TechEd North America Thread

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TechEd 2014 Review

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    First, my perspective is having attended four TechEd conferences and somewhere around 30 technical symposia/conferences over my career, having attended other non-technical conferences, and several years of helping to plan and volunteer at technical and non-technical conferences and large events.

    Location/venue:  Possibly the worst venue I've ever been to regarding traffic flow in the venue and congestion when trying to get from one room to another.  This seemed to be a combination of the number of escalors, the convention center staff not adjusting the direction when appropriate, some escalators being saved for "crew only," not being allowed to use the elevators, and where the heck were the stairs? Heaven help us if there had been a fire or other emergency there.  I have never had to wait in a long line at a symposium just to get an escalator to change floors.  The flow into the huge hall with the Expo Center / meals / Hands-On & Instructor-Led Labs was also a huge clog, almost to the point sometimes where it was hard for people to exit the escalator (yet you had to, of course).  Only one double door open to this area...really?  It seems inconceivable at a conference that large can only afford to have two badge checkers and open one set of doors.  Houston was not a very interesting place to hold the conference, but that's not a big deal to me as I go for the conference and tech info and not to turn it into a family vacation.  Feel sorry for the folks who live there... the traffic is awful!  Fortunately, I just did the shuttle/bus thing and didn't have to deal with it myself.

    Keynote:  Disappointing, as always at TechEd.  Cool entertainment before it started (again, as always), but then we had to sit through an hour and a half commercial, with no option to attend anything else.  Other industry conferences have an industry expert talk about important and interesting trends in the industry and or dive deep into a relevent topic.  Even making it a roadmap session for a number of key products would be better.  At other group's symposia, I've seen keynotes from Grace Hopper (my first technical symposium), Bill Gates (who did NOT do a commercial), an expert in cyber-security do a fascinating history/current/trending/future presentation on the history/status/future of cyber-hacking, Linus Torvalds on the creation/development of LINUX, etc.  The TechEd keynote is always just a commercial and IMO, a waste of a several hours where I could be learning something.

    Sessions/Session Content:  It was somewhat of a challenge to make sure you were attending something relevent if you are not planning to use Microsoft's cloud. Not everyone plans to use your cloud, Microsoft.  It depends upon the type of business, the type of data.  If you're going to start insisting it's the only way to go, some businesses may start to look elsewhere for their technology provider.  We get that's what you want to sell, but that's not what all of us want or can use.  Actually had a speaker in one session ask, "Who is NOT using the cloud?"  Then he gave us one of those "I know something you don't know" looks and said, "Oh, well.. in (was it two years?) you WILL be!"   Uh, if that's the ONLY option, some of us may be using different technology providers instead.   If you looked carefully though, there were a number of VERY good sessions that provided excellent information and didn't shove the cloud down your throat.  Session evals needed to also ask how well the session description accurately reflected the content presented in the session.  Usually it did, but not always.  It would be helpful for TechEd to have "session chairs" (I've seen this done successfully with volunteers, BTW).  The session chair would introduce the speaker and control the Q&A.  From what I've seen, the speaker doesn't usually want to be the bad guy and only makes a half-hearted attempt (often ignored) at having people with questions go to the microphone.  As a result some sessions turn into a frustrating situation as a few people in the front turn it into their own private consulting session, asking question after question that the rest of the room cannot hear. A session chair, who wouldn't have to worry about getting a bad review, could better control the situation by being the enforcer.  "Please go to the microphone if you have a question.  After getting your response, please go to the back of the line if you have another question."

    Other learning options:  Very nice setup for the instructor-led labs, though none of the topics were relevent for me this time around.  Also a very nice setup for the hands-on labs.  I was impressed both with the number of available stations and the number of labs available. The lab assistants seemed plentiful enough and were very quick to run over and answer questions.    For the most part, the labs were very well designed and easy to follow.  One suggestion I have is to add just a little more info on WHY I'm making a specific selection or typing in a particular command.  Sometimes this was clear, but other times I was just doing what I was told with insufficient background on WHY.  Also, if there's a "If this doesn't work, do that" instruction in a lab, put it as part of the same numbered lab step, 'cause I'm generally not going to try to proceed to the next lab step until I make the current step work!  All-in-all though, the labs were a great learning experience.  WHAT THE HECK...NO BOF SESSIONS??? This was a glaring omission. Were you afraid we'd get together all the folks who don't want to use the cloud and plan a coup?  ;)   I have found BOFs to sometimes be the most useful networking aspect of a sympoisum/conference.  Nice that you have all these social events, but these don't help me find the attendees relevant to the information exchange I need or the topics I'd like to discuss.

    Expo:  Well laid out, enough room to move around, and fairly easy to find specific vendors.  Not as easy to figure out who to talk to about a particular Microsoft product as it has been in the past, as the Microsoft signage was more about "solutions buzzwords" rather than products.  One thing I don't like to see at the Expo is vendors holding "Must be there to win" drawings during session times.  My employer didn't pay for me to attend the conference so I could skip sessions to win toys, and I would guess that's the case for the majority of the attendees. Outside of that though, the Expo was very good.  A great line-up of vendors and most willing to provide information without being too pushy.

    Food:  The regular meals were among the best I've had at a conference center.  Amazing how they can provide hot meals so quickly and efficiently for 10K people.  Varied choices and healthy stuff available.  Was so afraid we'd be presented with Tex-Mex at every other meal with the conference being in Houston and I was very pleased this was not the case.  As always, they went kind of overboard with all the between meal snack stuff.  Why don't we cut back on that a bit and drop the price so the rest of us don't have to subsidize those who it seems need to eat constantly throughout the day?  :)   The food at the Expo welcoming event was far superior to what I've had at that event previously.

    Buses:  The Galleria was a long way from the conference, at least in Houston traffic, and it took a while to go each way, but once you understood the travel time it was easy to plan for it.  Could have used more frequent buses at that stop as there seemed to be quite a few people staying at the two Westins out there, but generally the bus situation worked well.  MUCH better than trying to deal with driving a rental car back and forth!

    Closing party:  Too crowded, too loud (and I don't like country music), didn't like the food, but that could be because there was nowhere to sit near where I got the food and by the time I found a table, my food was cold.  Truth be told, parties like this are best enjoyed by people who have a lot of their work buddies there, and they aren't much fun for those who are flying solo at the conference.  There were few places to sit down and meet others face to face, like we do at the conference meals.  Then, there was the adventure of trying to leave.  Asked where the buses were lined up and was told "All four exits."   Hmm... really?  Went to one of the exits and saw no buses.  Asked the exit workers and was told, "No, not this exit, go down to the next exit."  Got to the next exit and was told the same thing.  Walked around the crowded concourse twice, getting more and more frustrated as each exit was the same, "No, not here, it's the next one."  Finally got some lady who very emphatically said, "It's 112... you have to go to Section 112 for the buses!"  Well, guess what... there's no exit at 112.  I went down a little ways further and finally found an exit where I was told, "Yes, the buses will pull up out here."  Went outside and waited for a while with some others who were told the same thing.  Finally, someone with a Microsoft conference badge came out and stood outside and I asked him (I've now been trying to leave for about 45 minutes).  He told us the buses were not coming back to Minute Maid and we needed to walk to the Convention Center... not my happiest TechEd moment.

    My key suggestions to improve learning/technology exchange:   1)  Have two smaller events, one for those using cloud technology and one for those who self-host and store their own data.  2)  Bring back the BOFs.  3) Add session chairs to better control session Q&A.

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    @KnightGal: Great, thorough review.  Nicely done.

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    I agree with all your observations.

    The session rooms were fine, but not enough area for passing between. Bathrooms were almost non-existent. You had to leave the session 10 minutes early to avoid a huge line. The common area was way too small to distribute the afternoon snacks. You should not have to wait nearly the entire passing time in line to get a snack or a drink.

    I've been to 5 TechEd closing parties and would have to rank this one as the worst. Everything you hate about going to a sporting event without the actual game. Packed, long lines for stadium food, no place to sit, many vendors running out before you could get to them, nothing really to do. Left about 9pm and probably would have left sooner if I could find an exit they would let you out of.

    The sessions were good. Up to the same level I expect from TechEd. I came back with several ideas to improve my systems and used info from one session to solved one issue that had come up right before the conference.  Of course if you played a drinking game on the words "Cloud", "Office 365", or "Azure", you would be passed out by the second session of the day.

    The expo was good as usual. I found a couple vendors I'll check out back at work. Exchange and SharePoint are my two primary responsibilities and it was hard to find anyone with products for them and the MS area lumped both of those under "Office 365". I guess this is because both of those products have their own event. I agree the "must be present to win" was annoying. I did not even let them scan my badge if they were doing that. I'm here to learn about tech my company uses, not to try to be at specific booths at specific times to win prizes.

    The Alumni Lounge was in about the most inaccessible spot it could be.

    I did like that they had a lot of charging stations. It was very easy to top off the phone over the lunch break.






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    Great review and I am so happy to see someone else did not like the closing party. After an hour it was so crowded we could not move. We had completed 1 loop of the place and then was stuck. We ended up leaving and I think annoyed the staff as no one was supposed to leave so early and they had to send a bus. Despite all that food, we ended up eating out. It was NOT worth $125 and if I thought MS would listen, I would have requested a refund for the extra ticket.

    The 3rd floor was horrid to be on in regards to traffic flow and bathrooms. The coffee was awful and Starbucks made a killing. The lines for the snacks were too long and were nothing like the snacks at Orlando. The traffic was bad but I worked around that.

    Of the 5 TechEd's I have attended, this was the worst venue and the least value. Cloud, I get it.. but too much.

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    @Bzybee:I agree too much Cloud. Yes we all get that its the future. However I think it's a far cry to think that everything is going to be cloud only based. Most companies like mine will be hybrid at best. Microsoft needs to show something to its on prem customers. I found myself struggling to find sessions that were not cloud focused. For on prem solutions I found myself talking to vendors on the tech expo floor that are eager and willing to service on prem customers that Microsoft seems hell bent on alienating.

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    Great review. Thank you for sharing and being honest. I can only hope the feedback is being noted.

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    Location/Venue: Personally being from Texas I did not like the location being Houston. I didn't think it offered enough for people after the sessions for the day. With most of the attendees being bused around it made it extremely hard or costly to get back into downtown to enjoy the location. 

    The conference building itself  I felt was a great setup. I like the multiple levels keeping things organized. I did however encounter quite a few sessions I wanted to attend being full. I would of liked to see larger accommodations for the sessions that were popular.   

    Food: The food was probably about the worst I have experienced at a conference of this size. I think they did a great job on serving everyone in the lines and such. However I thought the mid day meals were not a great choice. I would of rather had some MRE's for lunch. It also seemed like no matter what table I sat at the coffee was either cold or empty. 

    Keynote: The keynote was a total waste of everyone's time I felt. I was really hoping for something great but instead we were showcased on Excel?! Really if your at TechEd your wanting to be blown away not bored to death. I think the speakers were good and the content was okay however it was not keynote worthy. I personally would of liked to see things like the Surface 3, Windows Phone, and so forth whats up coming. Although Windows phone and Azure were touched on I just think they went to deep and lost a ton of people's interest. I believe it should of been a very broad topic everyone could relate to instead of having it broken out by end users and developers. You basically were done talking to half the people at one time or another.

    Expo: The expo to me was a typical expo. I personally would like to see the whole "scan" thing go away. Its like if you want to enter into a raffle or just get a free pen you have to get 3 weeks of junk mail and sales calls. The large part of attendees don't have the say nor power to invest in products they are there learning skills. I also agree that all the "must be present to win" raffles are lame. No one should have to miss sessions to make the expo worth while. If that was the case all raffles should be draw after sessions are completed for the day or during lunch to give everyone a fair shot. However the expo is not the purpose of TechEd  as much as the sessions.

    Transportation: I would of liked to have closer hotels but I am sure that is my cheap company's fault. With what we did have I think the buses were great. I never had to wait for a bus except for it to go. There was always a bus waiting on us it seemed like. 

    I will say that it would of been nice to have the transportation available every night for those who wanted to participate in the vendor outings or downtown dinning and such. It was not cost efficient for a cab every night, nor the hotel meal. 

    Closing Party: This was a good idea however poorly played out. WAY too crowded, food was out fast on a lot of the main items, and the lines were ridiculous for any of the events. I did like the DJ that was there but think he deserved a little better setup. What was with the Lady Gaga casino theme? That was totally weird. The casino had no instructions as how to get money and so forth. I think across the board signage\information could of been better. For example all of the exits were saying the buses were leaving at like 10 but they were not really leaving until 12. For Microsoft I would of expected a better planned and executed venue.

    Sessions: I thought some of the sessions were informative and great. However one thing I didn't really like is that some of the new stuff such as SharePoint 2013 was all about cloud based and so forth. Nothing really touched on hosted solutions. I know where it is all going but not everyone is there or going to go there. Again I believe popular sessions could of had larger rooms to accommodate more people instead of just saying full. I did miss out on one session i really wanted to attend due to the previous one going over and then the session being full.

    Takeaway: At the time I was pretty disappointed Microsoft didn't do anything for the attendees as far as hardware, software, or devices. At MSBuild this year they gave everyone an Xbox. Last year at TechEd was the Surface fire sale and some got Lifetime MSDN accounts. For me to spend my money on the venue and to walk away with no coupon I was pretty disappointed. Not to mention to come home and that Monday Surface 3 is released. Really?! C'Mon Man!!!

    I also find it very enticing to have the latest technology in my hand to be able to go back to the hotel or in between sessions to apply newly learned techniques and so forth. I know I can get a trial on the software but I would of thought we would have at least received something more to entice attendees to go out, play with the technology, and to help in the buying in of what Microsoft was selling.

    Overall: I would say probably one of the worst TechEd's ever. I won't say I will never go back but someone else will have to be paying for it. I will focus my efforts more on Build instead since year after year the seem to produce at that event. 

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