you, to misquote you, or to expose any vulnerabilities that you may have. It seems that some vendors have an innate fear or hate for media types and they shouldn't. I'm there to help you spread the word, to shed some light, and to get you some ink.

Now, to the roads less traveled bit of SpiceWorld: the food and the parties. After a long day of sessions, booth visits, and the occasional pass through media territory, it's time for downtime. Well, downtown Austin offers an array of nightlife and rooftop fun. But, if you hold your horses for a few minutes, you'll learn about the great parties that SpiceWorld's vendors and Spiceworks planned for you.

The Monday night kickoff party at Rattle Inn was fun. There was good food in the form of pulled pork sliders and some jalepeno sausage poppers that were very tasty. Inside the multi-story building, you could enjoy a frothy beverage, a glass of fermented grape juice, or perhaps a bit of the firewater available to you. Good music. Good fun. After the party, the Rattle Inn opened back up for Country Dance lessons. I bailed before I had to see that.

It was on to the Authentic8 party at the Hangar Lounge. It's another multi-story, rooftop bar venue that has an airport theme. They even have a "Pilot's Lounge" on the second floor that has red lights in it. Clever. Not many people know that pilot rooms always have red lights because red light prevents night blindness caused by other light colors. I learned that in my Design Psychology class back in college. It was a cool place with great views and lots of fun.

After you've partied with SpiceHeads, you might need a break by heading to one of the other hundred or so honky tonks, juke joints, restaurants, and cafes scattered throughout downtown for a late night vitamin B boost.

Tuesday evening was a real hoot at Brazos Hall, sponsored by EMC. It was also a multi-story bar, with rooftop venue (a recurring theme in Austin) but with a spooky Halloween twist they dubbed the Haunted Saloon Party. There was karaoke, handmade cigar rolling, lots of dessert munchies, and a decent selection of grapes and grains. I was surprised to hear so many great singers among the tech crowd. Some of them really wowed me, which is hard to do.

No, I did not sing because there's not enough alcohol for you to consume that would make me sound good nor enough to make me go onstage to do it. Open mike comedy, however, is a different story. Maybe next year at SpiceWorld, they'll give me a ten minute stand-up opportunity.

Wednesday featured more sessions, a community session, and the Spicie Awards. Late afternoon wound the whole thing up with raffles, final hurrahs, and farewell. Rumor has it that there was a Unitrends-sponsored after party. I, unfortunately, had to bail early because I drove to Austin and it's an eight-hour trek for me back to home base.

If there's one conference that you should attend, especially if you use Spiceworks, it's this one. I give it my highest marks and recommendations. The backdrop of Austin is the perfect setting for it. I hope they never move it to Vegas, although I do enjoy Vegas***. This is one thing that needs to stay local to Austin.

Well done Spiceworks. It was fun and I learned a lot about Spiceworks, Austin, bacon, coffee, and kilts. I'm looking forward to SpiceWorld 2014 already.

Note: This post is an overview of SpiceWorld, the conference. I have more posts upcoming about Spiceworks, their community, and their incredible software. Stay tuned.

*You know, as opposed to Silicon Valley, because, contrary to popular belief, there are hills in Texas and Austin is smack dab** in the middle of Texas Hill Country.

**A Texas term which means right, as in right there, or precisely. One of many colorful Texasisms. It's like a whole other country. Hey, what a great tag line—I think I'll suggest it.

***I'm known as "Vegas Ken" in some circles. Yes, there's a story there.

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