Here I wanted to post my overall thoughts and pics about the 2014 edition of TechEd NA.
There was good and bad with this venue (as with all). The good would be that everything was so close together that walking wasn't nearly the epic expedition that it is in Orlando if you need to cross the convention floor between sessions.
Once you realized where the majority of the breakout rooms are, it was easy to run between the expo hall and up to the break out rooms without needing any maps.
This closeness and easy access also resulted in some considerable traffic jams between sessions. I personally avoided (other than this pic) the coffee/snacks area on the 3rd floor by the break out rooms the entire event because it was a feeding frenzy.
On day 1 there was also some traffic flow issues with the escalators that the folks who run TechEd remedied by day 2.
It seemed everyone who was running TechEd was learning about the venue just as much as we were, and were making running changes accordingly. By Day 2 I had no issues getting around even after big sessions let out.
One of the key lingering issues though the event was bathrooms. All of the Alumni are used to bathroom lines at these events, even in Orlando which seems to have the most around. But this year was different. Because all the breakout rooms were in such a small area, and so few bathrooms were in that area, lines could be 5 - 10 minutes long to get in. Over time people figured out to just walk to the Hilton and use those.
One area that was rumored to be an issue before the event was the Keynote. In the 6 TechEd's I've been to, this is the first one that hasn't had a keynote room everyone could fit in. This could be because this event sold out and exceeded MSs expectations for attendance, but seeing how all the overflow rooms were filled up as well, this was an issue. I ended up sitting at a charging station table in the hallway and watching the keynote on my Surface. Which wasn't too bad, just wasn't the same. It did make getting out from the keynote pretty easy, and let me line up for the Foundational session good and early.
Overall the message of the keynote was great IMO. (I know not everyone shared that view). This is a different Microsoft than the previous years. Focused, confident, and sending out a very consistent message. The balance between cloud and on-prem is going to be key for most companies coming up. This keynote was something to rally around, and realize the prime skill sets of the 2000's aren't going to be the same as they will be in the 2010s. Time to educate, grow, and learn what's already here and what's coming in the next couple years.
Houston the city:
Houston surprised me in a few ways. I live in down town Denver, in a very urban area, with very urban issues. So walking around down town Houston was actually surprisingly quiet and safe IMO. The only big issue I had with Houston in general was how the majority of businesses shut down all weekend and after 5pm on weeknights. This meant to get some good local food or eats you were walking a mile, or driving a few miles out of town to get it. I did find some awesome BBQ less than a mile from the convention center.
The local food recommendations from Rickster and Joey were dead on. I had some great food down there. Maybe not NOLA level, but then again, Houston isn't known as a culinary epicenter like NOLA is. I found some damn tasty BBQ a few times over the week in Houston, and it makes me want to return just for that! :)
Food and fussy geeks:
Day 1 there was some traffic issues at lunch, no line control, everyone going to every line, and every buffet station being out of food. This was fixed by Day 2, and ran like clockwork (as virtually all TechEd food lines do).
But that was the only negative I could see about the food this year. MS put out some great food, not simple burgers/hot dogs/fries. But genuinely healthy, creative, and tasty items. I mean... Salmon for 10,000+ attendees? Really? That's awesome. The dishes overall had great variety, great flavor, and tons of healthy options! Even breakfast was real good. The peppered bacon on Day 1 was fantastic, and the eggs always had something interesting going on (chives/cheese, Mushroom, etc...).
What baffled me was the complaints about the food... Did you expect Emeril Lagasse to sit down and cater your meal for you? This food was far and away more impressive than any other TechEd I've been do. With that said, it did challenge you to open your mind a bit if you are a pizza and hot dog kind of eater. Every meal this year was better than the NOLA buffet IMO, which is shocking given the culinary pedigree of that area compared to Houston.
The only thing I was missing was some good BBQ, but given the price of good bbq, its not shocking MS couldn't get brisket for 10,000+.
The food at the TechExpo was OK, but I was a little disappointed there was little "local" flavor other than one station with pulled pork, and the hidden grill station in back with red bean/rice and shrimp. But still it was a good time, and I had my fill!
The expo typically has some good local flair and foods for the area we are visiting. This expo had lots of unexpected things like tons of vegetarian options, roasted cauliflower, etc... I didn't know Houston is a bastion of tofu and cauliflower. ;)
Overall the food this week was good, and better than what we've seen in the past!
Social Events AKA: Parties:
This year there was an onslaught of things to do after the daily sessions. On Wed alone there were no less than 8 parties going on at the same time (maybe more!). Tuesday was the same, with 6+ vendor parties, and the official mixers at the convention center going on. TechEd isn't about the parties, but they are a great way to connect with fellow attendees and many times you walk away with many more friends and connections in the MS world you never would have had otherwise!
The Krewe MnG to kick off the week was just amazing. I met up with so many old faces, coworkers I haven't seen in years, and new/old friends, that it set up TechEd for a great start on Sunday night! Joey Snow rocking the house made it so much fun. Thanks to Mike Bender, and the other Krewe for making this the best yet!
The Aquarium (MMS Alumni party) was a bench mark event, you could have easily confused that party for the closing party it was so good. It was cool seeing Brad Anderson mingling and engaging with attendees at the party, You just don't see that by executives at these kind of events often!
The closing party @ Minute Maid park:
I was curious how MS would handle the Minute Maid park closing party. I wasn't a big fan of the Super Dome @ NOLA last year, but still had a good time! This year, MS rocked the house with the closing party. Great food, great music, and some awesome things to do/sights and sounds.
Food this year was one of the better of all the closing parties I've been to, except Atlanta in 2011, which was catered by Wolfgang Puck. Brisket sausage, beef dogs, good burgers, fajita stations, ice cream and funnel cakes, healthy options, unhealthy options, etc... Good selection of beers, and drinks.
Unlike the super dome where everyone was on the field, here, everyone was on the concourses so that made it a bit more social, I found. While it may have caused some traffic jams from time to time.
Overall, the closing party was a great time. Seeing every geek @ TechEd rocking out to Journey and singing together was epic.
Microsoft was clearly working hard to "sell" Houston as the destination for this years TechEd leading up to the event. While the event didn't have the well oiled machine kind of flow that they have at repeat venues like NOLA and Orlando, MS worked out the kinks very quickly. I've heard that this event exceeded expectations for attendance, and as anyone who was there could tell.. there were LOTS of people at this event. While I think this convention center was busy at times, overall, it wasn't bad at all. Everyone found their own ways to get around faster, easier, etc...
The diversity of the crowd this year also brought about interesting view points. Long time MMS Alumni seemed wowed at the scale, and also dismayed by certain aspects of the agenda, crowds, etc... Many of the agenda/content complaints that I heard were from people who just didn't like that MMS was part of TechEd, even when the content is nearly the same. I didn't see it much, but there was some definite bitterness around these conferences becoming one.
For 2015 I am excited. What we saw this year seemed to be kind of a watershed year for what TechEd was, and where it is going. Even though we don't know where TechEd will be held next year, Microsoft has made it clear the event will be happening. I wouldn't believe any of the rumors or conjecture on Facebook, Twitter, or here until you hear the real deal from MS directly.
But regardless of where it will be held, I think we all saw how the focus is shifting, and the areas they are going to be pushing on. I didn't see this year as too much "cloud" like others did, everything was "Hybrid" because cloud is part of that vision and will continue to be.
Looking forward to next year. Thanks Denise, Rick, Joey, and everyone else behind the scenes for helping build this community and keeping TechEd the best IT Pro focused event around!
Joe great write up. I appreciate it. made me feel like I was there with you all this year. I did not get the complaints about the food and the cold etc. If people would do a bit of research and look for TechEd tips they would see the great info shared about pretty much all their annoyances and complaints (well except maybe the food)
@RallyJoe: Thank you so much for sharing your trip report and pictures. We really do take all the notes posted to the forum seriously for review!
@RallyJoe: Great job with the review. I need to get one done too.
@Harjit:Yes please. We really appreciate actionable feedback. I know you'll include that in your review.
@Harjit:Yes please. We really appreciate actionable feedback. I know you'll include that in your review.
Definitely! You know I will. :)
Nice to see the perspective. I was there too, but I'm Houston born and raised so it might color some of my own perspective. Denver is actually pretty big (been there plenty of times and I LOVE it) but Houston is HUGE. You're kind of right that what you saw right around the convention center usually closes weekdays at five and doesn't open at all on weekends... but that's just the down town district. Add another half mile to your search and you'd hit some of Houston's best night and weekend fun. So looking at it, it's kind of a minor nit but where you say that Houston shuts down at five... you looked at a tiny little slice of Houston.
@RallyJoe:The reason you don't see brisket for that many people is beef prices continue to skyrocket due to some of the drought conditions throughout the country.
As far as conference food is concerned, I didn't think it was bad considering that they had to cook and feed over 10,000 people. It's conference style food catered to be cooked in large quantities and can easily be served. One should not expect restaurant quality food when attending conferences especially at the capacity that TechEd maintains. I did venture outside of the convention center for lunch with some friends, not because we were avoiding what was served at the conference, but in fact wanted to try out some local establishments such as Irma's.
Regarding Houston as a city and only experiencing a tiny slice of it, unfortunately as an attendee, our tiny slice tends to be close to the convention center due to conference, hotel, and social event locations. To venture away to the hot spots required some planning, some transportation logistics, and time which was hard to come by with day long sessions and evening events. All in all, I think Houston was fine, the conference was great, and you just can't beat the company of friends. Cheers.
My only note on food: I am one of those who was disappointed but in retrospect I'm coming from MMS which was hosted in Vegas ... and they know a thing or two about buffets and large scale serving. So while I did find TechEd to be a definite step down in food quality ... it might be an unfair standard to hold them up to.
On the upside though: the closing party blew away anything I saw at any MMS. Again: Ill focus on the food. Anyone try those koreen bbq pulled pork tacos with pineapple salsa? OMG I could have eaten a hundred of those.
@Dynamic_D: Damn! I missed those Korean BBQ Tacos! I was too busy socializing. :)
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