We spent last week Sunday to Wednesday in what was surprisingly cold and rainy Durban for Tech-Ed Africa 2009 at the ICC. 4 of us from emediaIT went through, mainly to make sure that we covered as much as possible during the event, but also because we feel that it is a worthwhile experience for any technical person whose focus is on Microsoft technologies.
We arrived quite early on the Sunday so went through to register before the rush and despite not having printed out my barcode (I am not sure why this waste of paper is recommended at a technology conference), was surely processed as quickly as I could have been otherwise. This year’s conference bag was a huge improvement over the previous year’s small backpack in terms of functionality and size, but the contents were not overly exciting. IT Intellect had opened their self-paced hot labs so we spent some time there going through some of their material which was well structured. The opening key note was interesting and clearly outlined Microsoft’s “3 Screens and a Cloud” vision, but the staged scenarios were a bit over the top. Windows 7 obviously played a big role as well and the multi-touch technology provides a lot of possibilities. Microsoft’s appreciation of the audience and their role in the industry was also good to hear. The opening street party to follow was sadly moved inside the ICC and because of this I am sure a great deal of the planned atmosphere was lost. We did however have a good meal and met up with some people we had not seen since the previous year.
We had discussed the sessions we all wanted to attend and after making it downstairs for a quick breakfast on Monday morning, we hit our first sessions at 08:00. I took a mixed bag of Developer/Architect and IT Professional sessions on all the days, mainly looking to enrich my understanding of current and future technologies and products we are using both internally and for clients. As before there were different types of sessions including break out sessions, white board sessions (particularly useful for getting direct access to some of the experts) etc so we also tried to balance our selection with that in mind. The “What’s New in Team Foundation Server 2010” by Siddarth Bhatia was probably the best for me on the first day and not just because of the “Code to live...” t-shirt. Work Item Hierarchies, Test Case Management and the new Dashboards look particularly awesome. Monday night was a free evening (except for the ladies who went to the Women in IT evening), so we took it upon ourselves to head to the Jewel of India restaurant we had been told about and enjoyed a pretty authentic and tasty dinner (I can recommend the Lamb Vindaloo).
I opted for lunch time sessions (in which case you get a little boxed lunch instead of having the full sit down one prepared) on both days, which is fine providing you don’t really need the break. I end up wanting to communicate with the office a fair amount even while away (Thank you Touch Pro and Mini 9), so to me it’s not really an issue eating that way while listening in on a session and catching up on some mails. I particularly enjoyed the Black Belt Tips with MVC by Jonathan Carter and was also lucky enough to catch the Managed Extensibility Framework session by Bart de Smet (who we met and really enjoyed last year). Both are excellent speakers and have an incredible wealth of knowledge to share. Tuesday night was the closing party which started directly after the last session at 18:30. It was at the Exhibition Centre across the road, but as opposed to the awesome effort made for last year’s parties, it lacked a bit of atmosphere, especially in terms of decoration etc. Even things like the radio control car racing, which was a cool idea, just didn't seem quite planned out. Louise Carver and the group who performed after her (who have one song I like in particular, but can’t remember the name) were really good though and the food was decent.
One is able to wander through the expo part of Tech-Ed during the course of the conference and all the sponsors etc have elaborate stalls setup to attract and promote their services and/or products. They normally have some form of giveaways or competition going and this year Guitar Hero and the XBOX 360 in general was definitely helping to pull people in. Wednesday morning is also the last chance to enter the competitions (most just require dropping a business card) and there were some great prizes up for grabs ranging from XBOX’s to Dell XPS laptops. The MVP lounge is also situated in the middle of this area and between this and the “Ask the experts” sessions, one has great accessibility to the speakers. The closing key note was enjoyable and reinforced some of the upcoming technologies. Multi-touch, surface computing and other technologies such as digital ink are really set to revolutionise the way we interact with just about everything.
On the whole, I did enjoy Tech-Ed this year and am glad that we went. We could possibly have gone with 3 as opposed to 4 people (as we share the information etc internally as best as we can) in terms of material covered, but everyone from our side was very excited to be there and found it to be a great experience. The sessions and speakers were of a high quality, I would say better than the year before in terms of the ones I attended, but I did get the feeling that costs had been cut in terms of non-essentials which do add to the overall experience. The latter is not a huge issue in my opinion as that is not why we are there, but 2008 (and I assume the Sun City Tech-Eds before that) set a precedent that was not equaled.
In short, if you didn’t go this year I would seriously consider it next year. Even in terms of straight value for money I feel it’s difficult to beat Tech-Ed from a skills development/growth perspective. Would like to attend the Europe/US event next year to compare.