Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Pune Zip Conference - Unzipped!

Pune brings back fond memories. The last time I was in Pune was for the 10th STC annual conference, my first conference outside Bangalore. We were there as a family and it was here that my daughter (then a one year old) took her first few steps.

Some of us do a cost benefit analysis when we have to sponsor ourselves for such a conference. So when I heard about the Zip conference, I quickly looked at the list of presentations. There were a couple of topics that caught my interest. The other reason that made me confident about a good ROI was that Mak was organizing it. There are a few organizers with whom you just can't go wrong!
Mak happily, is at the top of my list.

I had booked a 5.50 am flight out of Bangalore on Saturday and was at the bus stop at 3.40 am to catch one of the Volvo buses to the airport. At the bus stop, I realized that the airport buses were not as frequent in the night (duh!) and were only available in one hour frequencies… except at 12.45 am and 3.45am! There goes my flight! As I was pondering what to do, along comes a cab with two people sitting in the rear. The driver tries his best to coax me into becoming the 3rd passenger. I wasn't comfortable with the idea and told him I was not interested. I had heard horror stories about these cabbies and wasn’t in a hurry to disprove anything. As the cab left, another airport traveler arrived. He had seen me turn down the offer from the first cab. As I start a conversation with the other traveler, along comes another cab, and this one was empty. I look at the other traveler and he agrees to use the cab if I tag along. (I should cite this example the next time someone talks to me about trust ;) We agree on the fare and get in. Halfway down the trip, our driver gets a call. He talks to someone and then quickly pulls over to the side of the road. Ahead is another cab. It was the first cab that had approached me! I began to get uneasy (and even locked the door!) That’s when I realize that the first cab had run out of fuel and the driver had called our driver to carry his passengers as well. The first driver recognized me, but you can say that I had the last laugh!

I haven’t even reached Pune and there was already so much excitement! This is going to be good. However, the rest of the journey was uneventful and I reached the venue of the conference with quite some time to spare. Little did I know that the 'adventure' would continue till I returned that night. There were some loud unsettling sounds from the hold of the plane on the return journey. It was just an issue with the air conditioner said our pilot. Well, try telling passengers that your air conditioner has stopped working when you also have someone on the plane with a flatulence problem. Now was a good time for those oxygen masks to pop out! After watching three air hostess demos on the same day (return flight was via Hyderabad, so I got to see 2 demos on the return), you could be sure that I knew exactly what to do. But no such thing happened. I’m carrying my own gas mask on the next flight!

The conference started about 10 minutes behind schedule to a packed hall.

The first presentation was about using wikis for documentation. We use a collaboration tool called Social Text and I was curious on how other companies were using the wiki medium in documentation. Harkirtan explained how they used Confluence in Cognizant. The presentation was well planned and she did a good job presenting it. Wikis are fantastic collaboration tools with some really neat features. Consider this. Social text allows us to create a page by sending an email from anywhere. All we need to do is ensure that there is a particular email address in the cc. Any replies to this email are automatically appended to the page. That way, knowledge is not locked up in somebody’s inbox. Wiki’s have a very friendly mark up language. If you are good at coding, you can go several steps further and create some really cool help pages with small macros or widgets. I’m not good at coding and even I have managed to create help wizards, user filters, etc. The advantages of Wiki include versioning (you can’t go wrong!). The ability to compare versions helps the author check the kind of edits made by an SME/editor. While social text allows only one author to edit the page at a time, there are wikis that allow multiple simultaneous edits. Wiki platforms also have the ability to export a document to certain formats that include PDF or Microsoft Word. I liked the idea of creating a widget that used tabs to allow users to choose the kind of information they would like to view.

The next presentation I looked forward to was about Authoring White Papers. There was a lot to learn from Aviram. Again, some great presentation skills were on display. He had done his homework, was thorough with the subject and was able to handle all our questions with aplomb. He described the sales funnel and how and where White Papers fit in. What were the various types of White Papers? Why write a White Paper? How can Tech writers add value to their work by writing White Papers? How do White Papers differ from other marketing literature. He explained the 3-30-3 rule. Yeah, if you didn't attend, you missed a lot :)
Google is a strange search engine. Don’t believe me. Try this. Search Google Images for “North Indian”. Look at the results. Now search for “South Indian”. See what I mean :)
Rahul gave the crowd some quick tips on how to get better results with Google. There was a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ when he searched for the term ‘boys’ while demonstrating an example, but I’m not delving on that. :)

Here are some of the tips.
  • Search for results that also include synonyms of a search term using the ~ symbol
  • Search for a range of terms using two dots .. Example. Shoes Rs 1000 .. 3000
  • Search for results from a cached version of a page by using cache: url of the website
  • Search for a word in the title of the web page by using intitle: word
  • Search for a word or phrase in the url of the web page by using url: word
The interview with Prashant Karhade was delightful. Prashant shared his experiences on how he turned from IT professional to author to publisher. He wrote most of his first book at work (in Wipro) and then showed it to his boss to emphasize how underutilized he was! He talked about the difficulties he faced while trying to get his first book published. He finally got one publisher to publish his work. However, the result was so pathetic that he felt that he could have done a better job. And that is how he became a publisher, starting his own publishing firm. Evidently, if you thought writing a book was tough, wait till you get it published. Once published, your troubles have just started as you now need to sell the book! There were some hilarious experiences that he shared that had the audience in splits.

And it kept getting better. Sucheta's presentation, didn’t have much to do with writing. Yet, it was both phenomenal and inspiring. 1680 kms in 52 days across the Mongolian Gobi desert… on foot!
I was trying to imagine how she got permission to do the trip with complete strangers.
“Dad, Mom, I’m going on a trip”
She does these trips frequently, so I’m imagining there wasn’t any surprise… at first :)
“Where to?”
“What’s there in Mongolia other than that Gobi desert?”
“Yup, that’s where I’m going.”
After the parents have collected their jaws from the floor…
“With whom?”
“Umm… I don’t know them as yet!”
“How long?”
“2 months!”

Every other question after this point (if there were any) would probably have a “I don’t know as yet” answer.
I would have loved to describe her adventure, but you must listen to her talk. Yeah, listen to it straight from the … err… camel’s mouth! Check this video I found on youtube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRibt_-ZFig. She must have shared her experience so many times that you wouldn’t be surprised if I tell you that the content and style was almost exactly the same. If it were not for the background, this could have been her recording at the conference! Everything including the part about bouncing like a ball after being kicked by a camel and being recognized by the dogs at the university included. There were only a few changes. These were mostly a few more photographs that I don’t see in the video. Now that my dear friend, is consistency!

On a lighter note, I may have an idea on why the camels were upset and sent her rolling. It probably had something with not taking a bath for the entire journey. She may have appeared as serious competition to the camels!
But seriously, hats off to the young lady. If you aren’t wearing one, you should buy one and then take it off for her.

Full 'paisa vasool'. Expecting anything less from Mak, would probably be an insult.

1 comment:

  1. This was first published on the twin website (http://www.twin-india.org/content/pune-zip-conference-unzipped). I am so happy they brought my articles back. This is in case they change their mind : )