Microsoft Ignite: First Impressions of a Newbie

Pluralsight Booth at Ignite

Pluralsight Booth at Ignite

Because it was in my Chicago backyard, and because the folks from Pluralsight invited me to do an author meet-and-greet at their booth (that’s me, second from the right) I played hooky from my DePaul job last Wednesday and made my first visit to the Microsoft Ignite expo.

Well, technically, everyone was making their first visit to Ignite , since it had previously been TechEd. While there were lots of opinions about the McCormick Place venue and the new end-user emphasis (with some positive reviews and some not) I had no frame of reference except for my previous conferences, which skewed towards the academic crowd. I’ve been to MLA, AWP, and CCCC–impressive gatherings with a liberal arts bent. So with that as my scale of comparison, my first impression was: wow.

First, there was the scale of the venue, with a roomy, open-concept floor plan that felt more like a showroom than lanes of interchangeable booths. Some people said off the cuff that this layout made it difficult to find specific vendors, but as someone just there to browse I found that the generous line-of-sight helped me to plan a route.

That peripheral vision was handy because there was a lot to see, with both slick and ornamented booths competing for patron’s attention. At my academic conferences, most vendors have straightforward wire racks featuring their press’ publications, with the occasional author signing. It’s more like a bookstore (which is great; I love window-shopping), but there is nothing near the eye-catching extravagance of the techie world.

This also showed up in the infamous giveaways, for which everyone had prepped me. At my academic conferences, the bookfair (oh no; it’s never called an expo) mostly showcases collegiate presses and nonprofit groups, and a band-aid dispenser counts as killer swag. At one point during Ignite, though, I was registered for so many giveaways that I’d have been disappointed if I left McCormick place with any fewer than three new XBox Ones. I left with none, however, and reality came crashing down. A pity.

Fortunately, the conversations with industry professionals were ample consolation (as was the fact that no one else I talked to won anything either, which probably had something to do with the 23,000 people attending). It wasn’t just at the Pluralsight booth, though it was great to meet some of the people who watched our courses. It was also the community as a whole. I taught a course at DePaul on rhetoric in crisis contexts last year, and I’m interested in modifying that material to focus on IT subjects specifically. I therefore went up to every booth in the expo with a “security” tag hanging in the upper corner of the drapery, and talked to them about security gaps, and how people in their fields communicated when something went wrong. Almost everyone was generous with their time, which was especially gracious considering how obvious it was that I had no intention of purchasing their products.

Still, it was overwhelming by the end of the day.

Pluralsight logo projected on the Artist's Loft water tower.

Pluralsight logo projected on the Artist’s Loft water tower.

Speaking of overwhelming, the day finished with a VIP author’s party at the Lacuna Artist’s loft in Chicago, which Pluralsight rented out. They wanted to throw an eye-catching bash, and between the 3D printing selfie booth, the rooftop open bar and buffet, the live music until midnight, and the blacklit pinball arcade, they succeeded.

My main takeaway, though, was a simple appreciation for the contrast created by these two worlds I’m occupying. My main career still centers around college, teaching technical writing and freshman composition in a time when the identity of both those fields, and even higher education itself, is rapidly changing.  The more public side of what I do, though, is securely in the private sector, which has an entirely different way of thinking about things, and things it thinks about. I’m content to occupy both camps, however, if only because it illustrates what they can learn from each other.

So those are some first impressions from a guy wading into these waters. I may return to some of these ideas, and give some more detailed thoughts, in future posts.

In the meantime, Alan out.

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