June 2010

A11yCamp: June 8 at the University of Guelph

by Joey deVilla on June 7, 2010

a11ycamp

Just as i18n is shorthand for “internationalization” – it’s made by taking the first and last letters of the word and replacing the 18 letters in between with the number 18 – a11y is shorthand for “accessibility”. That’s why the accessibility unconference taking place at 7:00 p.m. tomorrow, June 8th, at the University of Guelph is called A11yCamp.

Here’s what A11yCamp’s site has to say about the event:

A11yCamp is a participant-driven event about IT accessibility, modeled after the unconference format of BarCamp.  Whether you are an expert or just getting your feet wet in the IT accessibility space, come join us!  With the schedule determined on the spot, A11yCamp Guelph will be a dynamic event with presentations, demos and interaction by and among participants.

Come out to the first A11yCamp at the Aiming for Accessibility conference at the University of Guelph (about an hour west of Toronto) to share and learn about IT accessibility in an open environment.  Also, there will probably be pizza.  And maybe t-shirts.  We hope.  Register Now!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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PressHarbor Rocks!

by Joey deVilla on June 6, 2010

Here’s a quick unsolicited endorsement for PressHarbor, the WordPress hosting company where my blogs The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century and Global Nerdy live. They didn’t ask me to plug them or even know that I’m doing so.

pressharborPressHarbor rocks! Yesterday, an entry of mine from back in May – Bacon Pancakes – got 20,000 pageviews and as of 9:30 this morning it’s already up to 15,000. Another article of mine, New Programming Jargon, amassed over 80,000 pageviews in a single day. The servers at most hosting companies catering to individuals would’ve keeled over under the bandwidth stresses that my blogs put on them, but PressHarbor’s have kept on ticking though mass visits brought on by Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Twitter or any other “Dude, check this out!” kind of web service.

If you’re looking for kick-ass seven-kinds-of-awesome WordPress hosting, I highly recommend PressHarbor.

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Getting Paid to Work for Ballmer is Pretty Nice

by Joey deVilla on June 5, 2010

Joey deVilla and Steve BallmerMe and Ballmer at the Microsoft Town Hall in Toronto, October 2009.

David “DHH” Heinemeier Hansson recently wrote in the excellent blog Signal to Noise (add it to your reading list if it isn’t there already) that he’d never work for Ballmer.

Since he’s DHH, he doesn’t have to – he’s a principal at the development firm 37signals, whose web apps I like to cite as examples to follow, and the creator of the web framework Ruby on Rails. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t DHH: we can’t all be brilliant game-changing programmers who are also photogenic enough to have the option of becoming a male model when this computer fad blows over. When a Sith Lord from Microsoft comes a-calling with a job offer, we don’t automatically turn it down; we have to mull it over.

Darth Vader makes his offer: "Join me...we have a good dental plan!"

I’ve been working for Ballmer (quite indirectly: I’m a fair number of degrees of separation below him on the org chart) for the past twenty months. I can say with complete certainty that out of all the jobs I’ve held – from the job right out of school building multimedia CD-ROMs in Director to working with Cory Doctorow in his dot-com’s evangelism office in San Francisco at the height of The Bubble to various coding jobs from my own consulting shop to Toronto’s worst-run startup to that very brief stint as a go-go dancer at a nightclubmy current gig as Developer Evangelist for The Empire has been my all-time favourite of the bunch. I get to do two things I absolutely love – working with technology and schmoozing with people – and with a fair bit of autonomy: in the setting of my choice, with a set of priorities that I negotiate. I also get to work with some of the brightest and most passionate people I’ve ever met, both inside and outside the company, and it doesn’t hurt that the pay’s quite nice (although, as Dan ink will tell you, money isn’t the primary motivator in this line of work).

Joey deVilla playing accordion in front of the RailsConf logoPlaying accordion onstage at RailsConf 2007.

Until 2008, I’d worked mostly for small companies, many of whom you could fit into a minivan. I might not have considered working for Microsoft, or any large corporation for that matter, had it not been for a little moment that I internally refer to as “The Abercrombie Epiphany”. And oddly enough, it happened at RailsConf 2007, a conference devoted to DHH’s creation Ruby on Rails, where I played an ode to DHH onstage with Chad Fowler at the start of the evening keynote (that’s what’s pictured above, and there’s even a video of the song).

The second day’s opening keynote was about Ruby, Rails and the enterprise, and the crowd was not impressed. A good chunk of the IRC backchannel chatter was devoted to saying “enough with the enterprise already…who cares?” I distinctly remember someone referring to one of the presenters as “trying to be the Rachael Ray of enterprise computing”. The guy leaning against the wall behind me (I’d arrived late, having taken part in the previous night’s bacchanalia) in an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt started putting on a hoodie with the letters “A & F” on it and packing up his laptop. “Who uses this stuff, anyway?” he said to me as he picked up his Starbucks cup and walked towards the door. “I’m going back to the Marriott.”

It was probably the fact that he was wearing all that Abercrombie & Fitch – the company vaguely annoys me – that got me thinking about his question, “who uses this stuff anyway?” It turns out he did: he’d flown to Portland, stayed at a chain hotel, used a laptop and conference wifi, drank coffee from the shop with a branch in every mall and seemingly on every corner and bought clothes from a century-old retailer – and the cycles that enabled all that didn’t run two-week-marathon-written code living on 10-dollar hosting, but invisibly and everywhere on systems he didn’t think anyone used.

I wouldn’t give the incident any thought until just over a year later.

An office chair, a computer and some boxes lined up against an interior brick wallPacking up my stuff after getting laid off from b5media, September 2008.

What got me thinking about that little Abercrombie & Fitch experience was my getting laid off from b5media during the econopocalypse of summer 2008. I’d been interviewing with a number of companies, all of them small, and blogging the experience as a means of amplifying my job search efforts.

While working on a blog entry, I got an IM from Adam Carter, a tech evangelist at Microsoft. It went exactly like this:

Ever thought about working for The Empire?

(Yes, he referred to Microsoft as “The Empire”.)

Every culture has certain tendencies, and the “I build on Mac OS and deploy to Linux” culture of which I was part led me to instinctively dismiss the idea at first blush. Ridiculous, I thought, and besides, why would they hire me? I haven’t coded any .NET since those trivia games for MAXIM in 2002.

(Yes, I really did that, in an office across the street from the downtown Toronto Hooters. It was like working inside a beer commercial.)

But when my friends John Bristowe (who I’d have voted “most likely to work for Microsoft”) and David Crow (who I’d have voted “most likely to take a dump on Microsoft’s front door”) were making suggestions within the company that they hire me, I had to give Adam’s out-of-the-blue IM a little more thought. And in that thinking, I was reminded of the Abercrombie incident.

Archimedes moving the world with his lever

Many people would (and did) see working at Microsoft as “the safe move”, but to a guy from the culture of DHH, who’s always worked in all small companies and one medium-sized one and hadn’t used their development tools in over six years, it’s the scary one. When word got around that I was interviewing at Microsoft, I heard a small chorus of voices – one of them that nagging voice of doubt – saying the same thing: “You couldn’t pay me to work for Ballmer”.

But I took the job, anyway. It offered the most challenges, the greatest learning opportunities, a journey to places well outside my comfort zone, and I hadn’t done anything like it before. It was a window into a world I’d only seen from the outside, toward which I’d only made snarky comments from the peanut gallery. It offered me the lever that Archimedes talked about – one big enough to move the world – and a chance to see this computing the Abercrombie guy thought no one used.

(It even gave me the perfect excuse to pull out the Jean Cocteau quote at parties, when explaining my change in career direction: “Since it’s now fashionable to laugh at the conservative French Academy, I have remained a rebel by joining it.")

HacklabTO work table with my laptop plugged into a monitor, mouse, "Coding4Fun" book and can of Diet CokeYesterday’s work enviroment – my setup at HacklabTO.

What is working for Ballmer like? I can’t speak for all of Microsoft’s 90,000 employees, but this Developer Evangelist job is pretty sweet. I’m classified as a mobile worker, which means no cubicle – I’m either working out of the home office, a select bunch of work-friendly cafes, or quite often at HacklabTO, the “hackerspace” in Toronto’s colourful Kensington Market where I’m a member with 24/7 access. Every day’s work environment is different (the picture above shows yesterday’s, at the Hacklab), and this constant flux keeps me going.

I get to noodle with all sorts of interesting tech, from dev tools to cloud computing to game consoles to phones, and I have a hardware guy stocking me with the latest gear. I get to shape the content of a cross-Canada conference that thousands of professional developers across Canada, whose work makes your money move, your electricity flow and your favourite retail stores stay stocked. I get to participate in all sorts of fun stuff, from holding a pre-conference in a train car to having a little fun with Richard Stallman. I get to inspire students as they start their search for jobs in a shaky economy. I get to concentrate in the web, mobile, and open source — fields where the company’s traditional strengths aren’t.

Simply put, I get my shot at changing the world. That’s what DHH is also trying to do – he’s just working it from a different angle. If you want to do that as well, I’m sure you’ll find your own angle, whether it’s homesteading in your own indie software company working out of a cafe to doing it as a part of a Fortune 500 company. DHH is DHH, and you are you, and while he could never work for Ballmer, you might like it like I do, and that’s okay. After all, that’s why the saying goes “Do not follow in the footsteps of the masters; seek what they sought instead.”

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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for the win

Once again, my friend and former co-worker (I worked at his startup, OpenCola, during “The Bubble”) Cory Doctorow is holding the Canadian launch of his latest novel, For the Win.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb about the book:

In the virtual future, you must organize to survive

At any hour of the day or night, millions of people around the globe are engrossed in multiplayer online games, questing and battling to win virtual “gold,” jewels, and precious artifacts. Meanwhile, others seek to exploit this vast shadow economy, running electronic sweatshops in the world’s poorest countries, where countless “gold farmers,” bound to their work by abusive contracts and physical threats, harvest virtual treasure for their employers to sell to First World gamers who are willing to spend real money to skip straight to higher-level gameplay.

Mala is a brilliant 15-year-old from rural India whose leadership skills in virtual combat have earned her the title of “General Robotwalla.” In Shenzen, heart of China’s industrial boom, Matthew is defying his former bosses to build his own successful gold-farming team. Leonard, who calls himself Wei-Dong, lives in Southern California, but spends his nights fighting virtual battles alongside his buddies in Asia, a world away. All of these young people, and more, will become entangled with the mysterious young woman called Big Sister Nor, who will use her experience, her knowledge of history, and her connections with real-world organizers to build them into a movement that can challenge the status quo.

The ruthless forces arrayed against them are willing to use any means to protect their power—including blackmail, extortion, infiltration, violence, and even murder. To survive, Big Sister’s people must out-think the system. This will lead them to devise a plan to crash the economy of every virtual world at once—a Ponzi scheme combined with a brilliant hack that ends up being the biggest, funnest game of all.

Imbued with the same lively, subversive spirit and thrilling storytelling that made LITTLE BROTHER an international sensation, FOR THE WIN is a prophetic and inspiring call-to-arms for a new generation.

The event takes place tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the Merril Collection of the Lillian H. Smith building (a.k.a. “The Library”) at 239 College Street, just east of Spadina. Perhaps a post-launch visit to Caplansky’s is in order.

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.

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Last night at a gathering of Toronto digital marketing and social media types held by TheBizMedia – I’m not sure I qualified for an invite, but hey, free beer!Scott Stratten, president of UnMarketing, gave a very entertaining, funny and insightful presentation in which he talked about the lessons he learned as an online marketer.

I shot a five-minute video snippet of his presentation, where he talked about:

  • First name and email address are often enough. When you need users to sign up for things like contests or surveys, do you really need to take up their valuable time by collecting information that you probably don’t need? (I know that at Microsoft, we ask for great gobs of information when you sign up for even the simplest of things. I do try to get them to tone it down.)
  • How to get people to take your surveys. Telling them that “your answers will help us” isn’t going to get them to take your surveys. Scott found that what works for him is offering a chance at a prize – even a $50 Amazon certificate – boosts the number of people who take survey by orders of magnitude.
  • Auto-DM replies on Twitter. Don’t. Just don’t.

You’ll probably want to turn up the volume on the video. Scott was speaking without a microphone, and as good a videocamera as the Flip Mino HD is, I would’ve had to get obnoxiously close to the stage to get better sound.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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Maritime DevCon: June 18th in Moncton

by Joey deVilla on June 3, 2010

martime dev con

If you’re a developer out in the Maritimes, you might want to check out Derek Hatchard’s Maritime Dev Con, which takes place on June 18th in Moncton. It’s a single-afternoon, two-track conference – which means you should be able to take time out to attend it – covering a number of topics including:

  • .NET and ASP.NET
  • Java
  • iPhone development
  • Ruby
  • Python
  • Groovy
  • NoSQL and MongoDB
  • “Rockstar Estimating Skills”

Maritime Dev Con has a registration fee that won’t hurt your wallet – it’s a mere CAD$19!

I’m a big fan of small, regional gatherings like Maritime Dev Con and its western counterpart Prairie DevCon. Each region has its own specializations and needs that a by-locals, for-locals conference can do a better job of serving, and the smaller size of these conferences allows for more back-and-forth between audience and presenter, and between attendees. Support your local conference!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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New SharePoint 2010 Books from Wrox

by Joey deVilla on June 2, 2010

Reza Alirezaei

Pictured above is Reza Alirezaei giving a presentation on SharePoint at last year’s TechDays conference in Toronto. Reza’s one of our go-to guys for SharePoint, and I’m pleased to announce that a book he co-authored has just been published by Wrox: Professional SharePoint 2010 Development.

Cover of "Professional SharePoint 2010 Development"

I don’t have the book just yet, but here’s the publisher’s blurb:

Learn to leverage the features of the newest version of SharePoint, in this update to the bestseller

More than simply a portal, SharePoint is Microsoft’s popular content management solution for building intranets and Web sites or hosting wikis and blogs. Offering broad coverage on all aspects of development for the SharePoint platform, this comprehensive book shows you exactly what SharePoint does, how to build solutions, and what features are accessible within SharePoint.

Written by one of the most recognized names in SharePoint development, Professional SharePoint 2010 Development offers an extensive selection of field-tested best practices that shows you how to leverage the vast power of this multi-faceted tool to build custom workflow and content management applications. Plus, you’ll discover how to take advantage of the new features to roll out new SharePoint sites or upgrade existing sites.

  • SharePoint guru Tom Rizzo offers broad coverage of the newest version of SharePoint, Microsoft’s popular content management solution
  • Addresses how the new version adds enhanced developer support for ASP.NET, Ajax, LINQ, and Silverlight
  • Demonstrates how to take advantage of new features, including improvements to offline and mobile client capabilities, social networking additions, and more
  • Covers user experience development, platform services, social media features, event handling, the business data catalog, forms and workflow, business intelligence, and more

With this book, you’ll get exhaustive coverage on the many possibilities that exist with SharePoint.

Congratulations, Reza, on the release of the book!

Cover of "Beginning SharePoint 2010 Development" In addition to a professional-level book on SharePoint, Wrox have a beginners’ book due out in June: Beginning SharePoint 2010 Development, which is probably more suited to SharePoint newbies like Yours Truly. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

Discover how to take advantage of the many new features in SharePoint 2010

SharePoint provides content management (enterprise content management, Web content management, records management, and more), workflow, and social media features, and the new version boasts enhanced capabilities. This introductory-level book walks you through the process of learning, developing, and deploying SharePoint 2010 solutions.

You’ll leverage your existing skills and tools to grasp the fundamental programming concepts and practices of SharePoint 2010. The author clearly explains how to develop your first application for SharePoint 2010 and guides you through the many aspects of a SharePoint 2010 development project.

  • Explains how SharePoint is more than simply a portal and is capable of providing content management, workflow, social media features, and more
  • Details the new features and functions of SharePoint 2010 and provides a thorough look at the fundamental programming concepts and practices of SharePoint 2010
  • Walks you through how to perform common developer tasks in SharePoint and the tools required to do so
  • Reviews building and deploying Web parts, integrating Office applications with SharePoint, interacting with data in SharePoint 2010, developing Web Services for SharePoint, and creating enhanced user experiences for SharePoint

Covering everything from developing applications for SharePoint 2010 to securing those applications, Beginning SharePoint 2010 Development is an ideal introductory resource.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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