Tech·Ed is around the corner and if you have seen the session catalogue, you will see there is
267 295 sessions available for you to attend! How are you supposed to know what sessions are quality that you should attend?
Disclaimer: Rights Management Server is a great product for certain situations and I am picking on it in this post as an example more than anything else.
The first thing to get right is to know yourself – if you have just started writing C# code, attending an advanced session on the internal workings of LINQ may be a waste of time as you may not be able to keep up to speed.
Knowing yourself is not just about knowing your skill level, but also knowing what is important to you – if you have no plans on using Rights Management Server (RMS) don’t attend the sessions on it, because you will miss out on other great sessions that may bring you a value, however this does not mean you should only attend sessions for technology you know and work on.
Part of the benefit of the conference is exposure to items which you may not get the time to see during your normal day, so you may be tempted to go to that RMS session because you do not know about it but my suggestion to this is that when you are looking for sessions on topics you do not know about, you should look at where the hot trends are (they aren’t in RMS). A great way to see what the hot trends are is to to look at what community and knowledge sharing sites, like Channel 9, is talking about.
The reason I suggest new trends over other items is this that the new trends is where the cutting edge technology and learning is and so there is often not a lot of content available on that topic, compared to say RMS where it is well documented and training is easy to get hold of.
Every session at Tech·Ed has a code, and this code has some key information that will mean you get to the right sessions easily. If I look at one of the sessions I am presenting, the code associated is APS309, but what does that mean?
- APS – This is the track, or the high level concept that the session is part of. APS in this case refers to Application Server. Microsoft has a great guide to all these TLA (three letter acronyms) on the technical track page. The only item missing from there is WTB, which stands for Whiteboard which I will cover next.
- 3 – This digit is key, it identifies the level of the session and is between 1 and 4.
- 1 indicates a introduction session - where you can come in with zero knowledge on the topic. Expect it not to be deep, expect the pace to be slow and expect it to cover the concepts.
- 2 indicates a beginner session - you should’ve seen something on it before arriving. Expect it to cover usage scenarios and the pace and depth to be increased.
- 3 indicates a technical session – you should be working with the technology. These often go fast and deep or explore a new area in that space.
- 4 indicates a deep dive – you should expect a session that is for the most advanced of people.
- 09 – This is a unique identifier.
The next thing about understanding is to read the abstract for the topic, this is the overall plan for the session. So if we take my session again, the title is: Intro to Workflow Services and Windows Server AppFabric however if you read the abstract you will note that it mentions Workflow Foundation (WF) first and talks about developers using it. Then it mentions WF and usage with Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and how they integrate in .NET 4. Finally it mentions AppFabric and hosting.
This tells you a lot of my plan for the session, I am going to talk to developers first about WF and then WCF. Finally I will bring in more technical topic of hosting these in AppFabric. This does not come across in the title, which is why the abstract is important to read and read carefully.
There are two types of sessions breakouts and whiteboards. A breakout is a formal presentation where normally one person presents a topic with demo’s. A whiteboard is far less formal and often includes panel discussions – here you will find the topics often change based on the questions and discussions with the audience.
I have personally found when I need to learn a technology I head to a break out, but if I know the topic then the whiteboards give senior developers much better value.
Tech·Ed is first about getting a few thousand passionate people together which means you have the option to network with experts and make great contacts. Most presenters will take time for questions, but if not, most will welcome you coming up to them afterwards.
In addition to this there is also two special options for networking:
- Community Lounge – Community leaders are some of the smarted and most passionate people I know and the community lounge provides a great place to relax and talk to them.
- Ask the Experts – This is a special event where experts make themselves specially available to take questions and have one on one (and sometimes one on many) discussions. This is a great chance to get contacts so that when you run into a problem you have a lifeline.
Don’t wait until you arrive at Tech·Ed to start thinking about sessions, start thinking now about the sessions you want to go to and digging into what trends and speakers you should be finding.
A great tip for corporates is something we at BBD do each year for the 30 or so people we send – a pre event get together. Here the people who have been before share some guidance and what to expect about the event with those who have never been and we all talk about the sessions and speakers we are excited about to help those who do not have the time to do deep research find some gems.
Lastly, for those who tweet, start following the Twitter conversation for the event! There is an official account @teched_africa and an officially long hashtag #TechEdAfrica. To really impress people you can combine them both into a single Twitter Search @TechEdAfrica OR #TechEdAfrica!
Update 8 Oct 2010: I presented a short session based on this post to the staff at BB&D which you can find below: