Technical Readiness

Fortunately I’ve had the chance to attend many events dealing with technology but my favorite, for a number of reasons has to be a semi-annual internal Microsoft conference held in Seattle that brings together all ‘softies from all over the world. I recently attended this conference (which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) and it's a weeklong event jammed pack with chalk talks, hands on labs, a certification testing center and massive general sessions with speakers like Steve Ballmer, Steven Sinofsky and Scott Guthrie. Now while I can’t divulge specifics per say I can however give an overall sense of the event as well as my opinion on some of the high level concepts that were conveyed.

First and foremost, this is a developer’s conference although truth be told there are tracks for every conceivable role within Microsoft. Having been bit by the coding bug many moons ago I gravitated towards everything and anything that dealt with code and since my specialty lies within software development, I made sure to overindulge on Team Foundation Server/Service (TFS), Visual Studio (VS), .NET, SQL Server and more.

Before I delve into another area of interest for me - application lifecycle management (ALM), I want to set the stage if I could. This event had an air of optimism and pride when it came to demonstrating products. This will undoubtedly be a tremendous year for Microsoft namely because of the release of Windows 8 and how it will play a part in the consumerization of I.T. (COIT). I should preface that statement by saying that the prior years’ work was not all for naught however as the competition raises the bar, so does Microsoft.

Obviously Microsoft has a large share of the enterprise but it’s clear that many employees nowadays expect certain capabilities, such as connecting their mobile device to the corporate network (whether onsite or remotely), accessing work email on their home computer and/or viewing and editing a document on their tablet. Add in Xbox and the TV and these 4 screens are enormously important which is exactly why Microsoft has made certain changes in Windows 8 along with introducing the Metro UI to own all of these screens. Combining this strategic vision with the demo’s I’ve seen of the latest version of Windows 8 (which are truly fantastic) will not only benefit the consumer but also all levels of an organization’s I.T. department (i.e. developer, tester, business analyst, infrastructure specialist, etc.).

Speaking of development, let’s talk about ALM. Visual Studio 11 will offer some incredible features and actually some are available now via a preview while others are still being “baked.” I think it’s safe to say that if you downloaded the virtual machine and have gone deeper than the superficial tour, you’ve seen the great strides the VS team has made and trust me when I say there’s even more to come.

Of course VS is only as good as the person behind the code or the methodology that is being followed, dare I say enforced? Therefore I made sure to go to talks on Scrum, TFS and the work being done by the ALM Rangers. All of these sessions built on each other and thanks to Brian Blackman and Willy P. Schaub I now know how Ruck came to be.

Keeping on the development bandwagon, one of my favorite presenter’s was onsite (Anders Hejlsberg) to speak about the evolution of C#/VB and the direction of both languages going forward. While the session was similar to the Build conference, I always find Anders talks to be engaging and well worth the time. Not to mention he’s extremely approachable and a fascinating person to talk with.

Mobile development is now more than ever a first class citizen and understanding how to design to a myriad of devices is extremely important. Precisely why I attended a few sessions on this very topic and the key takeaway here is that the tools will/have become better along with making sure you know your audience. That means designing a mobile application for the enterprise may not (and often is not) the same as creating one for the consumer space. This notion of separating your user base is critical and generally determines if application adoption is successful or not.

Indubitably an event of this kind wouldn’t be complete without talking about “the Cloud.” I didn’t have to worry as there were plenty of sessions on Azure which definitely “completed me.” I soaked up using System Center 2012 for managing applications and how Azure helps ease the cost burden of infrastructure maintenance like a sponge. Often times I found myself triple booking a time slot because of so many good topics on Cloud development/management but since I couldn’t clone myself (at least not yet) some sacrifices had to be made. Thankfully I got a debriefing from some of my fellow attendees so all was not lost.

Technology aside, one aspect of an event such as this that shouldn’t be overlooked is networking. No I don’t mean load balancing (although a great topic for discussion none the less) but rather meeting and greeting people you’ve either only corresponded with through email or by phone. This is a perfect opportunity to put a name to a face and make a connection that an email, conference call or even video chat can’t fully accomplish. So the next time your company puts on an event, be it a holiday party or a mini-boot camp on a technology X, before hitting the “Decline” button on that meeting invite, you might just want to click “Accept” and break bread with your fellow technologists.

All that being said, these are but a few observations and musings of mine as unfortunately there’s not enough space on this blog to put into words the sheer amount of technology that was on display so let me just say this: it’s a GREAT time to be a developer or at the very least involved with technology as the glass is definitely half full rather than half empty.