Microsoft Ignite 2022 – A Review from a First Timer

Microsoft Ignite 2022

Microsoft Ignite is a technical conference hosted by Microsoft. This year was my first time attending, and overall, I would say it was a success. Not a perfect one, but still a success. Since this was my first, I tried to spend some time listening to other attendees to understand what they thought, as many of them had been in attendance previously.

This post will cover what I thought went well, not so well, and some recommendations for the future (should anyone from Microsoft ever read this). Finally, I’ll include some lessons learned so that when I look to attend in the fall again next year, I won’t have to rack my brain to remember what I didn’t want to forget.

The key point I want you to remember while reading this is that Ignite is supposed to be more than a sales pitch conference. Technical sessions for all existing and some new products are supposed to be a part of the conference. I’ve been told this be other attendees, third party vendors (outside of Ignite) and even our Microsoft rep. This is important as it directly influences many people’s reasons for attending. This was my understanding before attending, so this is the driving factor for my thoughts below.

Table of Contents

What Went Well
What Didn’t go so Well
What Could be Improved
Things to Remember for next time
Conclusion


What Went Well…

awesome side view of the conference hall
The scene was amazing, and exciting for a first timer

The Atmosphere

The atmosphere was pretty amazing. The lights, design, the entire look was fantastic. Badge pickup the morning of the event was too easy, and it was fast enough that I spent the first morning waiting for things to begin rather than waiting to get it. Once you did walk in, the effect was fantastic, and the vibe was good. For a first-time attendee, this made it feel like a big deal from the moment I walked in.

Ask the Experts Sessions

These were probably my favorite sessions to attend, specifically the ones around Intune and Windows 11. Meeting the dev teams and having the ability to ask pointed questions about future plans and upgrades was great. These discussions gave me some direction to take back to my team and my boss about what we can think about and expect in the future. Plus, listening to others in similar roles and the challenges they have, gives me ideas about what we are doing well and what we aren’t. Inspiration is probably the best word here, as I made plenty notes about ways to plan for long term scaling, as I heard these challenges.

The Digital Sessions

This one is probably a bit of a hot take, based on what I heard many people talking about. Let me categorize it by saying, that the digital/in person sessions let me strategically plan my day so that I was able to focus on attending “In Person” sessions, knowing that I could watch the “digital” sessions later. To me the maximized the dollar value of the conference, as it meant I would have long term access to review some of the content I couldn’t get in person or as about. I will be able to get far more than the 2 days’ worth of content from the event so, that is a win in my book.

live stream of the microsoft Ignite keynote sessions
Crazy to be standing next to the live stream view

What Didn’t Go So Well…

The In Person Sessions with MVPs

So don’t hear what I’m not saying… the content and knowledge was great. There were to glaring issues with several of these sessions that I attended.

First, the time on most of them was too short. Considering nearly every session I attended had almost a 30-minute gap afterwards before my next one, most of the sessions ran short. Speakers had to cut out demos of tools, rushed content to get through it all, and only a few had time to take questions from the crowd. Some of the sessions felt shallow because they were rushed. You could schedule meetings with that MVP, but they are one person, and many of them had their own other sessions they wanted to attend.

Second, the ‘Hub’ spaces were too small. I know there was no way of knowing which sessions would fill and which wouldn’t but so many of the ones I attended were overloaded that it was standing room only. This might’ve been fine except for my third point…

Third, many of the larger MVP sessions I attended the speaker didn’t have a Mic. Given the noise of the Hub environment, those speakers needed to shout to get anything across. I ended up leaving 2 sessions because I couldn’t hear anything, which was frustrating. I will say this seemed a bit better the second day, although I did end up attending 2 sessions the second day that I couldn’t hear the first day.

The IT Pros Hands-On Labs

This was without a doubt the most frustrating thing for me. Every hands-on lab session was full well over 45 minutes before it started. When I asked, the woman controlling the flow outside of one of these labs, I was told it only held 44 people. That lab had 2 sessions for the entire event. So that meant in an event of thousands of people (Technical event, remember…), less than 100 were able to attend the lab of a tool that is prominent in most Microsoft environments (Intune & Defender). The Hands-On labs were raved about to me before I attended and could say that the frustration I felt, was shared among many of my peers.

The Lack of a Microsoft Store

This one is a little petty, so feel free to skip it. I wasn’t all up in arms about the “No Swag” issue that so many other people were mad about. However, it would’ve been nice to be able to purchase a bag, t-shirt or even a water bottle. It would’ve also been cool to be able to purchase some of the new devices that were announced like the new Surface Audio Dock. The fact that there was nothing of the sort and getting buttons for talking to vendors was the only “souvenir” I could take away was just a little disappointing.


What Could be Improved

view of an empty session
Actual View of a Session in a Larger Room. The room next door (which was smaller) was overflow packed

Session Planning/Timing

Allowing for longer sessions (even 45 minutes instead of 30) would’ve allowed many speakers to spend more time going deeper into topics, and more questions for the group to hear. It seems small, but a speaker can’t tailor a session to be too specific, as that would exclude too many people, but allowing extra time for questions meant that we could all hear more scenarios and get a wider range of information.

Including a mic for all sessions that wouldn’t be digital later is a must. Or the sessions don’t need to be held in the middle of the party. Turn all the dividers around so that the main stuff going on is on the back side of the Hub spaces, and maybe you can avoid this in the future. (I’m not an event planner, so this is just my take. I’m sure there are better solutions).

Hand-On Labs

I understand why these might not be longer or might not have more sessions. However, these should be recorded for those of us who couldn’t attend. It was really disappointing to hear that not only could I not attend, but I would not be able to review the content later. With the original understanding of it being a technical conference, not being able to attend any hands-on lab unless I waited in line over an hour missing other sessions seemed less than ideal.

Overall Event Communication

I had booked my flights expecting there to be more content or a reason to attend on the “last” day of the event, the 14th. Instead, I sat in the hotel and wrote this post. The communication around the event wasn’t great and seemed thrown together at the last minute. My boss also wasn’t thrilled (as a seasoned conference attendee) that I was expected to book a flight, hotel and buy a ticket without even having an agenda. We couldn’t decide how many to send, so I came alone to report back the value of the conference, so we knew better for next year.

I assume this is because it was a hybrid event. I imagine there were discussions back and forth on whether to handle it in person, or online that probably took far longer than they intended. I would also imagine that the window they were left with for planning meant that arranging speakers, space and equipment was probably a challenge. And while Microsoft said the No Swag thing was a sustainability effort, I would venture to guess it was at least influenced by the short time frame and lack of availability.


Lessons Learned for Next Time

This section is mostly for next year me, but you may find some value in it as well. These are just a few things I want to remember for next year.

view of the microsoft ignite keynote from an alternate viewing area
This was a nice touch having these session areas for watching keynotes away from the main part of the hub

If possible, bring a water bottle.

There were plenty of stations to refill water bottles, but no reusable water bottles anywhere. There was only soda and sparkling water available, so I was dehydrated at the end of each day. I probably should’ve walked around town and found a store to purchase one, but admittedly, I didn’t think of that at the time.

Consider bringing a smaller backpack

I didn’t want to bring my full backpack each day, as I didn’t need my laptop, charging cord and whatever else I forgot in there each day. However, I brought my iPad to take notes and modify my schedule, and it became cumbersome to carry around when I also had lunch with a drink, or when I needed to go to the bathroom.

Plan where you watch the keynote

Since this was my first time at Ignite, I didn’t know what to expect. However, I found that on the second day, it was much better to watch the keynote in the location of my first session. That way I already had a seat and didn’t need to move. This session was a do-over from the previous day where I couldn’t hear the speaker. The second attempt was much better. It’s a small thing but I want to remember it for next year.

Bring a friend or inject myself into more conversations

Attending alone was a bit of a bummer. This event was energizing and got my mind reeling about new ideas and things to think about for the next year or so. However, it all just ended up in my notes. I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about talking to others, and I didn’t bring anyone to talk to. So instead, it lives in my notes and in my head, and I fear that some enthusiasm will be gone when I finally have time to organize my thoughts and present some ideas. I think more discussion during the event would’ve helped me round more things out while it was fresh and gotten me better notes.

I definitely feel like I missed out on some networking opportunities and will look to remedy that next year. I did however meet a wonderful woman named Maria from Postgres who was very friendly (Sorry I didn’t make your session at 3p!)


Conclusion

Like I said in the beginning, I still think Ignite was a success. I think that overall, I enjoyed the time, and found value in it. At a minimum I was able to get validation on where we are as a company in several areas and gained some insights and arguments for the direction we should be going in the future. I’m sure plenty of people will have some more complaints but outside of the ones I had above, they were minimal issues.

The thing to keep in mind here, is that Microsoft has an excellent track record of a strong recovery after struggling with the first iteration of something. This was the first hybrid style event. Things will be missed, and mistakes will be made. I expect this will be the norm for future Microsoft events.

An important part of the post-conference feedback is to find out what went well and what went wrong. Personally, I don’t think the event was a total loss like some might say. And it certainly will not lead me to think I don’t want to go again next year. I can’t wait for next year and am already looking forward to the new stuff I will learn before then.

If by some small chance you are from the Microsoft team that plans these things, hang in there and keep on going. Ignite is a special event, and they Hybrid thing will work out in the end. If you aren’t from the Microsoft team, then I hope you found value in this post.

Hit me up on Twitter @SeeSmittyIT to let me know what you thought of this post. Thanks for reading!

Smitty

Curtis Smith works in IT with a primary focus on Mobile Device Management, M365 Apps, and Azure AD. He has certifications from CompTIA and Microsoft, and writes as a hobby.

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