Top Five Tips for Attending Build This Week

The week of Microsoft Build is without exception the professional highlight of my calendar year. This is my twentieth anniversary of attending Build (or its predecessor, PDC) and I've barely missed a single one since. Build is where I meet old friends, where I recharge my excitement about development, where I discover what I want to work on next, where I learn about how my features are being used by customers. It's the forcing function for us to turn loose ideas into a clear story; the culmination where months or years of blood, sweat and tears finally come to fruition; the place where our best endeavors meet the crucible of public opinion.

Over my years at Microsoft, I've been incredibly privileged to work in almost every possible role behind the scenes of PDC and Build: working on keynotes and demos, running track selection, helping the core team with logistics, doing press briefings. This year I'm looking forward to co-presenting a session on The Future of Visual Studio with the amazing Amanda Silver. The demos are coming together at last, after a few tense days!

I got asked today if I had any tips for a first-time Build conference attendee. It's a good question, and after a little thought I've come up with five tips. I started writing these as a tweetstorm, but I needed more than 140 characters...

  1. One of the hidden jewels of the entire conference is the Microsoft booths on the show floor. We send literally hundreds of PMs and engineers to represent their product there, all of whom are there for no other purpose than to meet with you, hear how you're using their feature, and help you with any technical problems you have. I can't think of another place where you can connect so directly with so many Microsoft product teams.

    A particular tip - prepare a list of questions in advance that you want to get answered. If you don't get an answer immediately, get an email address and send them your question. (Even though it's our job to get back to you, take the opportunity to make a connection that you can continue to build and use.)

  2. Don't stress if a session is full and you don't get in. The event organizers do their best to predict which sessions need to be in larger rooms, but sometimes it just doesn't work out. But it doesn't matter these days - you can always watch a session online anyway. It's not worth getting frustrated - if the sessions are full, it usually means that all the ancillary activities are quiet.

  3. Let your extroverted side loose! Go up to strangers and introduce yourself. Sit down with folk at lunch and ask about what they're doing. Swap emails. Conferences like Build are all about connections, and that needs someone who is willing to lean forward and "give the gift of going first" by initiating the connection.

  4. Sure, the keynote is the least technical part of any big conference. But it's a unique opportunity to hear our very best attempt to distil our strategy and direction down. Many thousands of hours go into each keynote: refining the pitch, building demos and videos. So lean forward. Sit in the front twenty rows. Suspend your disbelief just for an hour or so, and absorb the spectacle. Even if I'm at a competitor's conference, I try and do this: because I always learn new strategies that I can use for my own presentations and demos. It's hard to do that if you're sitting at the back being the cynical spectator...

  5. Be an active listener. I go crazy making notes when I attend a session - because I'm naturally a kinesthetic learner. Writing what I'm hearing helps me concentrate, keeps me from fidgeting and helps me absorb the information. If that's too much for you, try tweeting the most interesting soundbites from the session - you might pick up some new followers and connections!

Hope this is valuable to someone. Looking forward to meeting some new friends at Build!