Why create an IT Professionals Conference?
The catalyst for the creation of the IT Professionals Conference happened at an IT Policy and Planning forum held in November 2016 which discussed the topic of “Being an IT Professional at UW-Madison: Guidelines, Best Practices, and Advice.” At that meeting, a variety of campus IT partners came together and identified a gap in the professional development options available to IT staff, namely an affordable, one-day conference by IT folks and for IT folks at UW-Madison. Prior to the creation of the IT Professionals Conference, there was the leadership-focused ITLC (now I&TLC for the Information & Technology Leadership Conference) and the security-focused Lockdown conference (now called Cybersecurity Forward) on campus. These campus IT partners identified the high value but limited scope of Lockdown and also noted that ITLC only advanced leadership skills. What they wanted an opportunity to share technical skills, tools, and lessons learned while doing the work of IT on campus. These sentiments echoed remarks made in April 2015 at a UW-Women in IT hosted series that there is a need for two tracks in IT: a leadership track with people and resource management components and progression, and a technical track for IT Professionals who want to advance their careers as technicians. The original event sponsors, the Office of the CIO and Don Nelson, agreed on the need for a highly technical conference and encouraged the emphasis on technology skills, knowledge, and community.
Year One – 2017
Planning for the first IT Professionals Conference began in January 2017 with setting a preferred hosting date in May 2017, which positioned the conference between ITLC (originally in April) and Lockdown (originally in June). The conference was first announced to the campus community on April 28, 2017. The planning committee received forty-four (44) proposals and accepted all proposals, which has become a common practice for the program committee since. The first conference was held in the Health Sciences Learning Center (750 Highland Ave) and had 228 registrants, with the keynote address by Willy Lee.
Years Two and Three – 2018-2019
The second year of conference planning started in November 2017 and began with the creation of the official steering committee and subcommittees. The steering committee would consist of two co-chairs (on two year rotating terms), a project manager, an IT Connects liaison, sub-committee chairs, and 2 ad hoc members (or subcommittee co-chairs). The sub-committees they decided on would be Communications, Logistics, Program, Keynote, and Finance. These sub-committees would change slightly as the conference has evolved, but the steering committee layout remains the same.
Additionally, in the second year we began providing speaker support to encourage new and inexperienced speakers to feel comfortable submitting presentations to the conference, and the conference was moved to Granger Hall (Wisconsin School of Business) in order to accommodate more attendees. The conference continued to be held in that location until 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Years Four, Five, and Six – 2020-2022
In March 2020, right before the call for presentations was about to open, the UW-Madison campus completely shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With only 11 weeks until the conference, the steering committee had to make the tough decision whether to cancel the conference. With the pandemic situation changing rapidly and so many unknowns about the future, the steering committee was unsure if campus would be able to re-open so the conference could be held in-person. At the same time, there were very limited tools available for virtual events (this was the pre-Zoom era after all). The steering committee decided that the conference was more important than ever to connect a community that was now separated by distance, and tasked the subcommittees with transitioning to an entirely free virtual conference. The logistics committee researched software platforms, the program committee sent out the call for live and pre-recorded presentations, the keynote committee secured a keynote speaker who could present virtually, and the website committee was officially formed to make the website the hub for conference communication.
The 4th Annual (and 1st Virtual) IT Professionals Conference became a two day event that occurred on June 4th and 5th, 2020 with over 300 attendees. Year 4 also introduced the IT Awards, an event that continued onto the 5th Annual IT Professionals Conference, which was also a virtual 2-day event with about 285 attendees.
The 6th Annual IT Professionals Conference, was also a two-day virtual event with over 500 registrants. That year, the IT Professionals Conference planning committee was able to introduce the new Zoom Events platform to campus. Zoom Events allowed for one link to the entire conference, and introduced a “lobby chat” for participants to use to feel connected in a virtual space. Additionally, the planning committee offered a few in-person watch parties and an in-person post-conference social at the Memorial Union Terrace.
Now – 2023
This year will be the 7th Annual IT Professionals Conference and it will also be a virtual 2-day event via Zoom Events with some possible in-person events.