Last year in Atlanta, it was my first year at MS TechEd. My eyes were wide like saucers as I ran around the facility, looking at all the newest things from Microsoft, trying to scribble notes furiously, taking pictures of the PowerPoints and running to the next session. I learned a lot then and took that to Orlando with me.
I have changed my outlook on what TechEd is to me. Last year, I was running around doing the things that a newbie does. This year, I sat back before I got here and really looked at what I wanted to accomplish: pass some tests, work more in the hands on lab, and network with other IT professionals from around the world including my friends in TheKrewe.
Sessions are good and I worked through the catalog finding the sessions that I want to attend in person. One advantage attendees get is the content, both the presentation decks and audio/slide/demo recordings are available soon after TechEd. After reviewing what we get after the conference, I feel I can get as much out of the recordings provided after the sessions as I can in person.
Testing for certifications at TechEd in Orlando has been a major learning experience for me. I had signed up for 3 tests while I was here, 2 that were free and one I paid for. In the end, I did not pass any of them but learned so much about testing and how to prepare for them. One of my past feelings about the certifications was that people could just study and pass the tests without having a lot of hands on experience. That viewpoint has been completely changed for me after two of my tests were in technologies I did not have time to personally review and play with the tech. I came out of both tests with reasonable scores but no where near passing. The last test was one in technologies I do work with a fair amount at home in my home lab. I scored better on this test but still it wasn't passing. For future testing, I need to set out a better learning plan and really work to setup labs where I can create the technologies that I am being tested on.
As I write this post on Thursday morning, I have not had the time in the labs as I wanted. After I finish this and have some lunch, my plan is to head into the lab and try a few of the labs. The tech behind the labs is amazing: large blade servers, huge fiber SANs, and Microsoft's Private Cloud that is creating and destroying VM's for each individual's labs. Watching the management systems go on the large hosts is fun and they have small thumbnails of all the VM's being used by the lab. Geeks and their toys.
The last thing is what I think tech conferences is really about: networking. This is not routers and firewalls; this is about meeting and creating friendships and connections with others in the technology world. I learned this at TechEd Atlanta and started creating some good friendships that continue all year long via social media technologies like Twitter, Facebook, and instant messaging systems. Taking the time to meet folks including just introducing yourself to people is some of the most important things you can do. Those connections can last more than the information from the sessions.
I am lucky to be in the unique position of affording MS TechEd personally and making this my vacation each year. Many folks come here paid by their companies or through others means. No matter how you get here, you need to get here if you support or utilize Microsoft technologies in your professional life. You will never regret the trip and the information you can take home and the connections you make!