Microsoft Tech Ed 2009 – Making the Worst the Best

If you listened to many of the discussions in the hallways of the LA Convention center during TechEd 2009, you quickly realize that many of the conversations are not on the typical buzz of newly released technologies or cool new technical insights learned in sessions. Rather, the discussions are on trivial things such as the lack of snacks and the number of attendees. Generally the buzz at a Tech Ed, or a other large Microsoft show, is on the cool new announcements or on what is happening with technologies.

There were a lot of things about this year’s Tech Ed that were odd. If ranked against Tech Eds of years past, these things would take the lowest spots – as in being the worst. In addition to few things being announced, lunch was served in a parking garage on paper plates, the snacks were missing throughout the day, ice cream ran out before the lines did, and going to the company store required knowing which side hallway it was hidden within. These were just some of the things buzzed about in the hallways.

If you watched the keynote online, you probably realized there wasn’t a lot to be announced. As such, there wasn’t much for people to take away and be excited about. If you watched the keynote online, what you didn’t likely see was the number of people leaving. With forced smiles and lots of PowerPoint, they keynote was definitely not the standard pep rally that Microsoft normally uses to lead off a major conference.  (Tech Ed note to self; don’t say you are going to focus on demos and avoid PowerPoint after spending 35 minutes showing Power Point slides in a 90 minute keynote presentation.)

It is easy to dis’ a show. While there were lots of things about Tech Ed 2009 that didn’t compare to other Microsoft events, for those that were new to Tech Ed, the show was perceived positively. They saw a great show with lots of people, lots of sessions, and lots happening. They had no benchmarks for comparison, so their perspectives were tainted!

There were a lot of other positives about Tech Ed 2009 as well. The attendance was low. I’d speculate it was half of a normal Tech Ed’s attendance. Microsoft said there were 7000 people. It felt more like some of the older PDC crowds of around 5000 that have been at the same venue. This lower audience level meant that in some sessions it was easier to ask questions. It also meant that in the Partner area, it was easier to get t-shirts, frisbies, and other junk. You chances to win a Segway from DevXpress were greatly increased due to the lower attendance. More importan than the junk, you could talk to the product people in the exhibit hall and take as much time as you wanted. 

If you attended, you had a better chance than normal to ask a question at a session, to interact with Microsoft developers in the learning areas, and to network with others. While you wouldn’t find Steve Ballmer, and while Scott Guthrie seemed to be missing, there were tons of other Microsoft people as well as industry leaders (Microsoft MVPs, RDs, and such) that were easily accessible. This was probably one of the few shows where you could easily have walked up to Anders Hejlsberg and chatted. In fact, he was in the Architecture area of the learning center with just a couple of others—and they were Microsoft MVP/speakers, not other attendees. If you were there, you could have likely had his full attention. That alone makes for a fantastic conference.

If you are going to outlay the conference fee, an airline ticket, a hotel room, and other costs, then you are likely going to want to justify the expenses. Face it, in today’s digital, Internet world it doesn’t make sense to go to a conference for the sessions alone. You can often get them online. If not, the information will be represented online soon after. Even if there are announcements made, every technical news site is going to repeat them, so it will be everywhere. The real value of a conference is the ability to network and interact with others as well as to be able to ask questions specific to your own issues. As such, Tech Ed 2009 actually excelled because it was easy to access others, to network, and to ask questions of others. There weren’t a lot of huge crowds getting in the way.

I think lprichar summed it up nicely with a Twitter post: “The consensus seems to be it was worse than usual, but for my first time I thought it was awesome.”

Sometimes the bar for things gets too high and it has to be lowered to remember what is important. While this might seem like one of the worst Tech Eds, it had its awesome moments. 

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