My first big Microsoft conference

Here is a lightly edited repost of a story I once wrote for the Springboard Series Newsletter in 2012. The story is still very true for those attending Ignite for the first time.

I’ll never forget the arrival at my first TechEd. Nice 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 suite and tie. Ready to discover a new world. Ready to learn my first lesson: “Don’t wear a suite and tie when you attend a technical conference.” Period.

After fixing a my clothing I was ready to go. Remember these were the days of Miami vice. So I could take off my shirt and tie and dress like Sonny Crockett for the rest of the day.

TechEd or Ignite might seem overwhelming at first. You are there with a few thousand other IT people. All these people are there to learn and have a great time during the week. Learning at a conference like Ignite is fun because Ignite is about every Microsoft product currently on the market. It is the one-stop shop for investing in your IT-skills. For the IT-Pro like me this much cutting edge technology is one of the best things that can professionally happen in a year. Looking at what is coming to us this year, I can only say: “wow, you don’t want to miss this years Ignite.”

Most big Microsoft conferences start with the pre-conference event. This is where you can use all day to deep-dive into one subject. The extra day comes at an extra cost. But, if you want to get the max out of your stay at Ignite, you should consider attending a pre-conference. With the added content of the pre-conference you have more time to discover other new things during the rest of the week.

Then the week really takes of with the keynote. Get ready to see all attendees of the conference in one big room. Most keynotes are a high level overview of products and technology Microsoft is now working on with lots of demo’s and numbers. The keynotes are presented by high level people from Microsoft and in some rare occasions you will see someone wearing a suite 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 some 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 timeslot 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 knowing you can join the repeat session later. Choosing the best session can be hard. Some speakers are very entertaining. Others know a lot of detail and can be helpful to find out just that little issue you have been fighting the past months . If you know which session you want to attend, then be there in time. Once in a while you’ll find that single hyper popular session that gets a full room. And if you’re late, you’re late. Well, most sessions are recorded and you can have a look at it later or after the conference. If you have no alternative session during that time slot, it probably is better to look for something else. And there is a lot to do besides the breakout sessions.

First of all there are the more informal “birds of a feather” or theater 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 get the answers 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. The area is also very popular if you are hunting for swag. If your timing is right there is all sorts of branded stuff like bags, t-shirts and others to fill your bag when you head home.

Still the best thing I always take home from every big conference is my head full of ideas and being inspired by just being there. Ignite is the center of the universe for every IT Pro around the world for a week. This year it is 21 years ago since I first attended TechEd. I have grown into the TechEd from the attendee wearing a suite to the speaker I am at today. I hope you will enjoy the conference as I will and hopefully see you in my session.

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