An interview with CampIO Event Lead William Klos on how CampIO challenges Centric’s people to get creative
It’s become one of the most anticipated Centric events of the year. CampIO, which started out five years ago as a small event for Centric’s tech minded to showcase new ideas and projects, has matured into a full-day conference that takes place in conjunction with Centric’s all-team summer meeting. This year, the conference room is full with more than 80 tech experts and enthusiasts. The agenda is at its max – 20 presentations spanning an entire spectrum of topics including R, Azure, a sentiment analysis of live Twitter feeds, sketchnoting, BPM, fantasy football drafting and even a talk on how to give presentations.
The benefits of CampIO have been many – the event encourages Centric’s people to think about new ideas and engage in projects that truly interest and challenge them. Presentations are educational and the event results in camaraderie difficult to achieve with consultants spanning the U.S.
The road has not always been easy and many goals remain for the future. One of the people who knows this best is William Klos, Centric’s National Cloud Services Practice Lead and CampIO’s Master Orchestrator.
Centric’s communication team (CCT) sat down with William to discuss CampIO’s start, growth and future potential, as well as get his advice on how other companies can replicate something similar for their teams.
An Interview with William
CCT: Take us back to the beginning, five years ago. How did CampIO originate?
WK: In 2010, we started to see our technical people getting antsy…they were eager to take on new challenges and projects that were of personal interest to them. We saw the writing on the wall and wanted to offer them an outlet to experiment. In addition, Centric had gotten large enough by then that not everyone knew each other anymore and we really wanted to foster cross business unit camaraderie. We started an internal technology email list where everyone had a platform to communicate with each other, but we wanted to do something more and that’s how the idea for CampIO began.
CCT: What did the first year of CampIO look like?
WK: That first year we had about 20 people participate. We had bakeoffs, demonstrations, and brought in an outside speaker. It was a good time and everyone seemed to really like it.
CCT: How then did CampIO grow into the format we see today, where the day’s agenda is completely driven by Centric’s people?
WK: The first year was great, but I also talked for four hours that day! We needed to have more participation. So we made some changes. We decided to attach the event to the Summer Meeting, when everyone was together already. We initially changed the format to 30-60 minute presentations and we gave the team all summer (all year if they wanted it) to come up with their ideas, work on their projects and put together a presentation. It ended up being a big production in those first few years. Participating involved creating slide decks, having working code and a coming up with grand idea. For the entire day, we could only have 6-7 speakers. We started asking, “how can we get each presentation into a 15-18 minute window?” Not only would a TEDx-type format allow for more people to share their ideas, but it also made participating more approachable for others. That’s how we got to the format we have today, where many more have the ability to share.
CCT: How have you encouraged participation? Has involvement been a challenge?
WK: Participation was a struggle every year. On some level, it still is, because of timing, client projects etc., but we’ve found ways to make the process less daunting. Now, we don’t ask everyone to bring something shiny, bright, or even fully developed. All we want is a germ of an idea. A direction is what we are looking for. Not only that, but many people have speaking anxiety. Short-format presentations make it easier to take on. We now see an increase in participation every year because of these changes. And it’s fun. People have started to see that and want to be a part of it.
CCT: Have their been any interesting outcomes of CampIO, maybe something you didn’t initially expect to see?
WK: The diversity of talks we get is always interesting. This year in particular we had a wide range and some of the talks were even non-technical. Presentations on speaking, being a better communicator and sketchnoting were relevant and interesting, yet represented new angles for us.
CCT: Do you see that being a trend in the future? Where CampIO opens up to more than just the subject of technology?
WK: I could definitely see us eventually breaking CampIO into tracks for business intelligence, strategy, etc. I’ve noticed that other groups are also using the summer meeting as an opportunity to meet and it would be great if we could combine our efforts. When we set out to form CampIO, we hadn’t seen it as a full training opportunity, but it could easily be so. If we continue to grow, we can easily get there – where CampIO turns into an event for self-improvement.
CCT: You mentioned that training wasn’t an initial goal. What were those initial goals? And have they changed?
WK: Our goals are still very much the same – to develop relationships with each other and to give our people the chance to exercise skill sets they don’t get exposed to in day-to-day work. The main mantra is “don’t bring your day job.” Show us something new. Not only does this make for a more interesting event, but you get a feel for where our people think things are going – it helps to discover trends within Centric. The ultimate win out of this to be able to secure work where our interest lies. There have been project opportunities where we’ve specifically used some of CampIO ideas and projects.
The bottom line is this – we want to keep our people motivated and CampIO has proven to be an outlet for that.
CCT: So, the obvious next question – what have been your favorite CampIO projects that have been shared?
WK: One of my favorites from last year was a presentation on the development of an Arduino automated deer turret! And this year? I really liked Mike Brannan’s talk about his stereo amplifier project. He played music and then talked about the technology that went into it. He’s smart and I, as well as the rest of the group, got to learn a little more about him. The winners each year are always the passionate ones. If you have passion, it comes through.
CCT: What advice would you give to other companies that are interested in learning about and leveraging the passion of their own teams?
WK: First, don’t put too many perimeters around it. Similar to hackathons, this gives people the ability to work on things they want to solve. Don’t restrict the technology, the method, etc. Be open-minded – a good idea is a good idea.
Secondly, don’t be so concerned about the bottom line. Events like this result in intangible benefits. Look at it more as an investment in your people.
No matter what form it may take, foster the ability to be creative. You never know what will follow.
William Klos is a Senior Architect and Centric’s National Cloud Services Lead. William’s career has spanned many aspects of computing and at times has architected solutions from the perspective of data, networking, enterprise, and security – but is primarily an application architect. Most recent experience has William providing solutions around Mobility, Cloud, and Big Data architectures as well as API design and development.
William Klos has been involved with technology since abandoning his desire to be an architect and stumbling into his first computer science class in 1985. Since then he has typically pushed companies into “what’s next.” Contact William to learn more.