Tech.Ed AU 08: The Ugly, The Bad, The Good

Bugger it. Despite being ridiculously exhausted, I’m going to write this now because I can’t sleep. I’m also doing it in reverse order to finish up on a vaguely positive incline.

The Ugly

I got rightfully slammed in my presentation evals for ARC402. 44% of the audience were Very Dissatisfied. That placed me with the 6th worst scoring session at the conference.

The general trends were:

  • I represented a knowledge of the subject (42% very satisfied – a positive here!)
  • My presentation skills were satisfactory (47% satisfied – neutral)
  • The information presented was bad (42% dissatisfied with usefulness)
  • The presentation was ineffective (42% dissatisfied with effectiveness)

Armed with an array of comments to analyse, what did I do wrong? Thinking out loud, this is what I’ve come up with:

  • I was put off by the noise from the neighbouring room and the mobile smackdown. I shouldn’t have been affected by this as much as I was.
  • I rushed the content, when I was by no means under time pressure. I generally covered this content as a 20 minute segment at the end of a more holistic ASP.NET MVC presentation. While I had added additional content, and that is generally a rushed 20 minutes, I certainly shouldn’t have been rushing here.
  • I lost the structure. I didn’t introduce myself (which people highlighted in the comments) and somehow I even forgot to ask for Q+A at the end, even though there’s a whole slide that prompts me to do just that.
  • I focused my content too much on the blurb which came from Tech.Ed US instead of thinking myself about the wider architectural considerations. There’s a lot more too it than IoC and some attributes.
  • Despite being crowned the Australian Annual IT Demonstration Champion this same week, my demo crashed and burned. Massive fail here.
  • I’m still not good at dealing with non-developer audiences. This was something that also affected me at Web on the Piste, and is something I need to actively work on. As much as I am a fan of minimal slides + heaps of live code, if the people ask for high level content in an architecture track, it’s what you’ve got to give them.

Summarising:

I failed to identify the key differences between the demands of this session and those demands of previous talks I had done in this technology space. I was over confident in the content and thus failed to properly prepare and update my content for the latest release, the audience and the timing. I’d like to apologize to those who attended and expected more, the content owners who trusted me to be there and the community who supported me in getting there in the first place.

– Tatham Oddie, not-so-demo-champion

The Bad

I’m forever fighting with a balance between helping and helping too much. I was a key person on the Dev.Garten project this year, having done a significant amount of work pre-event including meeting with the client and developing infrastructure. Once the event actually started I began to realise the shear number of things I’d committed to doing throughout the week and that I was being stretched. While there were plenty of great people to keep the project moving, I could have done a better job of documenting the directions I had started and ensuring a smoother handover.

The Good

Despite this post starting on a decidedly (and deservedly) sour note, there were some amazing this that happened during the week.

My other session (TOT352) about Software+Services had a particularly small audience, however came out with 100% of the evals saying the demos were effective and 100% saying the technical content was just right. Ok, so the data is only working off 2 evaluations because there were only about 12 people in the room, but it’s better results than above either way.

I won the national final of the Demos Happen Here comp. Among other things, this means I’m off to Tech.Ed Los Angeles in 2009 and will shortly receive a shiny new Media Centre PC. When I made the original entry video it was an 8 minute demo, however by the national final I had it down to 4 mins 50 seconds which is a real testament to the quality of Windows Server 2008.

I built a Surface application. Amnesia own the only two Surface devices currently outside of the US and were kind enough to let me spend a day and a half playing on it before they took one to the event. It was my first time ever compiling a line of WPF or seeing the Surface SDK but in that 1.5 days I managed to get an application working which would pull session data out of CommNet and display it in response to a conference pass being placed on the table. The Surface team should be really proud of the quality of SDK that they have achieved to make that possible and I look forward to when we finally get to see a widespread public release of the bits.

The table achieved quite a bit of interest throughout the week:

surface5

Photo: Ry Crozier

On Wednesday I had lunch with Amit Mital who is the GM of Windows Live Mesh. Six of us (him, 2x MS, 2x others, me) spent a good 90 minutes discussing some of the longer term visions for Mesh. The original plan was for us to ask questions and him to answer them, but it became more of a discussion between ourselves about scenarios we wanted to see / achieve and him (relatively) quietly taking notes. In the end this was a better approach because it allowed him to walk away with some real world scenarios and didn’t result in us constantly asking him questions he wasn’t allowed to answer yet. PDC sounds set to deliver some exciting changes as we see the release of the Mesh SDK.

Friday lunchtime I was invited to present with Lawrence Crumpton about open source at Microsoft. We were presenting to a lunch of open source alliance and higher education administrators trying to demonstrate that Microsoft aren’t actually evil. Lawrence’s full time job at Microsoft Australia lies around open source and it was amazing to hear some of the things he’s involved in. I jumped on stage after his talk to demonstrate PHP on IIS7 as a first class citizen and talked about leveraging the platform with functionality like NLB. (This may or may not sound very similar to my DHH demo.)

Tech.Ed week is also a big week for Readify because it’s the only time we get to have almost all of our people in the one place. It’s a strange feeling knowing a whole group of people but then meeting them for the “first” time. It was particularly good meeting our new WA gang (Hadley Willan, Jeremy Thake and Graeme Foster) as well as catching up with the out of towners and management teams again.

Friday night was the Readify Kick-off party followed by a company conference / meeting on Saturday.

Who’d have thought I’d get to see my Principal Consultant gyrating his hips on stage with Kylie? I’ve had a quick look around Flickr and Facebook but I haven’t found any photos of the night online yet. I look forward to our resident photographers catching up on their uploads early this week. Update: Links at end of post.

Rog42 came along as a guest speaker on Saturday and delivered a great presentation about some new approaches for community. In a demonstration of how a little information goes a long way, the pizza thing is now pretty superfluous having seen his presentation but I think we can keep the jokes going for a little bit yet. 😉 It was encouraging to see the level of Readify involvement in Tech.Ed.

Overall it was a great week and another well executed Tech.Ed on Microsoft’s behalf. I was privileged to be invited to participate in lots of different ways, albeit with different qualities of outcome. It’s been an eye opening week which has highlighted needed work on my behalf, but also being rewarding for work I’ve already done. I look forward to the next event, and all of the other things that will need to be tackled between now and then.

Update 7-Sep-08: Photos from Thursday night courtesy of Catherine Eibner:

Update 8-Sep-08:

8 comments

  1. Dude, despite “the ugly” i reckon you achieved muchly this TechEd, it was a pleasure to have you around and am in total awe of your demo and surface skills.

    keep kicking ass mate!

  2. Great post,don’t be so hard on yourself! You achieved amazing things this week. Put the presso down to good experience and use what you learnt next time your up on stage. Practice makes perfect and all that. Great meeting you this weekend!

  3. hey, you shouldnt beat yourself up too much about your presentation. I was there at your session and couldnt really blame you for cutting it short, for missing things or for being generally off colour. With such a noise coming from the mobility smackdown, I feel the organisers are to blame for putting your session next door. I couldnt concentrate on the topic with all that noise and I’m sure it contributed massively to putting you off. I really think you should be sending some blame the way of the organisers. If they knew it was going to be a noisy session (and since they were making the crowd shout, i’m sure it was planned) then they should put it as far away from all the other sessions as possible otherwise it just is not giving you or the people trying to learn any respect.

    I really hope that MS think in the future about where they put the smackdown and make sure no sessions are running next door to it.

  4. Don’t beat yourself up, Dude – ya just had a bad 30-minutes in amongst a whole week of greatness. Even the Don took a duck – 99.94 is still a good average. You’ve done the post-mortem and you’ll be bullet-proof next time. I was at the MVC presso & I took away a few insights that kicked me along the knowledge trail.

    We’ve all got a few crash-and-burn stories and at least you didn’t call them a bunch of f’ing schoolgirls [long story].

  5. Dude I think that you have wrote this speaks volumes about the professional person you are and the pride you take in your efforts. One of my life mottos are: You learn more from failures than successes.

    Cant wait to see your next session because I know you will be fired up and kick arse

  6. Tatham,
    Don’t be so hard on you. The fact that you delivered some great talks over time and got the demo hero says a lot about you.
    We all get it wrong every now and then and it’s out of these that we learn more than of getting it perfect every time.
    A small failure is a bigger step forward than a small success. You know what to do better next time. You know how to approach it next time, how to time yourself, how to get more involved and how to get more from your own demos.
    Look up! You’r good and every experience we’ll make you better! And be happy about it 🙂
    Corneliu.

  7. Tatham – all the guys at Amnesia think you did an awesome job. Come back and play with our Surface tables anytime 🙂

    Iain (Amnesia)

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