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My First ABI Conference

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Far Reach has been involved with the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (Iowa ABI) for several years now. I’ve been to some of their events, but this year I got to go to my first Taking Care of Business annual conference. Kate, Kelly, and I all attended from Far Reach.

The conference is notorious for being jam-packed with networking time, learning sessions, and opportunities to see the host city, which was Coralville this year.

I had a great time talking with people and learning about other Iowa businesses. Here were my highlights.

Day 1 – Tours & Networking

The ABI conference starts with alternate activities—tours and golf. Kate, Kelly, and I split up to get exposed to the most of Coralville. Kate golfed in a foursome at Brown Deer Golf Club, Kelly took the University of Iowa Medical Innovation Tour, and I toured Kinze Manufacturing.

Seeing Kinze Manufacturing’s facility was really interesting. They did something I haven’t seen on a tour before—they drove us around in a cart—like what you’d see at a theme park. I was glad we drive through the plant because we got to see more of it than if we were walking. We also got to walk around Kinze’s Innovation Center, which was interactive and kid-friendly.

After the tours was a night full of networking. I went to the first-time attendee meet and greet, where I got to meet other ABI conference first-timers. There were also a few conference veterans there who gave me good tips like 1) there's no need to get to breakfast early and 2) grab a seat right away for the keynote so your back isn’t to the speaker. The rest of the night was general networking at the hotel and at 30 Hop, a fun eatery right down the street from the hotel.

Day 2 – Learning, Learning, Learning

Keynote: Marc Goodman

The second day of the conference was full of sessions, both general and breakout. The morning keynote that really spoke to me was Marc Goodman, who talked about cybersecurity. I took a lot away from his talk for my personal life as well as for my work at Far Reach.

There were two big themes in his talk that I think apply to what we do at Far Reach. First, cybersecurity isn’t just an IT problem. It’s an organization-wide cultural problem. Second, when an employee leaves an organization, that’s big potential for security issues. So how can we protect ourselves and build software in a way that helps companies stay secure and easily update permissions?

During his talk, I also realized knowing is half the battle. And I was surprised at how much I didn’t know. Here are some helpful resources he mentioned:

  • Marc’s class called How to Secure your Digital Life
  • Turn on auto-updates—keeping software up to date can help avoid up to 76% of all issues
  • Don't use the same passwords for multiple sites, manage passwords with reputable password wallets (Dashlane and 1Password were the ones he mentioned)
  • Enable 2-step verification/authentication on sites that offer it, or use Turn on 2FA
  • Don’t share your password like these people did with Jimmy Kimmel

If you’re interested in cybersecurity, you can watch Marc’s TED talk.

Breakout Sessions

Wednesday afternoon was filled with two breakout sessions.

The first session I attended was called The Science Behind Knowledge Worker Productivity by Jan Johnson, VP Design & Workplace Resources, HNI Corporation / Allsteel. I took a lot away from this session because, of course, we’re knowledge workers at Far Reach, and we’re always looking to improve productivity.

Jan presented the factors that research has shown are required for knowledge worker productivity, including both team and individual factors. The factor that opened my eyes the most was referred to as social cohesion—basically that as team members, I’m just as concerned about your success as I am about mine. This mentality is vital for success.

This session got my mind rolling about things I can try as scrum master at Far Reach.

The second session I attended was on a topic close to my heart—STEM. Did you know high school STEM teachers do 6-week externships at local businesses during the summer? I didn’t until I attended this session. These externships are win-win experiences for teachers and businesses. Teachers get hands-on experience with the topics they should be equipping their students with and businesses get a strategic outside brain to help with problem-solving.

Networking

Wednesday night was another night of networking. We got to hang out at Kinnick Stadium, which was cool even though I’m a UNI fan. Go Panthers!

Day 3 – Inspiration

By day three, most of us were exhausted, so the conference planners took it easy on us. But not too easy. We still got to hear some great Iowa success stories.

I got to see this year’s Leadership Iowa class graduate. I wasn’t familiar with the program, so it was interesting to learn about it. The Leadership Iowa class gets together for a few days each month in a different part of the state to learn about businesses and initiatives across Iowa.

We also heard from John Anderson, who goes by Andy. He’s the UNI professor who climbed Mount Everest last year. It was obviously cool to see all of his climbing pictures and hear about the adventures he’s been on. But one thing he said really stood out to me: the best approach is an iterative approach. In his world, iterative meant prepping for more than a decade to climb Everest, whereas some people try to squeeze preparation into just three years. For us, it means building, launching, and learning along the way as we develop software solutions for our clients.

I think the overarching lesson I took away from the conference is that the connections that we make with people are the most important part of what we do. This conference helped us make a lot of great connections and I’m already looking forward to next year! It’ll be June 4 – 6, 2019, in Ames. 

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