The Build conference is the biggest Microsoft developer conference. It’s famous for the fact that every attendee gets the newest and the coolest hardware. Last year it was the Samsung tablet (before being available on the market). This year it’s a 32GB Surface RT, 100GB of Sky Drive space and a Nokia Lumia 920 (not available on the market yet). Microsoft is giving developers an edge so they can bring the technology to live.
I was extremely lucky and very fortunate to attend the Build conference this year. It was in Redmond, Seattle on the campus of Microsoft. It sounds extremely cool and like a dream come true but the campus is just not made for an event this size. When you get to use the portable toilet before the keynote you kind of realize the problem.
The event had about 2,500 attendees and the online registration lasted only 50 minutes. The developers didn’t need convincing to pay $2,000 to attend the conference. The first 500 (the first 2min of the registration) got $500 discount. In my calculations with some of the expo sponsors that’s around $5,000,000 sold out in an hour without any marketing.
Even with all the popularity not everything is perfect in the World of //Build. The experience started with event registration. The Build conference barely has a website www.buildwindows.com . In August when the conference was announced the site consisted of one web form and that was it- no ‘about us’, no session catalog, no conference directory. We managed to register but 9 out of 10 registrants experienced website errors, including me.
The conference approached and we still didn’t have a real website. We received an email with bare bone schedule for the conference. Later the same was posted on the build website- it’s a one page website. I find it funny that we are talking about a developer conference and probably any one of us would’ve build the website or the app for free if we could’ve gotten a free ticket to Build :). I really wonder how many people are actually working on organizing the conference?
There were offers like a hackathon and a dinner with the Windows Phone team sent by email- any RSVP was done through an email, no website, no app. Not much is scalable- space was filling out very fast and if you saw the email 2h after it was sent, you were too late. Two days before the conference we still didn’t have a session catalog (I mean not one session listed). One day before the conference the session catalog was released on the channel 9 website. It was great they gave us a print out of the catalog when we were in line to register for the conference. I had more than enough time to choose my sessions when I waited 1.5h to register. Yup, the line for registration was ridiculous.
The sessions were great- truly honestly great and everybody can watch them for free on channel 9. I’ll be watching them myself (in the late evenings) as I spent most of my time at the hackathon. The channel 9 website is a true gift to developers. I should give credit to the organizers for posting the 150 videos pretty fast on channel 9. Great job!
The keynotes were awesome. It felt so good to have people like Steve Ballmer talking to us. It’s a real religion to most of us to come to the holy land and to spend a week between a crowd of brilliant people. Looking back, I would tell you this is probably the highest concentration of high IQ I have ever been in contact with. Unfortunately people were not thinking to network until the last session ended.
After the last session there was a phenomenon – people were starting a conversation everywhere and about anything. Unfortunately it was too late. Microsoft tried to make sure we are out of the campus as soon as possible. There was no hanging around the buildings after the end of the last session- you needed to be on your way.
When I have gone to other conferences the breakfast and lunch time has been the usual time to talk to new people. This time was different. The meal time was a pain. You had to walk to a big tent outside (it rained the whole week) and the food was not what I expected (Probably I’m spoiled from the TechEd food choices. The SharePoint conference meals are like a presidential gala compared to the Build meals). So after the first breakfast and portable toilet experience I kind of avoided the breakfast on campus- and ate breakfast at the hotel. The lunches I had to do but I never got to meet new people at lunch.
There was a Mixer on Monday night for the lucky people who got to finish their registration on time. I went and it was funny. I walk in and head for the different tables. In the sea of male faces I see a beautiful woman smiling at me. The biggest smile you can imagine- I smile back. We sit together and she tells me: I’m so happy you are here. There are no women and the guys don’t talk to me, they only talk amongst themselves. OK, that’s funny (especially because she is a very attractive woman and a speaker at the conference). So we have an interesting thing happening- maybe women not only get paid less but get send to conferences less as well.
The transportation… oh my. For the first time I go to a conference, I register for a hotel that’s on the conference website registration list and I need a rental car. Even at the conference party I had to take a taxi back from a different hotel. I don’t know why you list a hotel as a conference hotel if you don’t offer transportation to the hotel.
There were breaks of 45 minutes between the sessions which meant a lot of time wasted in transportation between building 33 and 92.
The popular sessions were not so easy to attend as well. Part of the problem of not having a website with the session catalog and people not building their schedules in advance is you don’t know which sessions are going to be the most popular. The most popular sessions were not in the biggest rooms. I had such a frustrating experience of being kicked out of session at the last minute because 20 of us were sitting on the stairs and the staff realized that’s a problem the moment the session started.
I didn’t go to the Beer Fest because I was at the hackathon. I heard I haven’t missed much and people were posting photos on Twitter of a deserted tent. The Beer really doesn’t make it a Fest- it’s the atmosphere.
The Conference party at the Armory… we spent long time on the bus to Seattle. I actually got to meet some interesting people (but I was an exception to the rule). Somehow developers don’t find it necessary to talk to the person next to them on the bus.
We arrived at our destination at the Armory. I’ve never seen so many bored people in one place. I know some people came and left after the first drink. It was a big tent looking building with probably 20 fast little bite food stands. The food ranged from junk to ridiculous with several exceptions (there was one sea food that was really nice). And like the whole week experience- for every bite you had to line up and wait sometime up to 10 minutes (for the sea food). I saw many people standing alone and staring at the ceiling. My advice is next time make it a hackathon event. This is concentration of brain power, excited brains that just learn new technologies and are itching to use them. Group them in teams- make them socialize and meet at least 5 new people. Make them brainstorm for some non-profit organizations and come up with brilliant ideas.
One interesting thing I noticed about Build is the high concentration of Europeans. I really love that. It was a truly international conference. The people I met were extremely bright and interesting. I regret not meeting more people. We were all so busy making the best of the knowledge base and learning.
The Expo! There was no expo floor. There were some desks around the session rooms in one of the buildings. Very small selection of sponsors were present and there was not much swag being given. I cannot believe this conference I came home only with one t-shirt!
No hands-on lab. Nothing Nada Zip Zero Zilch.
The Twitter #bldwin was probably my favorite. Build encourages every attendee and speaker to use Twitter. I love it. I met great people on Twitter #bldwin and some of them I met in person. Some of my favorite #bldwin people: @ghowlett2020, @cwoodruff , @noopman , @attilah , @TechMike2kX, @henriksen, @HammadRajjoub, @aafvstam, @mangesnet, @kenstone, @samsabri.
On the last day of Build guess what? There was a Windows 8 and Windows Phone app released! Just in time for the last several sessions. This is truly funny. Duh… we were at THE conference for Windows 8 and Windows 8 Phone apps!
Would I do it again? Of course I would. My reasons? I got gadgets, I got to experience the technologies at the hackathon and I got to spend time around brilliant people.
What technology did I get excited about? Windows Azure mobile services and (Windows Phone 8) NFC.
Was it a good conference? Somehow Microsoft didn’t have any problem getting the people together- presenters and attendees but it looked as little organization went into it. Do you blame them? If it takes you 50 minutes to get 5 million dollars out of 2,500 people with one form website and no efforts to write even a page about the event- you know you can get away with anything.
Other blog posts on //build/ 2012:
A blog post by Dennis Vroegop “It’s just badly organized, something I am not really used to in my 20 years of experience at Microsoft events.”
A blog post by Dennis Doomen “Whether or not this trip to Build 2012 in Redmond was worth the time and money”