They got connections — and T-shirts

I spent a sweltering June Monday in search of techno-geeks, and discovered that the taped-glasses-and-pocket-protector stereotype is passé.

Instead, by their Palm Pilots shall ye know them.

Actually, I didn’t have to search too hard. More than 300 of them, from some 60-odd colleges and universities throughout North America, had descended upon Penn from June 23 to 27 for the ResNet 2000 conference.

The annual conference brings academic residential network and computing-support people together for — what else? — networking. That, and discussing trends and issues in academic residential computing.

And T-shirts. Let’s not forget the T-shirts.

For the ResNet crowd, “dressing up” means donning a polo shirt: in fact, you could spot the administrators in the crowd because they wore polo shirts with their shorts and sandals or sneakers. Everyone else wore their passions on their T-shirts: their school, their favorite make of computer, their preferred techno-gadget.

Which makes the annual T-shirt exchange one of the conference’s high points. Participants bring along several of their staff togs — polo shirts are OK too — and in return get lottery tickets for a chance to snag someone else’s. This year’s most-coveted top was a tie-dyed number from Clemson University, but there were other cool contributions, including one with attitude from Bucknell University.

On its back was the legend “Call someone who cares.” Down at the bottom, beneath where the shirt would be tucked in, is the number of the campus computing support desk. “So depending on how you feel that day, you can display the number or not,” said designer and Bucknell support specialist Dan Rea.

But the casual dress belied the serious business that took place at the conference. There were panels on technology, hardware and software issues; workshops on on-line service delivery; and even panels on such non-technical matters as hiring, outsourcing and copyright law — a hot topic thanks to the popularity of Napster, a program that turns the Internet into a giant free jukebox.

From modest beginnings at Stanford University eight years ago, the conference has grown into a major production. Now that large corporate sponsors are getting harder to find, events such as the Independence Seaport Museum party the Penn host committee threw June 25 may be scaled back or dropped, said Phil Gibson, the head of business development for academic computing at Stanford.

But the conference’s intimate atmosphere – “It’s small enough that you see the same faces each year,” Gibson said — will remain.

As will the T-shirt exchange, of course.


Originally published on August 31, 2000