My contribution to the Springboard Series Insider – June 2012
I’ll never forget the arrival at my first TechEd at the Côte d’Azure in France, 1997. My first international business trip ever. Completely prepared for business. Sharply dressed, I went to my first conference complete with suit and tie, ready to discover a new world. And ready to learn my first lesson: “Don’t wear a suit and tie when you attend a technical conference.” Period. Luckily, these were the days of Miami Vice and I could take off my shirt and tie and dress like Sonny Crockett for the rest of the day. So, after fixing my clothing, I was ready to go.
TechEd might seem overwhelming at first. You are there with a few thousand other IT people, all of whom are there to learn and have a great time. Learning at TechEd is fun because TechEd is about every Microsoft product currently on the market. It is the one-stop shop for investing in your IT skills. For an IT pro like me, learning about much cutting edge technology is professionally one of the best things that can happen in a year. Looking at what is coming with this year’s conference, for example, I can only say, “Wow, you don’t want to miss this year’s TechEd.”
Most TechEd conferences start with a pre-conference event. This is where you can use a full day to deep-dive into one subject. The extra day comes at an extra cost, but, if you want to get the maximum out of your stay at TechEd, you should consider attending a pre-conference event. With the added content, you will have more time to discover other new things during the rest of the week.
The real conference really takes off with the keynote. Get ready to see all attendees of the conference in one big room. Most keynotes are a high level overview of the products and technology Microsoft is now working on with lots of demos and numbers. The keynotes are presented by high level people from Microsoft and, in some rare occasions, you will see someone wearing a suit and a tie. The keynote sometimes contains announcements on the availability of new technology. It wouldn’t surprise me if Microsoft is preparing something great and new for us this year.
The keynote sessions are followed by the foundational sessions that provide more technical depth and form a bridge to the breakout sessions. Make sure you prepare for the breakout sessions at home before you come over to the venue! Every time slot contains multiple sessions with interesting topics for everyone. Some sessions are repeated. That’s why it is a good idea to plan ahead. Sometimes you can skip a session during its first occurrence knowing you can attend it later.
Choosing the best session can be hard. Some speakers are very entertaining. Others know a lot of detail and can provide helpful advice for that little issue you have been fighting with for the past few months. If you know which session you want to attend, be there on time. Once in a while, you’ll find that single hyper-popular session that fills the room. And if you’re late, you’re late and may miss out. Luckily, most sessions are recorded and you can have a look at it later or after the conference. If you have no alternative planned for that time slot, look for something else. There is a lot to do besides the breakout sessions.
First of all, there are the more informal “birds of a feather” sessions presented by community leaders. I personally love the hands-on lab area where you can sit down and explore a new technology at your own pace. In case you get in trouble, there always are some Microsoft Certified Trainers around to help you and provide assistance when you get stuck. And, if you just need answers or like to meet the industry experts, you can visit the Ask-the-Experts area and find experts on about every subject you can think of. This area contains an interesting mixture of people from Microsoft, speakers, MVPs and other experts. This area is also very popular if you are hunting for swag. If your timing is right, you can walk away with all sorts of branded stuff like bags, t-shirts, and other items to fill your suitcase before the trip home.
Still the best thing I always take home from every TechEd is a head full of ideas and inspiration from being there. For one week, TechEd is the center of the universe for every IT pro who attends, and even some that don’t. This year, it will have been 15 years since I first attended TechEd. During this time, I have grown from an attendee wearing a suit to a conference speaker for the third year in a row. I hope you will enjoy this year’s conference as much as I will and I hope to see some of you at my session.