Microsoft Ignite 2023 has been announced as a hybrid event. Let me explain why I have no interest in attending in person or taking part digitally.
One of the reasons that I became a pretty regular attendee of Microsoft’s technical conferences was to learn. My first time to attend TechEd Europe was a real eye-opener. I took part in hands-on labs, tried out new products, and went to sessions where I learned a lot about products/features that I worked with or was interested in.
When a past manager asked me about my training budget/plan it was quite simple: I had no interest in traditional training because I knew all that I could learn in the necessary areas – I could often rewrite the courses with better content. But attending a conference where the creators of the product/feature stood on stage and got into deep technical detail – that was unmatched.
The TechEd brand was killed off years ago and replaced with the much larger Ignite conference. The immediate noticeable change was that the main breakouts were 99% reserved for Microsoft staff and sponsors – I avoid sponsor sessions because they are 100% advertising. The Microsoft sessions slowly changed away from technical Program Managers to managers, and then to corporate vice presidents (CVPs). That meant that the level of technical content was dropping and there was a shift to marketing.
As we all know, COVID-19 shut the world down and brought down conferences with it. Microsoft switched to a digital format for Ignite. In theory, this should have increased the audience and potentially the breadth & depth of content. However, Ignite “online” featured 30 minute-long sessions (because of “feedback”) that featured only:
- Bullet point announcements with no technical follow-up
- Marketing by CVPs.
Sure, Ignite became a glossy, well-produced digital event but it was pointless. I don’t care how many live streams they had – how many of those people were paying attention? I don’t care how many downloads/non-live streams they had – how many of those people finished got more than 1/3 through the session?
I can read bullet point announcements in the blog posts on day 1 of the conference much more easily than I can from a PowerPoint – and there will be links to more detailed information.
I have no interest in some CVP trying to be the next Stephen Elop-style failed techie celebrity, burning up time that would have been better with a program manager sharing knowledge on the new tech that they’ve been working on for months/years.
I remember a few years ago that one group in Microsoft staged their own “Ignite” outside of the official content/site in order to get their news out – that didn’t happen again. I guess somebody squashed that.
I attended the last few TechEd North America conferences and all but the very first Microsoft Ignite events. I have been in a couple of conversations about attending this year and I’ve made it clear: I have no interest – and that seems to be a common opinion.
It costs a lot of money to travel to such an event. A flight is between €600-€1200. A hotel will clock in at over €2000. The early bird ticket price this year is $1,525 (around €1,424). Don’t forget local expenses like travel and food. If you’re a consultant like me then the company has lost revenue while you are away. And then there is the priceless time away from family and the impact on the partner who has to keep things running while you are far away. Attending a conference is an investment. I always saw attending Ignite as an investment in the following year: I would have knowledge that only a few others in my market had. If the return is near zero then Microsoft Ignite is a bad investment.
OK, can’t I just watch it online? I think I have watched maybe 3 Ignite sessions from the Pandemic years. Last year there was supposed to be a deep dive in one area that I work in. I tuned in live, and it was a CVP in a digital marvel or marketing, uttering words that they probably have never used in that order before. Even the time to watch the online content is not worth the investment.
What Needs To Change?
I don’t think that any of this will happen – there are those in Microsoft who view Ignite as irrelevant (yuk! tech!), a distraction, or a cost. The switch to an online video brochure suits them. I think that sucks. I know that there is an in-person option, but check out the mostly pre-recorded content – are you going to pay to stream the same content as everyone else while sitting in a conference centre?
The presenters need to switch back to the program managers from the teams. These are people who have worked on the products/features since inception and are qualified to talk about the content at a technical level and are trained in public/customer interaction (it’s normally a part of the job description).
The length of session needs to return to either 60 minutes or 75 minutes. As a presenter, I can tell you that it is impossible to bring an audience through a progression from level 200 to level 300/400 in 30 minutes while doing all the necessary steps and delivering any meaningful amount of content. 60 minutes is the minimum. 75 minutes gives the presenter a real chance to drill deep – which a large part of the audience really wants.
The content needs to include large amounts of technical sessions. Sure, go ahead and have those level 100-200 sessions for the C-suite or people getting into subjects for the first time. But give us techies a reason to participate, either in person or online.
Give Us TechEd!
The thing that is most missing today is knowledge. There is too much focus on introduction/bullet point announcements/blog posts, training to get a practically useless certification, and documentation that fails to explain the why’s and how’s.
We need technical content from the people who work on the product/features and really know them. I say this as a person who wants to learn but also as a person who witnesses the lack of knowledge or understanding in the market – the iPad generation is trying to use The Cloud without knowing why/how/what’s best/what’s secure because they’re limited to the next-next getting started docs that are the only technical information out there anymore.