MEC is Back! Whither TechEd?

If you work with Microsoft Exchange and were online at some point today, you probably heard the big news.  MEC is back!  The Microsoft Exchange Conference, which was last held in 2002, is making a triumphant (I hope) return in 2012.  The Exchange Team broke the news with a blog post and a Tweet:

They pointed everyone to a new site, MECisBack.com, with a date (September 24, 2012), coordinates (17” 32’ 28° N, 81° 22’ 45” W), and a place to sign up for email updates.

If you enter those coordinates into Bing Maps (yes, I do use Bing Maps instead of that other service from Mountain View), you will find yourself in… Orlando!

MEC 2002 was the first Microsoft conference I attended. It was in Anaheim that year (right across the street from Disneyland!) and was a great experience.  Exchange was a big part of my job then, as it is now, and having an event dedicated to that topic was amazing.  Needless to say, I was disappointed when I learned that the conference was MEC’s swan song.  My disappointment was tempered, however, when I found out about TechEd.  Since the content I enjoyed so much at MEC was moving there, I figured I’d give TechEd a try.  I have attended every year since then, and this year will be my tenth TechEd.

As it turned out, TechEd was a good fit for me.  I work in a small IT shop and have direct responsibility for several Microsoft products.  Exchange, SharePoint, OCCS/Lync, System Center, SQL, Windows, Windows Server, etc.  You name it, I probably have it running somewhere.  TechEd’s broad range of product coverage is perfect for generalists.  I can hop from track to track and cover a lot of areas during that week. The flip side is I don’t get to go as deep into individual areas as much as I might like, both in my daily work activities as well as in the conference tracks.  Everything is a trade-off.

Several blogs and sites covered the news about MEC today, and one in particular made me pause, Tony Redmond’s article at Windows IT Pro. Tony writes:

The folks who are responsible for the new MEC event face a challenge to recapture the passion, intensity, and commitment of the early conferences.

The event planners want to distinguish MEC from the Exchange content as delivered at TechEd. OK, so far so good. Next?

They know that they have to be very different to TechEd, which I understand will continue to feature a small number of Exchange sessions.

Wait. Excuse me?  A “small number” of sessions about Exchange? I don’t like the sound of that. How many sessions is a small number? What level will these sessions be?  Is this confirmed?

As happy as I am that MEC is back, adding another product-specific event does pose some issues.  For people who work in one product area, a focused event like MEC (or the SharePoint Conference or MMS) makes a lot of sense. But for those of us who work with multiple products, deciding where to spend our travel and training budgets becomes more difficult now.

Do I go to each of the product conferences and spend more on travel and hotel?  Do I keep going TechEd and get the most coverage in a single trip.  But will I wonder if I’m missing out on valuable content or the best speakers that are reserved for specialized events?  How do I convince my manager to let me attend all of the events?

There’s also the question of whether we can expect changes in TechEd for 2013.  Many of us have answered post-TechEd surveys over the years that asked what we thought about different options for the event, such as a shorter 3-day schedule.  I know that thought has always alarmed long-time TechEd alumni. I’m not saying that’s a likely scenario, but there is cause to wonder if they might revisit that at some point.  I expect we’ll hear more the closer we get to TechEd and MEC.  Until then, we’ll just have to wait and see.

So will I see you at MEC in September?  Don’t tell my boss, but a second trip to Orlando for the year and a chance to hang out with Jeff Guillet (The EXPTA {blog}) for a few more days this year would be reason enough to go.  Keep your fingers crossed!

Updated: Thanks to a tweet from @PeterConrad4, we know that TechEd 2013 might be in San Francisco at the Moscone Center and may be its usual 4-day length. The dates might be May 6-9, 2013. See my post for more info.

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