Azure Boot Camps are being held all around the world, but if one isn't being held close to you, you're definitely not out of luck-these events are designed to put on by the community, too. Brian Prince has done an excellent job of organizing the content and making it easy to put on one of these events. The recent Azure Boot Camp Pittsburgh was a community event, and I came away with some notes I think will help other people who want to hold their own Azure Boot Camp.
The first thing to know is you're not flying solo. Brian will answer your questions, or you can post a comment here and I'll do the best I can. Everyone involved with the boot camps takes these events seriously and wants them to succeed.
There is now a planning guide on the Azure Boot Camp site to provide guidance for community events, too. You should check that out in addition to this post.
Here are a few other hints:
- Find a good location. Partners can use the Microsoft offices, but any meeting room with good A/V and WiFi will work. If you're not affiliated with a partner, get in touch with your Microsoft evangelist-they can sometimes help arrange the Microsoft office on your behalf.
- It's not unheard of to have a sponsor for your event, and it's a great idea if there is an Azure solutions provider nearby. Solutions providers can sometimes supply both money and talent. There is no harm in asking, but do a little research. See who is very public-an active blogger or speaker, and approach that person first.
- You really need at least two people. There is a lot to cover, plus providing help during labs, checkins and setup, etc. If you want some experienced help (a very good idea), you can bring in a trainer. There is a list on the ABC website, and Brian can help you find one. Again, you can also check with your regional evangelists, you may have an Azure evangelist who can assist. I was fortunate to have the backing of ComponentOne, and we brought Scott Klein from Blue Syntax in for the event, and we were lucky to have Dave Makogon (an Azure evangelist) be in the area at the same time.
- It really helps to have attended a boot camp, but if you can't do that, you can watch the videos of the talks presented by experienced trainers. This will give you an idea of how each session should flow.
- Even if you have been to an Azure Boot Camp, you still need to review the slides ahead of time, and practice your sessions.
- Plan for refreshments, possibly meals. You're not required to provide meals, but is appreciated by the attendees. We were able to provide lunch both days, sponsored by ComponentOne and Microsoft (thanks to Dani Diaz for coming through on day 2). Again, check with your local evangelists or sponsors. A snack to break the 3:00 lull is also a good idea, I kept a basket out the first afternoon and all the second day.
- Use EventBrite to handle the registration and tickets. It's easy to use, has a ton of features, and is free for free events. Be thorough with information in the event description, and keep the information updated.
- Use the email tools in EventBrite to communicate ahead of time to the registered attendees. Two weeks out, and a week out, encourage attendees to have the materials installed.
- Get your event listed in Community Megaphone and in the MSDN Flash. Promote your event through Twitter, on your blog, and through the nearby user groups.
- Have a good sense of humor. The in our boot camp, the WiFi was down both days, and only one of the podium cable worked. We did a demo deployment, but that was all we could do. Come what may, take it in stride, and do the best you can to work through it.
- Visit the location ahead of time and familiarize yourself with the projectors, screens and network. Some of the Microsoft offices have fancy touch sensitive control panels that can be awkward to figure out.
Here's a brief checklist of items to have:
- Azure tokens. These are supplied by Microsoft, and will come from Brian Prince. If you don't have your tokens with a week to go, get in touch with Brian.
- Confirm raffle items-there are several slides listing what you'll give away. Make sure you have the Pluralsight training keys, and certificates for Cerebrata and ComponentOne tools. There are several Azure books on the market-if you contact the publishers, most of them will send you promotional copies to give away. The authors can also usually help arrange promo copies, too, just ask.
- Know where the nearest coffee shop is, and be able to provide directions.
- We loaded up on soft drinks and snacks from Costco. Actually, I overbought. Based on what we consumed, assume 3 drinks per attendee over the two days, and assume everyone will show up. You'll still have extra, but better to have a little more than to run out.
- Bring copies of materials-the SDK, Platform Training Kit, lab materials, Visual Studio 2010 Express and SQL Server 2008 Express. If it needs to be installed, you need to have a copy of it on hand.
- Have a post-event survey or checklist handy. I used Survey Monkey, and sent out a post-event email from EventBrite (you can find a hard copy at http://helpcentral.componentone.com/CS/evangelists/m/evangelist_gallery/244515.aspx). There were only a couple of responses.
What to expect:
- People are going to have problems with the labs, and not because of the material. We had several weird issues with SQL Server Express and Visual Studio. Do the best you can, and encourage people to share if they have to. This is where a second person comes in handy, they can try and work through issues while the other one is presenting.
- The schedule is very good. Try and stick to it, both in sequence and timing of the presentations.
- 30-50% no show is average. Don't be surprised if you sold out, but the room is only half full. That's average for most free events. Bad weather can further reduce your attendance.
- You will probably be asked questions you can't answer. Every single person in our event said they had no Azure experience, yet several of them stumped us on more than one occasion. Don't get flustered, it's OK to say you don't know. Make a note of the question, do a little research, and provide follow-up information.
I hope these suggestions are helpful to you, and encourage you to try and host an event if you're thinking about doing so. These tips are not unique to Azure Boot Camps. In addition to the Azure Boot Camps, there are Windows Development Boot Camps and Web Camps which are also designed to be hosted by the community.