I just got back home from SPTechCon in Boston, and I wanted to write down some of my thoughts on it while they are still fresh. This was my first in-person attendance at a SharePoint conference, and I have to say I had a great time!
Having the conference in Boston was cool, because I got to leave Phoenix for a few days and experience a new city. The sights, the sounds, the food, the accents are all a fun cultural experience. To me this is not a trivial aspect of a conference. If I’m going to SPTechCon or any other conference, I want to make sure I take time to see more than just the inside of the hotel while I’m there.
Staying at the Sheraton in downtown Boston was a treat as well. The hotel itself had nice rooms, a courteous staff, and good facilities for hosting the sessions, lunches, keynotes, and exhibits. It was located near a lot of great restaurants, bars, and shopping. I could walk to the train in less than 5 minutes, and the cab ride from the airport was less than 20 minutes.
The biggest downside was the lack of cell phone service in the hotel. I had at best two bars, and several times I had no signal at all. The wi-fi, on the other hand, was really good and I never had problems connecting. I did talk to one person who couldn’t connect Friday morning because the network was at capacity and wouldn’t let anyone else connect until someone disconnected, but I personally never encountered that issue.
So many great speakers were at SPTechCon covering a ton of content. I learned about building advanced forms in InfoPath, creating workflows in SharePoint Designer to manage business processes, putting those two together to make enterprise business applications, branding and master pages, Business Connectivity Services, Visio Services, jQuery, why it’s so hard to be a SharePoint developer, Office 365, and the SharePoint Maturity Model. I even saw some flying monkeys.
I saw presentations from Laura Rogers, Jennifer Mason, Ira Fuchs, Christian Finn, Phill Duffy, Heather Solomon, Sadie Van Buren, Jeremy Thake, Bjørn Furuknap, Marc D. Anderson, Corey Roth, Randy Drisgill, John Ross, and Dux Raymond Sy. Of course, many more speakers were at the conference; I’m just sad I couldn’t see them all 🙁
Nearly all of the demos were geared towards SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010, which I expected. The good news is that a lot of the content is just as applicable in 2007, which is the environment I’m still working with at my job. The less-good news is that because SharePoint 2010 is so new and has a lot of new features, the community is still developing best practices around those new features. This isn’t really a bad thing, but it’s something to keep in mind. I picked up some good tips that will come in handy when my company switches over to SharePoint 2010, and I’m looking forward to developing some of my own best practices that I can share with the community as I get more experience with the new version.
Most of the presentations went off without a hitch. A few had some minor technical difficulties as you’d expect. Some mics were too quiet, too loud, creating feedback, etc. A couple of VMs were running slow. A few deployments didn’t go as planned during demos. However, I was impressed with how well the speakers handled these issues and with how patient the audiences were. One particular presentation started off with several technical difficulties over the first 10 minutes, but then the speaker got things running and two minutes later I saw 30 people in the room have an “aha!” moment. The content was so good that the audience forgot about all the problems and focused onto the presentation and the cool stuff in it.
Perhaps the best reason to go to a conference like SPTechCon is to network, put names to faces, and have water cooler conversations about real-world SharePoint trials. I finally got to meet Bjørn Furuknap and Marc D. Anderson from USPJA (the Dean and my former instructor respectively), and I even met a few fellow students at a USPJA SharePint! I was also able to validate my methods of development with other professionals and found out that my solutions are pretty solid (it’s nice to know I’m doing things right!). I want to give a big shout out to Marc for taking time out of his day to go over some of my latest stuff and provide really great feedback (sorry for being late, drinks are on me next year!).
Twitter has been the communication tool of choice for the SharePoint community, so it was no surprise that it was used heavily for the conference. Check out the #SPTechCon hashtag and you’ll see what I mean. I’ve been a regular user of Twitter for a while now, but I had never done much beyond checking Twitter.com a couple times an hour. Within the first couple hours of the conference, however, I had installed TweetDeck and was getting real-time updates of multiple Twitter streams just to keep up. Everyone was using it!
Most attendees won’t forget the dramedy surrounding Bjørn Furuknap and Joel Olson. I wasn’t an eye-witness to any of the incidents, but I did speak to Bjørn about it a couple of times. It was all staged, but the best part is that so many people didn’t get the humor in Bjørn’s blog posts. All was revealed on the last day of the conference, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more comments on his blog posts by people taking it seriously. Great stuff!
If you don’t leave SPTechCon with some takeaways, you probably weren’t paying attention in the sessions or didn’t talk to anyone. This is a recap for you guys 😉 Lots of best practices and techniques were shared, and a few really stood out to me:
- Governance is important. Everyone sort of agrees with this, but nobody really understands how to implement it well or even how to best create governance policies. It’s not downloading the Microsoft governance template and filling in a few details…
- The user experience is important. Make sure you do a good job gathering requirements to understand what the users want and need, then iterate the solution as users test it and come up with the best solution possible for the end-users. If they don’t like it, they won’t use it, so it’s important to make the solution work for them and not just for the requirements.
- There are no absolutes in SharePoint. The answer is almost always “it depends” because no two SharePoint environments are the same, no two projects have the same requirements, no two developers have the same skills, etc..
- Anyone who develops a solution in SharePoint is a developer. It doesn’t matter if the tool is the web UI, SharePoint Designer, or Visual Studio. Good developers build good solutions regardless of the tools used.
- SharePoint isn’t a solution, it’s a platform. Don’t call it “SharePoint,” instead call it what it is. Is it a vacation request and approval form/workflow? Then call it “Vacation Request Tracker” instead of calling it “the vacation form on SharePoint.”
- To build business value and adoption in SharePoint, start with a small solution that addresses some of the pain points for your high-level executives or managers. This could be as simple as a meeting workspace to cut down on post-meeting email traffic. Then gradually build more solutions over time for a broader range of business users. Don’t talk about features, talk about meeting business needs and the bottom line (saving money).
I hope I can attend future SPTechCon events as well as other SharePoint conferences and events. This was one of the best career-enhancing experiences I’ve ever had!
P.S. A lot of community members have started their own user groups and have regular meetings to create mini-conferences like this. If anyone is interested in starting a Phoenix, AZ SharePoint Users Group, let me know in the comments.