TechEd 09 Berlin

It has been a few weeks now since I returned from TechEd and I’ve been considering writing a review of the event rather than the specific sessions.

“What is the point of attending TechEd?”

As a developer TechEd is the pinnacle of Microsoft Events in Europe, so I would expect;

  1. To see up and coming developer tools & technologies
  2. To have deep dive insights into existing tools & technologies
  3. To be told about good (and bad) practices in developing software
  4. Talk to experts in the MS technologies about specific issues I may have
  5. Discuss the above with other attendees
  6. Inspirational Keynotes
  7. Have a bit of fun and gain some useful goodies

These goals haven’t really changed in all the years I’ve attended TechEd however content delivery technology, and to some degree Microsoft’s attitude to evangelising technology, *has* changed. So if I didn’t attend TechEd, just as I didn’t attend PDC, could I achieve something similar?

  1. If I’m honest, unless you’re in some hallowed circle these sorts of events are the best place to hear/see new tools & technology. However, since TechEd was one week before PDC we got to see nothing, nada, zilch. So if TechEd and PDC are going to continue to clash, I can’t justify TechEd over PDC
  2. Deep dive insights – Online content is now pretty good. Officially ‘sponsored’ MS bloggers and other community experts now regularly create material aimed at various levels. Also let’s not forget that great swathes of the content from such events end up online anyway. So do the pro’s of getting the atmosphere and not having any distractions (see later) outweigh the convenience of watching a session at double speed, skipping the dull bits, pausing for a break, rewinding some key point, etc? When I said distractions I was thinking about the times when you’re studiously watching an online session and someone asks you a question and you don’t get back to the session for ages and you lose the thread. However, some of the sessions, were held in temp rooms with literally paper thin walls. The noise from the corridors was so distracting I just avoiding attending any session in those rooms 
  3. The ‘best practice’ sessions that don’t fall into (2) are usually held as a smaller more discussion based format. This year I didn’t feel they worked very well. I’m not sure if it was just reserved audiences or inexperienced speakers but they were disappointing. So the alternative is to sign up to specific forums and/or meet with user groups interested in your particular tools/technologies
  4. Visiting the [insert your technology here] expert booth is really one of the major advantages of something like TechEd…or was. Many of the experts have blogs and are normally willing to at least direct you to some material to help you out. If not the forums can often answer tricky questions. The other problem I found was I didn’t feel the people on the booths were very helpful, is this a product of standing there having loads of annoying questions asked? Perhaps, did I just choose a few bad eggs, perhaps. Am I just annoying to talk to, probably. E.g. I asked the following questions to the Silverlight experts. Q1 – “One of the trickiest aspects of developing LOB applications for Silverlight is that corporate companies refuse to allow the plug-in to be installed, do you have any suggestions or recommendations that could help?” I was expecting a discussion about pointing out the advantages, stats about security, whitepapers on rolling out the plug-in. What I got was, “it’s not a technical problem”. Really, thanks for that, I’m so glad you explained that to me. Q2 – “My customer wants to install the site on a server where external users come to the site via HTTPS and internal users go via HTTP. This causes me a problem because I’m currently having to get Silverlight to sniff the protocol and adjust its WCF settings accordingly, is there a way to avoid this sniffing as I want the admin to deal with these settings in the config file?”
    Expert (paraphrasing) – “Yes, in IIS7 you can easily configure the server to have two separate config files pointing to the same implementation site”.
    Me – “Really, oh I didn’t realise that, how do you do that”.
    Expert – “It’s easy in IIS”
    Me – “Oh I see”. Hmm, that told me. So off to the IIS Expert.
    IIS Expert – “No, there is no way to do that”…..
    What I expected was at least one of them to say, “here is my email address (or let me take your email) I’ll point you in the right direction/I’ll take a look”
  5. I would like to meet other attendees with similar interests (sounds like a geek dating agency) so I’d suggest TechEd have a technology chill out area were you’d know if someone was sitting there they’d be interested in that subject. The alternative, again, is forums and user groups
  6. From a developers perspective the key note said it all, THIS ISN’T FOR YOU
  7. Berlin was a very interesting place to visit. The Berlin Wall celebrations were great, my night out to see Beth Hart less so – there’s a reason I hadn’t heard of her. But I did enjoy my visit, but mostly off my own back. The credit crunch has hit TechEd, as there was no UK party, and the celebrations were very low key compared to some previous Events. Now the really important stuff (<cheek>), the goodies – not great. Ok Windows 7 is very nice, but I want some dev goodies. Where’s my copy of SQL 2008, Visual Studio, Expression, come on something for the developer. No a DVD from some System Management Event, whoopee. Still at least I wasn’t saddled with a new touch screen laptop like those poor people at PDC – the suckers, no wait…

So it would seem that given the explosion of material on the web and the clash with the PDC, TechEd has somewhat lost its way for the little old developer. I think it needs to address this issues or just come clean and say, TechEd = System Pro, PDC = Developers, you’ll have to grow your carbon footprint if you don’t live in America. Or maybe they could offer me some developer software and all will be forgiven, I’m easily bought.

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