Good job dude! Putting out a guide to attending TechEd days after the conference is over. Yes, this was poor planning on my part but there will be other TechEds and PDCs and hopefully this will help people attending those conferences.
1. Arrive Early
The conference centers where TechEd and PDC are held are huge. It really helps to get there before the conference starts to walk around and familiarize yourself with the location. I didn’t have a chance to do this at TechEd so I didn’t even know there was a conference bookstore until the third day. You’ll also want to find a quiet, out-of-the-way spot where you can go and chill or make a phone call. Most of the regular gathering areas have comfortable couches or bean bag chairs but they can be noisy due to the number of people. A final benefit of arriving early is that you can avoid the lines when registering.
2. Plan Ahead Using CommNet
Both conferences provide a Communications Network (CommNet) website which can be accessed via the internet. This is a one-stop shop for everything about the conference.
One of the key things this site allows you to do is to plan your schedule. It gives you an up-to-date list of sessions and events and, once you’ve selected what you’re interested in, gives you a personalized schedule. You can add your schedule to your Outlook calendar, export it to Excel or view it as an RSS feed.
Making sure a session is right for you is very important. There’s nothing worse than walking across the conference center just to find the session you picked isn’t what you really wanted and then to realize that your second choice is back where you came from. When choosing sessions be sure to look at more than just the title; the abstract, speaker, track and session level are all important as well. If you’re still not sure you should be able to find the speaker or one of his/her colleagues in the experts area to ensure you’re going to get what you want.
3. Don’t Sweat the Sessions
This does not mean that you shouldn’t go to sessions. It does mean that you shouldn’t feel you have to fill your schedule with sessions. Remember, you can get slide decks and sample code from CommNet, you’re going to get a set of DVDs with all of the recorded sessions after the conference the keynotes and breakout sessions will be available online by the time you get home, and many of the conference sessions are already available as webcasts. Leave some time to visit the experts area and do some hand-on labs (see below).
4. Use the Experts
Each conference has an area which is manned by Microsoft employees and industry experts who volunteer their time. If you have a question about a product or technology, that’s the place to go to find your answer. For example, at any given time there were two or three members of the VB team in the Blue area of the Technical Learning Center (TLC). If you had a VB question why not take it right to the source? If for some reason they couldn’t help you they’d definitely know someone at the conference who could. I’m sure it was the same for the other products and technologies.
From what I saw and heard from my colleagues who were experts at the TLC, the area was underutilized. It’s a shame because it’s probably the most valuable resource at any conference. You’re never going to find the same kind of combined product knowledge freely available for your taking in any other setting.
5. Do some Hands-On Labs
This conference highlighted a ton of technology that’s currently available in a Beta or Community Technology Preview (CTP) format. For you to use this stuff you normally have to find a machine that you don’t mind repaving or create a virtual machine instance of hardware powerful enough so it’s usable. With the Hands-On Labs all of the setup is done for you; you just go in, pick the lab you want and start rockin’. They are a great way to enhance the learning experience you get at a session or that you’ve had before the conference.