Thoughts about Tech-Ed 2006

As I mentioned in previous posts, I was Microsoft's largest sponsored conference a few weeks ago. I have been mulling over what I saw and heard while I was there and I feel it's time to write a little post-mortem. First point, the conference is huge. Clearly the industry loves to bring 15,000 people together from all parts of the world and all sorts of disciplines. I got to meet and speak with a myriad of customers although I clearly spent most of my time talking to developers. While the conference focuses on IT issues unrelated to C++, there are still plenty of companies whose developers write C++ code. We set up a few events targeted at these developers. Kate Gregory presented 2 break-out sessions and I presented 2 chalk talks (one on interop, one on MFC/Vista). The break-out sessions make up the bulk of the conference and attract the most customers. I heard some of the rooms overflow (such was the case for this year's LINQ talk) even though they seat hundreds of people. Here are the two break-out sessions I alluded to (keep a look-out for these as they get posted as webcasts).

  • Visual C++: IDE Features for Visual Studio 2005

This session was a walkthrough of the features in the IDE that help make C++ development more productive. There were approximately 50 people in attendance and while it was not all new information, it's always to be proficient in a tool as large and complex as Visual Studio.

  • Visual C++: Debugging and Resolving Loader Lock, and Side-by-Side Issues

This session delved deeply into the issues that developers face while writing mixed -ive/managed) code. It was designed to help a specific set of users and from the session ratings, it clearly fulfilled its purpose.

Another major "feature" of Tech-Ed is an open area dubbed the "Technical Learning Center". It's a bunch of tables and couches where people like me hang out and can talk to whoever has relevant i.e. technical) issues. Even though there are not too many C++ developers at the conference, I was the sole bastion of defense support and I had a relatively constant stream of customers. As people talked to me, I realized that their general issues were almost always the same: "What's happening with native libraries (MFC)?" and "I'm doing native/managed Interop". For the former, I would talk about the work we continue to do in MFC (e.g. MFC/Winforms integration) and Microsoft's continued investment in native technology (Vista has plenty of new Win32 APIs). For the latter, I would delve into a bunch of things, relating to the chalk talk I gave (which I blogged about earlier). In one case, I got a customer to bring his laptop and we spent an hour "upgrading" his code to C++/CLI and optimized his interop layer in the process.

All in all, it was really fascinating to see so many people focused on software development and the seemingly endless amount of innovation (however small) in our field. On the other hand, it remains a humbling experience when dealing with C++ customers as new generations really underestimate and misinterpret the issues they face. I mean, two engineers from a major oil company could barely give me an accurate estimate of how many millions of lines of C++ code they had internally, which in turn were manipulating data files that were gigabytes in size! All the while, they were asking about interop and I was so happy I could inform them of how C++/CLI is by far the best option for flexibility J