TechMentor Redmond 2017 – the short(ish) version

What is TechMentor? The answers range from the serious business case to the snarky, depending whom you ask and when. The short answer: it’s a tech conference focused on education for IT Professionals. The long answer can be found here on their site.  For me, it’s a recharging of my mental batteries and a chance to learn a lot and see some fellow IT folk I only see at these things.

I’m not going to do a day by day because this is 5 full days of learning, both from the speakers and the fellow attendees. I promised a short post so here it goes!

1. We are not doing enough for security (duh) and we’re not alone in that. While our situation isn’t as dire as some, it’s not as good as it can be. After this week I have the tools needed to address some of this.  

2. I could be wringing a lot more use out of Azure Active Directory for not alot more money. Things like Dynamic Groups based on user’s AD attributes and assigning Office 365 features based on group membership.

3. We all need to move from “Classic IT” to “Modern IT”. That is, from spending time redeploying software and images on OEM pc’s to simply updating what came on them to what the business user needs to function. *Hint* The Windows Configuration Designer is key here for SMB’s. This feeds into the concept of Windows as a Service.

4. If you’re going to make good training videos, the gear and the environment is as important as the software to record. A LOT of dollars can be spent to generate professional grade educational videos, but it also appears that if you aren’t TOO picky, you can get moderate grade gear for a couple of hundred bucks.

5. Building custom Desired State Configuration Resources isn’t as hard as I thought. It’s not EASY, but if you can build a function and know a few tricks of formatting it’s do-able. That’s my first blush after a good intro to the subject this week. We’ll see if I feel the same after I get knee-deep into making one. Good thing I met an expert or two on this.

6. REST and SOAP calls in PowerShell aren’t nearly as complicated when you have a good teacher walk you through it. What can be complicated is the what you do  with the info you get back. This has some really interesting ideas churning in my head.

7. Regular Expressions aren’t as hard when you understand what the engine is doing behind the scenes. It’s also good to have a tool test your expressions before you turn it loose in the world.

That’s seven key takeaways in broad strokes. Now to use a “bonus thing” I learned and deconstruct those broad items into projects and tasks.

Not bad for 5 days…..

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Avoiding Post-Ignite Flameout

Or should it be “Post Ignition Charring”?
We all know the feeling. You just spent a week or so at a major conference (we’re looking at you, Microsoft Ignite), getting your head crammed with new and exciting tech things. Now you are back at work and you have to digest it all and decide what to implement, how to implement it, what to investigate further. It can be overwhelming and rather than letting this surge of creative ideas fade, here’s some suggestions on how to ride the wave and not be drowned by it.

  1. Divide and conquer – Grab a sheet of paper or open your favorite note taking software and make a list of all the interesting new things you heard about. It doesn’t need to have a great deal of detail at this point, we’re just capturing the first glance for now. Now that you have a list, go down it and split it into two lists.
    • The first is “Learn for (Insert employer)”. This is stuff that is now, or will be soon part of your daily work. The stuff you have to stay on top of to keep those paychecks flowing. Also this is probably the reasons they sent you to that big conference in the first place, so it’s probably smart to show that return on investment for them.
    • The second list is “Learn for career”. Here’s where you put all the stuff that you know is going to be relevant for some time but your current employer doesn’t use or doesn’t use yet. For example, Desired State Configuration, Azure cloud services, etc. These are the things that you have to learn on your own to stay relevant in a rapidly changing tech world.
  2. Triage – Go through each list and separate each of them in to two or even three lists. These are based on order of implementation or time frame of implementation.
    • Currently Available – these are the things that are actually available now. You could install or buy this today and start working on implementing. Of course there is a testing phase and all of that, but these are things that are ready to go now.
    • Coming “Real Soon”™ – these are the things that are currently in beta/tech preview that will be important, but can’t really be used now in main production. Do not neglect these because you want to be ready when the final version is released. Ideally you would have already been playing with the beta in your lab. (You do have a lab right?)
    • Interesting – This is that catch all for things that you aren’t sure if it’ll really catch fire like Windows PowerShell did a few years ago or if it will just smolder on then eventually fade away like the Microsoft Zune.
  3. Ranking – Now take the first two lists and put them in order.
    • The first list – the one for work- should be ranked in order of fastest to deploy and adopt. It’s better to roll out something smaller and show some ROI rather than spending 6 months deploying a huge megalithic project first. It’s a snowball effect to get and maintain momentum. Not to mention that a few visible wins will help garner buy-in from other teams.
    • The second list should be in order of release. If something is due out the summer of next year you have some time to get ready. Things due out this summer, not so much.

Now that you have your items at least roughly organized, start working on the details of the first item on your Work-Currently Available list. Go back and watch the video of the sessions related that you missed. Then get a test environment going and do all of your normal “new project” steps.

Once that’s underway take the first item off your “Career – Currently Available” and start boning up. Do not neglect this list! Arguably this list of things that are currently available and relevant to your career but not your current job is the most important list. It’s the list of things you are behind on. Run it on your home lab, watch video sessions, whatever it takes but get up to speed. You don’t particularly have to be a world class expert. You should just be familiar enough so that you can confidently jump in and quickly get up to pace in the event that the tech in question jumps from the “Career” list to the “Work” list.

So just a few tips to help corral the stampede of information flooding in after any big conference. Enjoy!

The fuse for Ignite is lit!

Less than  5 days from now I’ll be winging my way to Chicago for Microsoft Ignite!
Tech-Ed last year was phenomenal and had a tremendous impact on my outlook on our industry. I can’t say enough good things about how these types of events are crucial for the IT pro in a small/medium business. This year with the combined Ignite conference, it’s even bigger and with even more things to learn and people to meet.

Let me tell you my week is BOOKED! Sunday is badge and materials pick up first thing in the morning, then on to a full day pre-conference session on Windows 10 Deployment. Sunday night I’m going to call it a night early to do some last minute review for the 70-411 Administering Windows Server 2012 exam I’m going to take instead of lunch on Monday.
The exams are half off with a free retake in 30 days so I figure what the heck right?

The rest of Monday is going to be keynotes and sessions.I’m really interested to see if there are going to be any announcements for Windows 10. The latest ‘leaked’ info is late July. Maybe Satya Nadella will give us a solid target date! Monday evening is the opening of the Expo and this year it’s tied in with the Ask the Experts so that should be interesting and fun. I have a list of people to meet. Some of them are to shake their hand and thank them for their work, some to pick their brains, and quite a few of both. The top of the list are the PowerShell.org guys and of course the Microsoft guys. This year I’m going to come out of my shell a bit and get some pictures and signatures,

Tuesday-Friday is all classes wall to wall! In most cases, I’m at least double and sometimes triple booked. That may seem strange at first but as the week progresses things may pop up that change your focus. Like for example last year PowerShell was a minor thread when I arrived in Houston for Tech-Ed but by Tuesday it was the major thing I wanted to hear more about. That caused me to be scurrying to change schedules midweek. I learned quickly that having a fallback schedule in case the room fills or your focus shifts is a good idea.

Then of course there are the happy hours, the vendor parties, the Microsoft parties, and all the social stuff going on all week. There should be no lack of things to do, food to eat and people to meet! On an interesting side note, I find our from our Marketing department at work that one of the biggest “Marketing and Design” conferences is also in Chicago that same week! So downtown Chicago should be rocking all week!

With this being a “new” conference melded from several other conferences ( Exchange, SharePoint, etc) there are some new things that are kind of cool. Like for example there is a Yammer network dedicated to the event. There is a method of publishing your schedule, which may or may not turn out to be a good thing. All in all , it seems like there is even more focus on social media and cloud this year.

So to wrap this up here’s the goals for this year:

    1. Learn more about Windows 10
    2. Learn about Office 365 migrations and ROI
    3. Learn everything they’ll tell about Windows Nano Server
Plus I have a small list of other questions to ask specific vendors.
So I’ve got a big week next week. That makes this week all cram and prep and make sure everything at work is locked down so I’m not distracted by problems back at the office.