Posted on behalf of Lisa Rogers.
What conference did I go to?
I attended the USENIX Large Installation System Administration (LISA) conference. I was there to recruit participants for a study we are conducting on system administrators who handle software updates for multiple machines. This is a unusual and difficult target demographic to recruit for so I wanted to use the conference as a way to reach the right study population. I also wanted to gain further background information of the industry at large to inform our data collection and data analysis processes.
Where was the conference held?
In the Market District of San Francisco just across the street from the Bay.
What was my favorite part of the conference?
The community was incredibly welcoming. So many people took the time to talk to me about our research, and career paths, and even on blue sky topics such as the one discussion we had on the best way to RFID tag a moving entity like a cow. I had not ever been to a conference before with quite as much of an open source culture. It was fascinating hearing people from all facets of the industry have very frank conversations about their methods, corporate culture, and policy barriers.
What was my least favorite part of the conference?
That there were so many interesting things going on at the same time and I could not be at all of them! I am really glad they posted the talks online, but wish I had known they didn’t post the tutorials as well. I would have attended tutorials rather than talks if I had known.
What lessons did I learn from recruiting participants from a conference setting?
We set up a booth to attract potential participants to take our survey or sign up for an interview. This was pre-arranged with the conference organizers. We took care to make our booth colorful and to have lots of swag to use to compensate potential participants if they passed our table such as little LEGO packs and candy. I learned that the LEGOs we had at the table at the EXPO drew many more people than the phone incentive we were offering for participation in our survey. Also, I had put many chairs at the booth since the EXPO was mostly standing and these chairs were a big draw for people to sit down and take the survey. For the future, even if they are less expensive or fancy, tangible incentives such as our LEGOs or candy were much more enticing to participants than the chance of a big figure prize. Next time I would capitalize on that kind of incentive for study participation more, and perhaps do a daily raffle or the like on a smaller prize to draw people to the booth. I noticed that worked well for some of the other booths. Also, very few people wanted to use their limited conference time to complete the interview. It was a great place for recruiting for a short survey but not so much for conducting a longer style interview. I actually did, however, interview many people who signed up at the conference at a later stage, soon after I returned from the event.
Having a booth definitely changed the conference experience as well. Even when I was not at the EXPO, I had a hard time making it into talks, because people recognized me and would be curious to discuss our research. Given the purpose of my presence at the conference, I saw these as great opportunities as well. During my “Hallway Track” I learned everything from the basics of programming embedded RFIDs, to how to justify training budgets (especially once your company is acquired by a large company), to non traditional paths in DevOPs that leverage an HCI background.