My TechEd 2012 Wrap-up

This year was the 20th anniversary of TechEd, and TechEd 2012 was definitely worthy of that milestone. The conference was at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando this year, back where it all started in 1993. While people often have mixed feelings about Orlando, I challenge anyone to come up with a better convention center for the conference. The layout is perfect with breakout sessions on the edges and everything else – dining, keynotes, conference store, partner expo, etc. – all in the middle in that gigantic open space. You do a whole lot of walking there, but you’re never more than a few minutes (if you walk fast) from everything.

The Alumni Lounge, a popular addition last year, was back and better than ever. Fresh-baked cookies and mini doughnuts joined the spread of candy, and gelato even made an appearance. I really wish I had taken advantage of the chair massages that were offered, but I never managed to be in the lounge when they were there. Can’t wait to see what they do for us in New Orleans.

Speaking of New Orleans, the worst kept secret of TechEd in the days leading up to our arrival was that we’ll be in NOLA in 2013. It will be interesting to see just how the co-location of TechEd with MMS next year will work. Registration is supposed to open in August from what I’ve been told, so I guess we’ll learn some more then. I hope the add-on cost to attend the MMS sessions isn’t too expensive because I’d like to take advantage of that since I’ve never been able to attend MMS before.

There were two keynotes this year. The Monday keynote was the usual, with the first half aimed at IT Pros and the second half aimed at Devs. I’ll be honest, I lost some interest in the keynotes when they stopped being entertaining. Years ago we had minor celebrity guests who helped provide the “spoonful of sugar” that “helps the medicine go down” and without that, the keynotes are kind of dry. The Tuesday keynote was focuses on Windows 8, but they didn’t show us much, if anything, that we haven’t seen before. The only thing I remember that was new was seeing Office 2013 displayed when they did a quick demo of Office on an RT tablet. Attendees want to see announcements, real announcements, and demos, demos of things we haven’t seen before. Maybe next year they can shift the balance and make these more satisfying. I’m not saying their bad, because they aren’t, they just need a little something more to make it a must-see and not what you go to because there aren’t any breakouts going on.

Microsoft Learning had what seemed like a larger presence than in years past. I know they’ve always offered exam crams and certification testing, but having it down on the main floor along with the Certification Lounge made it seem like ML was everywhere. That perception may have been because I was introduced to Veronica Wei Sopher (@Shih_Wei), the Community and Social Media Manager at Microsoft Learning, online via Twitter before the conference. I had the pleasure of having dinner with Veronica (and Jared Shockley – @jshoq, Joey Snow – @JoeySnow, Rick Claus – @RicksterCDN, and Melinda Thrasher@MelindaThrasher) while I was in Redmond for the Windows Higher Ed Conference. Now an adopted member of The Krewe, I’m looking forward to seeing her online and at future events. If you are interested in getting certified and haven’t met Veronica, you’re missing out.

Speaking of the Krewe, I am amazed every year at how the group continues to grow both in numbers as well as in the awareness of attendees as well as people who aren’t even at TechEd. The Krewe Meet and Greet was at Howl at the Moon on Sunday and the joint was jumping. Even Mary Jo Foley was there! I think that says it all. I have to mention the sponsors without whom we couldn’t put on such a great event: Springboard Series (Thanks Stephen Rose!), X-IO Technologies, New Horizons Computer Learning Centers (the amazing Tiffany Wallace!), Vision Solutions (our own Mike Talon – @MikeTalonNYC), DataCore SoftwareAxceler (Christian Buckley  – @BuckleyPlanet – channeling Barry Manilow), and Big Bang LLC. Matt Griff (@MattGrif) did a great job getting everything setup and keeping all of us volunteers on target. And of course, many thanks to Mike Bender (@MichaelBender), our fearless leader.

I’m seven paragraphs in and I still haven’t mentioned so many things. I need to start summarizing. Bullet lists to the rescue:

  • TechEd Museum – To celebrate 20 years of TechEd, there was an exhibit showcasing all 20 conference bags throughout the years along with other items to represent the technology of the eras represented. I was honored to loan my bags spanning 2007-2011 for the exhibit. I could kick myself for giving away my bags from 2003-2006, but there’s no getting them back. I was thrilled that they found bags for every year, and it was fun to compare how things have changed.
  • Springboard Party – The party of all parties at TechEd. If anyone knows how to throw a party, it is Stephen Rose. And he does a heck of a job at making sure everyone has a great time. Did I mention he’s a Disney fan too? I spent the Saturday after TechEd at the Magic Kingdom, trading check-ins on Foursquare with Stephen as he was there with his family as well. I think that is pretty cool.
  • Attendee Party – We were at Islands of Adventure again this year which means… Harry Potter! I’m a Disney guy as you all know, and I’ve never been all that impressed with Universal over all. I have to take my hat off to them, however, for the Harry Potter area. You feel like you’ve been dropped right into the movie. Disney-level attention to detail is everywhere. And the main ride that takes you through Hogwarts and the areas shown in the movie is an amazing experience. The only downside with a theme park for the party is the difficulty keeping groups together. If you want to stay together with your group of friends, you’re not going to ride many if any rides. You really need to find people who want to do the same things you do and hit the park with them and save the after-party for hanging out with the group. Unfortunately, by the time people were leaving the park and getting on the bus, it was so late, that many people didn’t come out afterwards. I expect things will be better for socialization next year.
  • Content – This year the conference was focused on Server 2012 and Windows 8. And Server 2012 has so many great features and improvements that you could probably do an entire conference around topics like Hyper-V 3, DirectAccess, SMB 3, ReFS, and so on. More details on Windows RT and its accompanying hardware would have been nice (wouldn’t it have been great to see Surface tablets there?) though. Exchange content was sparse, but with MEC coming up in a few months, I expected that would be the case.
  • The Krewe – I mentioned the Krewe earlier, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention everyone again. Every year I look forward to TechEd and a big part of that is because of the Krewe.  Many if not most of my closest friends are people I’ve met through being a part of this crazy, talented, fun, surprising, caring group.  My life, both professionally and personally, would be less than it is now were it not for the relationships I’ve made.
  • Brandy Pepper – I’m singling out Brandy because of the incredible job she and her team do to make TechEd the premiere Microsoft technical conference. If it wasn’t for Brandy taking note of the Krewe back in New Orleans, I think things would be quite a bit different for the group and for us individually.  I still remember being asked to meet with @TechEd_NA near the end of TechEd 2010 along with Jeff Guillet (@Expta) and wondering what we had done wrong. I assume I tweeted something that I shouldn’t have and was being called to the carpet for it. As it turned out, Brandy just wanted to meet the folks behind the Krewe. Whew!  Since then I’ve had the pleasure to work with Brandy on various things related to TechEd, and I’m glad to call her my friend.

So, that’s my summary of TechEd 2012. I still need to post my swag inventory, so keep an eye out for that. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some important things and events and people and more, but I think I’ve hit the highlights.

Now I can start thinking about TechEd 2013. See you in New Orleans in 343 days!