Scenes from TechDays Vancouver, Part 1


Hello from Vancouver! I’m here at the first stop of TechDays, Microsoft’ Canada’s 8-city cross-country conference series for developers and IT pros. It’s a gorgeous, sunny and almost cloudless day, a nice change from the gloomy weather we had this weekend.


The sunshine is perfect for our new TechDays Vancouver venue, the Vancouver Convention Centre’s new west building, whose glass walls provide a spectacular view of the harbour, as seen below:


We’ve been here since 7 a.m., and the conference centre crew were here even earlier. The crowd started arriving around 8, with much of them arriving about 8:30. A little hint, folks: an early arrival means you get registered quickly, and you get enough time to enjoy a free breakfast to boot!


With the clock approaching nine came the scramble for the session rooms. Vancouver Convention Centre’s West Building is a huge place, and out attendees are going to get a fair bit of exercise getting from session to session. C’mon, people, it’s good for your cardiovascular systems!


Here’s Miguel Carrasco from Imaginet delivering the opening talk for the “Developing for Three Screens and the Cloud” track:


And in the “Optimizing the Development Process” track, here’s Bruce Johnston talking about real-world patterns for cloud computing:


This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


How to “Work the Room” at TechDays / Mobile Innovation Week

Joey deVilla, with accordion, schmoozing a Ferengi at Quark's

Why Work the Room?

If you’re attending TechDays in Vancouver, Mobile Innovation Week in Toronto, or any other conference anywhere else, you should keep in mind that while we spend a lot of energy on the presentations and sessions, the opportunity to meet and talk to the other people there is just as important. I’ve observed that some of the most important things I’ve learned at conferences didn’t happen at the presentation, but in the hallways, conversing with the other attendees. This observation is so common that it’s given rise to “unconferences” like BarCamp, whose purpose is to invert the order of things so that the conference is more “hallway” than “lecture theatre”.

It’s especially important to talk to people you don’t know or who are outside your usual circle. Books like The Tipping Point classify acquaintances with such people as “weak ties”, but don’t let the word “weak” make you think they’re unimportant. As people outside your usual circle, they have access to a lot of information that you don’t. That’s why most people get jobs through someone they know, and of those cases, most of the references came from a weak tie. The sorts of opportunities that come about because of this sort of relationship led sociologist Mark Granovetter to coin the phrase “the strength of weak ties”.

The best way to make weak ties at a conference is to work the room. If the phrase sounds like sleazy marketing-speak and fills your head with images of popped collars and wearing too much body spray, relax. Working the room means being an active participant in a social event and contributing to it so that it’s better for both you and everyone else. Think of it as good social citizenship.

9 Ways to Work the Room

TechDays "blue man" pointing to an easel that reads "9 Ways to work a room" Here are some bits of advice for working the room at TechDays, culled from a mix of Susan RoAne’s advice in her books How to Work a Room and Face to Face: How to Reclaim the Personal Touch in a Digital World, Larry Chiang’s article in GigaOm on the topic and my own experiences working the room (which in turn led me to this job and is why you’re reading this blog entry).

  1. Be more of a host and less of a guest. No, you don’t have to worry about scheduling and who’s running the AV rig. By “being a host”, I mean doing some of things that hosts do, such as introducing people, saying “hello” to wallflowers and generally making people feel more comfortable. Being graceful to everyone is not only good karma, but it’s a good way to promote yourself. It worked out really well for me; for example, I came to the first DemoCamp as a guest, but by the third one, I was one of the people officially hosting the event.
  2. Beware of “rock piles”. Rock piles are groups of people huddled together in a closed formation. It sends the signal “go away”. If you find yourself in one, try to position yourself to open up the formation.
  3. Beware of “hotboxing”. I’ve heard this term used in counter-culture settings, but in this case “hotboxing” means to square your shoulders front-and-center to the person you’re talking to. It’s a one-on-one version of the rock pile, and it excludes others from joining in. Once again, the cure for hotboxing is to change where you’re standing to allow more people to join in.
  4. Put your coat and bag down. Carrying them is a non-verbal cue that you’re about to leave. If you’re going to stay and chat, put them down. When you’re about to leave, take your coat and bag and start saying your goodbyes.
  5. Show and tell. We’re geeks, and nothing attracts our eyes like shiny, interesting pieces of tech and machinery. It’s why I carry my accordion around; I think of it as a device that converts curiosity into opportunity (and music as well). I’ll be doing the same with my Windows Phone 7 device as well! Got a particularly funky laptop, netbook, smartphone or new device you just got from ThinkGeek? Got a neat project that you’ve been working on? Whatever it is, park yourself someplace comfortable in the hallway, show it off and start a conversation!
  6. Save the email, tweets and texts for later, unless they’re important. They’ll draw your attention away from the room and also send the message “go away”.
  7. Mentor. If you’ve got skills in a specific area, share your knowledge. Larry Chiang from GigaOm says that “It transitions nicely from the what-do-you-do-for-work question. It also adds some substance to party conversations and clearly brands you as a person.”
  8. Be mentored. You came to TechDays to learn, and as I said earlier, learning goes beyond the sessions. One bit of advice is to try and learn three new things at every event.
  9. Play “conversation bingo”. If there are certain topics that you’d like to learn about at TechDays, say Silverlight, test-driven development, REST, and so on, put them in a list (mental, electronic or paper) of “bingo” words. As you converse at the conference, cross off any of those topics that you cover off the list. This trick forces you to become a more active listener and will help you towards your learning goals. Yelling “BINGO!” when you’ve crossed the last item on the list can be done at your discretion.

I’ll see you at TechDays and Mobile Innovation Week, where I’ll be doing all of the above!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


Le 25 Septembre: Samedi .NET– Introduction au B.I.

le business intelligence

samedi.netIf you’re in Montreal on September 25th and want to learn about developing BI applications – that’s BI as in “Business Intelligence” — La Communauté .NET Montreal’s Samedi.NET event, Introduction au BI, is exactly what you need.

Here’s what the event site says:

La Communauté .NET vous propose une journée de formation complète sur le B.I. Le but de la journée est de de faire un tour d’horizon des bases et des techonogies de B.I.  Le public cible est un développeur .NET ou un DBA n’ayant jamais fait de B.I. Le format de la journée est "hands-on" avec une série de démos ayant une suite logique.

And here’s my best shot at translation, courtesy of my high school French classes and youthful dalliances with a Quebecoise or two:

Montreal’s .NET Community will be presenting a day’s worth of information on BI. Its goal is to give you an overview of BI basics and technologies. The intended audience is a .NET developer or a DBA who’s never done BI before. It’ll be a hands-on event featuring a series of demos to illustrate the concepts.

Here’s the schedule – note that it’s subject to change:

  Sujet Conférencier
9h00 Mot de bienvenue et description de l’architecture du projet Éric Moreau
9h30 Concept de framework/préparation des templates (SSIS) Christian Côté
10h15 Chargement des dimensions et table de faits Sébastien Notebaert
11h15 Pause  
11h30 Description du cube Charles Verdon
12h00 Lunch (non inclus)  
13h00 Création du cube avec Analysis Services (SSAS) Charles Verdon
13h45 Utilisation et création de rapports avec Reporting Services (SSRS) David Myers (anglais)
14h30 Pause  
14h45 Utilisation et création de rapports avec Power Pivot Michelle Gutzait (anglais)
15h30 Questions et conclusion Christian Côté

The sessions will be presented in a classroom-style amphitheatre to make it easier to take notes. They recommend bringing paper and your favourite writing implement; while you can bring a computer to take notes, they can’t guarantee that electrical outlets will be nearby (bring an extension cord). Note that the event will not have internet access.

To attend the event, you have to be a member of La Communauté .NET Montreal, which you can join via their site. The registration fee for the event is $5 plus service charges, and as the event site says, “$5 c’est pas tellement cher”. (Loosely translated, that means “five bucks ain’t gonna hurt your wallet.”)

Want to find out more? Visit the event site for Introduction au BI.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


GovCamp’s Coming to Toronto: Thursday, June 17th

govcamp toronto

GovCamp in Toronto!

First came GovCamp in Ottawa (May 31st – June 1st), and now GovCamp is coming to Toronto! GovCamp is an “Open Government” or “Goverment 2.0” unconference with these two goals:

  1. For governments to become more open, transparent, participatory, innovative, efficient and effective
  2. For citizens to become more connected to each other around their civic passions in the place they call home

GovCamp Toronto will take place on the evening of Thursday, June 17th and will be an evening where all sorts of people, from private citizens to government officials to representatives of publicly-funded organizations will get together to talk about the intersection of:

  • Government transformation
  • Social networking software
  • Participatory approaches to public engagement
  • Open data
  • Public service renewal

Is GovCamp the sort of thing you should attend? It is if you’re one of the following:

  • A municipal, provincial or federal public servant or a public sector agency employee with an interest in these topics
  • A thought leader looking to share and connect with this community
  • A member of the community of developers, advocates and practitioners in public engagement, government communications, technology, open data, open government or "Gov 2.0"

Who’ll Be There?

Few people know more about setting up “Government 2.0” unconferences than Toronto’s favourite high-tech policy wonk Mark Kuznicki, and we’re very fortunate to have him as GovCamp Toronto’s MC and facilitator. Mark has been behind a number of similar unconferences, including ChangeCamp, TransitCamp and Metronauts.

There will be a number of special guests including:

GovCamp Toronto will be hosted by:

  • Omar Rashid, Public Sector, Microsoft Canada
  • Julia Stowell, Interoperability Lead, Microsoft Canada

Where, When and What’s Happening

appel salon

GovCamp Toronto’s venue is nice and also quite central: the Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge Street, just north of Bloor).

Here’s the agenda:

5:00 Catered reception
6:00 Welcome
6:10 Opening remarks (David Eaves)
6:25 Discussion hosts introduce topics
7:00 Small group discussions and demonstrations
8:30 Closing wrap discussion
9:00 Catered reception

There are a number of ways to participate:

  • You can host a conversation. The conversations at GovCamp Toronto are created by you. We are looking for up to 20 hosts to help convene small group conversations on a variety of topics related to our theme. If you’ve got an idea for a conversation topic, propose one using the online form.
  • You can demo your web or mobile application. We’re looking for up to 6 web or mobile app demos that show the value of open public data, demonstrate what is possible in open government, or demonstrate real world application of social tools inside government. If you’ve built such an app, propose a demo using the online form.
  • You can join the conversation. You can either:

Find Out More About GovCamp

There’s lot of information, ideas and reportage from the recent GovCamp in Ottawa at the GovCamp site – be sure to check it out!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


Maritime DevCon: June 18th in Moncton

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.


At Make Web Not War

The business of helping out with the NerdTrain, the Make Web Not War conference, associated activities and participating in a team offsite meeting has kept me a busier than I expected to be – in fact, this has been my first chance to post a blog entry! Stories and pictures are forthcoming, but in the meantime, enjoy this video that explains what I’ve been working on for the past couple of days.

As I write this, the chaos typically associated with getting a conference set up has subsided and I hope to squeeze in a couple of posts later today as well as tomorrow.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


We’ll Be in Montreal This Week

Montreal: photo of poutine

Microsoft Canada’s Developer and Platform Evangelism team is headed to Montreal this week, where we’ll be getting together for our annual team meeting as well as to help run the Make Web Not War conference on Thursday.

We’re not travelling in the usual way either. We’ve hired out a VIA Rail car to take us and a lot of Make Web Not War attendees to Montreal in style. The car’s rigged with power, wifi, Xboxes, Rock Band, monitors and other goodies to make the five-ish-hour trip even more enjoyable for all that nerdy brainpower on board. The train leaves Toronto on Tuesday morning and returns on Friday – watch this space for reports from the train as well as from Montreal!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.