When I agreed to design, manage, and chair RT last year, it certainly was not my intention to set a new standard for genealogy conferences across the board, and yet that is a piece of feedback I have received repeatedly. My main objective was raising the genealogical accuracy of software and raising the technological capabilities of genealogists, so that some day in the future, these two groups would be able to intelligently communicate in a positive and productive manner. This has been my objective for the past five years and RT was a great mechanism to bring this about.
Here are the top ten things that I have learned through my journey of trying to unify technology and genealogy:
1. Expecting everyone who wants to do genealogy to become a professional genealogist is equivalent to expecting everyone who wants to use a computer program to learn how to program - as in code (real code, by the way; not html, folks).
2. You can never replace professional genealogical knowledge with machines, but we still need to solve the problem of helping those novices correctly connect families and individuals so that we don't keep perpetuating garbage family trees. (Also, we need a thorough, kind, and comprehensive way to send garbage family trees to the incinerator when we find them so that bad data isn't perpetuated.)
3. When you tell a programmer what a crappy job he did on a computer program, it probably feels the same as someone who comes along and tears apart the hard work and effort you may have invested in a year-long credentialing project. Computer programs have a soul of their own and deserve our respect even if they don't meet our needs.
4. It's better to come prepared with solutions to the problems you see rather than just whine about the problems. That includes feedback on software. God loves everybody but the whiners.
5. When you speak to a software developer or programmer, he or she is not thinking about the user interface - that would be the designer who makes it all pretty, so it's worthless to tell a programmer that you don't like how a program looks, or where the toolbar is placed, or any of that visual stuff.
6. Software developers are usually too nice or too scared of genealogists to tell them that they are not responsible for any of the visual stuff, so your feedback will likely fall on deaf ears. They manage the "back-end" of the program.
8. Software developers are proud of their hard work. Look for what is good about what they produced and tell them!
9. Genealogists place as many (or more) software demands on developers as high-end gamers! This is a cutting-edge industry where developers have to stay on top of their game!
10. We aren't so different, really. Nobody wants to hear what I have to say when I am doing computer programming, and nobody wants to hear what I have to say when I am doing genealogy. I guess those two halves of me have a lot in common! I am getting really good at loving both of these activities even if my family and close friends really don't want to hear about them. Both of these groups should be incredibly good listeners by now! :)
We both love solving problems, we both are treated like social lepers when we attempt to discuss our respective occupations, and we both care about getting the job done right. I think it's our differences that ultimately bring these two groups together.