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It’s almost IT Forum time! (Part 1)

I haven’t posted as much as I might have liked recently – that’s partly because I’m splitting what blogging time I have between here and my team’s blog, but mostly because I’ve been offline a fair amount around the birth of my son! :-) I’m now getting back into work and getting caught up on everything. As well as looking forward to getting home to our new addition every day, it’s that time of year again, to look forward to IT Forum, or to use its “Sunday name”: Microsoft TechEd EMEA 2008 – IT Professionals in Barcelona.

In my opinion there’s no more useful way for an IT Pro, working with Microsoft products, to spend a week (in work terms, of course!). The opportunities to learn about new products, meet with your peers and put your questions to experts is far better value than any training course I’ve been on. Add to that the fact that it’s Barcelona, which is a great city, and you’ve got a brilliant event. Actually, I have been known to say to people that even if you weren’t interested in the technical content, the logistics of the event are pretty breathtaking when you look at it!

This year I’m going with two colleagues who are first timers (this is my 4th TechEd/IT Forum, the first was in Amsterdam, another great city, and this will be my 3rd time in Barcelona). I’ve been talking to the guys about the event and answering their questions and realised that it would be a good topic for a blog post in case other first time attendees are looking for tips.

First bit of advice: arrive the day before the conference starts. If you’re flying in to Barcelona, Microsoft will have event staff at the airport to meet you and transport you to the conference venue. UPDATE: The event FAQs have been updated to state that there won’t be delegate transport to the CCIB from the airport. They have provided good information on travel options from the airport, so be sure to read them or the Joining Instructions page. Then you can register for the conference on the Sunday (between 10:00 and 20:00), avoiding the long lines are the registration desks on the Monday, and pick up your complementary travel pass. This will get you on the metro (underground rail network)/bus/tram into the city and you’ve got the rest of the day to explore and check in to your hotel.

On the subject of hotels, I prefer to get one in the middle of the city, rather than near the conference venue.  If you’re near Placa de Catalunya and La Rambla, you’re only a half hour to the venue anyway, but you’ll be near more restaurants and things to see/do in the evenings. Better to have that journey to the conference in the morning and a short walk back to your hotel after dinner/drinks in the evening, than a short walk in the morning and having to find your way back at night if you decide to venture past the hotel bar.

I was asked whether you need much money (bearing in mind we use a different currency, so have to change it in advance or use cards with their associated charges). Going on past experience, I’d say not. If you’ve arrived the day before you’ll want to eat, but once the conference starts, you don’t need to buy much food, especially if you have breakfast included at your hotel. The conference venue will have snacks available all day: fruit, pastries and others, with refrigerators in every corridor providing Coke, Sprite, OJ, water, etc . Each day there’s a hot buffet lunch served for everyone (this is where the impressive logistics come in!). Even if you intend to attend one of the lunchtime panel sessions, you should still have time to grab a hot meal and I’ve always found the food to be great (considering the scale of the operation to feed thousands of people in 90 minutes).

After the sessions have finished on the first day, there’s usually a drinks reception in the Exhibition Hall, which is the first opportunity to grab free schwag, and you’ll probably get by on canapés that evening. Another evening, you’ll be invited to one of the separate county parties. If there isn’t a party specifically for delegates from your country, you should be able to find your way in to one of them. Last year the UK party took over a pretty cool club and provided drinks and food platters a plenty. Being in UK Higher Education, we’re fortunate enough to be invited to a dinner on one of the other evenings, and last year saw the first PowerShell Dinner (although I’m afraid to say that I missed it, having not checked one of my many email accounts and not seeing the invitation until the day after!). I have heard someone say that’s the best reason to go, so I think invites may be hard to come by this year – if you’re active in a specific technical community, it may be worth checking to see if they’re having any events during the conference.

In Part 2, I’ll talk about making the most of the conference sessions and the time in between…

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