05 January 2020 - Go big or go home - my experience of the ucisa bursaru and Microsoft Ignite

Go big or go home!
My experience of the ucisa bursary and Microsoft Ignite 2019

For those of you who don't know me my name is Matthew Carter-Rix and I am a Systems Engineer at the University of Wolverhampton. My role includes looking after the University's two Data Centres and the servers and storage within as well as backups, virtualisation platforms and as of late Office 365. I've recently attended the Microsoft Ignite 2019 conference in Florida.  I applied for a 2019 bursary after regretfully not applying back in 2018 when I saw some of the amazing worldwide conferences that others had been able to attend. I applied to the scheme with a 'GO BIG OR GO HOME' attitude and decided on Microsoft Ignite which is probably the biggest technical conference of the year. After a considerable amount of preparation and a mountain of paperwork it was time to go…. next stop Orlando.

My conference experience started on Sunday morning as the registration and 'swag' pickup was open at the Orange County Convention centre. I had also booked in for the conference 101 session which was a session for Ignite first timers. On arrival at the conference centre I was overwhelmed and had completely underestimated the sheer size and scale of the conference. The convention centre was HUGE!!...…7,000,000 square feet to be precise and approx. 30,000 delegates were to be expected. The 101 session by Patch and Switch was excellent and gave me some top tips for navigating and getting the most value from the conference.

In the run up to the conference I had reviewed the Ignite session catalogue and short-listed a wish list of 130 sessions from the 1600+ sessions that were available. This proved extremely valuable as it had given me lots of options and after arriving at the conference it became apparent that it would not be physically possible (a 30-minute walk) to get to and from some of the sessions.

On Monday Microsoft's CEO, Satya Nadella delivered an energised Vision Keynote  where he elucidated a vision of 'Tech Intensity' that set the tone of the conference. He defined and demonstrated this as follows:

Tech Intensity = (Tech Adoption x Tech Capability) ^ Trust

Tech Adoption
being the speed of integrating new tools and services into organisations
Tech Capability
being the freedom for users to use those new services
refers to your trust in Microsoft to enable and embrace this culture change of digital collaboration

During the keynote I was blown away by the Project Silica announcement where Microsoft teamed up with Warner Bros. to store the Superman movie on new glass storage - could this be the future for cold storage?

Over the next four and a half extremely long days I was able to attend 31 technical sessions from my wish list covering a wide variety of Microsoft technologies. These varied from 20-minute theatre sessions, to 45 & 75-minute breakout sessions and 90 minute practical workshops. I have learnt so much and have gained an insight into future tech and direction of travel over the next 12 months. The conference has also highlighted that my current skillset needs to be refreshed and has sparked personal motivation to learn. The majority of sessions are recorded and currently there are 1528 on-demand sessions available to watch online….I would highly recommend catching-up here. My personal favourite session from the week was the '45 life hacks of the Windows OS in 45 minutes', a really entertaining session by Sami Laiho and definitely worth taking a look.

I took some time away from sessions during the week to walk around the 'Hub' which I can only describe as the heart of the conference. The Hub is where you can connect with the Microsoft experts and product managers responsible for all the products and services available, it is also where all the exhibitors and sponsors are showcasing their products and services. Here I was able to fill a suitcase full of 'swag' but more importantly was able to get some feedback and comments on the Hot Topics that I took to the conference on behalf of the ucisa Infrastructure Group  - more on this in an upcoming blog post.

There was also a great social element to the Ignite conference with parties and events being held every night. Thursday night was the big party, where Microsoft took over the two Universal Studios theme parks for exclusive access. Food and drinks were free and ride lines were notably short; it really was a rare and incredible experience.


After walking 70km attending technical sessions, complete information overload and meeting some amazing people, I have to say: What an amazing and unforgettable experience it was. I would like to thank ucisa for allowing me this opportunity and making this all possible. I would highly recommend the bursary scheme to anyone who has not previously applied and remember 'GO BIG OR GO HOME'.