Microsoft Ignite Thread

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Getting the Most Out of Ignite the First Time and Every Time

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  • User profile image
    Vecna

    Every year some folks on the Channel9 forums ask about how to prepare for and get the most from their first technical conference.  Below I'd like to share some insights to help first-timers get full value from their investment in attendance.  They're organized for easy reading.  Some apercus get mentioned every year (like comfortable shoes); others are more unique to my experience.  All should be useful. 

     

    1. Distance-1. For most folks there is a huge amount of walking from one session to the next, almost enough to burn off all the hot dogs, ice cream, snacks, brewskies, and lunches.  Therefore, this is the wrong time to break in new shoes for any reason whatsoever.  It is the right time to wear the most comfortable ones you have. 
    2. Distance-2. Remember that every session will be recorded and available for download within a couple of days.  Many conclusions follow from this, not least of which is that you don't need to sprint from one end of the conference center to another.  All too often in the past, I would have to hoof it from Mark Russinovich's fanboy-fest in the southwestern quadrant to Jeremy Moskowitz's Group Policy throw-down in the northeastern corner.  They were barely in the same time zone!   Your schedule can be based on convenience and propinquity rather than desperation. 
    3. Dress Code. The good news is that there is not one.  Crisp office casual is okay, shorts and vendor t-shirts with goofy flashing lights and raffle tickets are just as good.  Unless you're on the prowl for a job interview, wear whatever you want, as long as the shoes are comfy.  Conference t-shirts from Tech-Eds past will earn bragging rights.  I still have mine from 2001, though it would be a labor of Hercules to jam myself into it....   Every year someone suggests bringing a hoodie for the usually over-air-conditioned conference centers; I have never needed one yet.  There is no bad news.
    4. What to not bring. Don't bother bringing more than a couple of days of shirts; there are usually dozens of vendors who will be giving them away.  It is glorious!
    5. What to bring. Moleskin for your feet.  Don't forget power strips; power outlets are always at a premium, and these will earn you many friends. 
    6. Luggage-1. Travel light and leave space for swag.  And even if you're not the kind of guy or gal who likes to "go native" at tech conferences, think about the folks back home.  I have over a hundred t-shirts from various conferences (don't ask me about my collection of X-Files, Ghost in the Shell, and WWII shirts!), but still bring back a couple of dozen every year.  They are a great way to make (or strengthen) connections at work.  And they have surprising uses; my wife a close relative has absconded with a couple that she uses for dyeing her hair. 
    7. Luggage-2. If you have too much loot, too many mugs and water bottles and hats and t-shirts and X-boxes and knickknacks for your luggage, consider UPSing some of the load back.  It'll mean less to cart around at the airport, and you'll likely save on the luggage charges.  Most conference centers have shipping centers.
    8. Umm, about downloading... Turn off your bit-torrent app on your tablet/notebook while at the conference. I always have mine on, seeding Grateful Dead and live music torrents.  This is quite frowned upon by the powers that be at Tech-Eds and probably at Ignite as well; it got my machine's IP address blocked from Internet access.    Hotels are generally less fascist about this, but with a hotel full of geeks playing WOW, SWTOR, EVE, and Hello Kitty Online every night, good luck getting much bandwidth.
    9. Create value back home-1. Ask around at work to see what kinds of questions people have which they'd like to ask Microsoft.  Collect these, bring them, and hit up the dozens of MS product experts you will see at Ignite.  Get their business cards as well, so your colleagues can directly reach out to them.  The level of technical expertise for MS technologies at these conferences has no parallel in human history.
    10. Create value back home-2. Attend the sessions you want.  At the same time be on the lookout for sessions which might be valuable for folks back home.  Troubleshooting-oriented breakouts are a gold-standard example of this.  Send them links or forward powerpoints from sessions.  It creates added value from your attendance and strengthens your hand when you ask to attend next year. 
    11. Create value back home-3. Do a quick survey to see what key vendors your colleagues are working with right now.  See what questions they have.  Then visit these vendors at the conference and get their insight.  I do this every year and it never fails to make life better back home.  Normally you get locked into working with one group of folks at a large vendors, whereas it might be that the expertise you need is with a different group.  Or vendors might send their A-team to get your account, and then start sending their C-team to you, in effect for training.  However the A-team is always on display at conferences.  By the way, contacts such as these are a great reason to attend conferences; since they represent value which cannot be streamed or downloaded.
    12. Budgetary good news. You should not need to budget any money for food while at the conferences.  My manager grinned when I mentioned this.  Then I mentioned the likely taxi fares from my distant hotel to the conference center....  I clearly should have presented these facts in reverse order.  Learn from my error.
    13. Non-Breakout stuff. For me, and probably for you, the breakout sessions are the alpha and the omega for these conferences, yet they can all be downloaded.  So when grazing on my hillock of bacon at breakfast every morning, I check to see what other activities there are.   The exam prep chalk sessions?  Definitely worth checking out.  The community interest groups (like healthcare IT, higher education, women in technology) are fabulous ways to get new ideas and meet some new folks. 
    14. Get out of yourself. At conferences I always sit at tables with strangers (a snap since I travel alone) and strike up conversations, asking folks what they think of the keynote, the sessions so far, etc.).  I have to admit, this is not how I met my wife or got my current job, but I have always enjoyed listening to people talking about what they found valuable.  In addition, if you are traveling with a group from your company, it would be comfortable but pointless to have all your meals with them every day. 
    15. Time and Opportunity Management at the top. The A-game attendees arrive with a list of people they want to meet, have lunch with, or contact.  And obviously they have emailed them in advance to set something up.  It's not too late to get started!  At the risk of sounding like a careerist, think of where you want to be in five years or so, and look at the gasp-worthy talent roster for Ignite presenters.  Of that crowded pack of pros, who could you benefit from contacting?  This networking is inevitably the least foregrounded but the highest ROI opportunity to come out of Ignite. 
    16. Tier-2 Advice. There will be 14,999 people with the same backpack you have; tie a bandana around the handle to quickly identify yours.    Keep a journal and take pictures.  Photograph your luggage before departure in case it gets lost.  If you're a guy, go easy on the drinkables; the lines for the men's room are legendary.

    Hope there's something valuable here for everyone; I look forward to seeing the suggestions of others. 

  • User profile image
    CAReed

    Here are some of my additions:

    • There's a FedEx Office at McCormick Place for shipping; don't wait until Friday as they will likely be packed (pun intended)...
    • On the bathrooms, take some time to look around on Sunday or Monday for the hidden ones, you know, the ones that nobody else is using.
  • User profile image
    Jppeters

    What an awesome post.  "Questions from home" is a new one I will try.  "Bring swag for coworkers" I found works wonders for team building.  Being am manager myself, it's what I use for holiday party favors.  The team eats it up.  Thanks for the detailed pointers!

  • User profile image
    Fredrik​Nilsson

    Great post as always :)

    C'ya in Chicago

  • User profile image
    Karlitoz

    Thanks for sharing!

  • User profile image
    raghuariga

     Nice Article... thanks for sharing

  • User profile image
    magohl

    , Vecna wrote

    ...but with a hotel full of geeks playing WOW, SWTOR, EVE, and Hello Kitty Online every night, good luck getting much bandwidth...

     

    That's an IT-conference 101 i always try to live by! Do NOT stay at any of the official IT-conference hotels if you have planned any remote work requiring wifi... :)

  • User profile image
    TheLifeOfThe​Party

    Always bring the Verizon MiFi or similar device, and be sure to have a printed copy of your agenda for the week - sessions, parties, twitter handles, phone numbers - for backup. ALWAYS.

  • User profile image
    crivers

    @Vecna:Excellent work, thank you for sharing this valuable information!

  • User profile image
    grail63

    About the food.  Yes it is probably possible to spend the entire conference only eating provided food/vendor freebees.  It might be worth mentioning that they are doing food a little different than the past few TechEds.  Last week in the ignite countdown show they mentioned some of the Lunches will be sack "cold" lunches and some of breakfasts will also be continental "cold".  While the food at past conferences has been ok if you exclusively plan to eat at the conference you might find yourself disappointed.  I plan on eating dinners out as it would be a crime to visit a city like Chicago and not experience some of the local eats. 

  • User profile image
    patrickmv

    An excellent article and guide indeed. Thanks for sharing these great ideas. :)

  • User profile image
    psyche1018

    @grail63:

    Agreed. I'm definitely looking forward to trying the "Chicago deep dish pizza" pre/post conference. Still researching what else to try.

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