Tech·Ed Europe 2009

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Tech·Ed logoThose who follow me on Twitter may have noticed that I’ve spent the last week at Microsoft’s European technical education conference – Tech·Ed Europe – which was held in Berlin this year.

Mauerfall celebrationsIt was a great week to be in Berlin as it co-incided with Germany’s celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (die Mauerfall) and I was lucky enough to be at the Brandenburg Gate, standing in the rain, a couple of hundred metres away from political heavyweights past and present, watching a line of 1000 “dominos” tumbling to signify the fall of the wall. I don’t want to give the impression that Tech·Ed is just a jolly though – actually it’s far from it and I spent half my weekend travelling to get there, before attending sessions from 9am to around 7pm most days and then networking in the evenings. This was my first Tech·Ed since 2001, for various family and business reasons, and it was both tremendously rewarding and very hard work.

Tech·Ed BadgeFirstly, I should try and give some indication of the size of the event: more than 7200 people spread over several halls in a convention centre; more than 110 partners in the exhibition hall; hundreds of Microsoft staff and volunteers in the Technical Learning Center; around 600 sessions in something like 20 session rooms – only 21 sessions of which can fit into the agenda; a keynote with seating for all 7200 people; catering for everyone too (including the 460 staff); and a lot of walking to/from sessions and around the centre.

So, what sort of content is covered in the sessions? This year Tech·Ed had a mixture of IT Pro and Developer content but over the years it’s been held as separate developer and IT Pro events on consecutive weeks – and, if I go back far enough, there used to be a separate IT Pro conference (the Microsoft Exchange Conference, later renamed IT Forum). This year there didn’t seem to be as much for coders at Tech·Ed, but they have a Professional Developer Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles next week; web developers have their own conference too (MIX); and, if IT management is more your forte, the Microsoft Management Summit (MMS) is intended for you. Microsoft’s description of Tech·Ed is as follows:

Tech·Ed Europe
Provides developers and IT professionals the most comprehensive technical education across Microsoft’s current and soon-to-release suite of products, solutions and services. This event provides hands-on learning, deep product exploration and opportunities to connect with industry and Microsoft experts one-to-one. If you are developing, deploying, managing, securing and mobilising Microsoft solutions, Tech·Ed Europe is the conference that will help you solve today’s real-world IT challenges and prepare for tomorrow’s innovations.”

This week I attended a wide variety of sessions coving topics as diverse as using hacker techniques to aid in IT administration to troubleshooting Windows using SysInternals tools and from managing and monitoring UNIX and Linux systems using System Center Operations Manager to looking at why the various architectures for desktop delivery don’t matter so much as the way in which they are managed. Meanwhile, colleagues focused on a variety of messaging and collaboration topics, or on directory services. I’m pleased to say that I learned a lot this week. So much indeed that, by Friday lunchtime I was struggling to take any more in – thankfully one of the benefits of attending the event is a year’s subscription to TechNet Online, giving me access to recorded versions of the sessions.

When I first attended Tech·Ed, back in 1998, my career was only just getting going. These days, I have 15 years industry experience and I now know many of the event organisers, Microsoft staff, and speakers – and one of the reasons is the tremendous networking opportunity that events like this afford. I didn’t spend much time around the trade stands but I did make sure I introduced myself to key speakers whose subject material crosses my own expertise. I also met up with a whole load of people from the community and was able to associate many faces with names – people like Sander Berkouwer and Tamás Lepenye (who I knew from our online interactions but had not previously had the chance to meet in person) as well as Steven Bink (who I first met a couple of years ago, but it’s always good to see him around). But, by far the most fortuitous interaction for me was meeting Microsoft Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich on Friday morning. I was walking into the conference centre and realised that Active Directory expert John Craddock (whom I had shared a taxi with on the way from the airport earlier in the week) was next to me – and then I saw he was with Mark, who is probably the best known Windows operating system internals expert (with the possible exception of Dave Cutler) and I took the opportunity to introduce myself. Mark won’t have a clue who I am (apart from the hopeless groupie who asked him to pose for a picture later in the day) but, nevertheless, I was able to introduce myself. Mark and Mark Russinovich - yes, he really is that tall!Then, there was the Springboard Community Partei – a real opportunity to meet with international speakers and authors like Mark Minasi, as well as key Microsoft staff like Stephen Rose (Microsoft Springboard), Ward Ralston (Windows Server 2008 R2 Group Product Manager) and Mark Russinovich (although I didn’t actually see him at the party, this video shows he was there) – as well as MVPs like Sander Berkouwer, Aidan Finn and Thomas Lee. These are the events that lead to lasting relationships – and those relationships provide real value in the IT world. Name dropping in a blog post is one thing – but the IT world in which we live is a small place – Aidan is writing a book with Mark Minasi and you never know what opportunities may arise in future.

So, back to the point – Tech·Ed is one of my favourite IT events and I would love to attend it more frequently. At the stage my career has reached I no longer need week-long training courses on technical products, but 75 minute sessions to give an overview of a specific topic area are perfect – and, at around £2000 for a week of technical education and networking opportunity, Tech·Ed is something I’d like to persuade my employer to invest in more frequently…

…I’ll have to wait and see on that, but Tech·Ed 2010 will be held in Berlin again next November – fingers crossed I’ll be one of the attendees.

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