Posey's Tips & Tricks
So Long to TechEd
Now that Microsoft is cancelling TechEd and other conferences, what's to expect from the company's recently announced mega conference?
As someone who has attended most (if not all) of the TechEd events since the mid 1990s, I was heartbroken (though not surprised) at Microsoft's decision to phase out TechEd and a number of other conferences in favor of one mega conference. Although Microsoft's announcement concerning the merging of events seems simple enough on the surface, it actually raises a lot of questions.
Before I get into those questions, let's talk about what we do know. What we know right now is that this mega conference (which has yet to be given a name) is going to take place in Chicago on May 4-8 of 2015.
The biggest question that I have about the event is about the types of content that we can expect. Microsoft has already said that "if you attended the SharePoint conference, the Exchange Conference, the Lync Conference, or the Project Conference, this conference is for you." Obviously Microsoft has plenty of SharePoint, Exchange Lync, Project and presumably Office 365 content lined up. Even so, there are a couple of issues that Microsoft will have to address.
The first issue that Microsoft will have to address is balancing the content. TechEd has always been unique in that it deals with a wide variety of Microsoft products and technologies and provides sessions for every skill level. The more specialized conferences like the Exchange Conference and the SharePoint conference are different in that they create an immersive environment in which attendees are able to focus on a single technology for the entire conference.
I have no doubt that Microsoft will be able to bring the technical depth of their specialty conferences to this mega event. Many of the same people who present sessions at the Exchange conference also present Exchange related sessions at TechEd. Even so, Microsoft is going to have to build the conference in a way that appeals to those who have previously attended specialty conferences without also alienating those who want to attend a variety of sessions or those who need beginner level sessions.
One of my big complaints about TechEd is that there are so many great sessions and it is impossible to attend more than a small fraction of them. Even so, I think that for Microsoft's new conference to meet attendee expectations, Microsoft is going to have to offer even more sessions than they usually do. Fortunately, Microsoft has been really good in recent years about making session recordings available after the conference.
I also think that Microsoft is going to have to put some extra work into their conference app. Microsoft has long made it possible for attendees to build a custom conference schedule in a way that allows attendees to use their mobile device to see which session they plan to attend next. While I like the concept of mobile scheduling, it is going to need to get a lot better.
Maybe it's because I am a tech journalist, but I personally find TechEd to be almost overwhelming. It isn't just the session schedule. It's the fact that almost everyone I know is at the conference. I usually have dozens of meetings and post conference events scheduled with clients, vendors, Microsoft employees and friends. If Microsoft is going to be consolidating their conferences into one big conference then time management is going to become even more critical than it usually is. That's why I say that Microsoft would be wise to provide a conference app that lets you manage more than just your session schedule. Ideally, such an app should be able to allow you to coordinate with other attendees.
Of course the big question that I'm sure is on a lot of people's minds is where the attendee party will be. It's difficult to know for sure if there will be an attendee party. Although the party is a long standing Microsoft tradition, Microsoft has a new CEO who seems interested in controlling costs.
When I first mentioned Chicago to my wife, her response was that the party is sure to be at Wrigley Field. I think that Wrigley Field is a possibility given Microsoft's history of stadium parties, but I am hoping that Microsoft chooses a different venue. This year's party in Houston was so crowded that it was difficult to walk, much less enjoy the party. Maybe Microsoft could have the event at the Museum of Science and Industry or at Navy Pier.
My guess is that those of us who are used to TechEd will see some surprising changes in Chicago next May, but there is always the chance that the event won't be that different. After all, there was a period of a few years when Microsoft had chosen to do away with the Microsoft Exchange Conference and role it into TechEd. Microsoft's recent decision could resemble that of the past.
Brien Posey is a 20-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and 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 health care 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. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.