Impressions and Observations from PDC08

I just finished up my first time attending Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference and wanted to capture a few random observations.

This conference is beyond huge!  I was trying to unit-ize my perception of the size, and all I could come up with is “several football fields” worth of people.

The conference was run very well.  The event staff did an amazing job.  I did notice that they held some pretty strict people-routing rules and some of the attendees would get upset when they were told to go to the center doors of the Big Room in order to get to a meal that was in hall G or K.  If you’ve ever been responsible for maintaining order with a large gaggle of people you would recognize that they were doing it right.  If you wait until the line becomes a problem, it’s too late to fix it.  You have to send people along the path that a long line would take in order to keep this from becoming a problem.

The Cloud is coming.  Microsoft’s Azure has a ton of promise and it’ll be interesting to see how it rolls out over the next decade.  I’ve always been a big fan of Amazon’s S3 and EC2, and it’s awesome to see Microsoft hit this space with a coherent broad strategy that covers not just silo’d implementations of storage and computation, but an ecosystem that can field complex applications in the cloud, on-premises, or any combinations of the two.

When developers file into a room, they seem to default to a sort of “worst-fit” algorithm, filling up the rows of chairs in the least efficient manner possible, causing the presenters and coordinators to have to go through several rounds of defragmentation in order to get the room to capacity.

It was great to meet some of the other Microsoft bloggers that I’ve been following for years.  I went to Raymond Chen’s talk even though it’s been a long time since I wrote any code that even came close to a Win32 call, but it was an interesting talk just the same.  I also stopped by the Win7 table in the Microsoft Pavilion and shook his hand.  It was a bit of a geek fan-boy thing to do, but I’ve enjoyed reading his blog for a long time, and it was cool to meet the man behind the blog.  Raymond was very friendly and approachable, and it was interesting to see that his face-to-face personality matched up exactly with what I had come to expect from years of reading The Old New Thing.

Scott Hanselman’s talk was awesome, entertaining, and educational all at the same time.  He’s another of my favorite bloggers and I’ve been a subscriber since long before he joined Microsoft.  He was pretty busy after the session, so I didn’t make the time to do the fan-boy introduction, but it was cool to see Scott in person.

I also got to meet Charlie Kindel.  It was a bit awkward since the last time we spoke I was an outside blogger who was spending a ton of time on Windows Home Server.  Since joining Microsoft last December, I really haven’t made time to do much of anything related to Windows Home Server, so we didn’t have much to talk about.  Still, it was good to finally meet Charlie and the WHS sessions at PDC were very interesting. (Developing Connected Home Applications and Services for Windows Home ServerExposing Connected Home Services to the Internet via Windows Home Server) CJ and crew did a great job with the presentations and demos.  I’m still a huge fan of WHS as a key part of any home network, and as a central nervous system for the smart home going forward, I just don’t have the time necessary to evangelize the platform like I did before.

The gender divide at the conference was very pronounced.  I’ve been in Microsoft’s Charlotte office for nearly a year now and even though it’s no where near 1:1 there, I’ve gotten acclimated to a less skewed environment enough that I really noticed the gap at PDC.  It’s a shame that the industry is so far behind on this.

The geeks as a whole seemed to be making healthier choices from the provided snacks. The fruit tables seemed to get a fair amount of action, and the Ho-Ho’s and Twinkies seemed to stay on the tables for quite a while longer.  I’m sure that plenty of extra calories were consumed this week, but it didn’t seem to be too far off the unhealthy end of the spectrum.

The folks from the Dev Teams were here to really connect with customers.  The “Ask the experts” were the formalized version of this, but extended post-session Q/A sessions and lots of business card swapping means that real connections were being built.  It seems that if you came to PDC, you could reach out and get some real people to talk to about almost anything that Microsoft does.

Lots of international participation.  Hearing people having side conversations in various languages and then instantly switch to perfect English for another conversation reminded me how much it seems like Americans are behind the curve with languages.

That’s it for my random observations. All in all it was a great conference!