TechEd 2009: Finding technical content

Whilst TechEd this year has been rich with interesting content, most notably on SharePoint 2010, I’ve found it sadly thin on the ground when it comes to deep technical sessions. What exceptions to this rule there have been, however, were excellent and worthy of mention.

Mark Minasi delivered an explanation of Kerberos and its usage in Windows which was both extremely informative and wildly funny. His engaging delivery and use of cartoons, animations and humour made what could have been a dry subject all the more informative and memorable. If you can get hold of the recording, I would strongly urge you to watch.

John Craddock went one better. His extremely deep coverage of DirectAccess and the IPv6 technologies which underpin it took two sessions, and has spawned a third, Q&A tomorrow morning which I shall be sure to attend. He gave a solid explanation of all the component technologies used by DirectAccess with an excellent demo rig to illustrate every step. After nigh-on three hours in his company I have come away with a much better understanding of the area, and an idea of how I can implement the technology in spite of the more readily available DA documentation implying that I can’t.

One or two of the Sharepoint sessions have been equally as useful – Joel Oleson and Todd Klindt on what you should look on your SQL server and how it’s configured to make your SharePoint perform better, and Todd again, along with his colleague Shane on upgrading from 2007 to 2010. Many others, however, were more marketing (and I learned a new word – markitechture – or should that be marchitecture?) than meat, which is a real shame.

Overall, TechEd is still a great conference for content which covers a broad range of Microsoft technologies. I have to say that I enjoyed it – I just won an Xbox in the feedback ‘contest’! I think on balance I really have enjoyed it. Mark and John’s sessions alone make it worth the ticket price; I also look forward to Sanjay’s presentation on Microsoft BUI tomorrow. Part of me does wonder though – do I need to go to a ‘vertical’ conference like SharePoint 2009 for the deep content?

TechEd Europe has real Coke

For those of you who are confused by the title, Robert, our MD complained bitterly that the SharePoint Conference 2009 in Las Vegas only had Pepsi. I don’t know any geeks who like Pepsi, and a quick poll on twitter seemed to suggest that Robert and I aren’t alone. I just want to report that Berlin has restored my faith and has large fridges full of bottles of Coke. No Cherry Coke, however, so they don’t quite make a gold star.

This conference is HUGE. The conference centre is enormous. We arrived on Sunday by U-Bahn, which is to the north of the centre. It was a ten or fifteen minute walk to get from there to the north, where the entrance is. Fortunately, the S-Bahn station is at the north end. This morning was a bit like a football match – hundreds and hundreds of attendees streamed off two trains in the station and swarmed into the centre entrance. People were taking pictures in awe – incredible.

Big it may be, but I must admit to being a little disappointed. There are few sessions that grab me. After last year, where Andy and I struggled to cover all the new and exciting stuff between us, this year has much less for me. The developer and IT events have been combined this year, and everything seems to lean more towards dev. I get the feeling also that the individual product conferences such as SharePoint and Project are taking over as the place to get great content as they can be more focused. Overall, I think that’s a shame. It’s hard to send guys to lots of conferences, and expensive. Being able to get deep technical content across a broad range of products was the great benefit of TechEd last year, with our IT guys out one week and the devs out the next.

Compared to Barcelona, I have a few key points:

  • It’s a lot colder.
  • The venue is much more organised (although it’s massive and sprawling)
  • The venue catering seems better (food, drinks and fruit is readily available, which it wasn’t last year), although it would be better if it were closer to the session rooms. I have to make a good ten or fifteen minute round trip if I want to forage.
  • The conference pack was better last year. it’s little things, like the session abstracts and pullout cards of session plans that fit easily in your badge holder. This year is not as good – the booklet I have, whilst it fits in my badge holder, requires me to constantly flick through. Most stuff is on the web, which is great if you have an internet connection, plenty of time, and something bigger than a netbook that can run full outlook. I have none of those, so I can’t use it at all. The system is horribly unusable on a netbook. Guess what nearly all the people I’ve met so far are carrying?!
  • Did I mention that it was cold? Last night there were lines of Brass Monkeys all searching for their balls (and that’s not rude, it’s an english naval reference – go look it up!)
  • The jury is still out on a city-versus-city comparison. Berlin is quite varied in many ways; Barcelona seemed more alive.

Content so far is ok. I can’t be more excited as I’ve only been to two sessions. I can tell you, however, that Richard Riley is an excellent presenter and succinctly covered key points for IT Pros in SharePoint 2010. I’m going to a session by Joel Oleson next, and I’m looking forward to that – I have a great deal of respect for Joel’s expertise. Hopefully I will be able to post more later.

Ich bin ein Berliner

As you may know, TechE d 2009 EMEA is in Berlin this year. You may also know that this year is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I’m here in Berlin, which means that I’ll try to blog what’s going on at TechEd. However, this post is all about the really cool idea Berlin has for the celebrations!

We arrived on Saturday and went out to Potsdamer Platz, not far from the Brandenburg Gate and German Parliament. We hadn’t heard about the 1000 dominoes, so we were really surprised and impressed.

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The line begins at Potsdamer Platz (where there’s a really cool sledding slope, too) and snakes it’s way past the Brandenburg Gate to the new government buildings. Each domino is about 7 feet tall, and is uniquely decorated. Next to every domino is a small plaque telling you who did the artwork and, if your german is up to is, which mine isn’t quite, their thoughts about the piece. Some are truly startling, and they have been painted by everyone, from schoolchildren to artists to local companies and charities. On the 9th of November, the day the wall came down, those dominoes will be toppled.

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You can follow the line all the way to the end, and there are thousands of people doing just that – all day and night. There are also wurst stalls, bier stands and stands selling gluhwein to ward off the cold. The atmosphere is absolutely fantastic!

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These pictures don’t really do it justice – I took them with my phone on Saturday night. I have more taken with my EOS but I’ve not sorted them yet, and I wanted to get this post up.

The TV crews must be having a field day. There is an incredible amount of technical gear here – cameras on tripods; cameras on cranes; and one really cool camera on a wire track ready to chase the falling dominoes.

The Brandenburg Gate is all lit up and has big grandstands around it, ready for the festivities.

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The building where the line ends is this fabulous work of modern architecture housing the national library.

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The big celebrations for Berlin Mauerfall are tonight. TechEd has carefully arranged it’s schedules so we have time to get there and join in. Here’s hoping the weather is good.