My Vegas Uber-Taxi Rant

Not long ago, Uber tried to launch in Las Vegas. We (I live here, so I count myself in the “we”) marshaled a nearly unparalleled, near-military effort to stop them. I was, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, initially very anti-Uber. Who the heck were they, to sail in with their billions in the bank, acting like an underdog and breaking our laws?

I’ve changed my mind, and I’ll tell you why.

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Mr. @satyanadella, Please Fix Ignite

Mr. Nadella,

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.

THE VENUE

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 CONTENT

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.

THE COMMUNITY

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.

THE SPEAKERS

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 CELEBRATION

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.

THE CONCLUSION

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.

Thank you.

What Your Career Could Learn from a Taxi Driver

I read this article about taxi drivers in Chicago over the weekend, and it really made me think. Here’s a guy (go, read the article first, or this won’t make sense) who’s done nothing his whole life but follow the rules – even though those rules don’t always make a lot of sense. He’s done well for himself and his family, but now, late in his life, it’s all starting to crumble.

Anyone could end up in this spot – you just have to learn to see how and why.

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How Microsoft Can Fix Ignite

Update: It looks like it’s back to Chicago in 2016: http://www.ladewig.com/archives/2015/05/07/44976-save_the_date_for_microsoft_ignite_2016.html

I wrote about Day 1 at Ignite in less than glowing terms – there were a lot of problems. I thought it would be worth a follow-up.

Let’s be clear: Ignite wasn’t a total wreck. There’s no need to call the insurers. But it is broken, and Microsoft should look hard at some fixes for next time.

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Ignite Day 1: From the Trenches

Arrival into Chicago suggests that the city either didn’t know a conference was coming, or that it’s incapable of dealing with one. Hour-long waits to claim baggage were coupled with equally long lines at Microsoft’s understaffed in-airport badge pickup desks. Those combined with inexpertly marshaled cabs and jammed freeways to create a lovely first impression – unless you took Chicago’s Blue Line train on its forty minute journey to the city, which turned out to be the best options. But an overall poor first impression.

Of course, none of that is under Microsoft’s control, and what you’re really looking for is some intel on Ignite itself. So how was it?

More or less the same.

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Need Some Help: Women/Minorities in Tech

I’m wondering if any of you have run across any independent statistics for what defines a minority in the technology industry?

For example, there’s been a lot of press recently about how many large tech companies have relatively few women. OK – I can wrap my head around that. Given that females are around half the population, it seems reasonable to think they’d be about half the workforce, so if the number is considerably less, that’s obviously a gender minority.

But what are the other minorities in terms of tech industry employment? What defines a minority?

[Also – I know there’s a related but distinct problem of equal treatment, but for this particular query, I mainly need to look at workforce population rather than the more complex problems of pay equality, harassment, and so on, even though those are also hugely important.]

It seems like “minority” could easily be something like, “less than 50-ish percent” when you’re talking about gender, but that’s harder for ethnicity. It’s tough to employ 50% Caucasian, 50% Asian, 50% African-descent, and 50% something else, because that’s… well, I suck at math but it seems like more than 100%, if you take my meaning. So at what level is a particular ethnicity not a minority? Is there some agreed-upon list of what ethnicities there are, so I know when I’m looking at a minority or not? I truly don’t know.

Anyway, I’ve been Binging all morning and I haven’t been able to find anything like a Department of Labor report on actual employment percentages, what constitutes a “minority,” and so on – so I’m hoping you folks can point me to something.

Just drop a comment, or tweet me @concentrateddon. Thanks in advance!