Having just returned from the mind-blowing SharePoint Conference 2014 at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, I wanted to get my thoughts and impressions down while they were still relatively fresh. A LOT went down these past 5 days, and there’s no way I’m going to cover it all, but here goes!
My first and overarching impression of the event as a whole is how smoothly everything went. Events on a scale like this (10,000 attendees) always amaze me, but SPC14 seemed particularly well-planned. Heck, even the wireless access was much improved over previous SPCs and over what is typical at such large events (though certainly not perfect). But details such as the kiosk-based self-registration and badge printing, paperless session schedule and evaluations (using MySPC), and huge high-res screens in both the breakout sessions and keynote speeches really made this feel like a truly technology-savvy conference. The MySPC site did have its issues leading up to and during the conference, but nearly always seemed to be ready when I needed it – looked great on a mobile device too.
Speaking of technology, the Bill Clinton keynote address was actually quite technology focused, and truly positive and inspirational; he’s a great speaker and humanitarian. However the bets that I’d made the previous evening regarding whether he would mention “SharePoint” or even “PowerShell” did not pay off as hoped. Bill did make references to the audience that gave some of us the impression that he thought we all worked at Microsoft. Close enough I guess, right?
“Epic” is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days but there really was no other way to describe most of the official and unofficial events. A big topic of discussion among my fellow attendees (plus fellow Navantis colleagues – past & present) leading up to Tuesday night was how exactly they were going to transport thousands of folks to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the evening event. Much to our surprise and enjoyment, they pulled it off in spectacular fashion. Great planning, logistics and activities surrounding that evening event, topped off with a great 80s cover band, dancing, and plenty of buses between the Venetian and the raceway.
Unlike previous conferences, ClubSPC took place right in the exhibit hall this year, and although the drinks and conversation were flowing, I don’t think it worked as well from a social standpoint – that room was huge – though I’m sure the vendors appreciated the additional evening traffic from slightly tipsy prospective customers!
The vendor-hosted events (if you were lucky enough to score a wristband) were incredible, and really what else would we expect in a city like Las Vegas. AvePoint and Metalogix did not disappoint in delivering top-notch parties in incredible locations (Tao and Marquee, respectively). The icing on the cake took the form of numerous local get-togethers at various spots in and around the Venetian. The Bourbon Room, site of Sunday night’s SharePint social event, seems to have been the week’s default meeting place – though I now think I heard enough 80s hair metal to last me the rest of my life, thanks very much.
Of course the real value of SPC consists of the breakout sessions. A recurring challenge for me and many others is how to pick sessions to attend: content vs. speaker. A session with promising content could fail to stick with a less-than-effective speaker, not to mention that dryly-presented content can be conducive to nodding off (especially to those of us sleep-deprived). So with each of these events, I try to attend sessions that might stray outside of my technology core in order to glean from acclaimed presenters like Kirk Evans and Chris Givens – and never regret it. Other session highlights include Todd and Shane’s sessions (hilarious and entertaining), Spencer Harbar’s rich Identity Federation talk, and Chris Johnson’s overview of Microsoft’s remote access & reverse proxy story. Bill Baer’s keynote also rocked – to a capacity crowd I’m told. It’s nice to know that on-premises SharePoint has an immediate future, but it’s high time I expanded my skills into the cloud! Also, although I didn’t attend myself, I’m told the Ask The Experts session was very well-attended and valuable.
Without boring you at length with personal accounts, I’ll try to provide just a few of the moments that made this a great week for me (at least the ones suitable for a professional blog).
I like to think of myself as falling somewhere between the average attendee and the SharePoint Rockstar (defined by your favorite “Top 25 influencers” list du jour). I had the honor of not only being approached by random folks to thank me for my AutoSPInstaller work, but of also being recognized by the afore-mentioned Rockstars and allowed to rub elbows at the various events. But perhaps even more rewarding was the chance to meet fellow community members, who until now I’d only known virtually on Twitter or other social media. These encounters never cease to fascinate me, and typically fall into two categories: the “we have a lot to say to each other online but not much in person”, and the “barely tweeted to each other but now feel like we’ve known each other our whole lives”. Thankfully there were many more of the latter – made some great friends and looking forward to future conversations with them. Too many to mention, but you know who you are.
Other quick high points include doing a couple of laps around a racetrack in a Mercedes sedan, dancing into the wee hours, breakfast with Todd Klindt’s Netcast hooligans, innocently crashing the VIP at V Bar (sorry Chris and Bill), the quest for karaoke, finally meeting AutoSPInstaller co-contributor Andrew Woodward, dancing into the wee hours (seems to be a theme no?), and NOT gambling one penny (yes I’m Vegas’ worst customer).
But the sentimental favorite came early in the week when on Sunday evening I finally got to meet one of my top influences Spence Harbar to corner him for his thoughts around AutoSPInstaller (which in the past he had expressed some, uh, reservations about). This talk quickly transitioned to a lively chat about sports (naturally) specifically the merits of cricket vs. soccer vs. hockey… By the way, it seems in the end it seems we both agreed that AutoSPInstaller is not a shortcut around learning SharePoint (i.e. SharePoint for Dummies as I put it) but rather that, in the right context, it can be a valuable time-saving aid. I couldn’t really ask for more now, could I?
Of course a big thank-you goes out to my employer Navantis for sending me to SPC14, and for allowing me the freedom to focus on the sessions for the better part of the week – not something I take for granted as a busy SharePoint consultant. Hopefully the sessions and content will be made available for viewing and download soon; depending of course on how broadly these are made available, I highly recommend checking them out if you weren’t able to attend in person. Then start working on plans to attend the next SharePoint/Office 365 conference!