Last week I attended Microsoft’s annual TechEd conference in Orlando, Florida. TechEd is not quite the press magnet that Apple’s WWDC conference is (it doesn’t help that they are the same week either), but it is about twice the size of Apple’s in terms of attendees: 10,000. I attended Apple’s WWDC two years ago, so I had a nice point of comparison between the two conferences in terms of the intended audience and the conference’s relevance to my job at Case Western.
The first thing you’ll notice at TechEd is that it is decidedly less hipster than the Apple conference. You’d probably guess that one, right? But the similarity between the two conferences is the demographics: probably about 90% males between the ages of 21-50. It’s certainly a skewed population, but there are few places where such a wide range of people with a common professional interest in computers gather together.
One of the benefits of the wide range of experience is the subset of discussion groups (coyly referred to as “Birds of a Feather” sessions) that bring together developers and IT professionals in a moderator-led discussion about topics of mutual interest. These are not led by a Microsoft representative, and are not focused on Microsoft technology, per se (although the nature of the conference being what it is, the conversation usually involves a lot of the Microsoft ecosystem). Perhaps the most valuable sessions for me were those “Birds of a Feather” sessions, because they brought together people in similar jobs that otherwise might not have met. It can sometimes be isolating to only interact with people from within one’s own IT organization, so the exposure to other ideas and experiences is a great learning opportunity.
I mentioned “developers and IT professionals” without much clarification, so let me correct that omission. Developers are fairly self-explanatory; they develop applications and write code. Apple’s WWDC is almost exclusively geared towards developers – it’s even in the name (World Wide Developers Conference)! IT Professionals, on the other hand, make up the system administrators and IT staff that keeps things running along smoothly. Roughly speaking, it’s an all-encompassing term to categorize everyone but developers. I’m almost exclusively in the IT Professionals category, so the dual-focus at TechEd between these two groups made the experience much more relevant to me than the developer-centric WWDC.
One of the big take-aways from the conference for me was the understanding of the importance of Microsoft certifications for being qualified to work in a wide variety of IT-related positions. Sure, you’d think that would be an obvious bias at a Microsoft conference, right? But what was not clear to me before the conference – largely as a result of the unique mix of non-Microsoft infrastructure and technology at Case Western – is the extent to which knowledge of specific Microsoft technologies is central to IT in many other settings (both education and non-education). The “Birds of a Feather” session on college degrees vs. microsoft certifications in particular did a good job exploring the respective role of each in staying relevant in the field of IT and maintaining marketability for future employment.
Overall, the conference was a great experience – one that I hope to be able to repeat in the future.