I am taking a break from ironing and packing (and sometimes repeating the ironing phase) to share my thoughts on attending TechEd. I’ve been to a number of TechEd conferences over the years, mainly in Europe. Last year I decided to attend TechEd North America which was held in New Orleans, because of the larger scale of the event. I wanted to hear and see more, and network more than was possible in Europe. I’m preparing for TechEd North America 2014, which is being held in Houston next week. Here are my suggestions to having a good TechEd.
TechEd North America 2014 is running in Houston on May 12th to 15th
Use the Schedule Builder
There are lots of tracks and sessions to attend at TechEd, including community-based “birds of a feather”, formal breakout sessions, and hands-on labs. With so much to see, you need to plan, and the schedule builder enables that. You won’t be able to see every desired session in person, but never fear because you can download sessions afterwards.
Be aware that the schedule is subject to change. Sometimes sessions are dropped because of an issue with a speaker. There are times when sessions prove to be extremely popular and they are rescheduled for additional time slots. I have seen flyers handed out with updated schedules. The best way to keep up with events is to follow TechEd North America on Twitter (@TechEd_NA) or on Facebook.
If you’re attending one of the popular sessions, like those of a Mark Minasi or a Mark Russinovich, then get there early. Those rooms fill up quickly and you’ll regret missing and educational and entertaining presentation.
Take Notes – Lots of Notes
Your best friend at TechEd is a laptop or convertible tablet with a great battery. I have a Samsung ATIV Windows tablet that can go all day. I charge it overnight and I can note take on it without getting stressed about finding the all-too-rare free charging station. It docks into a keyboard, giving me a laptop experience, and there’s a stylus that allows me to sketch out diagrams.
You should plan on using OneNote when attending TechEd. I maintain a single notebook for technical events. I open up a tab for each event, and have a page for each day/session. Some companies will choose to send several people to a big event like TechEd. It makes no sense for them to all attend the same sessions; instead, attend different events and share notebooks. This will allow for knowledge sharing, not just between the attendees, but also with those who are back in the office.
I am attending as a member of the media with the Petri IT Knowledgebase, so I will also be taking photographs. I should use my Nokia Lumia 1020 for that, but often I want to quickly embed a photo into a document. The quickest way of doing that, without relying on conference Wi-Fi networks, is to use a compact camera that has an SD card. If your computer has an SD reader then you can quickly copy the photos without dealing with cables.
Meet the Experts
One of the big benefits of TechEd is that you can meet with product experts. You will never get an opportunity like this for the rest of the year; your local Microsoft subsidiary staff are typically not that well informed and this is the best time ask those difficult questions, make feature change requests, and work out problems on a whiteboard.
Each speaker will also be scheduled to staff product booths at one more times throughout the week. They might announce their schedule at the end of their session. Maybe you have a follow up question to ask them? This is the perfect chance to get an answer.
A lot of experts never get the chance to talk at TechEd, but they attend to learn about other content or to discover new solutions. Maybe you read their blog? Possibly you’ve bought their book? There’s a chance they can help you with something. Or more likely, you never even have heard of this person … yet. Get out of your shell and talk to the person beside you in the breakout room before the presentation. Talk to your neighbors during a meal. This is a great chance to learn something new and to make new contacts and friends.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
TechEd New Orleans was a marathon. The venue was a gigantic long hallway and it could take half an hour to get from one location to another. The venue in Houston looks very similar. Be prepared to clock up some miles.
There’s more to the Exhibition Hall than Swag
One of my reasons to attend TechEd is to tour the sponsors’ booths. Yes, they are there to get your contact details and try to sell you something. But many times I have found solutions to problems at these booths. Take the time to wander about. If you don’t know of a company, then look them up. You never know what you might find.
You’ll also find a few other things in the exhibition hall. Sometimes there are special events, competitions, and even some places to sit back and relax. This is where I will spend my time during those slots when there are no sessions on.
Leave Some Room in your Suitcase
OK, you are going to collect swag. Maybe those t-shirts are for the office or for painting your apartment, but you will collect some. You might even find a pop-up Microsoft store selling devices at discount rates. Those of us travelling from outside of the USA will be tempted by lower US prices to visit a local electronics superstore. There is a high probability that you will return home with more than you left with, so leave some space.