MacAdmins at Penn State is now in its sixth year, and continues to grow. This year, nearly 600 attendees have come from seven different countries on four continents to MacAdmins on July 7-10, which is designed for anyone who deploys and manages Macs and iOS devices.
So, what draws people to the event, inducing them to travel from as far away as Australia and Argentina to Happy Valley? Chris Dawe, a technology consultant, did not travel quite as far as those places, but he did cross the United States from Seattle to attend MacAdmins.
Chris Dawe, a consultant in Seattle, handles mostly small business and some K-12 school technology consulting. He is currently branching out into wireless networks and management of infrastructure technologies for education. “This conference for me does a couple of things,” Dawe said. “One it provides a fantastic mix of extended technical sessions, and the technical sessions at MacAdmins at Penn State are longer than most of the other conferences that I’ve attended so they allow for more technical depth, more Q&A during the session, and also a greater amount of variety because there’s 4-6 sessions going at any given time.”
The second thing that brings Dawe to MacAdmins is the flexibility and responsiveness of the MacAdmins staff, who he said are constantly working to improve the event based on attendee feedback.
“The conference organizers from MacAdmins are extraordinarily responsive to attendee feedback in the sense that if they receive feedback that a certain element of the conference that isn’t working right, they’re more than happy to try something else,” Dawe said. “They’ll quickly modify what they’re doing in response to that feedback and I loved that.”
The educational component, the first thing Dawe mentioned, has proven to be a big selling point for attendees. “I feel like I’ve learned more here than at any other conference or even training that I’ve been to,” Mallory Tallquist, director of information systems with Saturna Capital, said. “I was new to the Mac administration community when I first came to this conference and I felt it got me up to speed really quickly.”
Tom Bridge attended MacAdmins for the fourth time, and is a partner at Technolutionary LLC in Washington DC. “We fix Macs for a living,” Bridge said.
For Bridge, he believes the sessions that are part of MacAdmins helps to keep him on top of the latest changes and how to address them. “Hearing from other admins about how they are coping with how Apple is changing their environment is very helpful,” he said. “Pepijn Bruienne talked about how he has moved all of his Netboot infrastructure to Linux, and how he did that is really unique and that was a great session.”
As the conference has grown, the interpersonal component of MacAdmins has grown with it, both as a professional networking event and as a place to meet and make old friends. “Many of us work alone, 50-80 percent of the time,” Dawe said. “So having what we colloquially call the hallway sessions where we talk informally with colleagues, share solutions, and share problems and experiences, is pretty invaluable. Hard to pin a price tag on that. For me, that is part of what has made MacAdmins at Penn State a non-negotiable on my schedule.”
Nate Walck, who works at Facebook, said that MacAdmins is a way to get to know people in a growing community. He notes that the MacAdmin community may be small but is growing rapidly. “It used to be easy to know everyone, but now it is getting harder.” However, MacAdmins gives him an opportunity to connect with that community in a very human way. “You can generally get to know a lot of the people who come to these conferences and build great working relationships,” Walck said. “It feeds into the open source world as well, allowing for collaboration.”
Shannon Barragon, IT director for iLead Schools, was a first-time attendee, and a presenter. For her, the community helped to settle any presenter nerve she had. “It’s a very supportive environment,” Barragon said. “I never thought I would be able to present, not something I thought I would do, and it was such a supportive environment to do that.”
Tallquist also found MacAdmins to be supportive for women in technology, which is something she said she really appreciated. “The first year I came I was surprised at the overwhelming support for women in tech and women in Mac IT specifically,” she said. “There’s a great group of women who come every year and there’s a supportive network outside of this conference as well. It’s been nothing but great.”
“There was a birds of a feather talk one specifically about women in tech and there were a few men that came to that talk to discuss issues that are specific about us and how to be more accommodating and aware of being inclusive and supportive,” Tallquist added.
For a lot of attendees, MacAdmins has become an event to look forward to and well worthy of a date save on their calendar. Bridge summed it up this way, “This is my favorite week of the year, because we get so many great people together from all over the country, so many incredible presentations going on that week and this year’s been no exception.”