Making New Contacts - One of the biggest reasons I go to TechEd is to meet new contacts. Sometimes it's not what you know, but who you know, who has the right answers. I was fortunate to hang out with a good group of people with differing skill sets and specialties. It's good to know who to shoot a question to when you need a quick answer.
"How Microsoft Does IT" Sessions - Over the years, I've found these sessions very interesting and helpful, particularly for Exchange Server. It's interesting to see how the largest software company in the world manages their own infrastructure, make mistakes, learn from them, and share it with the IT community. I've seen strategy shift from one year to the next, based on new technologies and the way Microsoft uses them. Very interesting stuff and talking one-on-one with these folks after the sessions is very enlightening.
After Event Parties - Being an IT Pro, naturally I attended IT Pro week at TechEd. The poor Dev week guys and gals only had two parties to attend. I had to make a choice between up to four in one evening, every night of the week. The parties were of varying quality, but by far the best two parties were...
The ClusterFunk Party and Jam Sessions - The folks at DoubleTake put on an awesome party at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, complete with a free flowing bar and a buffet of finger foods. These guys really know how to throw a party! Likewise, the folks at CommVault hosted the Microsoft Jam Sessions, a venue where anyone who can play an instrument is welcome to come up on stage and rock out to a music hungry crowd. Fun times were had by all! Too bad the jam sessions were limited to only one night, but I don't know where they'd fit them in any other night in the week.
Swag - While I didn't get too much swag this year, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of it. I came home with a fistful of 1GB-2GB USB drives along with the usual plethora of tshirts (this year's color is black, BTW).
The Self-Proclaimed "Group Policy Guru" - This was just too funny not to make it on the "Good" list. There's this guy who thinks he's all that who's been worming his way into the session circuit (I won't give his name here). Anyway, I would see him walking around the TechEd venue, placing glossy cards advertising his sessions and Group Policy training services between EVERY computer on the TechEd floor. I'm talking hundreds of these 5x7" cards. About 90 seconds after he puts them down, a Microsoft TechEd guy is picking them up. He must have had 500 of them in a box, destined for the trash. I hope they cost a bundle, but I feel sorry for the trees.
Buses - The transportation this year was perfect. Buses ran to and from the venue with great efficiency. The bus drivers were courteous and the buses were clean. What more can you ask for?
Attendee party with my Family - Due to the generosity of three other attendees who didn't go to the TechEd attendee party at Universal Studios, I was able to bring my wife and two kids with me. It's a shame that Microsoft charges $110 each for additional tickets for only 4 hours in the park. Anyway, we had a great time and were able to ride all the attractions that the kids really wanted to do. Good family time!
Chalk talks - I tend to get more out of the small formal and informal sessions lead by experts. These "sessions" are more tailored to the audience and usually provide more depth than the standard sessions with hundereds of attendees. Next year I plan to attend a Birds of a Feather (BOF) session, if I can find one that appeals to me.
Steve Riley's Security Session - I was very pleasantly surprised by the very last session of TechEd 2008. It was a security session with Steve Riley that described how to build a network infrastructure that secures the data, rather than the network itself. Very interesting stuff and gave me a lot to think about on the plane ride home.
Snacks - The fresh baked cookies were a big hit. The Haagen Dazs ice cream was good, too, if you could find it. Which leads to...
Snacks - There wasn't much of them. As a matter of fact, there wasn't really ANY of them. I'm not sure if this was Microsoft's way of sparing the environment from all those Rice Krispy Treat and candy bar wrappers or if they're trying to tell us something. In any event, we all spent a chuck of change to get here. Please don't cheap out on the snacks.
Shortened Week - This is the first year that Microsoft decided to "blow up" TechEd and turn it into two weeks - one for developers and one for IT Pros. Doing this caused two effects - The event ran for only four days instead of five. This means that I was triple of even quadruple booked sessions running at the same time. I often had a very hard decision to make about
which session to attend. It also meant that the speaker better make an instant good impression or I'm outta here for one of the other sessions.
The other thing that happened was that the vendors had to make a choice between which week to host their after hours events. You think it's expensive to ATTEND TechEd, just imagine what it's like being a vendor. Renting space, buying food, drinks, entertainment, etc. is too expensive to do both weeks, so they have to make a choice. Some vendors, like publishers, market to both developers and IT Pros, so that makes it even more difficult. I, for one, would like to see TechEd return to one 5 day week.
Few Experts - I was disappointed to find that there were no Microsoft experts on the Microsoft show floor for particular core technologies. For example, I wanted to talk with someone about a DNS issue that a client is having, but no one on the floor could answer my question. No big deal, but I remember in past years being able to find someone who knew DFS, for example, really well.
No USB to download PPT decks - Microsoft does a phenomenal job setting up the Connect computers all over the venue. Here, you can browse the 'net, check your email, fill out surveys and check your schedule. You can also download the PowerPoint presentations for the TechEd sessions, but the workstations were difficult to access under a the table with a black curtain
around it. It would be nice if there were USB docks in or near the flat panel displays where you could install a USB drive to download the decks.
The Keynote Speech - As I wrote earlier, the keynote speech with Bob Muglia was pretty
uninspiring. I still don't get the baby rattles.
Food - The lack of snacks meant that we had to depend more on breakfast and lunch for sustenance. The delivery of food was with typical TechEd efficiency, but was just OK. I'd give it a C+.
The Microsoft Party - A few years ago, it seemed that every major product group had their own party - Exchange, Microsoft MVP/Learning, MOM, etc. Times are tight now and the only Microsoft party (besides the attendee party) was hosted by the Springboard group. It was OK, I guess, if you like a party in a strip club with no strippers and you're a fan of Budweiser. Definitely could have done without the ship's siren.
All in all, I did enjoy my time there and found it very useful. I hope to see you all next year in Los Angeles at TechEd 2009!