Last July, when Julia White posted her blog post on the Office blog, Microsoft’s unified technology event for enterprises, she broke a few hearts. If you didn’t read it, or have blocked it out, allow me to sum it up. She announced that all the big Microsoft Enterprise tech conferences, TechEd, SharePoint Conference, Project Conference, Exchange Conference, Lync Conference, and Todd’s SharePointorama (okay, I made that last one up) were being combined into one, big, huge conference in Chicago May 4-8, 2015. Those other conferences have sung their swan songs. As someone that has been a speaker at three of those shows (not counting Todd’s SharePointorama) I was a little concerned. Not quite ready to hang up my Microsoft slippers, but I was concerned.
Over the last nine years I’ve been very fortunate to be involved with many Microsoft conferences as a speaker. It’s been a great opportunity and has opened a lot of doors and I’ve met a bunch of great people. I’m kind of a nerd, and with as many conferences as I’ve been involved with (Microsoft and others) I’ve always wondered how the sausage was made. How did the organizer choose the venue? The rooms? How are they able to make sure every little morsel of flavor is cooked out of the chicken they serve for lunch? Does that cost extra? I’ve buddied up with some of the organizers and gotten some of those answers (it doesn’t cost extra) but I was still curious.
A month or so ago a unique opportunity was dropped into my lap. Last year Microsoft started a Roundtable discussion about TechEd. They invited a few folks from different product disciplines, different areas of interest, and different communities to provide Microsoft input on TechEd. They were doing the same thing for the Big Microsoft Conference and they invited me join them. Woo Hoo!
Last Monday and Tuesday I was in Chicago with 17 or so of my closest nerd friends, and another 20 or so Microsoft folks. Our mission was to tour the location of the Big Microsoft Conference, McCormick Place, and let Microsoft know what our opinion on was on a bunch of issues. It was a great time. First, a few pictures. Here is a quick shot I took of the main entrance along with some of my fellow Roundtablers:
The size of this place is immense. The exhibit halls alone are 2.6 million square feet, with one over 800k square feet.
This is the South exhibit hall. Not only is it large enough for all the IT Vendors, and the pallets and pallets of free t-shirts and 2 GB USB drives they’ll be giving away, if you look closely you’ll see it has an island in the middle. This island has some meeting space, some possible food vending spots, and most importantly, bathrooms! My biggest problem with large exhibit halls is that the potties are only on the outside walls, and sometimes those walls are a very long ways away. My bladder does not approve of that.
Here’s one of the smaller exhibit halls with a plumbers convention going on. I’m not sure why, but that cracks me up.
The views from the Lakeside Center were beautiful. The organizers haven’t decided yet where stuff will go, but I hope I get some sessions over there.
I talked to the McCormick IT guys and they assured me we’d have more than enough bandwidth to get out to the cloud for our demos and still be able to satisfy our constant cravings for cat videos. It’s a tall order, but they are confident they are up to it.
For the rest of the first day, and the second day we talked about The Big Conference itself. How the sessions will be decided on, keynotes, entertainment, etc. I let them know I was available for the keynote. We’ll see what happens. I was initially concerned about how Microsoft was going to bring all of these conferences together without killing the things that made them great. The Big Conference will probably have 20,000 people as opposed to the 10k or so at TechEd or the SharePoint Conference. It’s tough to manage that many people, especially such tight groups. And where will they all stay? How will they all get there and back? Will there be enough ice cream at break time?? After hearing what the Microsoft organizers had to say, I think they’ve got a good handle on it.
It was very clear that they know the networking and community aspects of these tech conferences are very, very important. We tech nerds aren’t always the most socially outgoing and they don’t want to lose the ability for people to find each other, or for people that already know each other to stay together. They also know that with the increase in the number of sessions and attendees they’re going to have to make sure things are discoverable. I suggested using <blink> tags for all of my sessions. I’m not sure anyone wrote that idea down.
It feels like the organizers of the Big Microsoft Conference have thought this through really well. They spent a lot of time letting us talk and really listening to what we had to say. TechEd and the SharePoint Conference were very important to me, and I’ll miss them both dearly. But I feel like their legacies are in good hands. I’m looking forward to the Big Microsoft Conference in May. I’ll post more about the conference here as more details emerge.