Geek Hero: Timothy Dalby and “Find-A-Home”

geek heroBack in May, we held the Make Web Not War conference in Montreal, which we wrapped up with the FTW! Coding Competition. In this contest, we challenged developers to make the best possible app using a mix of both Microsoft and open source tools and tech. We offered a prize for the best overall app, with bonus prizes for use of specific technologies, and in the end, Timothy Dalby and his application, Find-A-Home, walked away with a number of them:

  • FTW! Coding Competition Champion
  • Best Open Data App
  • Best MS SQL App
  • Best Azure App

I interviewed Timothy a little while back via email, asking him questions about Find-A-Home, his plans and his tech background.


Please explain what Find-A-Home is, and how it’s supposed to be used.

Find-A-Home is basically an area research engine. You start by either directly searching an address in Edmonton, or browsing through a set of property listings.  Find-A-Home will then generates a map of the area along with nearby amenities, such as schools, police stations, fire stations, parks, transit stops, and recreation centers.  In addition to the map, a set of 5 metrics are also generated for the location based on proximity to amenities.  These metrics essentially provide a “ranking” for each location which you can relate to what is most important to you when buying house.

Where’d you get the idea? Have you been house-hunting recently, or know someone who has?

I heard about the “Make Web Not War: For The Web!” (FTW!) Competition while attending an Energize I/T conference and I wanted use the open data sets being provided by the City of Edmonton in a new and useful way for my entry.  I did indeed purchase a house about a year prior to coming up with the Find-A-Home concept.  While mulling over a number of different ideas for the competition, it suddenly just popped into my head one day that it would have been many times easier when I bought my house if information about the area were readily available in a easy to understand way.  I expanded on the concept over the following week or so and eventually came up with the vision of a metric-based “ranking” system for houses.  And the rest, as they say, was history.

Could you explain the technology you used – the Microsoft parts and the open source parts, and how they fit together?

For the Find-A-Home project, I wanted to squeeze in as many new technologies as I possibly could in the time available.  As a developer, I love learning.  If I am developing and not learning something new, it is a safe bet to say that I’m bored.  Windows Azure, the hosting environment for Find-A-Home, has fascinated me for as long as I knew it existed.  It was something that I wanted to try out, but never had a good reason to.  When the opportunity came up to build this app and have it hosted on Azure, I jumped at the idea.  I also decided to use SQL Azure as the data platform. 

The majority of the data behind the application is sourced from the Open Data Catalogue made available by the City of Edmonton.

The core development technology behind Find-A-home was initially C/ASP.NET 4.0 and the brand-new ASP.NET MVC 2 framework.  Later in the development, I discovered that Windows Azure (at the time) only supported up to .NET 3.5. As a result, I had to downgrade the project to ASP.NET 2.0, but I still used the MVC 2 framework.  The mapping functionality I decided on was Bing maps.  I really wanted to fit PHP into the mix somehow, but I ran out of time before I had a chance to do so. 

(One other really nice benefit to using a variety of technologies was that it made my project eligible for 3 out of the 5 bonus categories in the competition.)

What are your future plans for Find-A-Home?

Since winning the “FTW!” competition, I have spent a lot of time researching commercial viability of the project.  Ultimately, I would like to expand greatly on the feature sets and would like to see it being used by everyone in Canada when they look to buy a new home as the definitive property research guide.

And last, but certainly not least, could you tell us a bit about yourself – anything you like: where you went to school, where you work now and other places you’ve worked, the sorts of technology you typically use, any interesting hobbies and so on.

I should start by saying that I have been programming since grade 7.  I learned my first “Hello World” application using BASIC on the Apple IIe systems at my school and I was instantly hooked.  I started getting those “Learn to code a game in only 1kb!” books from the local library and taught myself some basic programming skills.  Then my family got a 80286 PC and I graduated my programming to QuickBASIC 4.5 on MS-DOS.  I remember spending an entire summer one year in junior high working on a text-based adventure game called “Haunted House.”  It was my first major software undertaking and the start of what would eventually become a dearly-loved career. 

In Grade 9 (mid-late 1990s), I started to hear about this thing called the Internet and eventually got myself a GeoCities account and taught myself HTML and JavaScript programming.  From there, I branched into various web technologies, including asp and some basic cgi perl code.  After graduating from high school, I attended the two year Computer Systems Technology diploma program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) to finally solidify all of this programming knowledge I had accumulated since childhood into something useful for the business world.

I had the unfortunate luck of graduating from NAIT (in 2003) at what was one of the worst possible times for the IT industry in Edmonton.  There were no programming jobs available, so I started off working for a call center, like many IT people in Edmonton.  Eventually, I got a job at the Dell Edmonton call center where I was able to work my way into a position that had me developing internal web applications in C#/ASP.NET on a full-time basis.  I have spent the last two and a half years working at a great company called Investopedia in full-time web development.  The primary programming languages/technologies I am fluent in are C#, VB, XML, HTML/CSS/Javascript/jQuery, ASP, Python, MS SQL, and MySql.  I also have a decent level of experience with network architecture and security.

As a hobbyist, I have developed a bit of an addiction to hardware and programming competitions.  I have participated in the last two years of the Microsoft Embedded Spark competition, in which I learned hardware development and programming using Windows CE 6.0 and managed to make it through to Round 2 on both years.  My first hardware project was a web connected, portable insurance cataloging and price finding system.  The second project was a brain-controlled Dunk Tank, where you would wear a headband that read your brain waves in an attempt to center a ball on a target on a computer monitor.  If aimed successfully, the computer would fire the release for the dunk tank’s platform.  I also worked with my good friend, Mike, on a project that had us hacking the brand new Nokia N900 cell phone.  We managed to win the “PUSH N900” competition (along with 4 other great teams) by designing and building a belt (called the Haptic Guide) that can guide you to the location of a geo-coded photo using only haptic (touch) feedback through a collection of vibrational motors embedded into the belt.

My latest competition was the “FTW!” competition, for which the Find-A-Home project was developed.  I decided to take this summer off from competitions, but I hope to resume competing for the winter Embedded Spark competition.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


My Photos from Make Web Not War 2010

I’ll post a more detailed write-up of the Make Web Not War conference later, but I thought that those of you who were there (or wished they were there) would like to see some photos as soon as possible. I’ve posted my photos at full resolution to my Make Web Not War Flickr photoset, which you can view either on Flickr or the slideshow above. The photos all have titles, and I promise I’ll finished the remainder of the descriptions over the next couple of days.

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.


Bring a Friend to Make Web Not War, Get Great Swag!

Joey deVilla and Amber Mac - Friends - 'Amber's being immature again, isn't she?'

Make Web Not War, the conference on how Microsoft and open source tools and technologies can work together takes place in a week! Because we’re feeling pumped about this event and got an advance shipment of swag, we thought we’d share the wealth. If you’ve already registered for Make Web Not War (which you can do here, for free), here’s how you can win some cool stuff before the event next Thursday.

How Do You Win Swag By Bringing a Friend?

Invite a friend to register to attend Make Web Not War, which takes next Thursday, May 27th, in Montreal at “Reunion – Ambiance A La Carte” (6600 Hutchison).

On the registration form, one of the questions in the optional section is “Where did you hear about this event?” Ask your friend to answer this question by selecting “Friend” from the drop-down menu and specifying your name in the field below it, as shown below:

Close-up view of Make Web Not War registration form, highlighting the "Where did you hear about this event?" question

This offer is available only to those friends who haven’t yet registered.

What Will You Get?

If you get a friend to register and specify that you made the referral before Friday, May 21st, you and your friend will each get this cool 2GB Make Web Not War USB key:

Red key-shaped USB key with "" written on it
If you’re among the first 25 people to bring one friend, you’ll get a Make Web Not War T-shirt:

Front and back views of "Make Web Not War" t-shirt

If you’re among the first 25 people to bring two friends, you’ll get a $25 Jump Card, which is good for discounts at major stores across Canada:

Jump card

The first person to bring five friends gets a special Make Web Not War bundle that includes a token for an MSDN Premium Subscription, which is valued at $2,500:

MSDN logo

What are you waiting for? Go invite a friend to Make Web Not War!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


Toronto-Montreal NerdTrain (Departs Tuesday, May 25th, Returns Friday, May 28th)

via nerd car

A quick reminder: if you’re looking for cheap transport to Montreal for MonDev, Montreal’s Open Source Week (which concludes with the Make Web Not War conference), we’ve booked an entire VIA Rail car from Montreal to Toronto! The train car (pictured above) has wifi, power outlets and will be equipped with video monitors, an Xbox or two, a big-ass HP TouchSmart computer and other technological goodies to make the time pass by.

Best of all, if you want to book a trip on this car, we’re subsidizing it. Round-trip tickets are a mere $50 and cover the cost of the ride, a sandwich lunch and drink voucher! The train departs for Montreal on the morning of Tuesday, May 25th and departs back for Toronto on the morning of Friday, May 28th.

For more details, email

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


Make Web Not War / MonDev (Open Source Week) in Montréal / $50 Round Trip Train to Montreal

make web not war banner

Make Web Not War is a cross-platform conference focusing on web development in mixed open source and commercial environments. Make Web Not War is jointly sponsored by Microsoft, our friends at PHP Quebec and open source communities across Canada. We’re proud to be a part of MonDev, Montréal’s Open Source Week, which takes place from May 24th through 28th, 2010.

mondev open source week in montreal

About Make Web Not War

Make Web Not War is a free-as-in-beer event taking place on Thursday, May 27th featuring free-as-in-speech software development. Among other things, you’ll get to:

  • Mingle with some of the best web developers in the country
  • Listen and learn from industry experts and leaders
  • Play with some of the new and exciting toys being offered by Microsoft
  • See who gets crowned as Canada’s top developer at the FTW! Coding Competition
  • Attend the VIP party held in the heart of beautiful Montréal

Make Web Not War’s schedule has two tracks:

  • The Main Track, which covers new opportunities and the business impact of interoperability on the web. Its sessions will be short presentations followed by roundtable discussion with the panelists and Q&A.
  • The Developer Track, which are hands-on sessions covering interoperable tools and technologies.

Make Web Not War will take place at Reunion, located at 6600 Hutchison:

Map picture


Want to Attend Make Web Not War?

Registration is free – just visit the registration page and sign up!

About MonDev

MonDev logo

MonDev, Montréal’s Open Source Week, runs from Monday, May 24th through Friday, May 28th. It’s a celebration of Open Source technology and community throughout the Montréal area and features many events, including:

  • Demo Ignite Camp
  • Startup Drinks
  • WebCamp
  • Make Web Not War

From MonDev’s “About” Page:

By encouraging local and international partnerships, Open Source developers are creating free software that can be continuously updated and shared. For many software innovators, Open Source represents the future transformation of software development.

Through Open Source, communities, cities and nations around the world are presented with the opportunity to promote and actively nurture an environment of learning, collaboration and innovation.

Montréal is an important centre of global Open Source activity and home to many software developers, projects and companies. Open Source Week will bring together industry leaders, teachers and students from around the world for a full week of activities that will include workshops, seminars and presentations.

Take the DEVTrain to Montreal — $50 Round Trip!


Microsoft Canada’s Technical Evangelism team – Yours Truly included – will be taking the train to Montreal, and we want you to ride with us! We’ve booked an entire car, and we’re bringing the Xbox, Rock Band (and hopefully Red Dead Redemption) and other goodies, and since it’s VIA Rail, there’ll be wifi and power aplenty, and good company and conversation, of course! Best of all, we’re subsidizing the trip – you can travel from Toronto to Montreal on Tuesday morning, depart Montreal for Toronto on Friday, and it’ll cost you only $50!

What’s on the train?

  • Power and wifi
  • We’re sponsoring a meal and a drink
  • A chance to mingle with Toronto’s web developer community (you’ve got about 6 hours to make friendships and even collaborate)
  • A chance to meet Microsoft Canada’s Technical Evangelism team – a fine bunch
  • The cheapest, most comfortable round trip to Montreal you’re going to find!

Want to travel on the cheap in in high geeky style? Take the train with us – email to get the invitation to ride.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.