Happy Birthday DEC?

Or should I say Happy Conception Day?

I received an email last week from Alan Isham of Intel (formerly the product manager for AD within Intel IT) reminding me that it was the 4th anniversary of our conversation that resulting in the creation of the Directory Experts Conference.

Alan and I met at the Philadelphia AD Summit (December 2001) where I had presented on AD programming or some such. I forget how we met exactly, I think Alan found me. I asked what he thought of the Summit, and his response (typical of the W2K RDP/JDP members) was that it was far too basic. At the time, all of the public conferences related to AD were focused on things like "What is a directory?", "Why do I want to migrate?", "What is an OU?", etc. Oh yeah, and "DNS? What's wrong with WINS?" By that time, Intel had been running AD in production for more than a year, and was well beyond simple issues like that. Alan showed me some of the AD-related stuff they were doing at Intel, and we lamented the lack of good publically available AD information. IIRC, wine was involved.

At some point I said, "Look, Intel is not the only company in this boat. NetPro is too, and so are all the RDP/JDP companies. Why don't you call up the guys you know, I'll call the guys I know, and lets get together someplace and just talk about lessons learned. Maybe we can get a couple of MSFT guys to show up as well." I was thinking that we would get maybe 10-20 people in a room at a Holiday Inn some place, order some pizzas, and geek out about AD for a day or two. So off we went to call our friends and see who we could get to come.

When I mentioned the idea to Christine McDermott, our VP of Marketing, she said, "Oh, a conference! This is geat! We'll get a nice hotel and a some speakers, and we'll charge everyone a few hundred bucks to attend."

I was dubious. "No, we can't charge anything for this... no one would come. It's just a get together... we'll get some pizzas, some beer, and hang out."

Christine insisted. "You'll actually get more people to attend if you charge for it. We can turn it into a real conference."

Our CEO liked Christine's take on it, and I was sort of resigned to the idea of not getting anyone to come because it was too expensive. No worries. Even if Christine's conference idea didn't work out, I could still do the pizza thing. Some people wil do anything for pizza. We scheduled the first DEC for May in Scottsdale, AZ, just down the street from the NetPro office.

I started bird-dogging people to speak, and managed to get Stuart Kwan, the newly minted Group Program Manager for AD, to speak. as well as Wook Lee from Compaq. Stuart brought Andreas Luther, who had been supporting the RDP/JDP customers. Alan got some other people lined up, including Robbie Allen from Cisco. Dung Hoang-Khac from HP France spoke on AD and Exchange, and Guido (a lot of HP guys were involved in this DEC!) spoke on delegation. Mike McHargue, who had been responsible for the US Army's AD design also spoke, along with a handful of others. All-in-all, we had 12 presenters, 17 sessions (including roundtables). I think we had about 40-50 people attend (which you will notice was about 3 times what I was thinking of originally. Even though they had to pay $300. I guess Christine was right.)

Sadly, at the last minute, Alan had to drop out; some problems with Intel's legal eagles, and implied endorsements, or something like that... it was never really clear. It took a couple of years to get that sorted out so that Alan could attend the conference he helped start. How messed up is that? Lets hear it for the lawyers! Woo-hoo!

Probably the most fun was Wook's "When Bad Things Happen to Good Directories" session, and his "Stupid Directory Tricks" roundtable. I forget the exact circumstance, but Stuart and Wook nearly came to blows during the roundtable. "Your directory sucks!" "Does not!" "Does too!" "Does not!" "Your mama!", etc. It's that Korean feistiness I'll bet. Stuart took all the attendees (no kidding.... he invited everyone.) out to see the latest Star Wars. Attack of the Clones perhaps? I forget.

We took DEC to Amsterdam that fall, and things sort of snowballed from there. DEC attendence has grown about 20-30% each conference, and this next DEC in Vegas we are expecting somewhere between 400 and 500 people. DEC really hit a pain-point in the market.

The thing that I like most about DEC is the way it wins for so many different constituents.

  • NetPro wins because we get some great market exposure and we get to meet with customers and potential customers in an environment focused on technology (except when its focused on beer and poker... a topic for another post).
  • The MSFT AD product team wins because they get to meet with their core customers and talk about nothing other than AD and related technologies. DEC is much better than TechEd in that regard. Stuart has commented that if there was only one conference he could attend, it would be DEC.
  • Attendees win because they get great higher-end technical sessions that aren't generally available elsewhere, and they get lots of opportunities to network with experts who are in the same boat they are.
  • Speakers win, especially those new to the public-speaking business, because of the friendly environment and inherently interested attendees. Several people have started their public speaking careers at DEC, including Guido Grillenmeier and Robbie Allen, which I think is really cool.

So that's the story of how DEC started, in a nutshell.