My Week at TechEd: Styrofoam, Superheroes, Shirts, and Sucking Less

Everyone has already gotten to do their TechEd wrap-up and moved on with their lives, so it only seems fitting that I finally get to mine.

A week in hot, muggy Orlando definitely felt different than last year's cool breezes of San Diego, but I spent most of the time indoors, so I can't really complain. The show itself was a lot of fun. I didn't catch a session, which is a little like saying you went to Vegas and didn't gamble-- it seems like the primary reason you go, but in reality, it probably isn't (I can see next year's campaign--"What happens at TechEd stays at TechEd"). Most of my time was spent running the community "cabana" for Microsoft.com, so that was my primary obligation. Our cabana wasn't really much of a cabana--it consisted of a styrofoam panel wall and a table with a chair. Not exactly the most inviting place. Still, I managed to spend countless hours talking about everything from forums.microsoft.com to RSS directories to (of course) Blogs and GotDotNet. While I think I am pretty good with customers, we had the specialists in the house as Dave Morehouse and Doug Seven provided razzle-dazzle. The superhero combo that we dubbed "Day Slick" and "Night Slick" managed to wow their respective audiences. Dave chatted up anyone who would listen about Microsoft.com's RSS plans (which included running a focus group) while Doug chatted with anybody about anything (he's slick like that). We had some help from Josh Ledgard and Justin Grant, which was great to help add perspective and keep things interesting when the crowds died down (Justin and I had some great discussions about the direction of Microsoft community efforts).

Of course, you're nothing in the booth world unless you give out T-shirts and that’s just what we did (in this case, shirts sporting the upcoming GDN logo as modeled by Rob Howard here). At times, we did it with style. Joseph Tremoulet, a developer on the Microsoft.com Communities literally got up on the table and inspired a chant of GotDotNet as he threw T-shirts to the audience. With that sorta command of the crowd, for a minute, I thought it was Bono up there (ok, maybe it was less than a minute). We managed to get a lot of pictures of people wearing the shirts (including a little cross-promotion with the DotNetNuke guys, who were very cool).

We were also the subject of an official podcast, so I got to spend a few minutes with a camera two feet from my face trying to answer questions about the show without sounding stupid until I gave in and pawned them off on Jim Newkirk, who last two minutes before pawning them off on Betsy Aoki, the real star. Her celebrity status is kinda scary. EVERYBODY knew Betsy. I'm thinking Betsy bobbleheads in 2006...

With TechEd, the social activity is so much more intense than any other show I've been to. I was pointing out to friends that going to conferences in my Intel days was a lot different than this. Back then, we’d wake up, hit the breakfast, go to our selected sessions, jot down some notes, then head back to the hotel at 6, grab some dinner with the team, maybe a couple of drinks and bonding, and then head back to the hotel. The same 5-6 people during the whole trip. This was a lot different and I prefer it. Apparently, I have met a lot of people in the last couple of years and this felt a little bit like homecoming. Every time I thought I had seen everyone, another person pops up and reminded me that I was wrong. And when I wasn't in homecoming mode, I was meeting new people. I finally met Scott Hanselman for the first time and immediately reminded him about his urinal reference of GotDotNet. He apologized until I let him know it was one of the funniest things I had seen in a long time. He's a fascinating guy (though I knew that from his blog) and he had some great ideas for how we could turn GDN into something we would be proud of. He also admitted that the current GDN was probably getting better, though it wasn't perfect and he could imagine it “not sucking”. We got him to pose with his GDN shirt, slightly modified. To those of you uninitiated with the GDN wars, this may seem like a backhanded compliment. To us, it's huge progress. Admit it Scott—we no longer even qualify for the “suck” category, do we? :-)  In fact, in the end, one of the best parts of the show was hearing how many people mentioned the amazing turnaround the site has enjoyed. Anyone who complained about the site was someone who hadn’t been there in the last three months. It felt like the Kellogg’s marketing campaign for Corn Flakes: “Taste it again for the very first time.” We had people leave, try the site, come back, and give us a huge pat on the back. As we admitted, we are still not perfect and we still have room to improve. But the verdict is in and it’s all about redemption.

So, another year gone and only the memories remain. Next up is PDC in September. I see they’re already hyping that up. Should be really interesting, as always (hopefully no forest fires). If I go, it’ll mean I won't have to wait an entire year for another reunion. Can’t wait!

{Audioslave - Out of Exile}