I (heart) Asterisk Geeks!

By Allison Smith

I remember very clearly – before I left for Atlanta to attend the first Astricon in 2004 – debating about whether or not to pack a certain item I had planned on wearing at the convention. I had the idea to have a t-shirt made up – riffing on the idea of the “I (heart) NY t-shirts” – which read: “I (heart) Asterisk Geeks”. It seemed like a fun, novelty item at first – but as Astricon approached, I debated about the “correctness” of me using that word. It’s one of those terms which is group-specific; fine if someone *in* that particular group or community uses it and does so with impunity.

But what’s the kosher-ness of me using it?

You see, I am lucky enough to be embraced and welcomed into this fabulous group of people – and while I immediately felt like a part of the Asterisk Community – even with my contribution to it coming from such an unusual angle (voicing the prompts), I am not technically of your world.
Actually, I’m not technical at all. I have exactly the understanding of technology that you would expect in a Drama Major/Art Minor. I have called my husband – interrupting him doing legitimate computer support at work – to ask where I could have possibly dragged my toolbar.
The pleasant revelation came – when I did decide to wear the t-shirt – was that it was not only *OK* to use the term “geek”, it’s anything but a pejorative. While it may be closely associated with “nerd” in the mainstream, non-technical world, it is a descriptor of the highest honour – or even just an ordinary, workaday title for anyone fascinated by things technical.
I’m happy to report – from attending the latest and greatest Astricon here in National Harbour, Maryland – that I know and love my Asterisk geeks more than ever – and I’ve noticed a sizable paradigm shift in what I’m getting out of this year’s talks.
Being a non-technical person, who has nothing more than a basic understanding of the rudimentary workings of Asterisk, I nonetheless dutifully attend the talks each year and usually find myself overwhelmed by technical jargon (or lulled into a pre-nap-like state with all the non-stop mention of clouds) – except, surprisingly, for this year.
Whether I am absorbing more comprehension through osmosis (intriguing but unlikely) or the talks at this year’s Astricon were just that much more relevant….pertinent….accessible…or, dare I say – crowd-pleasing…..I have to say that the content at this year’s Astricon delivered – for the technical and non-technical alike.
Olle Johansson’s gregarious contribution to Wednesday’s keynote packed the crowds into his “Large Scale Installations: Tips & Tricks” talk – unanimously agreed upon to be one of the most entertaining presentations of the conference. Matt Florell addressed one my pet topics – “Whipping Asterisk Music on Hold Into Shape” – addressing an oft-neglected aspect of the way companies present themselves and the importance of doing your on-hold aspect well. Sandro Gauchi’s presentation “Just How Vulnerable is Your Phone System?” answered its own question, as audible gasps could be heard from the audience as he hacked – live – into systems which were universally thought of as “secure”.
Inveneo’s Mark Summers’ keynote this morning – which highlighted the important uses of Asterisk in disaster relief and ways in which it can be used to restore telecommunications to impoverished and disadvantaged areas literally got attendees buzzing – and changed perceptions of Astrerisk from a strictly business/profit oriented mechanism to something which can truly make a difference to those who need help.

In general, I am seeing more attendees walking away inspired; I am catching fragments of more heated and impassioned discussions than ever; and I, as a welcomed and valued “outsider”, have enjoyed and benefitted from the content more this year than any other.

Of course, those of us who have been attending Astricon for years will commonly label each year’s conference as “the best” – nowhere is that more true than this year; and think what that portends for next year….

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About the Author

Allison Smith

If you’ve listened to the public airwaves, used an automated phone system, participated in a phone survey, or even used a talking thermostat, you’re familiar with Allison Smith. One of the most prevalent telephone voices in the world today, Allison has voiced platforms for Vonage, Bell Canada, Cingular, Verizon, Qwest, Twitterfone, Hawaiian Telcom – as well as being the voice of the Asterisk Open Source PBX. Clients include Marriot Hotels, 3M, Pfizer, Toyota, Victoria’s Secret, Bank of America and EBay among many others. Her website is www.theivrvoice.com and www.theasteriskvoice.com.

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