My first TechEd was in Amsterdam in 2004. It was the first event I'd attended that was anything like that size and I loved it!
There was warm-up entertainment at the keynote provided by Drum Cafe (www.drumcafe.com) and there was a drum waiting on each seat of the auditorium. Having thousands of people drumming more or less in time is quite an experience. We were shown a video of drums being made in Africa and it said how much the people were benefiting from the purchase of all these instruments, which gave a feeling that people were benefiting from us enjoying ourselves. The drums smelled like the animals from whom their skin had come - kind of obvious, but you don't expect to come out of a tech conference keynote with your hands smelling like you've been to a petting zoo.
At registration, everyone had received a large vinyl bright orange messenger bag. It was quite a fun bag, and the colour was certainly appropriate for the Netherlands, but I've never seen anyone using one any time since that week (if you attend enough tech events, you see a few bags that you recognise from previous conferences). We were staying near the station and used Amsterdam's decent tram system to get around (line 4 to the RAI) every morning and evening the trams were packed by people with bright-orange bags. We stood out like sore thumbs - the locals who were on their regular commute must have loved us; especially at the end of the first day, when we all had smelly, bulky drums clipped to the bags too!
Oddly, one of the things that struck me was the logistics of lunch. Getting so many people in and out of a huge hall to sit down for a hot meal in a relatively short period was very impressive and reminiscent of a military operation.
On the subject of impressive scale, the IT infrastructure for a TechEd conference is epic, if you consider that a few days earlier there was nothing. On a couple of occasions I've attended a session about how the CommNet was put together - I'm not sure if they still run those sessions, but if you get a chance to attend one, I recommend it.
To be honest, I can't remember much of the technical content from that first TechEd (although the party was epic!). I would say that it's as much about meeting and interacting with peers as it is the sessions. The content could change your life though. I distinctly remember a session at ITforum05 in Barcelona called "Monad: Next Generation Command Shell", delivered by a cordial American chap in a funky tie. At the time I didn't fully get it, but I did realise that it would have a huge impact on my future. "Monad" became PowerShell; its creator, Jeffrey Snover became a Microsoft Distinguished Engineer and Lead Architect of Windows Server 2012 (still wearing funky ties); and I became a PowerShell MVP!
I'm so glad that TechEd EMEA is returning to Amsterdam. It is a great city to visit - if you've never been and you're making the trip this summer, try to add a day or two on to your conference schedule and see the sights; yes, including the Red Light District - just remember not to put your wallet in an easily accessible pocket, and don't try to take photos of those particular sights!
For more historical TechEd content from Jonathan, check out the posts from his blog pre-TechEd 2008 - some of the first-timer tips are still relevant, while others may leave you pining for the halcyon days before the credit-crunch!