Technology Solutions for Everyday Folks
Drinking from the fire hose

MMS: Drinking From the Fire Hose

I spent last week at MMSMOA, a conference I cannot recommend enough for anyone working in the Microsoft/Windows/Systems Management space. The main event, held at the Radisson Blu Mall of America, is a solid four-and-a-half days of deep technical material, networking, sharing, and more!

Man, I am tired. Drinking from the fire hose for five days really takes it out of a person. At the same time I'm so encouraged, inspired, and recharged as a result of participating. This community is so supportive of everyone, and it's oddly reassuring to see how folks with similar circumstances and issues/problems are creating ways to address them.

My 2019 Track(s)

The majority of my sessions were in the overall 'systems management' category, where the topics ranged from firmware and software updates and their management, to application packaging and maintenance, to implementing better monitoring and remediation (configuration baselines/items), to talking about Windows 7 migrations.

I spent a fairly even amount of time in sessions around automation and powershell, operating system deployment (task sequences), and Windows management.

Somewhat unexpectedly, but based on a colleague's recommendation, I met one-on-one with some of the Microsoft Configuration Manager product team (managers and developers) to talk about one of my frustrations with the console and how I'd like to see it fixed. Long story short, it sounds like my suggestion/change request will be implemented in a future update, and actually will be reflected in lots of places throughout the console. Super cool—where else can you have this sort of interaction? The product team mentioned I should have visited with them earlier in the week as they'd likely to have been able to complete a code change during the conference!

I would be remiss to mention that I also spent a substantial amount of time in formal and informal "social" sessions—escape rooms, "beer sessions," a few vendor-sponsored after-hours events, and the raw peer networking time. I had lunch with different folks each day (including Sunday and Friday, when I was fortunate enough to catch up with former students and colleagues), though there was some overlap with the participants day over day.

Notes, Notes, Notes!

At my first MMS in 2016 (where I met the venerable Don Jones® and talked about performance), the very first session was a half-day pre-conference session co-presented by Don. When I went to scope out the room before pre-con started, Don was there and I asked if I should bring my laptop along to take notes/work demos, etc. His answer was an emphatic Absolutely Not! His point was that they're too much a distraction from the content, and he'd rather repeat answers for folks who couldn't write it all out than for someone who was only partially listening. So started my tradition of grabbing a notepad from the supply by each room, taking reasonable written notes, and depositing the pad at the pile on my way out of the room.

I have never taken a laptop to one of the sessions at MMS. And I wouldn't recommend it for anyone, either. While I've seen a lot of folks browsing the slide decks, handwriting in OneNote, or otherwise typing notes on their laptops, I've seen more folks popping into their employee portals, blasting through email, and so forth.

The distractions are real.

I generally took fewer written notes this year since I was usually more familiar with the basics for sessions I attended, but I still have a slip for each session I attended. One thing that I decided to try doing is being a more active member of the [social] community throughout the event, which aligns with my 2019 personal goal of being a more active evangelist of technology. I deliberately decided to tweet at least one thing or nugget of goodness from each session, which I think was successful, and ultimately resulted in the following, in chronological order:

It's a bit wonky, but for the full list of tweets, click through the "Load More" above.

Social (Twitter) Activity

While I didn't bring along my laptop to any sessions (I didn't even charge the laptop all week since I only used it each morning to submit session feedback), I did have my phone on at all times. Email and other notifications (save Twitter) were disabled, and I kept an eye on the Twitter feed. This meant a number of likes and retweets in addition to those above, the following being a smattering of other highlights, in chronological order:

It's a bit wonky, but for the full list of tweets, click through the "Load More" above.

My Pièce de Résistance

The one session I most looked forward to this year was the Windows as a Service (WaaS) session by Mike Terrill and Gary Blok. These folks, and others at Large Bank, are absolute rock stars in the enterprise Windows 10 servicing world. In addition to continually evolving a robust process by which they can successfully upgrade hundreds of thousands of workstations across the globe, they are also incredibly willing and generous in their sharing of processes, ideas, and code.

Their information has literally changed lives. Mine included.

While I haven't personally implemented their larger overall solution (yet?), I have absolutely stolen several ideas and sub-components for implementation in other areas. These little bits have improved our own processes, and I look forward to continuing to iterate as I work through the annual wipe & load for our multi-user fleet. If that's reasonably successful as it's been before, I might try my hand at an In-Place Upgrade (IPU) using some of their amazing materials. While we likely wouldn't use it for wide deployments, at least not to start, I'd like to have something more friendly on hand for early adopters, self-service types, and other use cases.

Other 2019 Themes from MMS

Key themes I noticed from the sessions and interactions I had included:

  • Visual Studio (VS) Code has become the editor of preference for many folks, and if you're not using it already it's in your interest to do some investigation.
  • Microsoft continues to actively listen and improve how Windows 10 upgrades and features impact end users and system administrators.
  • Iterate, Iterate, Iterate! Your processes won't be perfect, and even if they are, can still be improved.
  • End user experience and "control" is actively becoming a more important part of the systems management lens ("how will this affect or present to our users?"). Pretty counts.
  • Don't chase ideals—find and implement right-sized solutions for your organization, but stay aware of the changing landscape/toolset/options.
  • Automation, while amazing, still needs to be approached deliberately. Some scary stuff can go wrong; be aware of your security context.
  • Community is everything. Share and share alike. Steal with pride. Your contributions are valuable to someone!
  • Women and underrepresented/diverse IT pros are an amazing addition to any tech community!

What's Next?

I met a lot of awesome new folks this year, reconnected with others, had chats with other colleagues I don't normally see, and had another amazing MMS experience! I'm looking forward to MMS 2020, hopeful to attend again!

If you haven't before, or if the MMSMOA event isn't at the right time (May 2020), MMS Jazz Edition (New Orleans, Fall 2019) and MMS Midway Edition (San Diego, Fall 2020) might work for you!

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