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June 14, 2012

Tech-Ed 2012: The Year of the Woman?

By Carrie Waite, Michelle Carter, and Kenisha Cox happy to be finished with their lunch and my questions.

As a long time Tech-Ed attendee you notice when things seem a bit different from other years.  This year has been no exception, with the week ending early on Thursday, the relatively good weather during Florida’s rainy season, and lack of an MSDN magazine party.  But perhaps the biggest change I’ve noticed is the significantly larger number of female attendees at this year’s conference.  So armed with my serious journalistic credentials in the form of a red Media/Analyst badge I set out to discover if this was just a perception or if in fact 2012 is the Year of the Woman at Tech-Ed.

I’d love to quote some actual facts about the number of female attendees or even the number of attendees overall, but Microsoft doesn’t publish those details even to folks with red badges.  Given that the show sold out however, I’m left to deduce that the overall attendance is somewhere above 8000 people.  Unfortunately Microsoft also does not track nor publish gender metrics on registrations so those of you hoping for hard facts are going to be sorely disappointed.  Instead I based my following conclusions on a number of interviews with actual women made during lunch over several days which I performed by hopping from table to table like some sort of nerd Geraldo Rivera.

My primary goal was to determine what if anything brought the ladies I interviewed to this Tech-Ed in particular, but I asked several questions to all of the interviewees who had traveled from as far away as Minneapolis or Seattle and those who drove in from Tampa that morning.  Between hurried bites of mass produced Mexican food these were the overall answers I received.  Keep in mind that these interviews were as close to real scientific research as most first grade science fair projects.

1.  Is this your first Tech-Ed?  Answers were split 50/50 with Yes and No, with most of the Nos having attended only one other Tech-Ed conference.  Many also attend other conferences including VMWare and Citrix but wouldn’t comment on who had the best food.

2.  Are you primarily an IT Pro or Developer?  This was overwhelmingly (i.e. in all but one case) answered IT Pro.  The jobs spanned a pretty wide range from Help Desk to Automated Deployment Management.

3.  What have you seen at this Tech-Ed that you found exciting?  Here the answers were somewhat mixed but the most common answer was Don Jones’ PowerShell breakout session.  He seems to have achieved Rock Star status among the women I interviewed.  Other answers included Windows 8, and Windows Server 2012.

4.  What brought you to this Tech-Ed?  Surprisingly the most common answer to this was simply that their company could afford to send them this year.  In some cases the interviewees had to lobby long and hard to get to attend and in others their trip was offered as incentive to keep them happily employed for another year.  In any case an improving economy seems to have been at the heart of most of their attendance.  There was no answer of a specific topic or subject that drew any of the interviewees to attend this year as opposed to any other which followed with the overall “Ho-Hum” sentiment of the rest of the crowd of attendees I had spoken to.

“While I’m glad the number of women attendees has increased, it still seems light compared to the number of women in IT in my company”  said Nikki Foster of McKesson.

This sentiment was shared across most of the interviewees.  With the majority of them having attended only this or one other Tech-Ed they were not aware of any perceived increase in female attendance but thought the numbers were still very low.

“My favorite session so far was definitely Don Jones’ “Windows PowerShell Crash Course” said Allison Gehring from NWN Corporation.

PowerShell was a big topic at this year’s Tech-Ed with Windows Server 2012 including 2400 PowerShell scriptlets.

So after interrupting many lunches I didn’t have a clear answer as to why more women appeared at this year’s Tech-Ed or even definitive proof that there were actually more and this wasn’t some strange trick of my male imagination.  But perhaps it’s the little things that highlight the real truth as each group of women I spoke to commented, completely unsolicited, on the exact same thing.  They all delighted in the fact that the tables had finally turned and it was the men having to wait in line for the restroom while they were able to fly in and out at will.

About the Author

is a Chief Architect specializing in large scale distributed system development and enterprise software processes. Paul has more than twenty years of development experience including being a former Microsoft MVP, a speaker at technical conferences such as Microsoft Tech-Ed and VSLive, and a published author. Prior to working on the Windows platform, he built software using a vast array of technologies including Java, Unix, C, and even OS/2.