Monday, May 11, 2015

Microsoft Ignite Recap

Now that the biggest Microsoft conference of the year is over, its time to reflect on things that went good and things that went bad. I have been lucky enough to be able to attend a number of Microsoft and non-Microsoft conferences over the years so I have seen the ups and downs. Below are my observations, in no particular order.


The overall content of the sessions was pretty good. Since the Ignite conference was a combination of many smaller dedicated product conferences there was a very wide array of topics and discussions going on throughout the conference. Of course, there were sessions that were more product fluff then deep content but there were also many sessions that got deeper. I never look for a session to be completely new to me, if that were the case then I wouldn't be doing my job of learning. Which brings me to the point of the ‘Experts Unplugged’ sessions. Many, many, many of the questions that were asked during the Exchange Unplugged sessions were answered previously in blog articles written by the Exchange team on the Exchange team blog. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened, in this conference and previous ones.

The speaker selection process was very different from previous conferences. Instead of speakers submitting sessions that they wish to give, individuals were required to submit their names and area of expertise then they would be assigned sessions to speak about. The end result seemed to be numerous product managers from Microsoft that seemed to have little public speaking practice. Many sessions had the word "um" muttered many times. There was also very little sessions given by MVPs. Although the MVP community was definitely present in the sessions, the expo and all over twitter. But it’s always good to have an independent voice that also gives some details from the trenches. 

Wow, were there a lot of people at this conference. Around 23,000 attendees in all graced the halls of Ignite. As you can imagine there were problems with that amount of people. There was a large number of hotels that’s supported all these people and good thing for us is that there was shuttles running from them. Some hotels had longer waits and more packed buses than others, but overall it seemed to work out well. The one complaint that I heard from many people is that the shuttles didn't start running until roughly the same time as the last session was ending. So the individuals who were trying to leave early were stranded or had to wait in a cab line that was very long.

Theater Sessions
The theater sessions were something I had not seen done before at previous conferences. The sessions were giving to smaller groups with a 20-minute time limit in the Expo hall. For these sessions, speakers were able to submit proposals to the Ignite staff for consideration. I was one of the people to be a speaker in the theater sessions. It was a great experience, that was enhanced by the Ignite staff helping speakers. They quickly gave a run-down of the computer and audio equipment and even threw in some encouraging words before going on stage. Big kudos to those guys. I hope this continues in future conferences.


I, like most people that I talked to at the conference, had been through Chicago airports many of times but never beyond the security checkpoints. The city was great a great place for a conference. There was a lot of nightlife and an abundance of excellent food choices to choose from. I was able to do quite a lot of walking around downtown Chicago as well as "Tilt" out from the John Hancock building at 94 stories in the sky. 

McCormick Center
This place was HUGE!!! My pedometer on my phone counted 3,000 steps from the breakfast area to one of my session rooms. Coupled with all the people caused getting to sessions at a time when the room was already at max capacity. Maybe keeping product sessions in a single area of the center would have been better although I know room sizes might make that a logistical nightmare. Either way, there were many comparisons to herding cattle, herding sheep and/or salmon swimming up stream when it came to describing the packed halls between sessions. 


Typically conference food is not very good. But during Ignite it reached a new low. Now I know it can be a big pain to prepare food for so many people but as the week grew on, the lines at McDonald’s and the other restaurants inside the McCormick Center got longer and longer as people avoided the given conference food. It seemed like maybe they were trying to get too fancy with the food when just some good ol' burgers and hot dogs would have been better. Another point I would like to add is the lack of bottled water. Sure they had an endless supply of soda and small cups to pour some water into but PLEASE give me some bottled water I can take around sessions.

The Expo floor was another thing that was huge. The one thing I did like from previous conferences is not only was there many booth from vendors and sponsors. There were many Microsoft booths and areas available as well. Just about every Microsoft product had a booth where product experts were standing guard to answer questions. It was a good place to meet members of the product team as well as MVPs of the products to engage in questions.

Not too much to say about the Wi-Fi, except it was very spotty. Although it was not due to a lack of access points. They were literally stationed all over the place. You couldn't walk 10 yards without seeing one. But once again, due to the amount of people at the conference and many of them connecting more than 1 device, there was issues.

Attendee Party
There is a growing theme in this post about lines at Ignite and the attendee party was no exception. Microsoft brought in 30 different restaurants to hand out different types of food out to everyone. The food they were handing out were small finger food size portions. So not only did you have to wait in long lines to try something, when you got the food, you were done with it in about two bites. The hot dog line was the one exception to the amount of food, as they gave you a full hot dog and allowed you to grab as many as you wanted, although I waited one full hour for the pleasure of a full serving of food. There was a couple of different bands playing and many over-sized games, such as Operation, checkers and Jenga for everyone to enjoy, while you were waiting in those lines. The headline of the party was a hour long concert by Fall Out Boy. They had the best quote of "We're Fall Out Boy, take lots of pictures because if you don't know who we are then your kids do."

“Purple Shirts”
The “Purple Shirts” as many people called them were Ignite staff that were ALL over the place. From stationed outside every session room to check people in, to in the lunch room clicking with a counter, and even at the hotels to help direct people to the shuttles. These individuals were very knowledgeable in locations of classes in the GIANT McCormick center and also in the times of various functions. Even when they didn't know the answer to a question, they knew who to ask to get the answer.

 In summary, it was a great conference and a great experience. Yes there are many things to work on and many of those got better as the week grew on, such as security yelling at everyone, and people getting lost due to the size of the center. But all in all I can't wait to come back next year, I just may need to pack a lunch.

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