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MMSDE – I Survived CamelBack

Once again another Midwest Management Summit has come and gone. For me personally, this one is going to be hard to beat. I’m not going to try and give you a rundown of all the technical stuff I learned. Not because it’s boring but because that’s the kind of stuff I always talk about and isn’t necessarily the main benefit of MMS.

You Just Gotta Be There

I spoke for the first time at MMSMOA 2018 mostly under duress. My employer at the time didn’t ‘do’ conferences or care about me on any level so I had to find my own way. Several people have asked me if recordings are available or if the slide decks can be downloaded by non-attendees. The answer to both is no, they are not. While I totally see the downsides of that I’ve become convinced that it’s the right decision for two reasons. First, you will hear things directly from the product team or MVPs that they will simply would not say publicly. If you want the real deal you’ll get just that directly from the people creating the product. All of that evaporates the moment everything gets posted on YouTube. Further, the slides are generally disappointing outside of their intended context of the session. Three bullets points on dealing with WSUS app pools isn’t going to help anyone. We spend as much time in a session fielding questions as we do delivering content.  Which is the whole point.

Wallflowers is a Band, Not a Way to Attend a Conference

It’s easy to feel intimidated by the speakers, MVPs, and especially product team. These are the people digging way … way … down into the weeds and creating awesome things. Forget all of that, it’s total bullshit. The product team in particular has zero obligation to be there. They’re there because they _want_ to be there. Full stop. Specifically, they are there to get feedback that they simply can’t get any other way. If you avoid them you’re wasting everyone’s time and effort. Don’t do that. 

The corollary of this is don’t come unprepared for this interaction.  Spend the time between conferences writing down details about the biggest hurdles you face and what you think the team could do to help.  Then go write a User Voice item.  Then come to MMS and corner the team to talk about it so that you know that they know everything they need to know to solve your problem.  Most critically, that they know why it’s a a big deal and why fixing it would be directly responsible for world peace.

Configuration Manager Is Not Dying. Really. They Mean It.

This is still the elephant in the room that I know the product team wishes would just die already.  At Ignite 2017 there was some really unfortunate miscommunication on the direction Microsoft was headed which scared a lot of people.  At MMS 2018 the InTune product manager(s) admitted this and essentially apologized for it.  To Microsoft’s credit they’ve been doing better or at the very least, less bad, at equating modern and ‘the future’ with stand-alone InTune.

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: you don’t invest in a product like this if your intent is to kill it.  Microsoft is an industry leader at letting good products die by simply ignoring them.  That’s not happening here by a long shot.  If that were the plan, they have the perfect run-book to do so and they’re not following it.

All that being said, I still think there’d be value in Brad Anderson just coming out and saying they miscommunicated, that ConfigMgr and InTune work better together, and that ConfigMgr will continue to see investment as far as Microsoft can reasonably plan for. Thirty seconds that would save so much time and frustration.

Modern Management Is Less Management

A recurring theme in the conversations I had outside of the sessions was that the ‘modern’ tools we keep hearing about (InTune/AutoPilot) are only suitable for very specific use cases.  At best you might implement them for a subset of devices in your organization.  Even then, it might often need to be in tandem with ConfigMgr.  The general feeling I sensed was that the teams responsible for those technologies had a way to go in coming to terms with enterprise demands.  Unless you can simply chose to not do certain things.

For my part, I think it’s a veritable crime how these technologies have been pitched.  They are absolute killers in the small business world.  I worked 10 years at a small company with 150 endpoints.  We owned a single server.  We signed up for Exchange Online the first chance we got.  We would have been among the very first InTune subscribers.  Going from nothing to InTune is an absolute no-brainer.  Telling management “we can’t do that anymore” is a much harder sell.

WSUS Might be Dead and That’s OK

At MMS 2018 the word was that while there hadn’t been a WSUS team for a long time there was now and they were in weekly discussion with the ConfigMgr group.  At MMSDE the word I got was that there were no active developers dedicated exclusively to WSUS.  To be clear, no one said those words verbatim, but that’s the impression I got.  Which jives with what we’ve seen.  If I’m wrong, I’d be happy to eat crow if the result was proof that some group of developers is right now dedicated exclusively to making WSUS better.  If so, someone tell them to stop being wallflowers and remind them that they have a blog.  Or tell them to get Twitter accounts to bypass internal bureaucracy.

The upside to this is that it seems like the ConfigMgr team has once again realized that if something needs to be done and done right then they’re going to do it themselves.  There were no real solution details but just an acknowledgement that there is a problem, no one seems to want to solve it, so they may have to.  Admitting you have a problem is, after all, the first step to recovery.  Realizing that you’re going to have to fix it is a good second one.

ConfigMgr Devs Get Stuff Done

For me the best part of MMSDE was Chris Siles and Mark Silvey parked in a Cabana for two days and coding live on a 60ish inch flat screen.  That’s simply not the kind of thing you’ll find anywhere else from any other team from most any other company.  In several cases, it wasn’t even about getting something fixed for me.  It was about having someone take a few minutes to look at the code and triage this as something easy or hard.  I have a degree in software engineering and a smidgen of experience to back it up.  So I know that sometimes a thing that seems minor is anything but in the code.  So getting that feedback on a few of the UI items was great.  In other cases it was literally a line of code and they knocked out a whole bunch of stuff: 

I talked to Chris about his experiences hacking on code for a couple of days.  While coding with people literally watching your every move on a large screen TV was a tad unnerving he really enjoyed it.  We also discussed an idea I had: an annual hack-a-thon where the team focuses exclusively on User Voice items that can be done in an hour or less.  If triage takes more than 5 or 10 minutes just move on to the next one.  There’s a thousand little things, especially in the UI, that if fixed wouldn’t be particularly valuable in terms of function but beyond calculation in terms of constant frustration by admins.  The default edit action for Task Sequences is the perfect example of this kind of thing.

Alright, I’ll Shut Up Already

Thank you dear singular reader, for reading this far.  If you are ever in Grand Rapids, MI I’ll buy you a beer.  There’s more I could say about my experiences at MMSDE but really I just want to encourage you to try and get out to one of them if at all possible.  MMS 2019 is well on it’s way to being sold out and it’s practically guaranteed to do so.  MMS Jazz Edition was just announced and will be in the heart of New Orleans’s French Quarter in November 2019.  If you are a system admin and only make it to one conference then skip the marketing and come join us.  If your employer has their head in their dark place like my previous employer did then consider submitting a session topic: https://mmsmoa.com/submit-a-session.

Almost Forgot, They Tried to Kill Us

Image courtesy of Steve Thompson

As luck would have it the hotel was practically attached to CamelBack mountain.  People semi-regularly die on this mountain so the organizers took this as the perfect opportunity to send a bunch of nerds up it.  In the picture above is a makeshift helipad that I assume gets use when things go wrong.  This is not me exaggerating as I usually do, helicopters regularly patrol this mountain because people are dumb and do dumb things on it.

Snark aside for one single paragraph: this was actually a really nice addition to the conference.  The one nitpick that I might make of MMSMOA is that there’s a tendency to walk into a building on Sunday and not leave until Friday.  Now, that’s on the attendee as much as the conference but getting outside and being active with the group was a true joy.

A few things I learned:

  • Kent Agerlund is a liar: “It starts steep then gets easier.” 

  • Down is way easier than up but much more dangerous.

  • Steve Thompson and Kent should do a session called “Surviving Your IT Career In Good Shape”

  • The extra effort to reach the top is worth it.  Unless you die.

  • Santa is everywhere.  So you better watch out.

To be clear, I'm the tool on the left.

3 Comments

  1. Great post! Couldn’t agree more with the value that MMS provides.

  2. You’re so right about Kent 🙂 he fibbed a little, but that was my favourite part of the conference, great post BTW :£

  3. Congrats on the movement and what sounds like a better environment for you! I hadn’t looked at your LinkedIn in a while and I thought you were still at “a small Midwest retailer” as you put it in a user group presentation. If you’re ever out in the Lansing area and want to talk geeky over a beer let me know. @AutomateMyStuff

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