TechEd 101: Scoring some ice cream

Knowing your way around the monstrous Microsoft show isn’t always easy, but three show veterans give their take on what works.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Meeting new people and gaining technical know-how is all good, but the real secret of TechEd is knowing how to get the Haagen Dazs.

So says Richard Campbell, one of the speakers at a session for newcomers at the show called TechEd 101. Campbell, the host of .NET Rocks and a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP), said the key is to start looking for the ice cream coolers around 2 p.m. or 2:30 p.m. Show employees will roll them out along the walls and unlock the doors, and then the masses will descend upon them.

“They do not last,” he said. “It lasts literally minutes.”

Tips for navigating TechEd

At 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Haagen Dazs ice cream rolls out. Be ready. It only lasts minutes.

Discounts in the bookstore fluctuate throughout the week. They’re usually cheaper later in the week, but sometimes they sell out.

Take your token TechEd bag and empty it at your hotel room. Bring it back to the show floor and fill it with swag.

Fill out evaluation sheets. That’s how you’ll win prizes from Microsoft like Xbox 360s.

People wearing green shirts are speakers. Red shirts know where things are. Blue shirts are Microsoft employees.

And once the ice cream is gone, it’s gone. Underneath?

“The lower levels are filled with lime popsicles from 1999,” Campbell joked. “And they’ve been dipped in liquid nitrogen.”

Michael Bender, another speaker at the session, broke down his advice into three main questions: What do you want to learn, who do you want to talk to, and what do you want to leave with? Bender is owner of Bender Technology Consulting in Madison, Wis., and a Microsoft Certified Trainer who has been coming to TechEd since 2007.

Bender suggested putting together a game plan and reassessing it every day. He recommended the “Birds of a Feather” sessions, because he said it’s just “guys like me” talking about questions and problems, and a good way to meet people.

He also suggested roaming the show floor and talking to vendors, asking them detailed questions. That is how to get better swag and possibly an invite to a sold-out party. He challenged everyone to connect with five different people every day, for a total of 20 if they're here the whole week. He mentioned one person he met earlier in the day who as it turned out shared his interest in craft home brewing.

“There are 12,000 people here,” he said. “I don’t know how many people are in this room, but you all have made the first step of connecting at TechEd by being here.”

Jeff Guillet agreed that creating a plan is crucial. The show is huge, and the show floor, as Campbell put it, is big enough to land a small airplane. Guillet, a Microsoft Exchange Certified Master and senior systems engineer for Pleasanton, Calif., data center consultancy ExtraTeam, has been coming to TechEd since 2004. He noted that 150 hands-on labs, the hundreds of breakout sessions and the hundreds of sponsors on the show floor.

The hands-on labs are a great opportunity to learn about new technologies, he said. But there can be a downside.

“It also can be very addictive,” he said. “You get in there and then you’re thinking, ‘Where did my day go?’ So you have to pace yourself.”

Campbell agreed that pacing is important, in all aspects of TechEd.

“As you pace yourself with knowledge, you should also pace yourself with food,” he said, adding that there are countless opportunities to eat. “One Twinkie at a time is enough.”

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