Mike Swanson

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    PDC2008: A Day in the Life #2

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    [You can skip to the last two paragraphs if you’d like to offer suggestions]

    Here we are…one month later with the second post in a series about the PDC2008 Content Owner role. If you don’t know what a Content Owner does, I’d recommend reading PDC2008: A Day in the Life #1 for context. As mentioned in the prior post, one of my responsibilities is to coordinate and drive two meetings each week with many representatives from across Microsoft. The members of this team are critical thinkers who help define, create, and shape the content we’ll present at PDC2008 in October. But how do we select our content? How do we know which sessions make sense and which ones don’t?

    It probably won’t surprise you to learn that many Microsoft employees have an engineering mind-set, and we tend to want everything defined in terms of an algorithm (yes, I’m guilty too). But when it comes to content, though we do have many measures and metrics, a bunch of smart people talking and arguing about what makes the most sense provides the secret ingredient. And that’s okay! That’s why we spend so much time in meetings. Embrace the power of the human brain, I say!

    For a big event like PDC, a lot of our product teams want to present sessions on their latest technology. As a matter of fact, I receive e-mail almost daily asking how to integrate “these 10 sessions,” or asking “how do we get our own track?” If we accepted every suggestion, we’d probably end up with over 500 sessions, and we have neither the space nor the time to deliver that many (not to mention the feedback we receive from attendees that tells us to keep the session count reasonable).

    Here are some of the filters we use to vet our topics:

    • Does the topic relate to the overall theme of the event?
      If not, it likely won’t help us tell a strategic and coherent story, and it may even be confusing. According to our surveys, attendees use the PDC to help set the future direction of their own products and technologies, and as a result, we owe it to you to stay on-theme.
    • Does the topic provide guidance?
      If the content of a session is simply a tour of an API without any guidance, we’ll weed it out. Likewise, if the content could be found in the documentation or in a SDK, it doesn’t make sense at the conference. Many times, the only place to get PDC content is actually at the event or by watching one of the session recordings.
    • Is the topic germane to leading-edge developers and architects?
      PDC is the Professional Developers Conference, after all, and the content must be useful to our primary audiences. Otherwise, we delete it.
    • When does the topic’s related technology release?
      Because we’re a strategic conference, we optimize for the future. As a result, we don’t spend as much time on shipping products or technologies. When we do, it’s a deep dive (like Silverlight Graphics Pipelines) or an all-day pre-conference session. We like to say that we deliver this kind of content PDC Style.
    • How deeply can we cover the topic?
      PDC is known for its deep content, and we have many sessions that can only be delivered by the actual Microsoft architects or developers. Other than keynotes and a handful of 200-level sessions to set context, we prefer 300-level, scenario-focused sessions and select 400-level deep dives.
    • Does the topic make more sense at another event?
      Or in other words, does it only make sense at PDC? If a session could be presented more effectively at another event like MIX or Tech·Ed, we won’t include it at PDC.

    There are other filters, but these are the most important. Also, PDC is frequently used to announce new products and technologies, and for those topics, we tend to allocate more sessions simply because the content is brand new.

    As you can imagine, with a “budget” that limits the total sessions we can deliver, this really becomes an exercise in weeding out inappropriate content, prioritizing the best content, and often times combining two or more sessions into one. This last tactic has a desirable outcome, because it generally forces multiple topics or technologies to come together and provide clear guidance, rationalization, or differentiation.

    Okay…here’s where you come in. While we could easily fill all of our session slots with topics suggested by internal teams, I’d like to ask which specific topics you’d like us to cover. To set expectations appropriately, I can’t promise that just because a topic is suggested here that it will be represented at PDC2008, but I can promise that every suggestion that is added to feedback will be reviewed and considered by someone on our content team. While we’re at it, are there any Microsoft speakers you’d really like to hear from? If you have other colleagues or friends who may have input, please send them our way.

    Thanks in advance for your participation!

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    How I Make My Wallpaper Images

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    I’ve put this one off for way too long. For everyone who has sent me e-mail over the years asking how I create my wallpaper images, I’ve finally taken the time to write down my thoughts, techniques, workflow, tips, and tricks. Wow…I never realized how many steps I go through! I’m sure that I forgot a few things, and I’d be happy to revise the article with more detail. Please leave feedback, and tell me what you think.

    While I was at it, I added 16 new wallpaper images to the collection. You can thank Bellevue Botanical Garden and the beautiful weather we’ve been having here in the Pacific Northwest. My favorite of the new batch, though, is easily Leaf 62 which was taken in our own back yard. Enjoy!

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    PDC2008 Registration Opens with Preliminary Sessions

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    The wait is over! The public PDC2008 site just went live, and you can now register for the conference (and save $200 if you register early). We've published a preliminary set of topics that represents only a fraction of the over 160 sessions you'll see at the event. Topics include software + services, Windows 7, a deep dive on Silverlight graphics pipelines, Windows Mobile, extensible BitmapEffects and Pixel Shaders in WPF, how we use Team Foundation Server for our huge Microsoft projects, a new technology that makes it easy to build business applications in Silverlight, how to develop for Live Mesh, and more. It's brain busting content at its best.

    For $400 more, I'd encourage you to show up a day early and attend one of our pre-conference sessions. These are all-day-long, deep-dives on today's technology delivered by both Microsoft and recognized third-party experts. For example, Advanced Windows Debugging will be presented by Mario Hewardt and Daniel Pravat, the guys who wrote the excellent book by the same name. Some of my other favorites are Concurrent, Multi-core Programming on Windows and .NET, Performance by design using the .NET Framework, and who could resist the urge to go under the covers with Charles Petzold for WPF Code and Concepts.

    We're doing social at the PDC this year, so be sure to join our Microsoft PDC Facebook group, our PDC2008 Twitter feed, and the Microsoft PDC2008 group on Flickr. Oh...you might also want to subscribe to the PDC blog for key information and updates about the event. Note that the PDC blog feeds the public web site, so no need to subscribe in both places.

    Last, show your PDC2008 spirit! Grab some of the blog bling and wallpaper.

    This is going to be an amazing event!

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    PDC2008: A Day in the Life #1

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    As the PDC2008 Content Owner and a member of the Core Team, my days are filled with PDC-related activities. I thought I'd blog about some of these activities in a series called A Day in the Life. My hope is that I'll be able to post more of these as we approach PDC2008 this October. So, if you're interested in behind-the-scenes insights, keep checking back.

    First off, let me explain the Content Owner role. My job is to drive the themes, tracks, sessions, and overall direction of the content at the event. This extends to many other areas, including the keynotes, the pre-conference training sessions, the hands-on-labs where you can play with the technologies, the bits that we hand out (referred to as The Goods), and the panels and symposia. Ultimately, we have role owners that are responsible for each major activity, and without them, there would be no way to pull of an event with the scope, size, and magnitude of PDC. It's definitely a team effort.

    PDC is a different kind of conference. Unlike most conferences that I've attended, PDC is assembled from the top down. By this, I mean that we start with a top-level theme and work down to the individual products, technologies, and topics that are covered in our sessions. Since the PDC is all about the future of the Microsoft platform, it's important that we provide a clearly articulated strategy with content that not only offers deep technical education, but also delivers guidance, best practices, and recommendations for its use. Many other conferences do a "SELECT * FROM NEW_STUFF" and generate content for each result. While this works for training, it doesn't work as well for a strategic conference like the PDC where the content needs to work together and tell a coherent story.

    We initiated a PDC2008 "proto-track" process late last year. The proto-track team was comprised of senior leaders across Microsoft (VPs, Distinguished Engineers, Technical Fellows, etc.) that met over the course of many multi-hour meetings to decide on our overall theme, the tracks we would use to organize the content, and the people who would make up our track team. After the track team was assembled, we began the twice-weekly meetings that will continue up until the event in October. As Content Owner, it's my job to organize and run these meetings to ensure that we end up in Los Angeles with kick-ass content. Actually, if I restate that more specifically, my job is to help the track team generate kick-ass content that you guys love.

    While PDC2008 registration hasn't opened yet, the track team is working towards this first major milestone. This means that we need to come up with an initial set of sessions that will more-or-less represent the kinds of sessions you can expect to see at the event. This initial set won't be comprehensive, and we'll add new sessions as they're defined and published over the coming months. If you read my post titled PDC 2008 Conference Scheduling Using a Genetic Algorithm, you already know that tracks—while useful—don't solve all of the content slicing and dicing challenges, and we'll spend a lot of time in our meetings coming up with a useful list of tags to help you navigate the content.

    The track team is also working with Jaime Rodriguez to develop a full day of pre-conference sessions for October 26 (one day before the main event begins). These all-day sessions are typically very well attended, and they provide in-depth training on current technology. Actually, Jaime is doing all of the real work...we've just provided some insights and feedback.

    I hope you enjoyed this first look into life as a PDC Content Owner. If there are any topics that you'd like me to write about or any questions that I can answer, I'd love to hear your feedback.

    Thanks!

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Being Green at PDC2008

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    As the Content Owner for PDC2008, I'm now a member of the Tier 1 Events Council at Microsoft. This is a group that meets a few times a year to share ideas and best practices around our largest events (like Tech·Ed , MIX, and PDC). We met all day today and covered a number of great topics.

    One of our sessions was titled Environmentally Sustainable Events Initiative, and it was presented by Gina Broel and Jessica Ludders. We discussed what it means to be a "green" event based on the Green Meeting Industry Council. According to the council, a green meeting incorporates environmental considerations to:

    • Achieve economic and strategic business goals
    • Minimize or eliminate environmental impacts
    • Positively contribute to the environment and host communities

    We love to measure, benchmark, and assign metrics to just about everything we do at this company, and environmental sustainability is no different. We've looked at things like the amount of waste generated by our events, the amount of uneaten food and scraps that are discarded, and tangible items like plastic water bottles, attendee bags, and other giveaways that aren't used. We'll use metrics to measure and track how much we improve the situation year over year.

    For an example of some work that is already being done, check out Tech·Ed's Environmental Sustainability Efforts. And if you attended MIX08 in Las Vegas, you probably saw the bag that Tim Aidlin designed from recycled materials.

    For PDC2008, we're back at the Los Angeles Convention Center. This past month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized the Los Angeles Convention Center (PDF) as an “Earth-Friendly” Green Venue, and their Food Services went green (PDF) late last year.

    In today's meeting, I was fascinated to learn that the hotels we use for our events report finding bags and backpacks that have been left behind by our conference attendees. It made sense when I thought about it: you bring your stuff to the event in last year's backpack, and because you receive a brand new backpack at this year's event, you "upgrade" and leave the old bag behind since it won't easily fit in your luggage. This caused me to wonder:

    • How important is it to receive a branded bag or backpack at PDC2008? Would you be disappointed if you didn't receive one? For MIX06 and MIX07, we didn't hand out big bags, and I don't recall anyone giving us feedback that they were disappointed.
    • As an attendee, would you be willing to pay an optional additional fee to help us make the conference more environmentally sustainable? This is my own crazy idea, by the way. But it's driven by the feedback that attendees would like us to be more green, and this is one way that might make it even more doable.

    I'd love to hear your feedback. If you have any other suggestions about how PDC2008 can do more for the environment, please leave a comment to this blog post. Last, if you'd like to submit your ideas to our council, you can send e-mail to grnmeet@microsoft.com.

    Thanks!

    Update: We just launched a new site that talks about Microsoft's environmental sustainability efforts.

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