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An arm’s length from me, just beyond the life-preserving hull of the airplane, the temperature is minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Thirty thousand feet below me is Greenland, and I’m halfway between Frankfurt and Las Vegas. I’m on the way to SAP TechEd and I can’t wait.

Why am I going? What are my two most important things at TechEd? Ten to eight years ago: clearly the hands-on sessions. Today it’s something different entirely. Curious?

Going social at SAP TechEd

I’m only human, so I admit it: The best thing about TechEd is meeting dear friends old and new, and kindred spirits from all over the world. I’ll meet people with whom I’ve been exchanging tweets, and DMs, and emails, and facebook posts, etc. during the past year and it will be so great to connect in person again or for the first time.

I’m a software architect by nature and my personality is that of an introverted thinker, or geek. I don’t normally enjoy larger social gatherings like receptions and parties very much. They cost me a lot of energy for many reasons and so I tend to retreat early or avoid them altogether.

TechEd is one of the rare occasions where none of this applies and I feel like a fish in the water, completely comfortable mingling with the crowd, meeting new people by approaching them and being approachable. It must be because of the high geek factor – at TechEd, something’s in the air that tells you: relax, you’re among like-minded folks. Have a chat with your fellow geek. Enjoy the geek fest. Feel free to crack those jokes about kernel functions, and SAP’s BI strategy, and the lousy programming style of one of your consultants, that nobody at your own company or even in your hometown would understand or care about. (For a faceblind person like me, it is also heaven that it’s so much easier to recognize people: There are name badges, speaker shirts, Mentor shirts, and you often encounter people in a setting or group that adds enough context to identify them.)

To sum it up, the social dimension is both thoroughly enjoyable on a personal level and rewarding on a professional  level, because when birds of a feather flock together, most of the people are both genuinely likeable and great professionals with whom I can entertain mutually rewarding professional relations.

(As an aside, I’m a long-time regular who used to attend TechEd and similar events years before SCN existed and the social dimension was lacking entirely. Then for a while it existed for other people but I was not aware of it. If you want to read about my epiphany, Community Day at TechEd 2008: A Shift in Perception.)

See the big picture, catch a whiff of the trends

The other, professionally indispensible aspect of TechEd is that this is the occasion to catch a glimpse at the big picture of where SAP technology is headed in the mid-term. This is unbelievably important for my work because, as a software architect at an Independent Software Vendor (making industry-specific SAP-based applications), I am frequently involved in technology-related investment decisions. The decision-makers who are going to spend the money need to know:

“Which technology should we use to build the new major piece of software? Which tool is now appropriate, but more importantly: which one will grow and improve and interface well with others, because it plays an important role in SAP’s own product and technology? On the other hand, which tool will slowly wither away into obsolescence, cut off from the investments necessary to integrate with emerging technologies and to implement reasonable improvements? (Could the peanut gallery please stop shouting “Web Dynpro Java”? Thank you. That was really uncalled for.) Which ones can be expected to be in full bloom – mature, stable, feature-rich, healthy with on-going investments and the broad base of adopters necessary to reach this state – by the time our own new product reaches completion?”

Attending SAP TechEd is an indispensible precondition to even making educated guesses to answer the above questions. Everybody knows that forecasts are difficult, especially insofar as they pertain to the future. But if you add up all the information from TechEd, you can get a pretty good impression of where SAP is headed. Counting in many informal behind-the-scenes discussions, usually a big picture emerges that allows me to put even those puzzle pieces in place that are not explicitly discussed, because once I have an idea of what the big picture might look like, I’m able to position the pieces top-down.

Many other reasons

I have many other reasons to attend TechEd. These are just a few of them:

  • InnoJam
  • meeting up with my fellow SAP Mentors
  • meeting with SAP executives and product owners and having an opportunity to convince them of matters dear to my heart
  • doing as much damage as possible to the expense accounts of SAP executives who show up at the after-hours watering holes
  • influencer receptions
  • DemoJam and the concert
  • Expert Networking Sessions
  • the fascinating bizarreness of Las Vegas
  • the challenge of being a speaker and hosting my own session (please drop by: Thursday afternoon, CD 115, Take me to the River – about SAP’s Platform as a Service offering)

are just some of them.

A word on the more exclusive opportunities in the above list, the ones where I get fed Kobe beef while my ego is flattered beyond all measures: I owe them all to SAP TechEd. Without catching fire community-wise at TechEd 2008, I never would have begun to engage in the community and been nominated as an SAP Mentor. Attending TechEd can cause a lot new doors to open.

The Food

If you have followed me until here, I can admit that during the entire blog, I was only pulling your leg. Of course the sole and fully sufficient reason for any rational person to attend SAP TechEd is the food. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. See you in Vegas.

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15 Comments

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  1. Abesh Bhattacharjee
    Reading through your blog felt like you have actually read my thoughts ! I attend TechEd/Sapphire for exactly the same reasons and I can’t think of any others that would make it more so 🙂

    BTW our paths still have to cross 😉 Next TechEd ?

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      1. Mark Teichmann
        For me the food also is an important factor. That said, I wonder why you do not attend at Bangalore where I attended last year. The food was perfect. And I cannot imagine why your employer should not support it: The total cost for the Bangalore trip were less than Berlin last year, and I am located in Hamburg that is not too far away from Berlin 😉
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  2. Tom Cenens
    Hello Thorsten

    Great blog. I look forward to going to SAP TechED Madrid and meeting people as well.

    It was nice to meet some of the community at the SAP InnoJam NL although I wasn’t there for a very long time it was fun to meet the people behind the virtual avatars.

    Kind regards

    Tom

    ps: hope you enjoy the food

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  3. Steve Rumsby
    I’m going to Madrid for my first TechEd in a very long time – my last onee was Amsterdam in 2006. Then it was all about the content, which made the event quite dry for me.

    This time, I’ll be focusing on the keynotes to get a sense of SAP’s future vision, and on meeting all the people I’ve got to know via Twitter over the last few years but have yet to meet in person. Building relationships with fellow geeks is proving at least as useful to me as the content of the technical and hands-on sessions. I might find my way into one or two of those, though:-)

    I’ve really enjoyed the social media buzz surrounding recent Sapphire and TechEd conferences, as I’ve watched from the comfort of my own desk. This time I’m looking forward to being apart of that buzz from onsite for a change.

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  4. Tobias Hofmann
    Social, sessions, learning? Yeah …

    Let me be honest: IT stuff like an iPhone 32 GB costs in Brazil 1.323 US$, an iPad 32GB 1.400 US$, laptops are even pricier. So, all the effort to be a speaker at TechEd … I did it only to have an excuse to go to the USA.
    The food? Last year I had to find out that the American food and my stomach are incompatible: I lost 7kg.

    🙂

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  5. Tammy Powlas
    @thorstenster

    TechEd is so much fun and so packed in
    I did things last year I never thought I would do – speak at a session, go to an expert lounge session, go to Innovation Weekend (where I finally met you)

    Looking forward to seeing you soon.

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  6. Christopher Solomon
    Gonna REALLY miss you this year. I won’t be by your side to damage those expense accounts as in year’s past. That means….YOU gotta make up for my part too now!!!! =) Enjoy….I know you will!
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  7. James Oswald
    I can only hope to one day meet you in person. Of course, once I do, it will probably be a let down for both of us, unless of course you look as much like Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) as I’ve always imagined.
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