Posts Tagged ‘Conference’

Conference or Course? Where Should I Spend my Training Budget?

I started work in the era of Stephen Covey and the ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ craze. Heck I was even sent on a 7 Habits course and given a 7 habits daytimer! One of the 7 habits was to ‘Sharpen the Saw’ which amounts to the importance of spending time improving yourself and learning. The IT world changes so fast! You have to keep learning to keep up! The smartest employers recognize this and invest in training for their employees.

I am busy getting ready for TechDays Canada, and also preparing to present to Microsoft Certified Trainers (MCT) at the MCT Summit. I spent 10 years teaching Microsoft courses and I have presented and attended numerous conferences over the years. I know that most of us are faced with limited budgets and time for training. You have to make the most out of your training time! Sometimes you are forced to choose between attending a conference and taking a course. I want to give you an honest comparison of the two options so you can make the best decision!

Criteria

Conference


Course

Cost Tend to be $200-$400 a day, but often have significant early bird discounts or promo codes. Tip: Decide and book early! Tend to be $300-$500 a day,
Tip: Check websites or call and ask the sales staff if there are any promotions and discounts.
Travel The bigger the conference the more likely you are to need to travel.Many user groups will organize events locally, for example TechDays may be in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver this year, but we are sponsoring locally organized events like DevTeach in Ottawa, Prairie DevCon in Winnipeg and Calgary. The more specific the course and the more obscure the topic the more likely you are to need to travel.If you are just looking for the basic how to code .NET, how to use SharePoint you should be able to find that nearby.
The Wow factor Imagine if you had attended Build and received the free slates with Windows 8 installed! Keynotes with big names and announcements! Product booths where you can play with the newest tech toys! The wow factor in a course comes from your desire to learn what it taught in that course and having those ‘aha’ moments when you finally get it!
Topic Breadth Conferences will cover a broader array of topics than a course Courses will cover a lot of material on one specific topic
Topic Depth Due to the length of sessions, you rarely get great depth in a conference, but keep an eye out for pre and post-conference sessions that frequently offer deeper dives for an extra fee Courses will go into much more depth on a specific topic
Current technology Conferences are generally the best places to learn about the latest and greatest tools and features Because it takes time to develop courseware, and you need a certain momentum in the market with a product to sell a course, courses tend to be one version behind the current release. But occasionally you can find a one day new features course or a seminar on a new release.
Immediate help with your current role If you pick the right conference and attend the right sessions, you will definitely walk away with something you can use the moment you get back to work. When we pick sessions for TechDays that is actually one of our criteria. If a conference has a partner expo that can be a goldmine as well, those partners have some great tools and resources, not just t-shirts and pens! Check the conference website and look at session lists to make sure this is the right conference for you. If you have selected the right course, you should be able to use what you learn right away.  Read the course outline to make sure this course is going to cover topics that apply to you. For example there are a dozen SQL Server courses, do you want to learn how to write reports with Reporting Services? or do you want to master T-SQL? or do you want to learn how to do backups? Each skill is in a different course. Even if you have already worked with the product for a while, taking a course can be worthwhile to pick up a few new tricks! But if you have 3 years experience with the product, you shouldn’t expect to get as much from the course as someone with 2 months experience with the product.
Help with your career long-term If you are looking to move into a senior technical role, you want a conference that talks about design, architecture, application lifecycle methodologies like Agile (hint: TechDays Architecture track)If you are looking to move into a management role you may want to complement those design and ALM skills with a conference aimed at managers and project management. If you are looking for a senior technical role, you want to try and find a course that talks about design, Application Lifecycle Methodologies, and architecture. I’ll be honest, these courses are tough to find, so if you find one that works for you, re-arrange your schedule and take it!If you are looking to get into a management role, there are lots of courses out there to teach you project management skills.
Asking Questions Conferences will have a Q&A at the end of each session, and a good conference will have some sort of open area where you can talk to speakers (some sort of Ask The Experts zone) but you may have to miss a session to find time to talk to your expert. However you can usually get email addresses for the speakers to follow up with them outside the conference. You will have much more opportunity to ask an instructor questions than a speaker at a conference. It’s simply a question of time and the number of people learning. It’s easier to take questions over a week across 12 students than when you are presenting a session to 150.
Hands On Time with Product More conferences are discovering the value in giving attendees hands on time with a product. For example we have Instructor Led Labs at TechDays where you get to actually walk through an exercise on your laptop during the session. But not all conferences offer hands on product time. Most courses will include lab exercises so you get a chance to reinforce what you learn.
Networking Conferences have more people attending and are generally better for networking. They often have social events, or luncheons where you can talk to other attendees.
Keep an eye out for opportunities to network with the speakers as well at Product booths and Ask The Expert areas
You meet a smaller group on a course, but that smaller group is interested in the exact same topics as you, so you are more likely to find a kindred spirit who has faced the same challenges as you, and don’t forget the instructor is a good contact as well. If you ask nicely, many instructors are willing to share their contact information, as long as you promise not to ask them to debug your code, or architect your next solution for them by email.

THE WINNER IS…

It depends! You knew that was coming didn’t you? Hopefully I’ve given you a few things to consider if you have to choose. If you just started on a new team and have never used the tool, maybe this year you need a course, but if you are simply looking to grow in your current role, get excited about your job again by picking up some new tips and geeking out with some fellow fans of Big Bang Theory. Join us at Techdays! I’ll see you there!

This blog is also posed on the Canadian Developer Connection

Visual Studio Hands On Labs for FREE!

VS2010WhiteBackgroundThere are a lot of different ways to learn a product or feature. You can watch videos, you can read blogs and articles. You can download training kits and developer guides. These work very well when you have a sandbox to play in, somewhere you can try out the features and code shown in the articles and blogs. But what if you don’t have anywhere to try it out? What if trying something out requires having a sample project as a starting point? Kind of hard to see how to complete testing faster using Test Manager without a project to test or Test Manager! Hard to try out software architecture features without Visual Studio Ultimate and an architecture to explore!

Technology to the rescue! With the rise in popularity and capabilities of virtual machines, more and more product groups are providing Hands On Labs inside virtual machines complete with all the software and sample projects to make it easy for you to try out lots of cool features. Case in point, Brian Keller, an evangelist for Visual studio wrote a blog announcing the Visual Studio team has a Virtual Machine with Visual Studio 2010 RTM loaded with sample data and they have even provided a set of manuals you can use to complete a series of different hands on lab experiences.

You may only use Visual Studio to edit and deploy your code, but there is so much more hiding in there!

Ever wondered how Visual Studio can help you with testing? Check out these labs

  • Authoring and Running Manual Tests using Microsoft Test Manager 2010
  • Introduction to Test Case Management with Microsoft Test Manager 2010
  • Introduction to Coded UI Tests with Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate
  • Debugging with IntelliTrace using Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate
  • Using Code Analysis with Visual Studio 2010 to Improve Code Quality
  • Introduction to Exploratory Testing with Microsoft Test Manager 2010
  • Introduction to Platform Testing with Microsoft Test Manager 2010
  • Introduction to Quality Tracking with Visual Studio 2010
  • Introduction to Test Planning with Microsoft Test Manager 2010

Interested in how Visual Studio can help you discover the architecture of a project (since we have been talking about how to handle code without documentation)? Check out these labs

  • Code Discovery using the architecture tools in Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate
  • Understanding Class Coupling with Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate
  • Using the Architecture Explore in Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate to Analyze Your Code

Has ITIL arrived at your company and is everyone asking you about your processes and configuration management? Check out these labs.

  • Planning your Projects with Team Foundation Server 2010
  • Branching and Merging Visualization with Team Foundation Server 2010

You can download the labs here. You can even choose between Hyper-V, Virtual PC 2007, or Windows 7 Virtual PC! There is more detail about the virtual machines, the labs and how to use them at Brian Keller’s blog post “Now Available: Visual Studio 2010 RTM Virtual Machine with Sample Data and Hands-on-Labs”.

Todays Top 5

5 Reasons to check out Tech Days Canada 2011 (in person or online)

  1. For the first time, we will have Hands On Labs at the event! (See the top 5 is related to the blog post Winking smile). Bring your laptop to the show, try out the features you have been hearing about on the blogs on all kinds of products!
  2. For the first time, we will have Instructor Led Labs at the event! If you find self paced labs don’t give you enough information, there will be several instructor led labs where you can bring your laptop and walk through a lab with the presenter!
  3. There will be Hands On Labs online! If you can’t make it to TechDays in person, we will be hosting lots of great labs throughout the year from the TechDays website.
  4. Free WiFi – yes we heard you, and yes we listened, and yes we will have free WiFi this year.
  5. Bigger better TechDays Online – We will be launching an expanded and richer TechDays Online later this year to provide you with great content throughout the year!

This blog is also posted on the  Canadian Solution Developer Blog

YOU could be an MCT sooner than you think!

EDU2011_7028_Jennifer_cmykAbout ten years ago, I was awarded my Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) certification, I can honestly say I have never looked back. I really love being an MCT and being part of the MCT community. MCTs are geeks with personality. If you are passionate technology and like sharing your knowledge, consider becoming an MCT! There is something incredibly motivating and empowering about being able to help people master a concept or a technology. At the MCT Summit in October there is a fantastic promotion to help you earn your MCT, details are at the end of this post, but first I’d like to help you understand what it means to be an MCT.

Many consultants have an MCT certification. Training is a different skill, but can make a fun break from 6 month contracts writing code or doing OS upgrades. Some consultants discover they like training so much they do it full time.  The skills you develop earning your MCT certification and through the MCT program will also improve your credibility and your skills as a consultant. If you really love the classroom, you can become a full time contract trainer, or some training centers have full time instructors on staff, so you can have the stability of a full time job with the constant change and fun of teaching different courses to different students. It can be a lot of fun, make no mistake it can also be a lot of work, but it is a lot of fun. Imagine earning a living where your job description is to learn and stay on top of the latest technology and then share it with others!

Teaching a course can seem intimidating at first, you worry that there will be students in the class who know more about some aspects of the product than you do. Guess what, that will happen. But every student is in class to learn what you know and I can assure you that every student in that room can learn something from you! When you walk in front of that class, you are already seen as the expert, share what you know effectively, admit to what you don’t know, when you get questions you cannot answer be honest, research the question and get back to them with an answer. The students will leave happy and talking about what a great instructor you are.

Sometimes you introduce a feature that is completely new to a student, when the student finally “gets it”, when they understand how this feature will help them, how they can apply it at work, seeing the light go on in their eyes is addictive . You can see the excitement as they imagine looking like heroes when they walk back to the office Monday morning and show everyone this feature. You are really helping them with their day to day jobs, with their projects, with their careers!

There are other small aspects I enjoyed about training. Getting evaluations every Friday from my students. When you get a performance evaluation at work it always focuses on what you have to improve. To get any praise you have to go way above and beyond expectations. Students will praise you for simply meeting their expectations. It’s true! If you take a course and you leave feeling like you learned a lot, you will leave happy and you will say so on the resume. There is nothing quite like reading “The instructor is awesome” to start off your weekend right. I’ll let you in on another little secret about training, the students don’t generally want to listen to you lecture at 4:30 on Friday, so you often (not always, but often) get to go home a bit early on Fridays Smile

Of course eventually you will have one of “those” weeks. A week where technical problems are causing you pain, or a particular student is being difficult, or (yes it happens) you discover you should have spent more time preparing for the class and the students know it. Like any other job it has its highs and lows. But at least when you are teaching a course, the lows end when the course ends on Friday Winking smile.

Working as an MCT also can open up other opportunities, I’ve had the opportunity to write courseware, get involved in certification exam development, work at Microsoft conferences, author or review books, meet an incredible network of other MCTs from all other the world who I would happily meet for a drink (and frequently do) when our travels find us in the same town. The MCT community is another great benefit of earning the certification. MCTs tend to be intelligent, outgoing, supportive, and friendly, and in general excellent company.

So that’s my story, there are MCTs all over Canada, in fact we are now making it easier for Canadian MCTs to connect through the MCT Canada Rock Stars on Born To Learn (you do need to be an MCT to access this forum, if you aren’t signed in, clicking the link will take you to the sign in page, click the link again after signing in to visit our forum). Have I sparked your interest? Then read on to find out about a great opportunity to get jump start your MCT certification and at a discount!

The 2011 North America MCT Summit offers a unique opportunity to anyone who’s ever thought about becoming an MCT. A 1.5 day bootcamp style Train the Trainer event will be offered the Tuesday before and the Wednesday during the MCT Summit. This event will satisfy the requirement for proving instructional presentation skills for the MCT credential.

Due to the nature of the event, there will be some prep work that will be required beforehand. The prep work will be sent out to all TTT attendees beforehand. There will also be homework on the Tuesday to ensure success.

You can expect a very busy 1.5 days. During the event, you’ll work on your instructional skills to improve your effectiveness as a trainer. As a trainer you never stop working to improve, and the course will also help you work on a personal action plan for continuing your development.

Hopefully this event will be the starting point of a career as an MCT.

Beside the style of the event, this is unique in the timing and cost as well.

The timing is right before the MCT Summit, and entry to the event includes your fee for the MCT Summit. The MCT Summit is a conference for MCTs by MCTs. It’s an amazing chance to network with colleagues, who often become friends, and improve both technical and presentational skills.

On top of that, the fee for the TTT will also include the fee for the remainder of the MCT enrollment period, which ends in April of 2012 and normally costs $400 USD.

So if you are considering becoming an MCT, this is a great opportunity. I’ll be at the MCT summit, presenting, and talking to MCTs.  If you have any questions about MCT certification, the Summit, or life as an MCT, drop me a line (sibach@microsoft.com).

Hope to see you in San Francisco!

This post is also available on Canadian Developer Connection

Get Excited About Your Job Again–TechEd

DSCN0091We’ve all been there, you start a new job and you have to learn new technology, new processes, new office politics. But after a while you settle into a routine, you get the hang of the technology, you get to know the people and the procedures. It is easy to settle into a rut. The first time my boss offered to send me to a conference, I’ll be honest, I was excited because it was in Orlando and I had never been to Disneyworld. But that changed very quickly. But when I came back from my first TechEd at my next salary review, instead of asking for a raise, I asked to be sent to TechEd every year and that had nothing to do with visiting Donald and Goofy.

The first thing that strikes you at a conference is the people. This may sound strange, but at a conference with several thousand people it is easy to feel alone. At a technical conference there are a lot of fellow introverts out there so you may have to be the first one to say hello. But if you make an effort to connect to a few like minded people at the show you will be well rewarded. Now I’m sure you are expecting me to tell you how meeting someone else is good networking, because they may work with the same technology you do, or have contacts that may be helpful to you. But all that aside, don’t underestimate the simple value of having a friend at the show. Connecting with anyone at the show is going to give you a better conference experience, even if they work with Active Directory and don’t understand our desire to go on about the benefits of MVC vs Web Forms.

The next thing you will notice at a big show like TechEd is the sheer number of learning opportunities. There are sessions doing deep dives on products you work with, sessions giving you sneak peeks of the features in the next version, sessions giving you an overview of products that you want to learn. There are birds of a feather and interactive discussion panels where you can ask questions or just listen to the questions asked by others. There are hands on labs where you can sit down with a product and try out different features. There is an entire area devoted to certification with coaching sessions, practice tests and a testing area to help you pass that certification exam you have been meaning to take. There is a Technical Learning Center where you can talk to product experts one on one to get answers to questions or just an overview of their product, they are *always* happy to show you what they are working on. There is a partner expo where you can find products that will help you at work (some of them are even free!) There are other attendees working with the same product as you. It’s incredible!

You can’t possibly do everything, so you prioritize, you spend a little time in sessions, you try a couple of labs, you spend a little time the exhibit hall, the entire time you are discovering features you didn’t know, best practices you can apply at work, new features coming down the pipe that will help your project, new tools that you want to try out. By the end of the show you are geeking out to the max! I always come back from a show with a mental to-do list of trial versions I want to download, sessions I want to go back and watch again online, code I want to modify, proofs of concepts I want to try out. My boss used to laugh that you could always tell when I had come back from a conference because I was full of ideas and initiatives I wanted to get underway.

So why am I telling you all this the day *after* TechEd? Well, partly because I am all pumped up about the show and dying to share the experience with you! The other reason is because there is always next year (which is back in Orlando by the way, time to go back and say hi to Goofy Smile, or there is the “name to be announced “ Microsoft developer conference September 13th in Anaheim, there are the TechDays conferences here in Canada this fall (keep watching dates will be announced soon), there is the upcoming DevTeach/ SQLTeach/ MobileTeach conference May 30th in Montreal there are the IE9/WP7 code camps, user groups, there’s the AzureFest in Waterloo, Prairie DevCon in Regina, the list goes on and on! There is no shortage of opportunities to learn with like minded people. And by the way you can access a lot of TechEd content online.

But you will get more out of these shows if you make an effort to connect with the others attending the event. Which leads me to this week’s My 5.

My 5 ways to connect at a conference

  1. Say Hi – sometimes that is all it takes, a small conversation where you ask where they work and what technology they work with is all it takes to find a conference buddy. You are not looking for a best friend, just some conversation and comraderie during the event.
  2. Twitter – Many conferences have twitter hash tags you can follow. You can join in the talk about and around the show, and there are often impromptu get togethers or tweet ups during the show. I loved the fact that I met several people at the conference who only know me as @HockeyGeekGirl
  3. Community luncheons and areas – A Women In Technology luncheon (men are welcome by the way), a SQL User group dinner, a Canadian meet up, are all great chances to meet a new ally.
  4. Breakfast and Lunch – sit at a table with someone new. There is a good chance someone sitting alone at a table would welcome an ally.
  5. Stand out – This is for the more brave of heart, but let me tell you walking around a conference center in the US wearing an NHL hockey jersey allowed me to meet lots of new people this week. Total strangers were yelling Go Sens as we crossed paths on the escalator.