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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Backpacks and Booth Paint: TechEd 2012

Arriving in the parking lot of the Orange County Convention Center, immediately knew I was in the right place. As far as the eye could see, the acres of asphalt was awash in backpacks, quirky (to be kind) outfits, and bad haircuts.

This was the place. This was Microsoft Mecca v2012 for geeks and nerds, the Central Florida event of the year, a gathering of high tech professionals whose skills I both greatly respect and, frankly, fear a little.

I was wholly and completely out of element, a dork in a vast sea of geek gumbo. It like was wearing dockers and a golf shirt walking into a RenFaire, but one with really crappy costumes and no turkey legs...save those attached to some of the attendees.

Of course the corporate whores...errrr, vendors were in place, ready to parlay the convention's fre-nerd-ic energy into millions of dollars by convincing the big-brained and under-sexed in the crowd (i.e., virtually all of them...present company excluded, of course) that their product or service was the only thing standing between them and professional success, industry fame, and clear skin.  "With KramTech 2012," they seemed to scream, "you will be THE ROCK STAR of your company's IT department!"

As car shows and tattoo parlors learned long ago, Tech companies seem to believe that the best way to attract the attention of this crowd is through the hint of the promise of sex. They recruit and deploy an army of "sales reps" whose primary qualifications appear to be long hair, short skirts, high heels, and a vagina.

Unlike their distant cousins in the car and body art industries, however, this sub-species of booth paint (semi-gloss decoration that adds nothing to the substance of the product) seems torn between committing to being all-out sex objects and recognition that they are in the presence of intelligent, discerning people.  People who are smart enough to know exactly what these vendors are doing.

Also unlike their distant car show and tattoo shop cousins, these young women (what…are there no gay tech professionals who could use some eye candy?) seem to realize that while IT remains a male-dominated field, there are ever-increasing numbers of intelligent, capable, strong professional women – women who’ve battled to make it in this field through hard work and work performance rather than a hard body and performing after work.

This is not to say that all of the young female sales reps are there only because of their physical attributes.  Many are competent, intelligent, and driven -- not to mention attractive. They're working hard on the front lines of delivering the next generation of technology.

The distinction is pretty clear, however, between these young professionals and the booth paint.  The former enthusiastically deliver credible information about the products they’re hawking.  The latter are positioned in the aisles, uncomfortably avoiding eye contact as they struggle to operate the badge readers.

Surprisingly, not all of the women in attendance seemed to object to the objectification of their younger sisters.  One IT professional woman who came of age in the industry (mostly in IT marketing) said, “I have no problem with it.  I was a ‘booth babe’ for years and it doesn’t bother me at all.”

Others, however, weren’t quite so gracious. One woman I spoke with, an IT manager from Cheyenne, Wyoming, said it was demeaning and frankly, as more and more women grow into IT management positions, not a  great marketing idea.  “Using these young women is, to me, no different than vendors giving out t-shirts to attract attention.  It’s sad because it’s still hard for a woman to be respected in the IT field and this just perpetuates the outdated notion that IT is a male-dominated field.”

She went on to say that decisions by vendors to employ these young women in this “inappropriate way” could impact her purchasing decisions.  “I might be swayed toward a vendor who has women on staff who are intelligent and dynamic rather than the vendors who use the ‘decoration’ girls.”

So in many ways, the IT industry is no different than most other industries as it struggles to maximize performance by finding and developing talent – all of the talent, not just the 50% with a penis.  Women in IT, like their brethren, struggle to find their niche in the field, to grow professionally, and reach for the brass ring, struggling to overcome obstacles as they climb the mountain of professional success in a never-ending cycle of economic uncertainty.

But as (generally) well-educated and highly-trained professionals, they are probably better positioned than those in many other industries. Beside, they’ve got one other advantage over their non-IT counterparts as they attempt their ascent to the summit:

They’ve already got the backpacks.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Nerdstock 2012

I am an IT professional with virtually no IT skills.

I am headed to Microsoft TechEd 2012, into the metaphorical belly of the proverbial beast.

Dear Lord what have I gotten myself into?

Is there a patron saint of the curmudgeonly tech-tarded?

If so, yeah...pray for me.