PDC updates

It’s been a while since I last posted about PDC content planning.  Thing suddenly got very busy in the last month, as we got ready to move into the session development phase.


One of the things that makes PDC unique among Microsoft conferences is how we decide what technologies to cover, and then come up with our list of breakout sessions.  PDC exists to highlight our future platform roadmap, to indicate where Microsoft sees the biggest opportunities and how our platform technologies will enable developers to capitalize on them.  The implication for me, as Content Owner for the event, is that I can’t just ask every product team for a list of their new APIs and assign a session to each one.  I’m responsible for ensuring that our session lists reflects the platform strategy being set by senior leaders around the company, and the best way to do that is, well, to spend a lot of time talking with senior leaders around the company.  So it’s been a little busy lately ;)


In March, I started pulling together a rough list of our strategic investments in platform technologies.  Understanding what we’re building and why is a key responsibility of a technical evangelist, so between my own knowledge and that of the rest of the evangelism team, I had a good head start.  The end result was a catalog of areas of investment, and the rough picture of how they work together to enable new features and scenarios in your applications.  From that list, the core planning team (myself, Steve and Jeff in particular) tried to distill the top two or three things that we’d want to emphasize as our main messages for PDC ’05.  I also started trying to bucket the technologies into a set of 5 or 6 tracks, where each track would contain sessions focused on a similar set of scenarios.


Once our draft was in place, it was time to start circulating among the strategy leaders at the company for feedback.  We spent a lot of time up front with Vic and Charles Fitzgerald, and then moved on to the product team leaders building Visual Studio 2005, WinFX, Office and Windows.  We took feedback from each review and quickly integrated that into our plan.  There was at least one VP who heard us present multiple times in the course of just a few days, and he noted that our plan got a bit better each time he heard from us ;)  We also had a chance to get feedback from Jim Allchin, Group Vice President for Platforms, to be sure that we were accurately reflecting his vision for the work his organization is doing.  That work took us through April, and by the end of it all we understood, from a high level, what we wanted to emphasize at PDC.


So how do we get from a high level vision and a catalog of technologies to a list of 150+ breakout sessions?  With a lot of help, and a lot of effort.  The help consists of senior leaders from around the company agreeing to oversee a particular PDC track.  The effort consists of meeting once a week for a 4 hour work session, followed up by lots of homework in between meetings.  April 29th was our first track meeting, we met again on May 4, and our third meeting will be next Wednesday.


We’ve got a really amazing team of track leaders.  Based on our experience with PDC 03, we decided it made sense to have a team of 3 people overseeing each track.  The lead role has been dubbed Advisor.  The Advisor is someone senior enough to understand our platform strategy company wide, and who understands what part of the platform story their track needs to tell.  Because they’re so senior, it’s hard to get a lot of their time – we only ask Advisors to attend the first hour of our weekly meetings.  I don’t want to name names, but our Advisors include a VP, a Distinguished Engineer and some very senior Group Program Managers.  You can learn a lot by spending an hour a week with these folks.


Our track Owners bear the responsibility of turning the Advisor’s strategy into a plan – going from the big vision to an actual list of sessions, labs, ask the expert sessions, etc.  Some of the Owners are bloggers, keep an eye out and see if they post any good war stories from our meetings thus far ;)  The Owners are in turn assisted by Drivers, mostly Program Managers who can help do all the work of assembling a high quality list of session titles, abstracts, and more.


We’re off to an energetic start, I would say.  We spent the first two meetings talking about our philosophy for PDC, what type of content we want to offer, how much we should focus on “here and now” technologies vs. “next year” technologies vs. “future vision” technologies.  Once I’m sure we actually have a consensus, I might publish some of the guidelines we’ve worked out thus far.  We’ll see the first fruits of labor this Wed, when the track teams have to present their initial list of possible sessions.  For this first pass, I’ve asked the teams to cast a wide net for technologies that might make sense in their tracks, and come up with a list of sessions that’s two to three times larger than we know can be accommodated.  We’ll review those lists as a group to start identify the top sessions that will really have the most impact for the MS development community.


In addition to the breakout session development process, we’ve also had folks working on other key pieces of the PDC puzzle.  The bits disc, for example, is moving along.  That’s what we call the DVD set we hand out to attendees at the start of the conference, with a collection of the latest and greatest builds of technologies that we talk about at PDC.  Other team members are working on our pre-conference training session, and the plans for our hands on labs (check out what TechEd is doing for labs to get a taste of the work here.)


It’s early days still for PDC, but by the end of May we will really be rolling and should be well on our way to a final session list.  Keep an eye out on the main site for our first update, which should be coming along soon, hopefully!