Tag Archives: DDD4

Developer Day Number Six

Today was the sixth of the Developer Developer Developer events at the Microsoft Campus in Reading, and as with the previous events, I spent the day enjoying the sessions. As in previous events what I actually attended didn’t quite match up with what I thought I would attend, but the beauty of these days is you can quite easily switch dependant on what takes your fancy on the day, or indeed which sessions have seats!

First off I sampled the first part of Oliver Sturm’s double presentation on producing business applications with Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). Like most people, what I remember about WPF is the flashy eye candy filled demo applications – what Oliver aimed to do was show that alongside the eye candy was a strong platform that could produce the kind of ‘boring’ business applications that most people end up writing, something in which he very much succeeded.

I commented after DDD4 that the kind of material that Oliver covered needed an early slot, rather than the graveyard slot where everybody was tired, and it is great to see that the comment had been taken on board, as a result I thought I gained a lot from attending both the first and second parts of the presentation (although it would have been better in successive slots I have to say), and certainly have a better idea of what I can do with the new framework.

Another session that gave me a better idea of what I can do was the slightly mis-titled Cruise Control .Net session presented by Paul Lockwood. I say mis-titled as the titular piece of software only appeared at the end of the session, much of the earlier part was looking at all the other bits of software that Cruise Control .Net actually uses, and which provide much of the power of the continuous integration process. No matter as it was an interesting session, and certainly gave me some pointers towards what is needed in setting up a continuous build process. Having said that, at work we’ve been saying we’re going to set up a continuous build process for a long while, whether we’ll actually get round to doing it is another matter!

After that it was back to see Oliver for part two of his session, and then from there on to lunch.

The main lunchtime activity was the Grok talks, of which more in a moment, but first the one thing that really annoyed me about the day (well aside from the car service indicator, but that’s another story) which was the way lunch was handled. Now they’ve tried various ways around this from full scale hot food, through to the bagged lunches they have now. The bagged lunches seemed to have worked fairly well, but it is always slightly slow because they randomly pack the bags so whether you’re just like me and fussy, or more importantly have food allergies you sometimes need to look through to find a reasonable combination. Now obviously there have been comments about this, as this time they had taped all the bags shut and the only option was vegetarian or meat – but still with the same random selection. There were also Microsoft Events staff posted at each table handing the bags out and being downright rude if you tried to have a look at what was in the bags. Heaven help you if you actually had a legitimate reason to be careful what you got. Luckily my random selection was pretty good and I didn’t get a sandwich ruined by tomato and cucumber, and even struck lucky with the flavour of crisps. But seriously taping the bags shut may remove a symptom of the problem, but it’s not actually solving the problem, it’s just annoying!

Anyway, onto the lunchtime talks. In an improvement from last time they were actually held in Memphis rather than in the foyer. There was still a bit of a problem with noise as the doors were open and people were chatting outside – not helped by the lack of a microphone for the speakers in that room, but it was a definite improvement. Whilst on the subject of microphones, in answer to the organiser, who shall remain nameless, who introduced and closed the day in Chicago by saying both times “you can hear me, I don’t need a microphoneâ€?, “we can’t, and you doâ€?! I know it’s a pain to use a microphone, (and I know other people who don’t like it and think they can get away without) and it’s probably not comfortable, but you can’t be heard at the back if you don’t.

Anyway, back to the Grok Talks – there was a good mix of topics including tips on packaging up your custom controls, a demo of Windows Power Shell and some tips on how to speed up Reflection. Probably the two most memorable were firstly a senior programmer, whose name unfortunately I don’t remember, who did a primarily non-technical presentation about a recent project he led implementing a patient record system in the UAE. Basically by reviewing the project from a business perspective it highlighted all sorts of gotcha’s for other people developing software in foreign countries. In terms of software design, things like other countries having names that don’t fit neatly into the forename/surname structure used here are important, also the d’oh moment when they realised that having a picture of the patient was pretty useless when large numbers of the women wore a burqa was good to share. He also highlighted that the scheduling aspect of the system was complicated by Ramadan as the scheduling algorithm would be different in that period. He also highlighted issues of staff morale, and just getting things done – all useful stuff that some might consider common sense, but are easy to miss on a complex project.

The second most memorable was for totally different reasons. This one was Guy Smith-Ferrier talking about Extension Methods. It was memorable not because of the topic, but because Guy chose to do it as a Pecha Kucha where the presentation is limited to twenty slides, each shown for exactly twenty seconds. After those twenty seconds the slides automatically move on, whether the speaker is finished speaking to the slide or not! Even if you’re not really massively enthusiastic about the subject, the format itself does bring in a strong element of interest as you watch to see if the speaker succeeds or doesn’t manage to keep up. Although there were a few points were Guy fell behind, and even one occasion where he was waiting for the slide to move on, he largely succeeded in coping – maybe an idea to try for more speakers next time?

After lunch I stayed put in Memphis for a Question Time style session on recruitment, not because I was massively interested in the subject, but because the panel included Barry Dorrans on the panel alongside a recruitment consultant. To understand why, have a read of some of the posts on his blog… Anyway, it was a worthwhile session, as there was a good discussion of the pros and cons of going freelance – something I’ve considered before, but rejected – which was an eye opener, particularly the comments from the recruitment consultant about the issues with trying to swap back again. I also felt somewhat better about the lousy pass rate we got on the programming test we gave to potential developers on our most recent recruitment round – the manager on the panel said only one in twenty programmers pass his simple test which sounds much the same as ours. I also came away with a great little test for helpdesk operators too which I guess I’ll have to pass on. As to Barry he was entertaining and animated as always, and managed to not lay in to the recruitment consultant too much – and when he did, about the lack of technical knowledge they have, he largely agreed!

The final session was perhaps the one I had least idea before hand which I was going to attend. Eventually I resisted the temptation of Swaggily Fortunes, and went along to hear James Winters talk about how to write a Facebook application, mainly out of curiosity.

The first thing I learned from the session is that in order to make money from writing for Facebook you don’t need to do anything complicated, indeed James showed us an application that recently sold for about $25,000 that in reality took about three hours to write. To understand why, you have to go back and look at how the Facebook model actually makes money – advertising. Therefore the more users an application has, the more it is worth – so all the stupid little applications that some of the people wanting to use Facebook as a business tool tend to look down on are actually worth significantly more because they generally have many more users than the more serious applications.

The general impression I took away from the session is that a basic Facebook application is actually relatively simple to produce – the real skill is coming up with an idea that has the sort of viral penetration to spread through thousands of users, which is how you can make any sort of money as a Facebook developer. Aside from that the applications are really just web applications, albeit with some functional limitations imposed by Facebook.

Anyway, all in all it was a good day, and I picked up lots of useful bits and pieces – and maybe if I can think up a good idea I’ll make my millions writing a Facebook application… maybe not. Oh and if you’re wondering why I wasn’t micro-blogging along with some of the others on Twitter, blame the Twitter mobile service, as I tried to hook up but it wasn’t until I got home that I realised I wasn’t following the feed, so nothing had worked. Maybe next time…

DDD6 092 and DDD6 125 originally uploaded by blowdart2000.

Web Developer Day

At the recent DDD4, it was announced that on 3rd February, thanks to the success of the DDD events, a spin off Web Developer Day was being planned. Registration for the WebDD opened yesterday, and I’ve already got my registration in – spaces are expected to go just as quickly as for the main DDD events. If you need any more persuading, one of the departures from the format of the original events is that the conference is headlined by a Microsoftie – Scott Gutherie – a General Manager within Microsoft’s Developer Division who runs the development teams that build the CLR, ASP.NET, WPF, WPF/e, Windows Forms, IIS 7.0, Commerce Server, .NET Compact Framework, and the Visual Studio Web and Client Development Tools – who will be presenting a number of sessions.

Developer Day 4 Geek Dinner

Wine

After the Developer Day, comes the night. With a number of people staying around the area and heading home tomorrow, plus one or two like myself and Dave who live locally, three out of the four Developer Day’s have been followed up by a dinner, this one being organised by Zi Makki.

As with the DDD2 dinner, I headed home to collect Beth, who although she would be bored silly during the day, quite enjoys the conversation at the dinner. In a change to previous dinners, after her starring appearance in a Channel 9 video, Dave’s other half Lou came along too and joined in the fun.

Down the Table

Unfortunately, as quite often happens with these things, there were a lot of no shows. Since the sign-up for the event is via a wiki, and opens pretty early on – indeed ahead of registration for the event, it is very much dependant on people taking themselves off the list if they subsequently are unable to attend. Sadly, failing to do this means that people who otherwise would like to come along, are put off. Looking at the list, we had a booking for forty people, and thirty-seven people listed as coming – however at least ten of those people didn’t show up.

Having said that, we had a great time none-the-less. In fact I barely talked to Beth all evening as she had a pretty wide ranging discussion with the guys further down the table covering everything from teaching to gun control. I had some somewhat more geeky conversations, however in general, although there is a slight geek focus to some of the conversations (and always the inevitable gadget comparison), ultimately the topics for discussion are as broad as any other party situation – there really isn’t an archetypal geek!

Creamed

It was great to see Lou at one of these occasions too, hopefully she enjoyed it enough to join us for one of the bigger London events in the future. I took a load of shots with the camera on the phone, thanks to the lack of light some are a bit grainy, but you can browse through my selection here. There were several other people snapping away during the evening, so hopefully we’ll be able to pull them altogether into a group later on.

Developer Day 4

Today was the fourth Microsoft hosted Developer Day, held at the Microsoft UK HQ at Thames Valley Park in Reading. As previously I’d been signed up to go pretty well since it became available, and as with previous events it did not disappoint.

As with the previous events I’d been through the online agenda in advance, selecting the sessions I thought looked interesting, and as before, the sessions I actually attended turned out to be rather different!

My first session was ‘How to Write Crap Code in C#’ presented by Ben Lamb. The slides for the session are online, together with some of Ben’s previous sessions. In terms of the content, he was somewhat preaching to the converted in my case, as on a couple of occasions I’ve had to sort out performance in bits of code. In the case of this talk Ben took a simple task – to count the occurrences of particular words in the complete works of Shakespeare (oddly enough almost the same task as my current employer got me to do at my interview for the programming test), and demonstrated a multitude of different ways for doing it wrong. Amusingly for one example, despite writing it really badly, on some occasions it didn’t make much difference, however when he got to strings, that was when he really hit the big time in terms of speed, indeed he actually had to partially optimise the example so it completed within the allocated time for the session. The fundamental problem is that .Net is really bad with strings, as they are immutable – complicated string manipulation should be done with a string builder object instead. Unfortunately many programmers who cross over to .Net don’t realise this and carry on using strings as they have done in other languages…

In terms of the delivery, I thought that Ben seemed decidedly nervous – but then I’m sure I would be when faced with 160 people! Unfortunately he also made the classic mistake of not running through your entire presentation before doing it, as he would on the day, which when coupled with his decision not to use his regular (and cluttered) account on his laptop meant that part of his demonstration didn’t work correctly. He also had the other presentation nightmare, running out of material. Having said that, he did seem pretty knowledgeable, so I suspect it may well be a case of the classic not enough time to pull it together issue…

Anyway, for session 2, I popped into the next door room for ‘Ruby on Rails for .Net Developers’, presented by Dave Verwer. I particularly wanted to see this session, as Ruby on Rails is one of the hyped up technologies about in the industry at the moment, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. As you may have gathered, Ruby on Rails is the competition for Microsoft, so it was an interesting choice of session. In a double whammy, I spotted as Dave walked into the room, that unlike the other speakers, he wasn’t using the PC/Powerpoint combo either, he had a nice Mac laptop, and was using Keynote for the slides. For the demos he was using my favourite Mac text editor Textmate too. However, in a bit of a poor demonstration, he succeeded in crashing the Mac completely on one occasion, and having it lock up on him on another – quite impressive, but for the wrong reasons. Interestingly he also task swapped using the Mac equivalent of ALT-Tab which I found surprising – I tend to hit F9 and use the slick Expose effect instead.

Putting aside the method of presentation, in terms of content, it was very interesting. I can certainly see where the Ruby on Rails reputation for being magic comes from, but ultimately that comes from working the way the framework expects you to work. Whereas other environments try to be as flexible as possible, Ruby on Rails seems very prescriptive about how it would like you to do things, and I suspect the magic will very soon wear thin if you tried to do things slightly differently. Having said that, I think it’s perfectly possible that somebody could take the same principle and apply it to other languages and environments. It’s very nicely done, and certainly powerful, but most definitely hyped.

Session 3 was a somewhat difficult choice as all four sessions seemed attractive, plus Barry was doing one of the four, and Sarah was doing another. In the end, I went with Dave to hear Sarah talking about blogs and blogging, and Dan, a colleague from work checked out and was impressed by what Barry said. Sarah was another person hit by technical difficulties. At one point she had four different laptops on the desk trying to find one that the Microsoft network would allow to connect to the internet – something that was a key part of the talk. Ironically by the time they managed to get a laptop that could connect, she didn’t use the internet anyway. Impressively through all of that Sarah kept her cool, and delivered a great session, certainly covering the basics of the various collaborative technologies that are around, and more importantly giving real world examples of how her employers are using the technology to get their disparate programming teams on opposite sides of the world to work together.

Following session 3 was lunch, which at an extended ninety minutes, I was worried was going to be pretty boring. Having said that the organisers had arranged a selection of mini talks and discussions to fill the time, ironically none of which I actually listened too! In the end I used the time to mingle a bit, chatting to various people, and in the end finishing up in an interesting discussion with Liam Westley who develops software used by shopping channels like QVC.

For session 4 I’d highlighted two technical sessions to attend, and went to neither, choosing instead Richard Costall and Dave McMahon, shamelessly ripping off Crackerjack, playing Double or Drop with the vast selection of swag that they brought back from TechED in Barcelona. Although they maintained that there was no technical content to the session, that was a slight bit of a fib, as the questions were all based around a series of video interviews they had conducted with key industry figures during TechED. Although it wasn’t the sort of deep technical content that a lot of other sessions contained, it was certainly interesting, and as always with their sessions, great entertainment. Perhaps the only criticism I’d make is that it would have been better if they had made use of the embedding feature in Powerpoint to make the whole presentation a lot more slick by embedding the video interviews into the presentation with the questions. Using the presenter view in Powerpoint they could also have removed the need for the other document they had that listed the prizes, and certainly the need to have a switch box and multiple laptops. Unlike many of the presenters who were swapping back and forth for demonstrations, their presentation was an ideal use for the presenter view, and would have been much the better for it.

Before session number 5, we had a brief talk from the Edward Gibson, Microsoft Security chief and ex-FBI man. I have to say that whilst what he was saying was fairly interesting, and certainly important, the whole ex-FBI routine which involved standing on the top of the arena area outside the building in ray bans (it was decidedly grey and overcast today) and bellowing in our direction probably left most people with a fairly poor impression of the guy and his attitude (which is about as polite as I could phrase it), and ultimately detracted from the message. Certainly for the kind of audience at the day it was pitched in totally the wrong way, and Microsoft really need to do something different for this kind of audience.

By session number 5, my brain had largely switched off. Unfortunately I was in Extensible LINQing presented by Oliver Sturm, which seemed like a very interesting topic – ultimately one I think I’m going to have to check out the notes when they are posted. Sadly this is the second Developer Day on the trot when Oliver has been handed this last slot, and really something like the Costall and McMahon show might have been better at this point.

So was it worthwhile going? Most definitely, and I’ll certainly be keen to get my name down for DDD5. There definitely needs to be a bit of work in making sure things work – one colleague commented that he thinks that Memphis (the conference room at Microsoft rather than the city) was cursed as he’d never seen a session at a Developer day in there that worked! To my mind you’re always going to get some things that don’t work on the day, it’s inevitable with some of the stuff that is being demonstrated, but certainly there are ways to mitigate the risk…