PDC2008: A Day in the Life #2

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Here we are…one month later with the second post in a series about the PDC2008 Content Owner role. If you don’t know what a Content Owner does, I’d recommend reading PDC2008: A Day in the Life #1 for context. As mentioned in the prior post, one of my responsibilities is to coordinate and drive two meetings each week with many representatives from across Microsoft. The members of this team are critical thinkers who help define, create, and shape the content we’ll present at PDC2008 in October. But how do we select our content? How do we know which sessions make sense and which ones don’t?

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that many Microsoft employees have an engineering mind-set, and we tend to want everything defined in terms of an algorithm (yes, I’m guilty too). But when it comes to content, though we do have many measures and metrics, a bunch of smart people talking and arguing about what makes the most sense provides the secret ingredient. And that’s okay! That’s why we spend so much time in meetings. Embrace the power of the human brain, I say!

For a big event like PDC, a lot of our product teams want to present sessions on their latest technology. As a matter of fact, I receive e-mail almost daily asking how to integrate “these 10 sessions,” or asking “how do we get our own track?” If we accepted every suggestion, we’d probably end up with over 500 sessions, and we have neither the space nor the time to deliver that many (not to mention the feedback we receive from attendees that tells us to keep the session count reasonable).

Here are some of the filters we use to vet our topics:

  • Does the topic relate to the overall theme of the event?
    If not, it likely won’t help us tell a strategic and coherent story, and it may even be confusing. According to our surveys, attendees use the PDC to help set the future direction of their own products and technologies, and as a result, we owe it to you to stay on-theme.
  • Does the topic provide guidance?
    If the content of a session is simply a tour of an API without any guidance, we’ll weed it out. Likewise, if the content could be found in the documentation or in a SDK, it doesn’t make sense at the conference. Many times, the only place to get PDC content is actually at the event or by watching one of the session recordings.
  • Is the topic germane to leading-edge developers and architects?
    PDC is the Professional Developers Conference, after all, and the content must be useful to our primary audiences. Otherwise, we delete it.
  • When does the topic’s related technology release?
    Because we’re a strategic conference, we optimize for the future. As a result, we don’t spend as much time on shipping products or technologies. When we do, it’s a deep dive (like Silverlight Graphics Pipelines) or an all-day pre-conference session. We like to say that we deliver this kind of content PDC Style.
  • How deeply can we cover the topic?
    PDC is known for its deep content, and we have many sessions that can only be delivered by the actual Microsoft architects or developers. Other than keynotes and a handful of 200-level sessions to set context, we prefer 300-level, scenario-focused sessions and select 400-level deep dives.
  • Does the topic make more sense at another event?
    Or in other words, does it only make sense at PDC? If a session could be presented more effectively at another event like MIX or Tech·Ed, we won’t include it at PDC.

There are other filters, but these are the most important. Also, PDC is frequently used to announce new products and technologies, and for those topics, we tend to allocate more sessions simply because the content is brand new.

As you can imagine, with a “budget” that limits the total sessions we can deliver, this really becomes an exercise in weeding out inappropriate content, prioritizing the best content, and often times combining two or more sessions into one. This last tactic has a desirable outcome, because it generally forces multiple topics or technologies to come together and provide clear guidance, rationalization, or differentiation.

Okay…here’s where you come in. While we could easily fill all of our session slots with topics suggested by internal teams, I’d like to ask which specific topics you’d like us to cover. To set expectations appropriately, I can’t promise that just because a topic is suggested here that it will be represented at PDC2008, but I can promise that every suggestion that is added to feedback will be reviewed and considered by someone on our content team. While we’re at it, are there any Microsoft speakers you’d really like to hear from? If you have other colleagues or friends who may have input, please send them our way.

Thanks in advance for your participation!