PDC2008: A Day in the Life #4

So soon after A Day in the Life #3, you ask? Indeed! There are a few questions that I get over and over from people both internal and external to Microsoft, and I thought I’d address them in a blog post.

Question #1: “I’m a third-party speaker (or ‘I know a third-party speaker…’) who has spoken at other events that would make a fantastic speaker at PDC. What can I do?”

I get this one almost every day. Sometimes, they suggest a specific topic, and other times they say that they’re quick learners who can present on any topic, and if we have a session without a speaker, they’d likely be the perfect fit. While I honestly appreciate their enthusiasm and interest, the nature of PDC content makes it extremely difficult for anyone who didn’t actually architect or build the product or technology to authoritatively present.

As you may recall from A Day in the Life #2, PDC is not an event where we provide training on today’s technologies (except in our pre-conference sessions). PDC content is organized around top-level themes, and the content is selected because it aligns with those themes. Because PDC is where we lay out the future of the Microsoft platform, most of what we talk about is in the future. So, the content frequently falls into one of two categories:

  1. The product or technology won’t be announced until the PDC. We’ve introduced and launched a lot of technologies at prior PDCs, and you can bet we’ll do it again this year. Needless to say, there are usually only a handful of people who know about and understand the details of a new technology, and they’re inevitably members of the product team. It’s a reality of the situation.
  2. The product or technology has previously been announced and possibly covered at other events like Tech·Ed or MIX. In this case—and so we don’t simply repeat content that’s already out there and is possibly more appropriate for those events—we do it “PDC style” by going super deep. A good example from a previous PDC was a session that spent 75 minutes starting from a simple C# “Hello World” application, to how it was JITted to native code, to an exploration of the actual memory layout, to final output on the screen. For PDC2008, a good example would be Deep Dive: Building an Optimized, Graphics-Intensive App in Silverlight where we go under the covers on geeky topics like layout, rendering, and media pipelines . As you can imagine, there are very few people who can deliver this kind of content.

As a result, it’s rare for third-party speakers to present a breakout session at PDC. Occasionally, presenters will invite third-parties to speak about their experience with a technology, and when we have panels, there are almost always third-parties involved. And third parties help us deliver fantastic pre-conference sessions.

It’s interesting to note that third-party speakers are absolutely appropriate (if not required) for Tech·Ed and MIX. In those cases, though, it makes perfect sense given the type of content presented at those events.

Question #2: “When is the ‘call for papers?’”

Like #1, I get this question a few times each week from both internal and external folks. It’s a great question, and it makes sense given the fact that PDC is the Professional Developers Conference. Most conferences do have a call for papers (or CFP), and it’s not obvious why PDC wouldn’t have the same mechanism to gather content.

If I again refer back to A Day in the Life #2, the fact that we start with top-level themes and work our way “down” may explain why we usually know what content we’re looking for. It’s a question we ask ourselves as part of the first step in planning a PDC. However, because we’re not perfect by any stretch, we do have an internal Session Suggestion Box which is similar to a CFP in concept. It’s implemented as a SharePoint list, and anyone inside Microsoft can contribute a session idea. We just recently closed the Session Suggestion Box to new submissions. There are some fantastic suggestions on the list, but unfortunately, many of them have little to nothing to do with the future of our platform.

Question #3: “What are your tracks?”

Tracks are like mini-conferences that run in parallel. Each track typically covers a unique set of topics, and they can be helpful when building a master agenda for the conference. At PDC05, for example, the six tracks were: Presentation, Data, Communication, Fundamentals, Tools and Languages, and Office System. For PDC2008, we have four internal tracks that we use to organize the groups that assemble the content, and the tracks were selected to ensure that various organizations within Microsoft work together. However, we don’t believe that the internal track names will make any sense at all to attendees (without education), so we’re going to align our topics by technology…very similar to how we’ve tagged the content by technology in our session list. There are other conferences that are very interested to see how this “no tracks experiment” works out. Let’s hope it works well!

Last, I’ve thought about using one of our sessions for a PDC feedback discussion. While we do surveys before, during, and after the conference to gauge your feedback, there’s nothing like a face-to-face chat. Would anyone actually attend? Does this sound like a good idea? Is it worth “giving up” another session to do this? If you have suggestions, please leave feedback or contact me directly.

Until next time…