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Highlights of TechEd and tips for next year

TechEd New Zealand has just wrapped up and I'm here to share some of the things I've learnt about attending the conference and how to get the most value from it next time it comes around.

Here's a secret you might not know... TechEd isn't really about PowerPoint slide shows and contrived demos that never work. In fact if that's all you're looking for, you might be better off staying in the comfort of your own home and visiting one of the many web sites where you can view pre-recorded presentations that have been made at these conferences all around the world. Not only will you be more comfortable, but you can skip past the boring bits and take a nap any time you want without offending the presenters!

The first place you should go is the TechEd New Zealand site where you can see some of the action from this week including a couple of sessions with local speakers you might know. My focus tends to be on the web and one of my favourite collections is the set of videos from MIX08 focusing on technologies in and around the Internet. If you're still hungry for more, the TechEd Online site is a good starting point for further exploration.

So if all this great content is available for free, do I just show up at TechEd for the free lunches?

Extracurricular activities
It's not immediately obvious, but there's a lot that goes on outside of the standard schedule, so keep an eye out for anything you can get involved in. To get an idea of the variety, check out all the photos tagged tenz8 on flickr and see how many Intergenites you can spot (here's a hint... yellow). Our local Microsofties, Darryl Burling and Nigel Parker, both have blogs with plenty of information about all the community events that go on, so I suggest you add them to your feed reader. You are using RSS, right?

An excellent example from this year was the blogger's dinner where Scott Hanselman took us through his best tips and tricks for blogging and spent a great deal of time answering any questions we had. A much smaller group than you get during the day meant we were able to get into more detail about our own experiences and problems. A girl geek dinner was held at the same time but unfortunately I didn't meet the entry criteria, so can't tell you what it was like.

Ask the experts. Seriously, do it.
One night each conference, all the speakers attending come out into the market place and mingle with the crowd to discuss any problems, ideas or questions the attendees have. Microsoft has flown many of these speakers in from countries around the world because they are experts in their field and really know their stuff. Some of the best information I ever got from TechEd was from one of the guys who works on the team building IIS.

You don't get many chances to meet these people in New Zealand so think up some questions and hunt them down. The first time I attended the conference was four years ago and I was just too shy to approach anyone I didn't already know. Fortunately I've been forcing myself to get over the classic social awkwardness geeks are known for and I'm finding much more opportunity open up because of it.

Unfortunately the best question I heard asked of an expert this year was: "Where should we stand to get the most free food and beer?"

Ask the experts, again.
It's not on the schedule but most of the presenters will hang around after their talks and take questions from anyone who wants to get into more detail. This year I hit up Scott Cate and not only did he answer the questions he knew, but he fired up Visual Studio and figured out the answers to the ones he didn't.

Once again, I have to say these guys are here because they know their subjects and they usually have much more information about what is up and coming than you can find online. If you do come up with a question that no one present can answer, you are talking to some of the most connected people in the Microsoft community and they will put you in touch with those who do know.

Sometimes the scheduling gods have conspired to collect all of the most boring topics you can imagine into the same time slot. This is a great time to visit the Hands on Labs, where you can actually try out most of the stuff you've been watching in the presentations. Many of the labs work with the preview and beta versions of upcoming software that you've been too scared to install on your own machine. If you have any problems (or just needed a V to help you recover from the TechFest party), every year Intergen has an army of yellow proctors on hand to help you out.

As well as helping keep the labs running, I managed to spend some time working through many of the labs that interested me and I might have even learnt something!

Networking is a term the business people love and it's all about meeting people and making opportunities for yourself. To be honest it's not something I'm great at; I'm much more familiar with the type of networking that involves IP addresses and bandwidth calculations. If you want to make things happen in the Microsoft space, you couldn't be hanging out with a better group of people. The conference includes a real mix of experts, developers, IT professionals and business people.

This year was my first time attending as an Intergenite so I enjoyed the chance to get to know some of my colleagues from our other offices around the country. TechEd is also one of those places where you run into all manner of people you've worked with in the past so it's a great opportunity to catch up and share any new war stories.

Party Time
TechEd wouldn't be complete without the annual TechFest party. I wish I could point out all the valuable business potential to be had here but to be honest it's just a chance to unwind with your peers and enjoy a great time. Try not to break anything and make sure you know where the coffee and V are located for recovery the next morning.

After three days of madness I'm running on empty but I can't wait for next time. If you get the chance to attend next year, think about what you can do to get more out of it, otherwise give your ticket to me!

Posted by: Barry Dahlberg | 05 September 2008

Tags: TechEd

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