A first timers visit to the EUC Masters Retreat

Last month I was able to attend the EUC Masters Retreat 2022 located at the beautiful The Saguaro in Scottsdale, AZ. I wanted to provide my experience attending the EUC Masters Retreat as a first timer. I hope others find this useful and provide insight on what they might find at the next edition. I was technically a sponsor, but I used the opportunity to also attend, learn, and connect.

After returning home from the EUC Masters Retreat, I went to add my name badge to my collection. This got me thinking about how different this conference was compared to all others I’ve attended. The EUC Masters is touted as the ‘unconference’ and it wasn’t a format I was very familiar with. The term made so much more sense after attending and the best way I can describe it to others is that it’s ‘An independent conference driven by the attendees’. Clear as mud? Maybe this will help. Attendees are asked to suggest and vote for session topics they would like to attend over the next couple days. This is a pretty big contrast from the norm where conference organizers typically create sessions and then select some from a pool of community submitted ones. I really like this format after seeing it in action.

Back to my super interesting badge story. So when I went to hang up my new EUC Masters badge, all my other poorly hung badges fell of the hook. As I picked them up, I looked through them and noticed the oldest one I have is from Citrix Synergy 2010. That one took place in San Francisco and was my first ever conference. It was very eye opening for a newcomer. There were a LOT of sessions led by experts and their goal is to help improve your skills and expose you to new technologies and concepts. I was a Citrix administrator during those years and the sessions really did help improve my abilities of being a Citrix admin. Well, at least I like to think they did.

Fast forward a few conference years and I came across several BriForum conference badges (RIP). BriForum was the conference I enjoyed the most out of the others I had been to. There was a huge variety of topics, a large number of community leaders, and the conference locations were all amazing. And who can forget the stroopwafels? I learned so much attending conferences and it got me thinking about ways I could contribute to the community. I was slowly breaking out of my introvert shell and thought submitting a session during the BriForum 2015 ‘Call for Papers’ would be a great way to do that. I thought it was a great idea because what were the chances they would select mine?

At the time, Rory Monaghan was one of my co-workers where we did App-V packaging together. I asked him if he would be willing to co-present an App-V session with me. He agreed and we submitted “Sequencing for Success”. I was excited when they let us know it was accepted, but at the same time I was terrified. I had to get up and present on a topic and act like I knew what I was talking about. Imposter syndrome anyone? To this day I still refuse to watch the recording of the session, but I suppose it couldn’t have been all that bad because they willing accepted two more sessions the following year. Those sessions were “Sequence like a boss” and “Can’t fix your application issue? Try to break it instead!” A huge shoutout to Rory and Drew for putting up with me for our sessions.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end.. 2016 was the final year for BriForum and it was also the last time I attended a conference for many years. Times at my then place of employment weren’t the greatest and didn’t allow for extracurricular activities such as conferences. Shortly after that I got burned out and took a 2.5 year break from applications. I did other IT “things” for a big enterprise where I gained a lot of valuable knowledge about procedures and processes that come with larger companies. This was something I hadn’t been previously exposed to and helped me appreciate other business aspects I barely touched before.

There is one thing that I noticed that remained consistent between workplaces. The everyday hard worker, the experts, and the people out there sharing knowledge with the community are what make this something we want to be a part of.

It was a bit long winded to get to this point, but the EUC Masters Retreat was full of these same people that help keep the IT world moving. Many of whom I recall seeing and meeting at past conferences. I even got to catch up with some old co-workers and former boss/VP from a previous life. That’s when it sinks in.. this is a small community of professionals, but it’s one that comes with a vast amount of knowledge and expertise.

This brings me to why you may be here. You might be thinking about attending the next EUC Masters Retreat. I’ll do my best to give an unbiased view and go through the agenda from the 2022 edition.

The EUC Masters Retreat is an independent conference focused on End User Computing. The 2022 edition took place in Scottsdale Arizona at The Saguaro Hotel and is organized by Steve Greenberg with help from many others including Beth Eliason. They invited all attendees to a Slack channel where you could find almost anything you wanted to know about what was going on during the conference.

Friday

Day one – Friday started off with some good pre-conference technical sessions in the afternoon. Guy Leech had the first session and had a comedy act about something called PowerShell. Denis Gundarev was second where he covered Remote Protocol Performance and was followed by Christiaan Brinkhoff who covered upcoming Windows 365 features that were announced a few weeks earlier.

Guy Leech telling jokes with some PowerShell here and there

After the pre-conference sessions, there was a Happy Hour (HH) where everyone had the opportunity to talk and catch up after being apart for so long after the pandemic. This was a good opportunity to socialize and meet new people in the industry. Although most people tended to stick to others they knew and made it a little difficult at times to join in. My only recommendation for next year’s HH would be to encourage everyone to talk to people they don’t know. This might help newcomers feel welcomed into the group and give introverts an easier way to meet new people. Towards the end of HH, DJ Eshelman and Chris Rogers got long lengths of hair (they had been growing for over 2 years) cut off. The hair was donated to create wigs for kids going through cancer treatments. A great cause and a good way to transition to dinner.

Lori, Steves wife, had the honor to cut the hair

Friday evening

The opening dinner was in the ballroom and I proceeded to find an empty chair. Steve did a great job where he welcomed everyone, explained how the unconference format worked, and what we could expect over the next two days. While Steve was explaining the sponsor dinners, he asked me to announce the dinner event I was hosting for my workplace, “Drones and Dinner with Numecent”. During dinner I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Tobias Kreidl. And as for the food, everything was delicious.

Dinner was served family style where they brought out huge plates of food that were passed around the table. I actually preferred the family style to a buffet because we didn’t have to wait in line. Steve explained that he asked the chef to use his imagination about bringing regional dishes to the table. It really showed because the dishes were unique and very tasty.

Once dinner was over, everyone was invited to a large room to suggest session topics we’d like to see at the conference over the next two days. The room had a ton of chairs in a large circle and microphones were passed around. You were free to take the microphone to suggest a topic that you or someone else could present. Each topic was written on a ginormous sticky note and placed on the wall. By the end, there were a LOT of topics submitted and one of them was one I suggested. After that, everyone voted on the topics they would like to see on the agenda for Saturday and Sunday. They also had sign up sheets for the sponsored dinner parties you could attend Saturday evening.

Saturday

Before breakfast, there were plenty of extracurricular activities you could attend if you’re a morning person. I would have attended one, but I needed to locate a good place to fly drones for the outing later that night. I took a long walk around the nearby area and identified two potential locations. That was a success so I hiked it back to the hotel since breakfast had already started.

For breakfast they had a buffet full of typical food items you would normally find here in U.S. – eggs, pancakes, toast, pastries, and more. Sadly no bacon. The sessions were announced in the conference Slack channel and written on the dining room whiteboard. A big complaint a lot of people had (including me) was that it was a bit difficult to locate what rooms the sessions were in. A sign, whiteboard, or some other way to label each room with the session name would have been hugely beneficial. Some sessions ran late causing others to be rescheduled and only added to the confusion. To be fair, this was improved as the event went on and Steve has mentioned they are working on big improvements for next year.

The first session after breakfast had so many votes that it had a time slot to it’s own “How to talk so people hear you”. I really enjoyed the session, but it wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. It was more about listening to other people and understanding what they are saying. Either that or I’m terrible at listening! All joking aside, I still enjoyed the session and just happened to get partnered up with someone who already practiced something very similar in both his work and personal life. What we learned is definitely something I’ve taken back home and have been trying to incorporate into my everyday life.

Some sessions that day ended of being pushed back due to some running into overtime. A recommendation for next year would be to stop a session at the scheduled time to allow the next one to begin. Then allow the speaker to relocate to an alternate location with anyone from the audience wishing to continue. Before lunch there was a choice of Going Deep on Azure, True Scale, Baby Steps to Millionaire, and Hacking 101. I attended Going Deep on Azure which was unfortunately cut short for lunch, but still a pretty good session. Forgive me if I list sessions in an incorrect order. Sessions got moved around Saturday and I don’t remember what sessions got jumbled around.

Saturday lunch

At noon it was time for lunch and this time it was served buffet style. The food at lunch continued the ‘Best food I’ve had at a conference’ streak. One thing I noticed is that each meal had vegetarian options for anyone who didn’t eat meat. One of those choices I recall seeing at lunch was vegan ribs and they appeared to be strips of grilled tofu with dry rub. It was nice of them to provide choices among other accommodations for anyone with differing dietary needs.

During lunch we had a special guest, former president and CEO Mark Templeton who attended via video conference. He actually used a tablet mounted to a remote control Segway type device. Something very similar to, if not, the Double 3. It was a really cool way for him to attend and close out the lunch.

The Mark Templeton robot

Stress Management, the session right after lunch, had a very large number of votes so it had it’s own time slot as well. It was a good session and helped identify different sources of stress in everyday life.

To make this easier, I’m just going to list the remaining sessions for Saturday- How to: Software startups, Automation standards, Mindset of resilience, FS Logix: You’re doing it wrong, Community building, Best practices of remote work. A good mix of sessions to finish out the day.

Saturday evening

6PM Sponsor hosted dinner events.

There were a lot of dinner options for attendees to sign up for, but don’t delay as each one had limited slots available and you could miss the one you really wanted to attend. Some of the dinner options I recall were at restaurants that served Tacos, Steaks, Indian, and at least two different Italian restaurants.

I met our 9 attendees in the hotel lobby and from there we took a 10 minute walk to where we flew a couple of DJI Mini 2 drones. Only one other person besides myself had previously flown a drone that wasn’t a small indoor toy. So I made sure everyone had a few minutes to learn the controls, take off, and land the drone on some landing pads for practice. Then I had a few challenges for everyone to try and took the top 3 to the final round.

The final round consisted of using a 3D printed grappling hook I made and was suspended from the drone on a string. The task was hook on to a payload (3D printed of course) and deliver it to one of two locations. I told everyone they had 4 minutes to complete the objective and was immediately met with doubt of them being able to complete the task. So I gave a quick demonstration to provide some encouragement. Two of the finalists completed the task and the winner, Roy, won by 2 seconds. He received a shiny new DJI Mini SE for having some awesome flying skills. A huge shoutout to the everyone who attended. It was a blast meeting everyone and we had a great time flying. Afterwards we walked back to the hotel and had dinner at the La Senora.

Following the sponsor dinners, Control Up hosted the night party complete with musical entertainment by The Waters and stand up comedy with Guy Leech. The party was fun and was next door to a chill lounge sponsored by VMWare that had two pinball machines and a ‘real-life’ pong game. I played pinball for a bit and then ran into an old colleague I passed earlier in the day. We had a great time catching up and shutdown the party down hanging out with Guy and Esther. Overall, Saturday was one of the best outings I’ve had in a long time.

The Chill Lounge

Sunday

The final day started with early activities such as hiking at Camelback Mountain. I opted to skip since I’m too old to hike after 3 hours of sleep 🙂 That morning they had a Sunday brunch complete with lots of bacon and other goodies. I grabbed some crispy bacon (yum!), scrambled eggs, and potatoes. I don’t have breakfast very often, but this was the only meal they were serving Sunday. So I made sure to grab something before flying out.

After Sunday brunch

The session lineup for Sunday: Troubleshooting logins, User monitoring tools, Fearless aging, App management & Liquidware whiskey, Emerging threats, Presentation skills.

Earlier I mentioned I suggested a session and that session was ‘Application Management, an open group discussion’. On Friday when I submitted the idea, Tim Mangan (Godfather of App-V) came up to me and told me he would present with me if we kept it vendor agnostic. Unfortunately, the open group discussion topic got combined with another that wasn’t so agnostic (no hard feelings, life happens). Since it was no longer vendor agnostic, Tim and I agreed to try again next year. By this time it was about time to fly out to Numecent headquarters to finally meet a lot of my colleagues in person for the first time (darn COVID).

I hope to be able to attend next year and have heard it will be at the same location. Steve and Beth sent out a survey to everyone who attended and it shows feedback is taken very seriously. They are actively working on tweaks for next year and look forward to them as they address most of the shortcomings I experienced.

This post ended up being much longer than I originally anticipated. At one point I decided I wasn’t going to finish this post, but I changed my mind and luckily I didn’t delete the draft. If you got this far, thank you for reading my ramblings and putting up with my excellent grammar. I hope this is useful to anyone who may be considering going to a future edition.

Update May 4, 2022: I mistaken listed Steve and Beth having the same last name. Her last name is Eliason, sorry Beth! I also added a picture of the haircut featuring Steve’s wife, Lori.

A huge THANKS to all the sponsors of the EUC Masters Retreat 2022

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