VOL. 114 | NO. 86 | Wednesday, May 3, 2000
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
Techies rule at Lick The Toad meetings
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
The Daily News
What do cocktails and computers have in common? The jury is still out on that question, yet the link seems clear to one group of Mid-southerners.
A group called Lick The Toad started holding meetings about two years ago under the name Memphis Interactive Cocktails to exchange ideas and thoughts about their work in the computer industry.
Members of the group continue to convene for cocktails bi-weekly, and computer talk and problem-solving discussions are the order of business.
The core group members, four men who met during their employment at now-defunct EveryCD, rotate the very informal duty of selecting a topic for group discussion or a guest speaker.
Ross Gohlke, otherwise known as "Head Toadie," said the group began when Paul Ringger, Ben McMeen and Kevin Yancy wanted to find a way to network in an industry that doens offer much human contact.
"Cyberspace is a great place to find things out, but theres no substitute for one-on-one contact," Gohlke said. "We promote the Memphis market; theres no better way to do that than informally."
Gohlke credits Vineet Thapar of Oden Communications with getting the group started, because it was Thapars e-mail list core members used to start the gatherings.
Thapars original list contained 10-20 names; the list has since grown to more than 220, Gohlke said.
Meeting attendees sign in and are notified of upcoming meetings via e-mail, he said.
The meetings, usually held in the basement of Kudzus at 603 Monroe Ave., provide an opportunity for professionals in the computer industry to get together, and as Gohlke put it, "geek out."
The group meets bi-weekly because when members miss a meeting, they dont have to wait so long to get back in the loop. And, staying abreast of current industry trends and pitfalls is central to the groups focus, Gohlke said.
"I want to know whats going on in town interactively," he said.
Ringger said one of the problems with the local computer labor force is the Memphis job market doesnt pay as well as other, bigger markets, which often leads to "brain drain."
"As soon as people realize the value of their work, they leave immediately," he said.
Still, LTT enthusiasts are convinced the city has potential.
"The raw resources for Memphis to become a technology center are here," Gohlke said.
Both Ringger and Golhlke are self-employed and work in the computer industry as consultants, performing a broad range of services.
Ringger said LTT meetings provide a great environment to circulate parts of freelance projects.
"Were all interested in the distributed work environment," Gohlke said.
And, techies arent the only ones who attend LTT meetings.
Members of a variety of fields have showed up at LTT meetings, from real estate and law to insurance and banking, Gohlke said.
Bill Hawkins, training specialist at State Tech, said he occasionally attended meetings for professional and personal reasons.
State Tech conducts one- and two-day computer training seminars, and at LTT meetings hes attended, Hawkins said hes found potential trainers with whom the school may contract.
"Ive found a couple of guys Im interested in. Ive got a couple of classes this fall, XML which seems to be the hottest technology going although nobody seems to know exactly what it is," he said.
Not surprisingly, at LTT meetings, Hawkins was able to make contact with some individuals familiar with XML.
"Ive found a couple of guys there that have some knowledge of it. Its a very interesting group of people. Theyre so young and so smart," he said.
Hawkins has attended about six of the meetings, but said if he had his way he would attend every time.
LTT core member McMeen said besides the social benefits of attending meetings, there is an added bonus for computer industry workers.
"Quite frankly, Lick The Toad is the best place to come find a job," he said.
Although Hawkins missed the April 27 LTT meeting, he said he wished he could have been there since the suggested topic at that session was design vs. development in Web sites.
However, at LTT, "suggested" is the key word when it comes to the open forum. Topics at the groups most recent round table discussion ran the gamut from the best advertising modality for Internet businesses and the importance of customer service to e-consumers, to getting the most out of Internet marketing dollars.
"You never know the direction theyre going to go," Hawkins said.
No matter what motivates people to attend LTT meetings, theyre sure to come away with a different perspective and perhaps a little insight about the way the computer industry operates.
And, theres no charge for attending the meetings. "Except for the price of your bar tab," Gohlke added.