Separate but Equal: Microsoft to Segregate Developers and IT Pros at TechEd 2008

Two weeks ago, I shared my thoughts about virtual events and pointed out two virtual SQL Server conferences that were getting ready to launch. Last week, I talked about the upcoming SQL Server 2008 launch events. This week, I’m going for an event trifecta by talking about TechEd 2008. Typically, I wouldn’t be writing about TechEd this early in the year. TechEd is one of the largest IT shows in the world, always happens about the same time each summer (at least summer for the Northern Hemisphere), and has been around since the early days of Microsoft. However, this year’s TechEd is a first in an important way. As you might have heard by now, TechEd 2008 will span two full weeks as it evolves from a one-week event to two back-to-back conferences.

Both events will take place in Orlando, Florida. TechEd 2008 Developers will be held June 3-6, and TechEd 2008 IT Professionals will be held June 10-13.

Back in the old days (my Microsoft Certified Professional—MCP—number is four digits and starts with a five, so the old days for me are truly the early years of Microsoft), TechEd was for IT pros and the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) was for developers. Life was simple. But then a funny thing happened. Technology—and not just at Microsoft—got a bit more complex, all sorts of lines were blurring, and before you could blink an eye, TechEd was chock-full of all sorts of developer content. TechEd never had quite the same level of development content as PDC, and it always had a slightly different focus. Although TechEd certainly did take on a pretty heavy developer focus, it was still one of the leading events for IT pros as well.

There’s a lot to be said for having a single massive conference that covers all Microsoft-centric IT pro and development topics. In fact, it makes tremendous sense to have both types of content at a single event because the lines between developers and IT pros are blurry for a large number of professionals. How much can you shoehorn into a single week? In a Monty Python sort of way, it’s sometimes hard to fit in just one more wafer-thin mint. Would it be possible for Microsoft to continue to grow TechEd bigger and bigger? Maybe. But the topic is moot because Microsoft has decided to split the shows.

But wait! What if you really do need to learn a little bit about both sides of the house? Can you go to both shows? Theoretically, the answer is yes. But from a practical perspective, it’s naïve to think that people will have the time or money to attend both events. And even if you did attend both events, your brain would be mush from two weeks of intense conference learning.

According to Microsoft’s TechED FAQ, “In the IT world there are some grey areas between Developers and IT Professionals and some mixed job functions, for example on the database side. Therefore, Tech•Ed Developers will offer some IT infrastructure sessions to cover mixed job functions. Tech•Ed IT Professionals will offer some developer content to address the holistic view of Microsoft’s Application Platform.”

Microsoft nailed it when it said that some jobs are in the grey area between IT and development. For the most part, I think that splitting the show into two conferences makes sense, and I think it will be easy for most people to select which show they attend. However, as the Microsoft platform continues to grow and evolve, I wonder if anything will be lost for the brave database folks out there who truly do need to navigate both worlds. I’m thankful that there are still major events, such as PASS and SQL Server Connections, that cater to folks who think of themselves as “SQL Server professionals” rather than as developers or IT pros.

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