Everyone in Microsoft’s ecosystem appreciates Microsoft’s efforts in building an amazing technical conference. Sadly, Ignite’s first volley failed on a number of counts – and we, in the community, hope you can fix it.
Many of the problems seem to stem from the political infighting that resulted when TechEd, SPC, MEC, MMS, and Lync Conference were unceremoniously joined. It doesn’t seem like anyone was appointed leader, but rather than everyone was left to duke it out. It didn’t seem to go well.
I’ve written about some of the major problems, and offered some specific suggestions, but here’s the executive summary.
Nobody bothered to tell the staff at McCormick Place that the Ignite attendees are actually Microsoft customers. We were treated like cattle. While war stories abound, I think this one conveys the right tone:
I sprained my ankle the weekend before the conference and was visibly limping the entire week. First thing Monday morning I tried to go sit down with a teammate that had already went through the breakfast line. 3 security guards immediately converged on me and started screaming at me to get back in line. I tried to explain I didn’t want breakfast and just needed to sit down, but they didn’t even hear me. They just continued to scream at me to get back in line. After repeating myself 5 times one of them finally understood what I was trying to say, but could not have cared less. I was curtly told that if I wanted to sit down in there I would have to go through the entire line.
We wanted to be treated respectfully. And yes, even though there may be more than 20,000 of us, we’d like edible food. When you have attendees standing in 30-minute lines for imitation mush in a plastic box, I don’t think you’re conveying the “new Microsoft” sense that you seem to be striving so hard for elsewhere.
Frankly, herding everyone into two locations for meals is inefficient. What about distributed lunch locations throughout the venue, so people don’t all have to converge into one bottleneck twice a day? Now that we know we’re stuck with Chicago again, understand that the “Grand Concourse” is a bottleneck of epic proportions.
Bottom line: your events team needs to take more interest in the logistics of moving 20k people from place to place every hour and a half, and feed them to boot. I’m not sure they have the experience to pull it off. They certainly didn’t demonstrate it.
The sessions were, with few exceptions, not terribly well received.
Many of the sessions seem to be a lot of Microsoft trying to shove product down your throat (quote from “The Internship”).
That’s a common refrain. Now there were good sessions – I don’t want to be all Negative Nelly. But it felt like the push was on what Microsoft wants to sell, not what customers want to learn.
Look, we all understand that it’s your show, and your chance to roll out your latest and greatest. But a lot of us were used to the much technically deeper content from MMS, SPC, MEC, and the like. So if Ignite’s going to be an overview of “what’s new and coming,” just make that plain in the marketing. We’ll make sure the right people attend for that kind of content.
Microsoft’s product teams all seem eager to engage with community – but Ignite seemed to stifle it. Product teams like Windows PowerShell, SQL Server, and others – all with huge fan bases – had no way to gather and to find each other.
Read that again: Fan bases. People love some of your products, and they want to hang out with other people who share that love. They want to meet team members. They want to engage in real conversations about products’ futures, and about their experiences. That doesn’t happen over a tiny 2×2 desk equipped with a flatscreen – and staffed by people who aren’t even familiar with that product.
One year, Microsoft had an entire Community Zone separated from the expo. It featured the Channel 9 stage, and a few community groups like INETA and PASS. Bring that back – and expand it to include room for other international community organizations (can PowerShell.org come?). Make this a real gathering place for us to meet with each other, with team members, and have real discussions. This’d be far more valuable, for many people, than the sprawling Microsoft areas featured at Ignite.
This means more than ample sofas and work tables. We need focal points based on our products and technologies. The SQL Server Lounge. System Center Central. We already tend to self-organize around your products and technologies, so why not let us engage with you that way, more deeply than just a drive-by at a “pod?”
And let the product teams drive how these interactions happen. Their audiences differ. What works well for gathering the Exchange fans might not work so well for SQL Server, for PowerShell, or for Azure. Ignite felt like someone in Central Command had too much power – I heard numerous (anonymous) comments from product team members that they simply had no idea what was happening, and weren’t included in any advance conversations.
Independent speakers are a must-have, not a nice to have. Face it, if you are the only ones who can say nice things about your products, you might as well just pack it in.
Yet the Ignite process for involving outside speakers was horrible. It essentially amounted to, “tell us who you are, and tell us what you’re good at. If we like you, we’ll tell you what sessions you’re going to present.” That’s the most dictatorial approach I’ve ever seen Microsoft take – and it hurt.
VMworld has a reputation for being largely brochure-ware when it comes to content – yet the hold a substantial percentage of their session slots for community presenters. Those presenters propose sessions publicly, in advance, and the community votes on what they want to see. Very democratic, very community-engaged, and nearly the opposite of what happened at Ignite. Just saying.
The Thursday night party was a great idea. Wonderful theme. Fantastic concept. On paper. In execution… well, maybe not so much. I mean, there was a lot of heart. Some of the bands were just incredible. The idea of our own personal “Taste of Chicago” was inspired, especially in light of the terrible food we’d been served all week.
But… well, look. During Walt Disney World’s Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, Disney manages to feed small samples to 50,000 people a day with extremely short lines at each food kiosk. You might send someone over to take notes on large crowd management strategies.
First and foremost, thank you. In a lot of ways, you’ve given the Microsoft audience hope that our favorite software company is relevant, paying attention, and engaged. You and your team are making our side of IT exciting again. Your product teams are excited, and energetic, and just a lot more fun to observe. You’re doing a good job. We’re fans. We all refer to you by first name because you’re so darn personable. We know you got this.
Please fix Ignite.