As we kick off PowerShell Summit Europe 2015, I wanted to share some decisions we've made regarding the future of the event.
When we first launched PowerShell Summit in 2013, our goal was to be the spiritual successor of the former “PowerShell Deep Dive” events held as part of Quest’s The Experts Conference (TEC) event. Dell’s acquisition of Quest eliminated TEC, and PowerShell.org worked with the PowerShell product team to create the Summit.
It’s important to understand that Microsoft has never financially supported PowerShell Summit, except for sending team members to participate and present. Microsoft wanted to ensure the Summit would continue even if Microsoft itself got distracted in one year – something which does happen – and establishing the event as independent and financially secure was a critical part of the vision. For the first two years, that meant Summit’s expenses were charged to the organizers’ personal credit cards, and then paid back once registration fees came in. With a budget of around $75,000 per year, it was a significant commitment.
Our expansion to Europe in 2014 was an attempt to make the content more readily accessible to a larger audience. Europe 2014 was also the first event where we recorded and posted all of the session content, using equipment funded entirely by members of the community. Although smaller, due to exchange rates, higher taxes, and higher overall expenses, Europe still runs a budget close to that of its US counterpart.
The format of the Summit – 45-minute session blocks – was established at the Deep Dive as a way to present a variety of content, force a tight topical scope, and provide ample time for both Q&A and mingling.
After completing both 2015 events – in North America and Europe – we decided to sit down and take a look at Summit, think back to its original goals, and see if we were still doing the best job we could to meet those goals. It’s been an interesting conversation, and we have some decisions to share.
PowerShell Summit Europe
First, we at PowerShell.org will not be proceeding with a PowerShell Summit Europe event in 2016. The two Europe Summits that we’ve held so far have been successful, but they involve many times the level of work as the North American event, mainly because everyone running the thing is eight or nine time zones away from where it’s to be held. We literally, in some cases, don’t speak the language. And, because we rely entirely on the efforts of volunteers, the additional time commitment just isn’t sustainable. It’s also personally expensive, since everyone running the event pays – out of pocket – for their international flights, hotel rooms, and so on. It’s been a big burn for our Board members, in particular.
There’s also a financial problem with the event itself. After two years, we’ve been able to get the North American event to generate enough profit that the excess income from one year can pay for the deposits on the following year – meaning the event is financially self-sufficient, and people’s personal credit cards are no longer at risk. We’ve not been able to achieve that level of financial independence for the European event, in large part due to our own ignorance of the European market, pricing, business customs, taxes, and so on. That means the European events still require someone’s personal credit card to guarantee deposits and event expenses, and it’s pretty scary for those people. So far, we’ve always paid them back – but it’s a pretty big deal to be carrying tens of thousands of dollars on your own credit card, hoping the event sells out.
So it isn’t at all that we think Europe somehow doesn’t “deserve” its own event – those of us in the USA just can’t be the ones to organize it. In speaking with several members of the community here in Stockholm during Summit 2015, they agree - the community here is more than able to make an incredible event, and organize and price it according to local needs.
PowerShell Forum: It’s Time for YOU to Get Involved
So we’ve creating an event planning guide. If you, or someone you know, would like to organize a PowerShell event in your country or region, then we’re more than happy to help. We’ll help promote it, we’ll help you get a registration website set up (the same one that Summit uses), and we’ll connect you with the product team and as many global speakers as we can to help create your content program. Ultimately, we think Europeans can do a much better job at organizing an event in Europe, but we’re happy to help as much as we can. We’ve even reserved a brand name, “PowerShell Forum,” which you’d be welcome to use if you want to.
In fact, we hope that people inside the US will also want to hold “PowerShell Forum” events in their regions. They should be a great “next step” after a smaller PowerShell Saturday event, and they offer the opportunity to fine-tune the content for that specific area. The PowerShell Summit is meant as an expert-grade, deep-dive event – but PowerShell Forum could address beginners, intermediate users, or whatever is locally needed. We believe the guide we’ve created will help remove a lot of the uncertainty and ambiguity of organizing such an event, enabling more people to “give back to the community” by setting up locally focused and regional conferences.
Also, know that PowerShell Summit Europe was hardly the only option for Europeans. For years, PowerShell MVP Tobias Weltner has held a mostly German-language PowerShell event that’s well-attended by an enthusiastic and engaged audience. European DevOps Days and TechDays events outnumber the ones held in the US, in some years. If you’re looking for a live event with solid PowerShell content, make sure you’re actually looking, because they’re out there. And, as already mentioned, we hope to work with a lot of people all over the world to help promote locally organized events that feature amazing PowerShell content. Tobias’ work in particular shows that locally organized events can be fantastic, and can in many ways be superior to having us Americans come over and fumble our way through something in an unfamiliar environment.
Many Forums, One Summit
With all that in mind, PowerShell Summit North America will be known as PowerShell and DevOps Global Summit from here on out, beginning with our 2016 event in Bellevue, Washington. We believe that one of the primary benefits of Summit is close contact with a wide swath of the PowerShell team, and so it’s likely that most future Summits will be in the area of Microsoft’s campus. It’s simply easier to fly us all up there than it is to have the product team close up shop and fly somewhere else to meet us. The “DevOps” part of the new name reflects the fact that while PowerShell is an awesome tool, it’s real purpose is to help meet business needs. DevOps – a kind of IT management and operational philosophy – is a business-level need that, in the Microsoft space, PowerShell helps realize.
We’re also going to be changing the session format of the Summit. Rather than a strict schedule of 45-minute sessions, we’re going to switch things up a bit. We’ll continue to offer space for short sessions, since they’re a great way to cover tightly focused topics. But we’re also going to expand into longer sessions, allowing presenters to truly “dive deep” into the guts of the technology. We’re going to create more opportunities for smaller breakouts, since it’s the discussions and personal interactions that create some of the best value from the Summit. And, aside from preparatory pre-conference sessions offered at additional charge, we’re going to strongly de-emphasize beginner- and even intermediate-level content. There are plenty of educational opportunities elsewhere for beginners, and part of the original mission of the Summit was to help the product team connect with some of PowerShell’s most hardcore users. So you’ll see us pushing the envelope more in terms of session content.
We’re also going to devote a lot of time and effort toward making Summit more interactive. The “wow” factor of that first year at TEC was the amazing amount of back-and-forth generated in the single, 50-person session room. The information shared, the perspectives gained – that’s all difficult in a 100-person session like we have now. So with a European event no longer consuming so much time and brainpower, we’re going to re-commit to making Summit a more personally engaging event, not just a conference. The community has offered a ton of great ideas in this direction already, and we’re going to start implementing some of them in 2016. We’ll continue to experiment and tweak as a regular part of doing business, evolving the event to meet your needs, and to better connect you to this technology community.
“Some longer sessions” means “fewer total speakers,” which means we’ll also be able to do a bit more, financially, to help our presenters. Until now, they’ve traveled and housed themselves more or less on their own dime, and we’d like to do a lot more to make it less burdensome. Our goal is to have the best presenters on the planet, and we want to try and reduce the “expense hurdle” as much as possible, so that speaker selection isn’t limited to just those who can easily afford to come. We also have a very specific goal of making room for new presenters, so that everyone in the community can truly participate.
Facing Facts and Setting Expectations
We do realize that a relocation to Bellevue, and the elimination of a European Summit event, will reduce the number of people who can make it to the Summit. We’ve decided we’re okay with that. The Summit was always intended to be a small event, attracting the best and brightest in the industry. If you’re working deeply with PowerShell and its related technologies, then the Summit still offers incredible value – even if you’re traveling from far away. We realize that for someone who isn’t deeply engaged with PowerShell, we may be making Summit a harder prospect – but if you’re not truly, deeply engaged, then Summit might not have been the right event for you.
To be very clear: we know that there’s a huge need for beginner- and intermediate-level education, and that it needs to be affordable. But Summit isn’t that event. We still think Summit is an incredible value, one that – if PowerShell is truly part of your professional – is well worth the expense, even if that involves international travel.
And what we’re not okay with is for Europeans, or anyone else in the world, to be somehow excluded from the great content that a dedicated PowerShell event offers. But that’s not something we can just give everyone. If you look at the major regions of the world – Asia, Australia, Northern Europe, Southern Europe, South Africa, the list goes on – there’s no way we at a single volunteer organization run by six people can possibly bring content to everyone. We just aren’t that wealthy! So everyone is going to have to pitch in and help. If you think an awesome PowerShell event would be a huge success in, say, France, then you’re going to have to be the one to step up and organize it. We will absolutely help in terms of promotion, finding speakers, selecting content, and so on – but this is community, and you only get out of it what you put into it. We’re putting a big effort into this event-planning guide to help you get started, but your success will depend a lot on your own efforts. We want everyone to have the education and interaction that a Summit-style event offers – but everyone is going to have to help make it happen.
Also, know that we will continue with our tradition of recording session content and posting it, for free, online. We’re looking into adding HD video so that you can see presenters as well as their presentations, although there’s no real way for us to capture the immersive experience of actually attending in person.
What About Beginners?
And if the Summit is going to double-down on deep-dive content, what about newcomers who are still trying to become deeply engaged? Hundreds of training centers across the globe still provide solid PowerShell training from Microsoft’s Official Curriculum catalog and Microsoft’s Courseware Marketplace. Independent conferences – TechMentor, for example – offer a range of PowerShell topics as a regular part of their agenda. Books and video training on entry-level topics are available in abundance. Summit was never really intended as an entry-level event, although we recognize that we’ve strayed a bit into that territory in an attempt to be more accessible to a broader audience. Our 2016 strategy is really a recommitment to our original concept of serving the PowerShell professional. But the individual PowerShell Forum events, PowerShell Saturday events, or other PowerShell conferences you organize – whatever you name them, and wherever you hold them – can definitely help meet the need for beginners.
Our Path Forward
PowerShell and DevOps Global Summit 2016 will be happening in the same year as PowerShell’s 10th birthday, and so much has changed in that decade. Once-difficult topics like Remoting are – for the deeply engaged – now considered routine. We’ve moved on to higher-layer topics like Desired State Configuration, Continuous Integration and Delivery, cloud-based Workflow, and much more. As a community, we’ve developed best practices and patterns that we share, and we’ve seen Microsoft begin a shift toward open-source releases of key components. Heck, we’ve seen Microsoft move PowerShell technologies to other operating systems – something nobody ever thought would happen “back in the day.” And PowerShell.org has remained a volunteer-run organization that tries to benefit the entire community. We’re evolving Summit, and we’ll continue to do our best to do good works on behalf of the community.
The Board of PowerShell.org has gone through a lot of soul-searching in writing this document, because we don’t want to anyone to see us as walking away from the European Summit. Instead, we feel that we’ve proven a European event can be successful – and we think it will be successful once our European friends step in and take over. We are all stronger together as a community, especially when we can serve our local communities in more specific and granular ways. We would experience the most profound joy you can imagine if, in a couple of years, there are PowerShell Forum (or whatever they’re named) events throughout Europe… Canada… Africa… Asia… Australia and New Zealand… the United States… everywhere. We would take it as the greatest compliment and achievement if we’ve done nothing more than help people see how to pull it off, and inspire them to dive in and make things happen in their own backyard.
We hope, if you’ve read all this, that you’re already giving it some thought.