A few (ok, more than a few) words (and images) on this year's TechEd North America held in Houston, TX.
"Cloud". That pretty much sums up this year's event. Nearly everything was Cloud/Azure focused, including the Keynote... which I had to watch from an "Overflow Room" (Seriously? If I wanted to watch it on a screen I could have stayed in my hotel). This doesn't have a lot of direct application to my current role so I wasn't overly excited about it. But, I understand the movement in the industry and I didn't really mind either.
My particular passion is security so that's where I spent most of my session time. I saw a lot of familiar faces from pervious years : Marcus Murray, Hasain Alshakarti, Paula Januszkiewicz, and Mark Russinovich. I also saw a couple of sessions from folks I hadn't seen present before : Erdal Ozkaya, Milad Aslaner, Sami Laiho.
As usual, the live demo format of the sessions from Marcus & Hasain, and Paula were the most interesting for me. It's one thing to talk about security vulnerabilities. It's another to see them actively exploited. This is the best type of learning for me as it exposes the real-world scenarios. And, of course, Mark Russinovich is THE rockstar of TechEd. You have to get in early to grab a seat at his sessions... because it's worth it. The depth of knowledge and attention to detail he brings is amazing.
There was another presenter on the Security track this year that I've seen in years past. I won't name him, but this year I intentionally skipped his sessions. I've seen a couple and it doesn't seem like he brings a lot of new info. The sessions are (possibly) worthwhile as "Intro" sessions and should be classified as 100 level sessions.
To my surprise, my favorite session of this year wasn't what I would have expected. It was DCIM-B213 TWC: Pass-the-Hash and Credential Theft Mitigation Architectures with Mark Simos, Nicholas DiCola. The information about building a secure management & administration architecture was great and the format was even better. They spent equal time on the prepared slide presentation and taking audience questions. Considering the size of the audience, this was ambitious and they totally pulled it off. Well done!
The primary reason for attending TechEd is not the content. At least I don't think so. After all, after the event you can view the slide decks and recordings from nearly all of the sessions. The reason to go is the atmosphere and getting to interact with people. I met a lot of new folks... mostly during meals. Just strike up a conversation. Find out where people are from, what they do, what they're here to learn about. While I haven't made any lifelong friends this way (at least not yet), it's a great way to interact and meet new people.
I did take advantage of the "Ask The Experts" reception this year to get some very timely questions on SCCM architecture answered from the people that know best. This is invaluable one-on-one time with industry experts to explain your specific question or situation and get valuable insight. This was definitely a highlight for me... and the free booze didn't hurt either.
Prior to the conference I joined a group called "The Krewe of TechEd". But, not knowing entirely what it was about I didn't make much of an effort to seek out other members and meet up. Based on their photos and postings from the event that seems like my loss and I will definitely make a point of being more involved next time.
Much like my previous TechEd experiences, there were lots of vendors and lots of SWAG. I got some t-shirts both for myself and to pass out to my teammates at the office. As well as some USB drives, stickers, some sort of wind-up robot, etc. etc. etc. Via raffle, I won a Samsung ATIV S Neo phone from Microsoft for sitting in a session on shared social content. I've been thinking of doing some Windows Phone development so this might just come in handy.
The Facility / The Crew
What to say here?... The facility itself, The George R. Brown Convention Center, seemed mostly up to the task of handling such an event (apart from the Keynote). They did a good job of getting everyone through the meal lines without too much of a wait. The deficiencies seemed to be in the planning and the staff. On a positive note, the session rooms were all within relatively close walking distance of each other making it easy to get from one to the next without the "death marches" ala New Orleans. That said, though, numerous times escalators or doors were blocked off or marked "Crew Only" and severely impacted the flow of attendees.
As for the crew, most of my interactions were not positive. When they weren't indifferent they were rude. I had to walk outside in the rain to go to another door to get onto the convention floor after coming downstairs from a session... for no apparent reason other than the security person there was apparently told to not let people enter those doors... from where they would then be IN THE EXACT SAME AREA as where they would be by going in other doors.
I nearly got run over by a food service worker during the opening reception. He was pushing a cart with coolers on it and shouting "coming through" and just barreling ahead. As someone who paid (albeit out of my company's education budget) to be here, this seemed inappropriate and rude. At the Closing Party a staff member put his hand on me to block my way as I was walking by. Apparently he was trying to help someone get a photograph. OK, I don't mind people taking photos and if I had seen the person, I would have politely slowed or stopped to let them take their photo. But, and let me say this clearly, DO NOT PUT YOUR HANDS ON ME! Got that? I reflexively batted his arm away, made eye contact and glared. He said nothing and the photo taker must have waited another 2 seconds or so to get that prized shot of a cowboy juggler on stilts.
I'm not going to judge an entire city based on a single event where I shuttled between an outlying hotel and a downtown convention center. I heard stories of downtown being a ghost town, but honestly didn't get out to explore for myself. I did not, however, encounter anything that made me feel like I needed to get back on my own time to look around. Unless there's another convention, I doubt I'll find my way to Houston again anytime soon.