On the corner of Pine and 9th Street lies Seattle’s newest “Summit Building” convention center addition, which opened in January 2023 and brought with it an additional 573,770 square feet of event space. This year, the Summit Building hosted the AI-focused Microsoft Build convention – the first physical Build convention held since 2019 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With Microsoft partnering closely with OpenAI, the company who created the much-discussed ChatGPT, many Microsoft services are now incorporating AI to make our lives easier, both offline and online. I had the pleasure of attending this year’s Build on behalf of GrapeCity, and got a first-hand view of what the conference had to offer. I’d like to share a breakdown of the typical day at this year’s Microsoft Build, as well as the main themes of the conference.
For starters, Microsoft did a fantastic job organizing the convention, with event coordinators stationed at each block within walking distance of the convention, holding “Microsoft Build” signs and helpfully directing convention pedestrian traffic in the right direction. When you first walk into the convention center, you’re greeted by a long line of attendees registering for their badge pick-up amidst towering, illuminated purple pillars with Microsoft Build hashtags written across them. With your badge came a t-shirt voucher, which could be claimed immediately after registration on the first floor with the choice of three different designs. Despite renting out the entire massive convention center, all the Microsoft events were contained to the third and fourth floor, with the first floor reserved for badge registration and T-shirt pick-up.
On the third and fourth floors, rooms were organized by topic with an open layout that facilitated communication between attendees and developer tables. Some of the many dozens of topically organized rooms included DevSecOps (for cybersecurity development) and Developer Tools (where GrapeCity’s booth was located). A full breakdown of the event can be found on Microsoft’s website here: Your home for Microsoft Build, but I, like most attendees, spent a majority of my time interacting with the vendors, booths, and other attendees in the sections I was most interested in.
Kicking-off the first day of the event at 9 A.M. was the opening keynote speaker presentation held by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Microsoft CVP Yusuf Mehdi. Upon entering the largest room in the convention center, attendees are flooded with a sea of Microsoft blue, both in the hue of lights and color of jackets worn by Microsoft employees and event speakers, easily distinguishing them from the rest of the crowd. Fourteen giant monitors hung like banners across multiple rows within the massive event hall, providing sufficient coverage for every attendee to get a clear look at the content being presented, even if you were seated in the back row 300 feet from the presenters on-stage.
The opening Keynote presentation focused largely on the same topic that would appear over and over again throughout the rest of the conference: AI development and how it will (and already does) make our lives easier. Whether you’re asking Microsoft Bing to intelligently organize a standalone recipe from a webpage into a list of required ingredients with a step-by-step process or asking GitHub Copilot to predict the next line of code within your application, it was clear that AI is quickly becoming more than a simple conference theme.
The topics discussed at this year’s Build weren’t the only things to change. I’ve never personally been to a previous Build conference, but I had the chance to sit-down and talk with David Cooper, a previous Build attendee from 2019 before the pandemic put a halt to in-person events. David and I spoke about some of the major changes and differences between Build 2023 and Build 2019, and he was kind enough to allow me to record our conversation for publication as we shared a surprisingly delicious lunch catered for attendees.
H: “So David, was this your first Build?”
D: “No, I’ve attended the virtual and semi-virtual builds the last three years, and I also attended the last in-person build back in 2019 before the pandemic hit.”
H: “So what were your thoughts on this year’s conference compared to the previous Builds you’ve attended?”
D: “I think this year’s conference was very good. I liked the changes they made concerning partners, workshops, and demo areas, in terms of structuring the conference hall’s space to really draw the developers closer to the events. In previous years, there was more of a separation, even though the focus has always been on the developer. It is still Microsoft Build, and Microsoft will be showing off all the new technology that many developers will be hearing about for the first time. But still, there was separation in terms of how the (old) conference hall was setup. Now, it feels like they are bridging that middle-ground within this new convention space. They are still showcasing the new technology, which this year, is Copilot and AI features, but they are also having workspaces with workshops that you can walk through, drop-in, and build right with the developers.”
H: “When it comes to tech conferences, what’s something unique to Build that you enjoy?”
D: “I like the fact that they pick a theme every year. This year is AI, 5 years ago it was Azure. It’s interesting, because the themes follow the natural progression of the tech. Through Azure, developers moved their solutions to the cloud. Now, they can automate them with AI. This natural progression, for me, makes Build a good show.”
H: “What are your thoughts on the new conference building compared to the old one?”
D: “The new facility is amazing. The architecture and layout is significantly better in terms of facilitating meaningful and engaging, more personal conversations. Also, the keynote area was huge, and was technologically advanced, with huge resolution mega-monitors. It really is a great new space and a cool location.”
H: “Overall, what were your thoughts on the conference?”
D: “Put simply, the overall quality of everything was better. The lunch could use some improvement though (laughs).”
With that, David and I finished our lunch and I ventured off to checkout the DevSecOps room, filled with cybersecurity specialists. As a cybersecurity graduate student myself, I was amazed at the amount of insight I gained in that room talking with tons of talented individuals with decades of hands-on industry experience. Before I knew it, three hours had passed and it was time for the day to end. I gathered my bag of swag courtesy of the Microsoft partners present at the event, and headed out into a quaint Seattle sunset.
To sum it up, Build was a blast! It’s not often you get to sit in a room full of experts for any given technological topic, all of which, in their own ways, sit at the forefront of technological innovation within the tech industry and world of development. I’ve been to a few tech events the past year, including Microsoft’s Live360! In Orlando, Florida, and while that conference was still fantastic, I was blown away at the quality shown at Build in Microsoft’s hometown. Microsoft certainly impressed, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ll make next year’s conference even better, and the exciting, new technologies that will come with it.