Posey's Tips & Tricks

An Insider's Guide to TechEd, Part 2

In this entry, Brien shares some knowledge and pointers on tackling the sessions and the exhibit hall of TechEd.

In my previous blog post I talked about the TechEd attendee party and about all of the free swag that you can score in the exhibit hall (actually, I didn't even begin to talk about all of the freebies. That would take several more blog posts). In this post, I want to turn my attention to the more serious side of TechEd and talk about how you can make the most of the event.

The Sessions
Probably the biggest draw for the event is the sessions that you can attend throughout the day. These sessions will provide you with technical information that you cannot get anywhere else. Over the course of the week there are hundreds of different sessions that you can attend. It is simply impossible to get to all of them, so some preplanning is in order.

When you register for TechEd, Microsoft gives you access to a session builder. You can use this tool to help find the sessions that will be the most beneficial to you. Normally if you have a Windows Phone you can even download your custom schedule to your phone (this may also work with other types of smartphones, I don't know).

There are three things to keep in mind about the sessions. First, simply going from one session to the next can involve a great deal of walking. As such, I cannot overstress the importance of wearing comfortable shoes.

The second thing to keep in mind about the sessions is that the difficulty levels vary widely. Some sessions are designed for beginners, while others are hard-core deep dives that are intended for experts. Make sure to pick sessions that align with your skill level in order to avoid disappointment.

Finally, each session has a limited capacity and the event staff will deny entry to the session once it is full. Therefore, you should make plans to arrive at each session relatively early in order to ensure that you get in.

Stay Energized
Attending TechEd involves a lot of exercise and a very long day filled with technical information. The experience is nothing short of exhausting. One of the most important things you can do if you want to make the most of TechEd, is to keep your energy level up.

Microsoft provides lunch to the attendees each day, free of cost. While lunch can certainly help with your energy level, some attendees need a bit more. If you look at the daily agenda Microsoft has breaks schedule periodically throughout the day. Often times they will provide free snacks on tables in the hallways during breaks. Free soft drinks and water are usually also available throughout the day.

The Exhibit Hall
The exhibit Hall has gained something of a reputation over the years. It can be a circus-like environment, and it is the place where slackers go to hang out when they don't want to go to a session. In spite of these negative connotations, the exhibit hall can actually be tremendously beneficial.

For organizations that are looking for new hardware or software, the exhibit Hall provides a great opportunity to cross-compare products in person. Most of the vendors are happy to answer questions and to provide demos of their products.

I have also had a lot of success with getting technical questions answered in the exhibit hall. For example, one year I had been having a major problem with Exchange Server that no one seemed to know anything about. However, the Microsoft experts in the exhibit hall were able to answer my question. That answer alone was worth the cost of the trip.

Hands-on Labs
This year I will probably be spending most of my time at TechEd in the sessions. Microsoft has a lot of new products coming out this year, and the sessions will probably be the best way for me to familiarize myself with everything that is being released. Normally however, I spend the bulk of my time in the hands on labs.

Hands-on labs are lab environments that are set up similarly to what you might find in a Microsoft certification class. They are set up so that you can work through a number of different configurations related to all manner of Microsoft products. This is a great way to gain experience and familiarity with server products that I you not use on a daily basis.

Conclusion
One thing to keep in mind is that whether you are interested in learning, party, or a little bit of both, my blog posts have barely scratched the surface of what is available at TechEd. My advice is to spend plenty of time looking over the TechEd Web site so that you do not miss out on any events or other opportunities that you might be interested in. Microsoft also presents a session on the first day called TechEd 101 that is designed to familiarize newbies with the event.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a seven time Microsoft MVP with over two decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written many thousands of articles and written or contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. When He isn't busy writing, Brien Posey enjoys exotic travel, scuba diving, and racing his Cigarette boat. You can visit his personal Web site at: www.brienposey.com.

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