Ignite Afterthoughts: Choosing a Conference Based on Content

With Ignite wrapping up today, I wanted to offer some suggestions to the many attendees who expressed disappointment in the content Microsoft offered.

First, let’s acknowledge that Microsoft has every right to offer whatever content they want. It’s their conference. We, of course, also have every right to take our business elsewhere. But let’s also acknowledge that Ignite’s content wasn’t entirely poor. There were some standout sessions, and some of them offered good technical depth. As a long time TechEd attendee, I was accustomed to a certain amount of “new product” content, and that content – which did seem to prevail at Ignite – is also useful. Some folks in every organization need to be up to speed on what’s ahead, and learning that at an event gives you time to discuss it, and digest it, with peers and colleagues.

But I totally get how former SPC, MEC, and MMS attendees felt bummed, because those legacy events tended toward a much deeper level of technical content, and tended to have less of the forward-looking content.

Also understand that we don’t know what Microsoft will do next with Ignite. There was a LOT of political wrangling as the former five events came together (Thunderdome: Five event owners enter, one leaves), and a huge amount of arguing over content. A community panel was used, but last minute decisions were made without its input. External speakers weren’t so much invited as assigned to sessions (one reason I didn’t have any, apart from the one of Snover’s I crashed). Internal speakers were looped in late and poorly, leaving many product teams uncertain how they’d be included. It was unfortunate, and it’s hard to tell how much of that process will be repeated or fixed next time. Some of the internal bickering may also be attributable to the vestiges of prior management; Microsoft’s new CEO-directed aim to engage users and communities may make a significant impact on the next Ignite.

Keep in mind that the Expo at Ignite offered a lot of value, if you took advantage. I don’t just mean collecting freebies! It can be really tough, in our jobs, to remain aware of the general landscape of third party solutions, and those solutions can be a very real part of solving business problems. Large trade shows offer an opportunity to do consolidated research, get a feel for what’s out there, and get details from vendors. You won’t find those big expos outside of big conferences.

But let’s say you’re ready to look elsewhere. Here are some thoughts:

TechMentor is an independent event focused on Microsoft IT Operations. It’s presented by 1105 Media, the folks who publish Redmond Magazine and MCPMag.com. I’m usually one of the conference chairs that selects the content, and it’s universally technical. Aside from a keynote, perhaps, you won’t find any marketing content. Many sessions are geared as three hour deep dives, and the presenters are almost all independent experts. The few Microsoft presenters are usually field engineers who work right in the trenches with you.

There is also Windows Connections from Penton Media, usually run alongside their larger DevConnections show. I have some problems with the company and won’t personally recommend the event, but it’s an option you can research.

There are also numerous community-based events, such as SQL Saturdays and PowerShell Saturdays. These are locally organized, usually very inexpensive, and are a great way to have a more continuous learning experience. PowerShell.org is trying to find more people to host local PowerShell Saturday events, and is putting together an information kit to help potential organizers get started.

Larger community events also exist, such as the annual PowerShell Summit, the main PASS event, and so on. I’ve heard rumors of MMS being resurrected as a community event, too. All of these third party events – speaking at least for PowerShell Summit – offer true 400-level content, product team members, MVPs, and other independent experts. They’re often less expensive than a major trade show, too.

And there are likely more events I’m not even aware of – if you know of any, I hope you’ll add them in a comment below. I think the important thing is to understand that, while the content at Ignite is a bit of an unknown for the future, there are options that offer you just about any kind of content you could imagine, at whatever level you need. You just need to shop around a bit.

3 thoughts on “Ignite Afterthoughts: Choosing a Conference Based on Content

  1. Brian Mason

    MMS is real: mmsmoa.com – we had a great 1st year last November and we’re back again this November. I think all these smaller conferences give techies great choices to get the content they need today.

  2. Ed Aldrich

    I followed all three of your Ignite blogs with great interest. I’m a 12 year ConfigMgr MVP and a past industry expert speaker at the old MMS conferences, an attendee at all of those conferences, as well as a User group leader for many years and part of the myITForum community. In my MVP capacity I also had the opportunity to work for several years on the planning of the MMS conferences, including selection of topic submissions, room assignments, and the like. I also work for a vendor and have the related expo hall experience. I say all of this to qualify myself as one who’s had a fair bit of experience on the topic. I did NOT attend Ignite, however.

    I want to commend you on your absolutely spot on summary of the good and bad on this event, and what appear to be many of the underlying causes for why this event was as disjointed as it apparently was. Much of the social media I’ve monitored, as well as personal feedback from peers in the community, seem to echo your observations very closely. Many of us in the community that worked hard to help guide the planning of this event are extremely frustrated, again for many of the reasons you so clearly articulated. You are also correct in the reference to the continuation of MMS as has been formerly announce that the Midwest Management Summit is being held for the second year as a return to the roots of the MMS conference of old that was so popular in the systems management community.

    We community leaders are all of the same hope that you’ve outlined here in that Microsoft will heed the lessons learned and community feedback like this and make next year’s event that much better.

    Thanks for your contributions.

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