I had the privilege to attend Microsoft Ignite 2016 at Atlanta on Sep 26th-30th this year. This is Microsoft’s signature technology conference which is in the 2nd year after combining all the Office and TechEd conferences last year. If you have read my previous year’s Ignite recap, I wasn’t happy with how it turned out in Chicago especially with logistics issues, and I wasn’t excited this year either being Atlanta as host. As it turned out, I really enjoyed the conference especially technical content and roadmap delivered at the conference, and I must say – Microsoft has earned my faith in Microsoft Ignite event and can’t wait for more for of it next year.
Day 1 of Microsoft Ignite was divided into multiple keynotes – starting with Scott Guthrie lead main conference keynote, followed by sub keynotes from each area (Office, Infrastructure, Security, Communication, etc.), culminating in grand Innovation keynote by Satya Nadella.
I personally didn’t enjoy the main conference keynote. I felt it was Azure heavy with lots of Windows 2016, Visual Studio, and Xamarin updates. My takeaway here was it was mostly boring, nothing new because most of the announcements were already made. There was hardly anything mentioned for Office innovations. My personal favorite from the morning keynote was a huge announcement of Microsoft joining hands with Adobe and Adobe hosting their all clouds including Marketing cloud in Azure. Apart from that, I was disappointed with this keynote.
What morning keynote couldn’t deliver, delivered by Innovation keynote by Satya in the late afternoon. I had an enormous fun listening to Satya and Microsoft’s vision of how Office, Azure, and Windows can deliver innovations in IoT, Analytics, and Cloud computes automation. This is must watch for anyone in technology field despite your interests in Microsoft technologies.
I was excited with what and how Microsoft delivered Technology updates at Ignite. My interest this year was Office 365, Azure, SharePoint, Power BI, and related technologies. Day 1 and Day 2 was kind of boring with most of the roadmap updates which I had already learned in regular Microsoft Office updates. As I dived into more deep dive sessions on Day 3 and Day 4, I was impressed with all the new technology innovations Microsoft has made in Office 365.
One of the key things stood out for me was Level 100-200 sessions and how Microsoft delivered their roadmaps for 2016-17. They were honest in their delivery. There weren’t afraid of sharing what’s coming and what’s in design. Everyone was graceful in their delivery without any arrogance. It was refreshing to see this new Microsoft which has Satya’s stamp all over it. I personally think Microsoft Ignite still missed out many in-depth Level 300-400 sessions.
As far as technologies update, I loved many announcements including Office 365 Groups, Yammer Integration, OneDrive for Business Sync client, PowerApps, Flow, MyAnalytics, Microsoft Word TAP, SharePoint 2016 Feature Pack 1, and SharePoint Hybrid innovations, especially Hybrid Taxonomies. I can’t wait to deep dive into all of these technologies and master them.
If you are Microsoft especially Office 365/SharePoint professional, you would require learning Microsoft Graph, SharePoint Framework, React JS, TypeScript, Office UI Fabric, Windows 2016 Docker containers. Attending deep dive Level 200 sessions on Day 3 and Day 4 for these technologies was conference highlights for me as a technologist.
Anytime you need to host 25-30K IT professionals under one roof, it would become logistically tricky. Microsoft Ignite will face common challenges like lodging, transportation, food, session rooms layout regardless of wherever they plan (except Las Vegas) to host this event. Last year at Chicago, one of the biggest challenges they faced off the isolated location of conference center from the world. This year at Atlanta, they faced another challenge and mostly focused on transportation and lodging.
Before we start with what went wrong (we all love negatives), I must say there were lots of positives at this conference. Georgia Conference Center was a great location especially its proximity to Philips Arena and other downtown happening places. The location itself had lots of excellent facilities, and one of them was a patio where you can relax in sunny fall weather with lounge chairs, live music, games, and smoothies center. Ignite Mobile App was another clear winner for me especially scheduling and live streaming of sessions. This is one of the best conference apps at Microsoft events I have seen. I was able to get extra sleep (much needed for conference attendees) because I could live stream first session while commuting to the conference center. Another great idea this year was concurrent 20 minutes, 45 minutes, and 75 minutes’ breakout sessions. This gave attendees ample options of what sessions to attend and what to skip or view the live stream. Also – Microsoft showcase booths at expos were informative. Meeting with product groups was one of my favorite activities in between sessions.
Now, let’s focus on what can be improved. Lots of lines – There were lots of long walk in between buildings (especially if you have sessions in A and C) in addition to a lot of lines everywhere. I am not sure how Microsoft can improve logistically, but I turned away many times from to either attend session or event just because of lines especially it between sessions. After the event, activities was another big issue. If you have been in Atlanta, you know that it isn’t much as far as after event activities except bars, restaurants, and few baseball games in September. Lodging was another big issues. Unlike Chicago, Atlanta doesn’t have a large concentration of hotels in downtown area. Other two major locations were 30 minutes away at Buckhead and Airport. This is where Las Vegas would actually help where lodging, dining, and after event activities are no major concern.
Last but not least, Microsoft needs to stop serving boxed lunch. Even SharePoint Saturdays or conferences don’t have boxed lunch. It was one of the worst (worse than Chicago last year) conference food I ever had. I was done with cold sandwiches after the 2nd day. Luckily there were few other options nearby, but good conference meal should be one of the musts in Microsoft’s checklist. I do understand why Microsoft may have done it due to concurrent sessions but having both boxed and warm buffet meal would cater both audiences.
Despite all these hate and love for Microsoft Ignite, I enjoyed this conference and can’t wait to attend future events. I personally would like to thank Slalom for letting me attend this conference and learn Microsoft’s direction for 2016-17.