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Fighting fit in lockdown: driving towards our virtual conference

I hope this finds you, your family and colleagues well. It’s certainly been a strange few months. Like many other people, the lockdown meant I embarked on a renewed fitness regime, losing 25lb (around 11kg) in the process. I wasn’t actually aware that I was carrying that much excess baggage. And the worst thing? With no physical GSE UK conference this year, I can’t show off my newly reacquired athletic physique. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

And while I may be considerably lighter, what won’t be slimmed down is the GSE UK 2020 conference (see what I did there?) Our big annual event will retain all of the breadth and depth you’ve come to expect from us – and you can rest assured that it’s all muscle.

The “virtual conference” concept may be new for GSE UK but it’s far from new to the rest of us, certainly not any more. Welcome to Planet Zoom (*or your preferred online platform). Once we’d taken the difficult decision to move online, we quickly got together as a team to work out the best ways to do it. As Jamie Pease, Chair of GSE UK’s Security Working Group tweeted recently, “A virus might keep us physically apart for a while, but we can still stay connected, virtually!” A recent meeting of his group had up to 80 participants online, and from across the world.

Our job, then, as interim GSE UK Region Manager and UK Board is to work as hard as we can to make our virtual conference as real as possible. Which means thinking a little differently.

The great mathematician Alfred North Whitehead believed the old proverb ”necessity is the mother of invention” was rather silly, and that “necessity is the mother of futile dodges” was much closer to the actual truth. While we may have gone online through necessity, the last thing we want to give you are “futile dodges”. Whitehead also said that modern invention was founded on science, and that science was “almost wholly the outgrowth of pleasurable intellectual curiosity” – my emphasis.

That, for me, sums up GSE UK and our conference: “pleasurable intellectual curiosity” fuelling knowledge sharing and leading to new approaches and practical benefits. It’s about making things fun, engaging and educational. If you’ve been to a GSE UK conference before, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, I urge you to join us, whether that’s online in 2020 or, we hope, in person in 2021. No futile dodges, guaranteed.

So, what can you expect when you attend between 2nd and 12th November?

The first thing you may notice is that we’re pacing ourselves a little. We’ve taken the intensity of our three-and-a-bit day conference and stripped it across six days: three days each, Tuesday to Thursday, in two consecutive weeks, plus the opening keynote on the afternoon of Monday 2nd. This gives attendees some breathing space to plan our attendance and thread it through our working lives, so we can make the most of the riches on offer. Each day starts at 09.00 and ends at 16.00. The topics for the technical and training sessions – 120 at the last count – will be published as normal, as a full conference agenda, once the details are finalised. And just like our physical event, if you provide feedback to sessions you attend then you can get a CPE certificate that shows all the sessions you took part in.

We have some great keynote speakers planned, with four keynote sessions in total, including a long-standing senior IBM executive reflecting on a fascinating career. We also want to make the conference as interactive as possible. We’ll have volunteer moderators to run sessions (please get in touch if you’d like to take part) and are making changes to our website to make access and attendance easy.

We’re also working with fantastic sponsors. We depend on our sponsors to support the event and make it happen each year, and it’s great to see them supporting this new format. Our 2020 sponsors include Compuware, New Era, Fitz Software, Velocity Software, Macro 4, BMC Software and BMC Mainframe Services (previously known as RSM Partners).

All of this will be available to our members free of charge. But this year we’ve gone further: under the present circumstances, and as we are online, we’re opening GSE UK’s virtual doors to everyone who wants to take part. So please spread the word. The more the merrier.

One thing we can’t really arrange is a raucous post-dinner raffle, but we still have a brilliant conference charity to support. This year, it’s NHS Charities Together. We hope you can show your appreciation for the conference and the work of all our volunteers by making a donation here. Our target is £2,000. I’m sure we can reach it. Last year, we donated £2361 to Barnardo’s and £2361 to Mencap.

Of course, I’ll miss seeing you all: those unexpected encounters in the corridor, those late chats in the bar, catching up over breakfast. We’ll have those times again, I’m sure about it. For now, it won’t be quite the same. But what it won’t be – and I can promise you this – is a futile dodge. See you online in a few months.

For more information, visit our Conference web site here

(If you want to keep up with developments, please make sure you’ve subscribed to our mailing list.)

Mark Wilson is GSE UK Interim Region Manager and GSE UK Conference Manager. An international speaker in mainframe security and technology, and a passionate advocate of all things Z, Mark is Senior Director, Consulting Services, BMC Mainframe Services by RSM Partners.

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