ALT.NET Conference 2007

Last weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the first ever ALT.NET conference, held in beautiful Austin, TX. Not only was it a great excuse to visit one of my favorite cities in the US, and see my Mom (who never thinks we bring the kids over to see her enough) it was an incredible opportunity to commune with a group of very serious and passionate developers who truly care about their craft. The "open spaces" style un-conference was held over 3 days in the incredible St. Edwards University Professional Education Center and covered a variety of topics based on the topic requests from the participants. I was there throughout the entire event, and although I was not able to attend every session, I do believe that the conference was definitely a success on a couple of fronts:

First and foremost, the conference was able to better define ALT.NET (at least for me). Going in, there was a lot of talk on the blogosphere that ALT.NET was a bunch of cranky guys that hated Microsoft and wanted to encourage people to stop using our tools in favor of other open source alternatives. It's true that the ALT.NET community does embrace a number of OSS frameworks, and other commercial software tools because they feel those frameworks and tools *are* superior to Microsoft's current offerings.  That doesn't mean they hate Microsoft though - they're still developing .NET applications on Windows using Visual Studio (although they're probably not using MS Test or the built-in refactoring support...)

Secondly, I think the conference was successful because they achieved their purpose which I believe was to get a group of passionate developers together to discuss what they thought were the best development tools, languages, packages and frameworks. Some "alternatives" to .NET (like RoR) were discussed, but that was part of the plan all along. Like CodeMash, the intent was to look beyond just .NET into technologies that could best help developers do their things in the way they want to do them, or at least in ways that they find the most enjoyable. One part I found particularly interesting was the attention paid to Ruby and Rails, and how the conversations I overheard at the conference were similar to those I had at Capital Group a few years ago. At CG we were discussing .NET UI's with Java back ends. At ALT.NET they were discussing RoR UIs with .NET back ends. It's amazing how things evolve.

Thirdly, I was very glad to see the ability of this group to grab the attention of many very influential Microsoft employees (besides just me <grin>) and get them to come to Austin and listen. I lost count of how many famous & influential people I met there including Scott Guthrie (who revealed the first public demo of our new MVC framework for ASP.NET), Scott Hanselman, Simon Guest, Peter Provost, Jim Newkirk, Brad Wilson, and several others - 12 or 13 in all that made the trip to Austin to find out more about the ALT.NET movement and get "plugged in" before that train left the station without them...

Although I think the conference was a success, I do have some observations for the group moving forward:

  1. You had a great first meeting, but don't lose the passion. the old "strike while the iron is hot" totally applies here.
  2. Watch out for negativity - it ends up sounding like whining. On the first day of the conference there was a lot of talk about how some in the public viewed ALT.NET as being  anti Microsoft (which we know is not the case) but that is how perception works. Spend some time thinking about how to drive the perceptions you want and everyone else will follow. Jeffrey, Dave and others are doing a great job here, and as ALT.NET gets more mainstreamed (see next 2 items) this will become less of an issue.
  3. Get Microsoft to help you. There were a lot of very influential blue-badgers at the conference, and they were definitely listening. Howard offered up a spot on MSDN Magazine to write about ALT.NET topics, and I offered up our new Code to Live show on Channel9. There were some great relationships established this weekend-let's keep them going!
  4. Figure out how to lose the "ALT" part of the name. Today, based on the current state of the combinations of Microsoft tools, frameworks, guidance, events, demos and sample code, there is an inconsistency of approach around how best-practices are applied in development. At some point, our approaches should converge into a well-defined set of tools, guidance, frameworks,etc. that points all developers in the "right" direction and should include references to all frameworks, tools, etc. that make sense for the developer to grok. If these practices are truly Best Practices, why not make them part of the mainstream guidance? Keeping them "ALT" can be an impediment to affecting all those Mort's out there...

Anyway, that's my take. I enjoyed being there, and I intend to participate as much as I can going forward. There are already a number of events coming up that will include ALT.NET "tracks", which is a good thing I and I bet we'll continue to see more and move ALT.NET presence around in the future.

Thanks again guys for inviting me out, and I look forward to our collaborations in the future.