This is my story of how I was able to attend five TechEd conferences by volunteering for staffing.  It started out as a single article several weeks ago…and it grew, and it grew, and, when I hit the 3000 word mark and I still wasn’t finished with it, I decided I was getting into TL;DR territory, so, I’ve broken it into three parts.  This is part one.

Catchy title, huh?  If you’re expecting this to be an article describing TechEd/Ignite, what it is and what it does, it isn’t. This is the story of how I was able to attend five TechEds, three in the US and two in Europe by volunteering for whatever staffing Microsoft needed.

Getting There

There are essentially three ways you can get in the door:

  1. This is what most folks do.  If you’re rich or have some form of company support, the stated price to attend is $2395.  If you’re an MVP, you get a $300 price break, bringing the price to $2095.  If you’re not well heeled, or have no company support, this is a prohibitive price.  To be sure, you’ll get your money’s worth, but not that many folks I know, including me, can just arbitrarily pony up that kind of money, particularly on a yearly basis.
  2. Speaking/Presenting/Training. If you’re a current MVP, RD (Regional Director), or MCT (Microsoft Certified Trainer) with the desire to present at Microsoft Ignite., this is the way to go.  The primary focus of this event is education and training, if that’s what you do, Microsoft puts out a Community Call for Content each year and this year is no exception.  This year’s call has just recently been made public - Microsoft Ignite 2019 Community Call for Content.
  3. Volunteering as support staff. This was the magic ticket for my adventures!  I simply have never been in a position to afford the full or the MVP reduced prices, but, by golly, I’ll happily give you 40+ hours of work in exchange for an entry.  I started volunteering in 2010 and have continued to volunteer every year since.  So far, this has paid off six times and I’ve been able to take advantage of five of them.

Teched North America 2010, New Orleans, LA

This was my very first trip!  I had no idea what to expect, but I was overjoyed at having been selected.  Like all my Teched trips, transportation, housing, and food above and beyond the breakfast and lunch provided at the event were on my nickel.  I thought I did really well by finding a hotel that was literally right across the street from the Morial Convention Center.  What I didn’t know was that the convention center was the better part of a mile long, the hotel was right across from the northern third of the center and TechEd was being held in the southern end!  So, it was walk across the street, enter the center, then walk a half mile or so South – at least is was air conditioned!  The heat, as it turns out, is something I wasn’t prepared for.  I’m from southern Arizona, so I’m used to heat…DRY heat.  I’ll take 120° F at 8% humidity to both the temperature and the humidity above 90 any day of the week and twice on Sunday!

I found, once I got there, that there would be a pre-event meeting where we’d learn what tasks we were assigned.  My assignment was to help out at the MVP booth on the display floor, so off I headed to find the booth.  When I located it, I found a pleasant lady and her husband setting up the booth.  Her name is Paulette Suddarth, his, Terry Suddarth and both are delightful folks; we became good friends pretty much instantly.  I had no idea at the time just exactly who Paulette was, just that she oversaw the MVP booth, was a delightful person, and fun to hang out with.  I would later learn that she was responsible for setting up the whole conference, plus the MVP Summits, the European TechEds, and just about every other major Microsoft event, so it was my lucky day.

My job at the booth was to help make commemorative "Rockstar" magazine laptop skins.  Paulette had a camera setup along with rockstar props – outlandish hats, shirts, long hair wigs, prop guitars, etc.  Folks would come by and don rockstar clothing.  We’d then take a photo, superimpose the photo an a blank “Rockstar Magazine” cover, and print it on a laptop skin which they could put on anything they liked – they were very well received, so well that there was usually a waiting line during the breaks between sessions.  Printing, as it turns out, would have a major in my next three trips.

Teched Europe 2010, Berlin, Germany

This was my first trip overseas!  The farthest I’d been out of the country prior to this trip was Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, the town across the border from Douglas, AZ., my hometown, and Berlin Germany to boot – way too cool!!  The hotel I chose was less than a block away from an underground rail station, so getting to and from the convention center was a piece of cake.  By the way, here’s my big tip for sightseeing in Berlin – make your way to the central buss hub by the Aquarium (pretty much any bus and the underground railway system all wind up there) and take the number 100 bus, it will take you within walking distance of virtually all the important sites, the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gates, Checkpoint Charlie, the good stuff!!  At the end of the line, the 200 bus takes you back to the Aquarium.

This trip actually started out as a mistake that turned into a roaring success on a number of different fronts.  My MVP award category at that time was “Windows Printing and Imaging”…imaging as in pictures, specifically, the Windows Fax and Scan service (you DO remember faxes, right?).  Someone at the selection committee for the event somehow got that confused with imaging as in systems and hard drives, as I discovered, once I got there.  My job was helping staff the Windows Deployment Toolkit booth where I’d be demonstrating its usage.  We all sort of had that “deer in the headlights” look when I announced I’d never seen the MDT before and didn’t know it existed, much less how to use it.  “Well, sorry about that, please do the best you can…you can be our Swag handout person!”  Yeah, OK, I can do that, but handing out swag really isn’t why I came all this way.  I did as requested the first day and a half, but I paid CLOSE attention to the demos.  By the end of the second day, I’d seen enough, I downloaded the toolkit that night, installed it on my little netbook, and started exploring with a vengeance!  By midday, the next day, I did my first demo all by myself…oh, and I handed out swag, too.

Fate works in truly mysterious ways, sometimes.  I wasn’t back to Tucson a week before my boss comes to me and tells me the newsroom just ordered 75 new PCs, they all needed to be setup the same way with the same applications installed, did I have any ideas on how to accomplish this?  Funny you should ask; I’d just learned all about the correct tool for the job!!  The PCs all came in, I setup and deployed an image with the MDT and life was truly beautiful!  Twist of fate number two was at the MVP summit following TechEd where I ran into a couple of the European MVPs who were also working the MDT booth.  I told them rather sheepishly I was sorry I didn’t know the product better and wasn’t more help with the demos and such.  To my utter surprise, they told me they astonished that someone could pick up the MDT as an unknown and be able to demo it two days later…totally floored me to hear that!!

That’s all for part one, check back next week for the second installment of this three-part article