Monday 29th - Anticipation
Even though the conference is at the Gold Coast for some reason we were flying into Brisbane which is a 90 minute train ride away. I spent the flight watching This Week in Tech episodes on my tablet that I had been saving for a couple of weeks specifically for the flight. Once we landed we managed to get a special deal on the train ride where a guy would pick us up from Nerang train station and drive us to Jupiters Hotel & Casino. Once checked in I looked at the room internet options ($25/day!) and decided I could live off the free wifi provided at the conference (later I found the business centre of the hotel which amounted to a free wifi hotspot and a couple of chairs). After that I caught up with @MrPiers who gave me a bit of a tour of the area around Gold Coast Convention Centre and we had a steak dinner and beer (the first thing I'd eaten since breakfast in WA so it went down well). I went to bed (after messing with the OData feed) full of excitement for the days to come.
Tuesday 30th - Registration
Woke up bright and early and headed to the convention centre to register and collect my bag. I was told by the staff there that I could not register until 12. When I did come back at 12 there was a giant line. Grrr. I was here first! Ah well. The bag is very cool and came with a water bottle (which was a life-saver over the course of the conference). I found an area where people were eating and went to join them and was stopped by security. Sorry buddy, unless you're part of the Pre-Conference Technical Training you can't go in there until 3pm*. Sad face. I was starting to feel like the ugly guy trying to get into the exclusive night-club.
3:30pm KOS02 - Developer Kickstart: It's never been a more exciting time to be a developer. I truly believe that. This session completely failed to convince me. Rather than seeing what was awesome in the Microsoft space for software developers we got a demonstration of what awesome developers in the Microsoft space are creating with a preview of the Windows Phone 7 Spotlight finalists. Then we had a video demonstrating a new feature of the ALM stack (creating storyboards with Powerpoint). A feature that I think is cool but doesn't excite me personally as a developer. Finally we got an awesome video demo from the nSquared guys that felt like it was mostly faked (if not then cool but still irrelevant to the kind of apps I get asked to build) and seemed to be similar to a video I saw years ago. If this was a taste of the next 3 days I was set for disappointment. Luckily it wasn't. I guess that a combination of my own excitement and watching the tweet-stream from the equivalent IT session go passed ("Wow! This new thing is awesome", "just by dragging and dropping! my brain asploded") probably geared me for failure. This is the first year that they had a split kickoff and I felt that I missed out on serendipitous discovery opportunities that I might have explored later in the conference. After all, Devs and IT Pros are all on the same team. It would be nice if we had some idea what the others were doing.
4:30pm KEY01 - Keynote: The keynote was a celebration of being a geek. Hosted by Adam Spencer and featuring Jarod Green (of Beached Az fame) and Jane Cockburn (from Cochlear) this was a lot of fun. Where the Kickstart session had failed to inspire me by showing specifics the keynote managed to get me fired up with vagaries. Software enables us to do amazing things, from taking a poorly drawn whale to superstardom to helping people regain a lost sense to the quest for the largest prime number. We are all a part of that. What we do is important.
After the keynote was the welcome party. Loads of fun was had by all and this was my first opportunity to wander the vendor space and pick up some swag. There were pens and stubby-holders, Rubix cubes (or are they "generic puzzle cubes" when not sold by Rubix) and torches. I was entered into the draw to win something in the order of 15 XBox with Kinect packages (I didn't win any). There were competitions to win NAS boxes, remote controlled helicopters, my own weight in space beer and more. I ran into a surprisingly large number of people from Perth.
After the official party started to wind down the autechheads party started to spin up across town. @MrPiers and I caught a taxi over there to join in the madness only to realize that we didn't really know anyone there. I need to spend some time over on the forums so that I have someone to talk to next year. Luckily I ran into @christhecoder who introduced me to several members of the @expanz team. Despite having collaborated with Chris for a year on Professional Visual Studio 2010 we had never actually met so this was an auspicious occasion. I never did buy him that beer.
Wednesday 31st - Inspiration
Despite having been out late the night before I got up early to attend the User Group Leaders Breakfast. I felt a little bad attending as I haven't organized an event for my user group since February but free bacon soon cured me of any guilt. Besides, good conversation and coffee was a great way to wake my brain before the day of content to come.
8:15am ARC-MID204 - Disposable Architecture: This session helped me to crystalize some thoughts I've had about software for a while. We seem compelled to build the best system for a business that will cover all of their needs from day one. The problem is that the development time tends to go on so long that the business needs have moved (or expired) long before the software tends to be ready. Time and again I have seen software projects fail because they tried to deliver all of their value at once. Most businesses are happy with a simpler solution today that covers 80% of what they need (this is why so many enterprises are built on top of Access and Excel). The idea is to build "situational" apps that solve the business need today with a plan to transition those apps out at a later date. This might mean using a tool like LightSwitch to capture data is a SQL Server somewhere while you work on more full-fledged application to manage that data at a later time (or you might find that LightSwitch does all the business needs). There are caveats and warnings that go with this approach and I recommend you watch the video. Good stuff and great way to start the day. I never did find out what the difference between an ARC and ARC-MID session was.
9:45am ARC201 - Gamification: Swapping out the old dentures for real bite: I was disappointed with this session. It talked about Gamification in very high-level and abstract terms (appropriate for a level 200 session I guess). The content only really went for half of the allotted time. This left a heap of time for the questions which basically started with "So how can we use this?", a topic that I felt should have been covered. We had a long period of the presenter explaining user interface concepts for gamification to the audience instead of just bringing up an app (or even a screenshot) and showing us. To make matters worse, instead of a simple powerpoint deck the presenter had taken the time to create a presentation in what I assume was XNA containing a bunch of silly flickering hologrammatic images that were only really connected to the content via pun. The whole presentation was run by an XBox controller which was a nice touch but not sure it really connected with the crowd. All in all it felt like the idea for the slides had seized more of the presenters attention than the content. At one point when asked how we could utilize this information in a battleship grey WinForms business app the presenter remarked that "you wouldn't". WHAT AM I DOING HERE THEN?! And no mention of Stack Overflow, arguably the best business-focussed game in the world.
11:30am WEB102 - Welcome to the Next Generation of Web Design: This was a good overview of what is coming with CSS3/HTML5 and what is available in browsers today. CSS3 Media Queries were covered (something that blew my tiny mind), Grid Alignment in IE10 (and not IE10), Flexible Box Layout, Multi-Column Layout (how many years did I waste getting this to happen in CMS systems?), Positioned Floats, Web fonts and more! Highly recommended.
1:45pm DEV305 - An MMO in 45 minutes: Developing for 2 screens and a cloud: This was the first timeslot where I had multiple sessions I wanted to attend (4 in fact). On the advice of one of the presenters I went to this one. @rbanks54 wrote a great blog post about some of the things that went wrong. It was mainly a collection of hints and tips that I think will probably be better served over the next short while by reading the blogs of the presenters instead of watching the session. There was so much info that there wasn't enough time to cover anything in detail and the lack of preparation by the presenters was obvious. Fun was had, knowledge was gained. Just not in the correct proportions. The presenters definitely know their stuff and if you have questions about anything they did I'm sure that they'd be happy to hear them.
After this I had a break. I don't remember which sessions were on but nothing caught my fancy and I'd had many hours of being locked in small-ish rooms being fed information. I needed a break. Doing so also allowed me to keep up my WIN-FAIL pattern for the days sessions as well :)
5:00pm WEB101 - Responsive Design: The View of the World Depends on the Glasses I Wear: More awesome delivered by @tommylee. As the explosion of internet-enabled devices continues our web sites and applications are going to have to cater for more and more form-factors and capabilities (or lack thereof) . This session discussed Media Queries again (with different examples which was appreciated), flexible grid based layouts, flexible images and media, how to convert absolute measurements into relative ones. If your web site is likely to be viewed on someone's iPhone, tablet, smart-watch of the future, etc. this session comes highly recommended.
After the sessions I went back to the house being rented by the @expanz crew and had some space-beer and really nice BBQ. It was a small affair that was strangely dominated by West Australians until Adam Cogan and crew showed up. Magic tricks were performed to the amazement of a skeptical (and mildly inebriated) crowd. @expanz is a .NET application platform as a service and they are beta-testing at the moment so go check their stuff out!
I came out of the day excited to be building web applications and sites. I wanted to go and add media queries to my existing applications. I wanted to go and learn amplify.js and css3. This is a good outcome. The highlight of the day for me were the two sessions presented by @tommylee.
To be continued
This is getting to be much longer than I thought it would be so I'll stop here and cover days 2 and 3 in a separate post. All in all I realized when I got back to the hotel that all of the things I was excited about (CSS3, Amplify.js) had almost nothing to do with Microsoft. There's two reasons for this:
- I picked sessions that weren't showcasing Microsoft stuff. This is my own bias as I'm not that into Azure, Windows Phone 7, Kinect Development and LightSwitch which seemed to be the key technologies being showcased in the developer tracks at TechEd.
- We have PDC 2011 and then BUILD just around the corner so we are right on the cusp of more Microsoft Awesome with Windows 8, Visual Studio vNext (, C# 5?) so there just isn't that much to get excited about right now.
Also, it is worth mentioning that I took notes on my tablet the whole week. I did not need my laptop except to fire up Visual Studio. It was an interesting experiment and I was surprised at how well it worked.
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