D'Arcy from Winnipeg
Solution Architecture, Business & Entrepreneurship, Microsoft, and Adoption

Thoughts on Build 2013

Sunday, June 30, 2013 11:32 AM

And so another Build conference has come to an end. Below are my thoughts/perspectives on various aspects of the event. I’ll do a separate blog post on my thoughts of the Build message for developers.

The Good

Moscone center was a great venue for Build! Easy to get around, easy to get to, and well maintained, it was a very comfortable conference venue.

Yeah, the free swag was nice. Build has built up an expectation that attendees will always get something; it’ll be interesting to see how Microsoft maintains this expectation over the next few Build events. I still maintain that free swag should never be the main reason one attends an event, and for me this was definitely just an added bonus. I’m planning on trying to use the Surface as a dedicated 2nd device at work for meetings, I’ll share my experiences over the next few months.

The hackathon event was a great idea, although personally I couldn’t justify spending the money on a conference registration just to spend the entire conference coding. Still, the apps that were created were really great and there was a lot of passion and excitement around the hackathon. I wonder if they couldn’t have had the hackathon on the Monday/Tuesday for those that wanted to participate so they didn’t miss any of the actual conference over Wed/Thurs.

San Francisco was a great city to host Build. Getting from hotels to the conference center was very easy (well especially for me, I was only 3 blocks away) and the city itself felt very safe. However, if I never have to fly into SFO again I’ll be alright with that! Delays going into and out of SFO and both apparently were due to the airport itself.

The Bad

Build is one of those oddities on the conference landscape where people will pay to commit to attending an event without knowing anything about the sessions. We got our list of conference sessions when we registered on Tuesday, not before. And even then, we only got titles and not descriptions (those were eventually made available via the conference’s mobile application). I get it…they’re going to make announcements and they don’t want to give anything away through the session titles. But honestly, there wasn’t anything in the session titles that I would have considered a surprise.

Breakfasts were brutal. High-carb pastries, donuts, and muffins with fruit and hard boiled eggs does not a conference breakfast make. I can’t believe that the difference between a continental breakfast per person and a hot breakfast buffet would have been a huge impact to a conference fee that was already around $2000.

The vendor area was anemic. I don’t know why Microsoft forces the vendors into cookie-cutter booth areas (this year they were all made of plywood material). WPC, TechEd – booth areas there allow the vendors to be creative with their displays. Not so much for Build. Really odd was the lack of Microsoft’s own representation around Bing. In the day 1 keynote Microsoft made a big deal about Bing as an API. Yet there was nobody in the vendor area set up to provide more information or have discussions with about the Bing API.

The Ugly

Our name badges were NFC enabled. The purpose of this, beyond the vendors being able to scan your info, wasn’t really made clear. An attendee I talked to showed how you could get a reader app on your phone so you can scan other members cards and collect their contact info – which is a kewl idea; business cards are so 1990’s.

But I was *shocked* at the amount of information that was on our name badges! Here’s what’s displayed on our name badge:

- Name
- Company
- Twitter Handle

I’m ok with that. But here’s what actually gets read:

- Name
- Company
- Address Used for Registration
- Phone Number Used for Registration

So sharing that info with another attendee, they get way more of my info than just how to find me on Twitter!

Microsoft, you need to fix this for the future. If vendors want to collect information on attendees, they should be able to collect an ID from the badge, then get a report with corresponding records afterwards. My personal information should not be so readily available, and without my knowledge!

Final Verdict

Maybe its my older age, maybe its where I’m at in life with family, maybe its where I’m at in my career, but when I consider whether a conference experience was valuable I get to the core reason I attend: opportunities to learn, opportunities to network, opportunities to engage with Microsoft.

Opportunities to Learn:  Sessions I attended were generally OK, with some really stand out ones on Day 2. I would love to see Microsoft adopt the Dojo format for a portion of their sessions. Hands On Labs are dull, lecture style sessions are great for information sharing. But a guided hands-on coding session (Read: Dojo) provides the best of both worlds. Being that all content is publically available online to everyone (Build attendee or not), the value of attending the conference sessions is decreased. The value though is in the discussions that take part in person afterwards, which leads to…

Opportunities to Network: I enjoyed getting together with old friends and connecting with Twitter friends in person for the first time. I also had an opportunity to meet total strangers. So from a networking perspective, Build was fantastic! I still think it would have been great to have an area for ad-hoc discussions – where speakers could announce they’d be available for more questions after their sessions, or attendees who wanted to discuss more in depth on a topic with other attendees could arrange space. Some people have no problems being outgoing and making these things happen, but others are not and a structured model is more attractive.

Opportunities to Engage with Microsoft: Hit and miss on this one. Outside of the vendor area, unless you cornered or reached out to a speaker, there wasn’t any defined way to connect with blue badges. And as I mentioned above, Microsoft didn’t have full representation in the vendor area (no Bing).

All in all, Build was a fun party where I was informed about some new stuff and got some free swag. Was it worth the time away from home and the hit to my PD budget? I’d say Somewhat. Build is a great informational conference, but I wouldn’t call it a learning conference. Considering that TechEd seems to be moving to more of an IT Pro focus, independent developer conferences seem to be the best value for those looking to learn and not just be informed.

With the rapid development cycle Microsoft is embracing, we’re already seeing Build happening twice within a 12 month period. If that continues, the value of attending Build in person starts to diminish – especially with so much content available online. If Microsoft wants Build to be a must-attend event in the future, they need to start incorporating aspects of Tech Ed, past PDCs, and other conferences so those that want to leave with more than free swag have something to attract them.




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