Podcast: The Brainstorm Educational Technology Conference with Vicki Thiele
In our opinion, if you are an IT administrator in education, Brainstorm is the best TechEd conference you can attend.
I want to make it clear: we do not get paid in any way by Brainstorm to promote this conference. I did this interview with Vicki Thiele and am writing this blog post because we truly believe it is a great conference for attendees and vendors. We've been attending Brainstorm since 2017 and absolutely love it - and every attendee we talk to feels the same way. Brainstorm is one of, if not the only, conference in the United States dedicated solely to IT administrators in the education space. In Vicki's words: "It's the Geek Conference." Unlike other TechEd conferences, there are no sessions on curriculum or classroom management. It's a 3-day conference that focuses on security, network infrastructure, data management, device management, disaster recovery, and more.
It is technical content intended for a technical audience.
If, after reading the above or what I'll say below, you are interested in attending the conference, here are some details. Again, we don't get paid to promote this conference, we simply think it's great and want to spread the word.
March 12-14, 2023 in the Wisconsin Dells.
May 7-9, 2023 in Sandusky, OH.
Coming in the fall of 2023 to the Poconos (their last conference there was in November of 2022).
All these conferences take place in a Kalahari Resort. Brainstorm has had excellent success with the Kalahari resort in the Wisconsin Dells, and they've decided to link their expansion plans to where Kalahari builds its new resorts. Plus it's kind of fun to go to a conference at an indoor water park.
For IT Administrators in Education
Brainstorm has its roots in 1999 when a group of IT administrators in Southwestern Wisconsin would get together once a month to discuss technology issues for their schools. Vicki Thiele was invited to sit in on these sessions (at the time she was a vendor to some of the schools), and eventually they decided to put on an actual conference. The conference has evolved over the years and is now a three day event. The first day, a Sunday, is the "Deep Dive" day. It is extremely technical. You can view the complete schedule online for the Wisconsin Dells, but here are just a few of the topics from that day:
An 8 hour session on Google Workspace security.
How to do log analysis of Apple devices by an actual systems engineer from Apple.
A cyber-attack panel where victims of security breaches talk about what happened to them, what they learned, and how others can employ their knowledge for their own security.
A talk from Extreme Networks on how to manage wired and wireless users.
And many, many more talks.
And that's just the first day!
Actual Human Networking
Vicki mentioned that one of the big draws of Brainstorm, beyond all the great sessions, is actual human networking (seriously, no pun intended). We all know that many technologists don't love to chit-chat. However, IT administrators at Brainstorm find themselves surrounded by so many other like-minded people that they can't help but bond and open up. Not just going to sessions together, but eating meals together and, often, staying in touch after the conference. As any IT administrator at a smaller school district knows, you are often either completely alone in running your school's IT systems or maybe have a small team of one or two other people. So building this network of like minded technical peers is a huge benefit of attending Brainstorm.
Vicki told me that attendees should, "bring an empty stomach." Unlike many other conferences, Brainstorm supplies meals to attendees. And not lousy sandwiches. It's good, hot meals. Why is this important? Because these meals provide even more opportunities for attendees to meet one another, talk, and share stories. Plus, who doesn't enjoy a good meal!
I've only attended Brainstorm as a vendor and I wish every single conference we go to was run like this for two big reasons:
All the attendees are decision makers. This means you're meeting the people that actually choose (or at least are highly involved) in the process of selecting technology vendors for their schools.
The vendor expo is only 4 hours long on one night. At first, this might seem like a disadvantage. The conference is three days long, why would I only want to be there for 4 hours? The answer is simple: Because Brainstorm does a great job of getting almost every attendee into the vendor expo for those 4 hours, and they engage with many of the vendors. As a result, you meet 10x the decision makers in 4 hours at Brainstorm than you will meet in 3 days at most other conferences. It's amazing!