• Eric Marsi

Comms vNext 2019: An Experience of a Lifetime

Updated: Jun 18, 2019

Chances are that if you are reading this post, you are a member of the Microsoft UC & collaboration community. Chances also are that you have heard of or attended the Comms vNext (CvN) conference. Comms vNext is an annual, community driven Microsoft IC/UC focused conference & exhibition that takes place at the Renaissance Stapleton in Denver, Colorado. I attended the conference this past year and it is extremely difficult to put into words just how amazing this event actually was. It was an experience like no other; one that I will remember for the rest of my life.


A Brief Bit of History

Around November 2018, I attended the Q4 Skype & Microsoft Teams Users Group in Cleveland, Ohio. I remember hearing about a conference that was dedicated to Microsoft UC and it immediately caught my interest. I went home that day and immediately began researching what Comms vNext had to offer. I decided that I was going to go and began saving money however I could. At this time, the people in the UC community that I knew/talked to was very minuscule. I reached out to Josh Blalock (@GetCsJosh) about the event, and to my surprise, he offered me to be the first to register for the event in January 2019.


There I was, the first registered attendee of Comms vNext. I couldn't believe that I was going to be attending something that I knew would be life changing. In early February, I came across a tweet stating that there were many individuals that were signed up to speak at the event and the organizers were looking for other speakers.

I thought to myself, "I'm not going to be able to stand out enough to be chosen to speak". I posted to twitter that day in response to this thread as I was fighting with myself to decide if I should speak or not. On that same day someone new appeared in my Twitter notifications, Jonathan McKinney (@UComsGeek). Jonathan responded to my post and gave me the confidence to turn in 3 different sessions a few days later. Little did I know, that moment would mark the start of an amazing friendship :)


About a month later, I was driving from work to one of my evening classes at school and heard my phone go off. There was a email notification on my lock screen from Pat Richard titled "Comms vNext" and I immediately was sick to my stomach as I thought I did not get approved. I didn't want to wait to get to class to read the email and so I unlocked my phone and clicked the notification. I read the first few words from Pat's email, "We're going to approve you session..." I was immediately overwhelmed with excitement and could not believe what had just happened. I was the happiest I ever was in my entire life.


Over the course of the next three months, I began to talk to others in the community more than I ever had and began building the demo environment for my session. Every day I was thinking about the event; I knew it was going to be amazing. Jonathan McKinney also became what I consider the most influential person and the best of friends in my entire life during this time. It was truly astonishing that someone had seen potential in a 21 year old and for that I am forever grateful. Thank you buddy!


Around early May, I saw a few promotional videos for the conference from Josh Blalock and Matt Landis. I took inspiration from this and made one to help promote the event which took a LOT of retakes.

June 4th quickly came and the journey from Cleveland, Ohio to Denver, Colorado had begun!


Pre-Event Fun (June 4, 2019)

I arrived at the Renaissance Stapleton at 9:30AM and decided that I might as well see if anyone was interested in getting a bite to eat. As I was discussing this in Kaizala group chat, I was asked if I wanted to go to the shooting range with Mark Vale (@UnifiedVale) and Alex Holmeset (@AlexHolmeset). I figured why not, but was extremely nervous to meet people who I knew from Twitter. I went to the hotel lobby and to my surprise, Josh Blalock, Stale Hansen, Mark, and Alex were standing there. I immediately introduced myself to them and was a bit starstruck (I was more nervous then than I was even for speaking at the event).


Mark, Alex, and I went to Silver Bullet Shooting Range and it wasn't until then that I learned that Mark had never shot a gun before. We had an absolute blast and hopefully will get a chance to go back next year!

When we got back to the hotel, I decided that I was going to go help the organizers setup and prepare for the event. I went downstairs to the Speakers Lounge and there in front of me was #NotPatRichard, Adam Ball, and Josh Blalock (Jonathan was still on his way at the time). Again, I was starstruck and Josh explained one very important: "We are just ordinary people". The team graciously offered pizza which was pretty much perfect timing as I still had not eaten anything. We conversed and introduced ourselves for a bit, but quickly began setting up for the conference.


Later that night, Crush Networks, paid for all speakers to meet at a brewery that was a short walk from the hotel. I met and had discussions with a lot of new people including Mitch Steiner, Richard Brynteson, Kevin Peters, Alan Shen, Tom Morgan, Tom Arbuthnot, and more! (Now that I think about it, I actually forgot to go back and talk to Tom Arbuthnot, woops :P) It was quite the experience and I had a lot of fun in the process. Eventually, Mitch and I walked back to the hotel as we were pretty tired from the day.

Day 1 (June 5th, 2019)

I woke up early that day as I had trouble sleeping due to the excitement. After getting ready, I went down to the conferencing center and began helping any way that I could. We had a breakfast that was beautifully catered and it was around this time that I met Laurie Pottmeyer who is the Community Lead for Microsoft Teams. She is also known as the person with all the swag (Thank you again Laurie for all the stickers for my laptop :)

After a brief morning introduction, all attendees made our way to Ballroom D for the keynote session by Heidi Gloudemans. Heidi did an amazing job with Ilya Bukshteyn on the keynote. Heidi shared a fun story stating that heir UC journey started back with the CX700 which just happens to be one of my favorite phones. During this time, they made a big announcement that they were going to be giving away 37 devices during their session on June 6th. At the end of the keynote, I visited a few of the sponsor's booths that were setup at the conference. I actually forgot that sessions were beginning and frantically ran to Laurie & Geri's session on Microsoft Teams Adoption.

Their session was great fun and taught attendees the strategy that is needed to move and organization, no matter how big or small, to Microsoft Teams. It also covered how to put people first and help them adopt/use Microsoft Teams.


After their session we had lunch catered for us. I ran into Alan Shen who asked me to sit with him over lunch. During our conversation Pat Richard and a few others joined our table. As we were all talking, Jonathan came up to me to ask if I had gotten Michael Tressler to sign my copy of his book that I brought with me. I told him no as I did not know what he looked like. Little did I know that he had been sitting next to me for the past 20 minutes at our table 😑I ended up though with a very unique signature that I am sure no one else will have in their copy :)

Following Lunch, I attended a session from Alan Shen on Teams Collaboration and Information Security. I was actually shocked to not see many others at this session. There was a lot of information that focused on balancing the collaboration needs of a business with the security concerns of IT. This session actually inspired me to look into some of these features in Teams as businesses can benefit greatly from it.

After Alan's Session I attended Richard Brynteson's session on Meetings First with Skype and Teams. Many MAJOR announcements were made during this session such as a new #NotPatRuchard bot and Xbox Shampoo. On a more serious note, features regarding coexistence modes were shown off. At the end of his session, the attendee party had begun.


The Attendee Party (June 5th, 2019)

The Attendee Party was an excellent opportunity to have fun and network with others. There were many VR stations that were setup that had a bunch of games to try. I tried Project Cars and the Beatsaber and had quite the time. Usually I would turn down something that I could potentially embarrass myself on, but this event was different. Everyone thinks of everyone the same so it was nice to just be you. Laurie had a small giveaway of awesome Microsoft Teams capes. Sure enough, I wanted one so we had to post a picture wearing it to Twitter. This was well worth it for a unique piece of swag! (I did add two Microsoft Teams Stickers to it shortly after :) )

Later that night after the festivities, I headed back to my room to practice for the final time before the next day. I hooked up my portable Skype for Business environment and began my session in my hotel room. At the end of the final run-through (2:30AM), I attempted to fall asleep, but that wasn't happening as the nerves really started getting to me. Eventually I fell asleep.


Day 2 (June 6th, 2019)

The day that I had been nervous about for months had finally come. I woke up early and began to migrate the lab equipment down to the conferencing center. It was hard to eat breakfast as nerves were really getting to me, but Jens Madsen, Mark, Alex and many others gave me advice such as go up there and have fun.


Ilya had his massive Microsoft Teams Rooms session to kick off the day and showed off many new features coming later this year to Microsoft Teams Rooms. Two of the most exciting features announced were the analog whiteboard notes in a Teams Meeting and the Cortana integration within Teams. The giveaway began whilst I was in the back of the expo hall preparing the demo environment. I was only a few minutes away from showtime.


My Session

The time had come to present and demo how to migrate an environment from Lync 2013 or Skype for Business 2015 to Skype for Business Server 2019. I rushed to get all my equipment hooked up and verify functionality. I went through a few more preparations and finally it began.

I will say, I was really nervous starting out, but around the third slide, I fell into my comfort zone and had an immense amount of fun. I had a few questions along the way, but nothing too demanding. The presentation and live demo went as planned except for a typo on the PowerShell command for moving the Central Management Store.


When all was said and done, I could not believe what I had just done. From being someone that didn't believe in themselves to becoming someone that did, it is hard to put into words how I felt. I was just so happy. Many of the people that I met or sat in my session had nothing but amazing words to say and I was happy to have the support of so many people.


Day 2 Continued

After speaking, we had possibly one of the best meals of the event. The lunch this day what phenomenal. After lunch, I attended a edge deep dive session with Kevin Peters which taught a lot of information regarding the operation on how edge servers work. After Kevin's session, I attended Jens Madsen's session about disparating SIP interopability. He had some "Crazy Forking Ideas" and a few "Do Not Try This At Home" tidbits of his presentation which made it extremely enjoyable.

I had a few things to attend to so I did end up missing the last sessions of the conference. After everything was all done and over, Mark, Alex, Simon, Craig and I went to a Brazilian steakhouse called Fogo de Chão. It was an absolutely amazing meal, was worth the money, and it was a nice chance to hang out and wind down. Craig also had a near death accident on the E-Scooter, but let's not talk about that one.

We got back to the hotel later that night and I was surprised to see a lot of people having a small party in the lobby. We got to hang out and have a good last time seeing each other for the event. John Cook took on part of the alcohol bill so these pictures that follow are pretty much self explanatory of the damage.

Final goodbyes were made just before a familiar face asked what I was doing the following day. Michael Tressler offered to let me visit the Microsoft office in Denver. Anyone that knows me knows that this is something that I wouldn't be able to turn down, even if I was busy.


The Final Day (June 7, 2019)

I woke up the next day and met Michael in the lobby for breakfast. After our meal, we headed to the outskirts of downtown to the location of Comms vNext 2018; The Microsoft office. Upon just walking in, I was in a state of awe. It was an incredible looking office that showcased a lot of Microsoft products as it was also a Microsoft Technology Center (MTC).

After spending some time there, we headed to the airport to fly home. We had lunch and even got to access the Admiral Club (have never been to one before). Thank you again for hanging out and for the free ride to the airport bud! My flight home did get delayed by almost 5 hours, but I eventually made it back home.


Conclusion

Hands down this has been one of the most amazing and most influential events of my life that went by WAY too fast. It was nice getting to know the people I have known on twitter for quite some time. I learned a lot from this event such as what I need to expand on, but one of the biggest things that I learned was to believe in myself. I am already thinking of ideas for next year and am looking for more opportunities to speak. This was an event that I did not want to leave as it was the happiest I have ever been in my entire life.


I want give a big thank you to Jonathan McKinney for allowing my to use phones that he had at his house to save on shipping. I also want to thank both AnyNode and Plenom for providing hardware/software for my session.


If you are thinking of going to future Comms vNext conferences, I would highly suggest doing so. Everyone is welcoming and it is truly like a first-class event. Thank you Adam, Jonathan, Josh, and Pat for everything! You guys did an amazing job and I cannot wait to see you guys next year!



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