I traveled to Marion Correctional Institute (MCI) in Ohio on Saturday, where I delivered a couple of talks to about sixty inmates at the MCI Careers in Technology Conference, informally known as PrizCon. An airplane bug has sidelined me for the day (I’ve worked from home before when sick, but talking is uncomfortable), so I’ll take the time to relate my experience.
First and foremost I must thank Dan Wiebe for creating the program behind the conference and the conference itself. I also thank Pillar for helping by sponsoring the event. Thanks also to the prison staff, who were plenty gracious for supporting something that only makes them do more work. And finally, thanks to the other presenters and attendees for turning this into as real a conference as any other I’ve attended.
Dan has been working with inmates at MCI for a while. He’s also been blogging about his encounters for a while; please take a look at his postings for additional background information. He’s already posted about the conference itself, as has Joel Helbling.
With this conference, Dan put together a fantastic opportunity for both inmates and people from the outside to get together and talk about software development. Presenters included both external folks and prisoners. All in all, it was perhaps the most rewarding experience I’ve had over the past decade.
What was most striking was how enthusiastic and passionate the conference attendees were. Their knowledge about software development ranged from zero (“what is code?”) to having built software professionally in the past. Yet all listened intently. I had several great conversations with inmates who wanted to know where the industry was heading, or who wanted to talk about their experiences with reading through Agile Java, or just wanted to thank me for coming out. I was also happy to meet some of my peers in the industry who came both to present and to listen.
As far as being in a prison, a suggestion Dan had made helped me avoid being at all uptight about being in there–he said to simply treat them in a professional capacity, as if they were coworkers. It worked like a charm. I believe our talks left them with something they’ll remember for a while (including a few laughs), and I hope they are able to take some of the messages to heart.