Utah Geek Events: Bringing Technology Training Opportunities to Utahns

Pete CodellaNews

Technology workers by day, Utah Geek Events (UGE) planners by night…this is the life of Pat Wright, Kerry Drew, Nathan Zaugg and Craig Berntson.

Utah Geek Events is a non-profit organization created to build the Utah development community by providing training to technology professionals. UGE conducts a number of events throughout the year that celebrate technology and “geek development.” Much in superhero fashion, the four members of the Utah Geek Events board – Drew, Zuagg, Berntson and Wright – volunteer their time to the organization when they aren’t working full-time jobs.

Two key events put on by UGE are Utah Code Camp and SQL Saturday. Utah Code Camp is a spring event attended by more than 800 people, while SQL Saturday / Big Mountain Data takes place in the fall and is attended by more than 300 people. Surprisingly enough, these content-rich events are free and open to anyone with an interest in technology topics. This is made possible by generous company sponsors.

Wright was recently in Madison, Wisconsin talking about the different Utah Geek Events and a participant asked, “You are putting on a big data conference for free? Can I move?”

This is not the first time Wright has had this experience. Other big data conferences like The Hadoop Summit in San Jose, presented by Hortonworks and Yahoo!, generally cost a company $4,000 to $5,000 to send three to four people. This is a stark contrast to the free conference put on by Utah Geek Events.

“Does our big data conference have all of the same topics and suggestions? No. Can it get someone started in big data? Absolutely,” said Wright. “We held the last one at Goldman Sachs, one of the largest collectors of data in the country.”

People of all skill levels find value in Utah Geek Events. Utah Code Camp has 13 sessions running simultaneously, adding up to 68 sessions offered over the course of the day. These sessions vary in content and skill level, so there is something for everyone. Equally appealing to a broad audience is the Big Mountain Data conference, which is a one-day event that transitions from a beginning to an advanced level throughout the course of the conference. Those who attend the full conference gain an understanding of the whole life cycle of a big data project.

Utah Geek Events believes people need to have social skills as well as technical knowledge to be successful at a job. There are two questions UGE leaders ask participants at the end of each event:

  1. Did you learn something?
  2. Did you make a friend?

President of Utah Geek Events and director of databases at Allegiance, Wright has been with UGE since it began in 2010. In the four years since the organization was created, Wright has seen a wave of excitement building.

“In the last three to four years we have seen so much more passion from companies and people,” said Wright. “We want Utah to be a technology empire. We want to be the next Silicon Valley. No, we want to be better than that.”

Wright attributes this new level of excitement to the worldwide need for more technology professionals and the state’s proactive push to make Utah a technology hub. He also gives credit to Neumont University, stating that people come to Utah to attend Neumont, because it is one of the best schools in the country for tech students.

“The state has huge promise because so many tech companies are coming to Utah. Adobe, the National Security Agency (NSA) and Goldman Sachs are all located here,” Wright says of doing business in the state. “There are a ton of opportunities in Utah because of where we live, the cost of living and the beautiful mountains.”

The mission of UGE does not end with putting on events; it also includes supporting others’ events.  Building the community is an important part of what this nonprofit does. UGE leaders posts technology events created by third parties to their website to help get the word out to the community about what is going on. The organization also helps other groups put on events by acting in an advisory role or becoming a sponsor.

The challenge Utah Geek Events faces moving forward is getting the word out about the countless opportunities Utah has to offer. Wright believes people don’t see Utah through the lens of being a technology hub, but it is. UGE is trying to rectify this mindset by keeping its website updated with the numerous events available to the tech world.

The leaders of Utah Geek Events are passionate about building Utah’s technology community and they want others to be too. To view Utah Geek Events, go to www.utahgeekevents.com. All of the events listed are free or very low cost. According to Wright, “People who attend these events will learn something and will be social. Anyone that is in the computer space needs that.”

–          Jessica Nield, May 27, 2014