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IT Unconference: “The Most Magical Time of the Year”

The sixth annual IT Unconference included seven Lightning Talks, 40 sessions, and hundreds of Stanford IT professionals.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017

When you bring together 400 passionate, inquisitive, and Stanford-centric IT professionals from all over campus, SLAC, and the hospitals, it’s hard to know what could happen. And, thanks to the fact that the IT Unconference has no preset agenda, participants don’t know either.

Hundreds of Stanford IT professionals gather for the 2016 IT Unconference, which is sponsored by schools, departments, and units across campus.

On Dec. 8, 2016, the sixth annual Unconference kicked off bright and early at Li Ka Shing, as IT staff members gathered for this annual meeting of the minds, or as Scotty Logan of University IT (UIT) calls it, “the most magical time of the year.”

Jessica Brooks, an infrastructure and outreach program manager in the Humanities & Sciences Dean’s Office, agrees.  “[At the Unconference], opportunities are discussed openly in a forum where people are invested in providing quality solutions for the overall betterment of our community. That’s what makes it so great.”

After breakfast and networking, Unconference participants were invited to take the stage to share ideas for the day’s sessions. Then the Unconference planning committee helped facilitate and finalize the agenda creation by joining together related themes and ideas into single sessions and determining room locations and sizes, AV needs, and other logistics.

The reason for not having a preset agenda is because technology changes so fast.

“If you pick the topics when you are in the planning stages of a conference, they could be obsolete by the time the conference actually happens,” said Marco Wise, Senior Web Developer in UIT, and one of the founders of the conference.

40 topics, five sessions

This year, Unconference attendees proposed over 40 topics which were divided into five sessions. Topics ranged from “Infrastructure Automation with Code,” to “WordPress,” “Creating and Managing Visual Style Guides,” “SAML,” and more. To view all topics and notes from each session, visit the Sessions page on the IT Unconference website.

Linnea Williams of Stanford Web Services delivers a Lightning Talk.

Lightning talks

In addition to the main sessions, another popular aspect of the Unconference was “lightning talks.” Lightning talks are short (up to five minutes), pre-planned presentations given by those who want to get the word out about an interesting project they are working on, or to quickly gauge audience reactions to a new idea.

This year’s lightning talks included:

  • JavaScript driven IoT (Markus Muetschard, Senior Software Architect, School of Medicine)
  • How SWS is bringing CX and UX to the forefront (Linnea Williams, Customer Experience Manager, Stanford Web Services)
  • Implementing a Phishing Training Program for Employees (Ashley Tolbert, IT Security Analyst, SLAC)
  • Mind Your ‘From:’s and ‘To:’s (Karl Kornel, Research Computing System Administrator, Stanford Research Computing)
  • Kaltura: Video hosting at the GSB (Kim Serra, Systems Analyst, Graduate School of Business)
  • Mobile at the GSB (Max Stoaks, Senior Enterprise Architect, GSB Digital Solutions)
  • Data Practitioner’s Community of Practice (Doug Hoppe, Sr. Organizational Insight Analyst, University Human Resources)

To conclude the Unconference, Brad Immanuel, Director of Computer Resource Consulting in UIT presented an executive summary and closing thoughts.

Keeping the conversation going

The annual Unconference originally was born out of the Stanford Technical Leaders Program (STLP) class of 2011, with the objective of building community among IT professionals at Stanford. In light of the distributed units on campus, the creators felt there was an unmet need to have human, face-to-face interactions with other like-minded professionals.

This objective has clearly been met, evidenced by feedback from attendees who said they left the Unconference feeling energized, inspired, and connected. It’s also evidenced by the fact that many of Stanford’s Communities of Practice exist because of conversations that began at the Unconference, and the desire to keep those conversations going.

“The IT Unconference provides a unique opportunity for those in IT spread across the university to convene and express their desires to improve the IT landscape at Stanford, and to carry those ideas and conversations forward into the future,” Jessica added.

Learn more

To learn more about the IT Unconference, review session notes, and see what others are saying via the Twitter feed, visit the 2016 Stanford IT Unconference website.

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