Scenes from TechDays Vancouver, Part 4: Go DevMENTAL

Go DevMental: Our event for students

What is Go DevMENTAL?

Since TechDays – Microsoft Canada’s cross-country developer and IT pro conference visiting 8 cities across Canada this fall – is a two-day event, we’ve got the venues for the entire 48-hour period, including evenings. Rather than have the session rooms (which are already set up for an audience, complete with A/V and seating) lie fallow, we decided to put them to good use and hold free community events in the evenings. One of these events is Go DevMENTAL, where we show college and university students what they can build using Microsoft’s tools and technologies and give them a lot of free stuff.

Go DevMENTAL is a two-track conference, with one track devoted to web design and development using WebMatrix, Expression Blend and Silverlight, while the other covers mobile development for Windows Phone 7 using Silverlight and XNA. At the end of the evening, we give the students a token for DreamSpark, our program that gives them free Microsoft development tools and operating systems and a DVD full of goodies so they can start coding right away.

If you’re a college or university student and would like to have an informative and entertaining evening where you learn cool new things, get free cool stuff, connect with industry people and get some help with your career, register for Go DevMental!

Where is Go DevMENTAL?

We’ll be hitting these cities on these dates:

City Where When
Edmonton Shaw Convention Centre October 5
Toronto Metro Toronto Convention Centre
South Building
October 27
Halifax World Trade Centre November 2
Ottawa Hampton Inn Ottawa
(200 Coventry Road)
November 9
Montreal Palais Des Congres November 23
Winnipeg Winnipeg Convention Centre December 7
Calgary Round-Up Centre
(Calgary Stampede Park)
December 14

What Happened at Go DevMENTAL Vancouver?

Go DevMENTAL Vancouver took place on Tuesday, September 14th in the West Building of the Vancouver Convention Centre, a gorgeous venue (for more, see this entry).

I was helping out with the Phone track, so I only managed to get photos for its sessions. My colleages in Microsoft Canada’s Developer and Platform Evangelism team, Christian Beauclair and John Bristowe, took care of the Web track, while Mark Arteaga of Redbit Development and I ran the Phone track.

Here’s Mark setting up for his presentation, as the students and a number of professors milled into the room. We had some drinks and snacks set up in the back; that’s what the line at the back of the room is all about:

Photo of the session room, with Mark Arteaga setting up his computer in the foreground

And we’re off! Mark did the first presentation, which focused on app development with Silverlight.

The audience in the Phone track at Go DevMENTAL Vancouver

By the end of his session, he had a working, skinnable Magic 8-Ball app that responded to the user shaking the phone. The app was flexible enough so that it would be really easy to repurpose it as a fortune cookie app, the Wisdom of Master Yoda app and so on, without having to touch any code.

Mark Arteaga makes his presentation

Mark’s session was followed by a break, which concluded with a quick accordion performance by Yours Truly:

Joey deVilla plays accordion at Go DevMENTAL

Followed by a quick word from Andrew Gottlieb, a Microsoft recruiter who works the UBC campus looking for the next great Microsofties. If you’re looking for a job at Microsoft and you’re a student in the Vancouver area, you’re going to want to drop him a line.

Joey deVilla plays his accordion at Go DevMENTAL as Andrew Gottlieb stands beside him

Then came my presentation, a live-coding exercise in which we start with “File –> New Project…” and in 45 minutes, put together a game in which you get to smack Justin Bieber around. Let it never be said that I let professionalism stand in the way of a good coding presentation‘

Joey deVilla makes his presentation, holding up a piece of paper

Live coding in front of an audience is not for the weak of heart, and you’d better really know your stuff. But when you do it right, it’s fun for both you and the audience.

In these photos, I’m holding up two pieces of paper as a way of explaining collision detection using bounding boxes. It’s not every day you see some goof in an ironic hipster trucker cap talking about videogame fundamentals!

Joey deVilla makes his presentation at Go DevMENTAL holding up two pieces of paper

After the student sessions, I made my way to the faculty roundtable where we chatted with the professors about what Microsoft could do for them.

It was great meeting the students and faculty – I had a great time, and also learned a lot from them. I’m looking forward to the upcoming Go DevMENTAL cities. See you there!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


EnergizeIT Academic Visits

Ah, student life. While waiting to do a presentation at Fanshawe College in London, I had a quick student lunch, pictured below:

Slice of pizza, glass of coke and a flyer for a "Rock/Paper/Scissors tournament"

Damir and I have been touring all over the country over the past couple of weeks for EnergizeIT. Two weeks ago, we were in Kelowna and Victoria, last week we were in London and Kitchener/Waterloo and this week, we’ll be in Fredericton and Moncton. We’re “Team Rover”, one of three teams visiting 20 cities, large and small, across Canada, with John Bristowe and Rodney Buike making up “Team West” and Christian Beauclair and Rick Claus comprising “Team East”.

EnergizeIT’s main presentations are about what’s possible with the Microsoft platform, with a focus on those parts that lots of people use to help them get work done and make their businesses go: Visual Studio 2010, Azure, SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010. In those presentations, we’re demoing these tools and technologies in action with live code and live data, and yes, we’re promoting Microsoft stuff.

In addition to the main presentations, we’ve been doing academic visits, which are quite different. They’re about helping students make the transition from school to the working world. In these presentations, I make very little mention of Microsoft, leaving it just to:

  • Hey, I work for Microsoft!
  • A quick story about how I landed my job at Microsoft
  • At the very end, I point them to a couple of sites:

The academic presentation focuses on the sorts of things that one should do to have a career in technology that’s rewarding in every sense of the word. The core message is that you, the student about to enter the working world, are in charge of your own future, and that in this industry and time, there’s a lot you can do to shape it.

Each of the teams has been working from a presentation created by Qixing Zheng, who used to be with the Microsoft Canada Developer Evangelism team and has since gone on to join the Windows User Experience group, but we’ve been pretty free to add our own twists to it. Our team’s version features a lot of interesting stuff, including:

  • The story of my first client meeting, which was a disaster
  • The importance of an online presence of some sort
  • How to get experience when you’re not yet in the working world
  • The value of “soft skills”
  • Why operating on just your “left brain” isn’t going cut it anymore
  • Ideas from a number of books, including:

So far, Damir and I have done presentations at:

and we’re going to present next week here in Toronto at:

I’d love to do these visits to universities as well as colleges, but the EnergizeIT tour takes place just as universities are going into final exams. I hope that TechDays, which happens from September through December (fall semester in universities) gives us a chance to present at universities across Canada, including my beloved alma mater, Queen’s.

I enjoy doing presentations of all sorts, but I have to admit that there’s a special place in my heart for presenting to students. It’s partly because students are a fun crowd to present to, and partly because there’s the notion of me – of all people, given my checkered academic history – standing at a college or university lectern, presenting ideas to students is rather funny. I love doing the academic visits, and I still have trouble believing that I’m getting paid to do something that’s this much fun.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


The Ultimate Steal: Office Ultimate for $64!

Package for Office 2007 Ultimate: "$64.00 (Canadian!) for students / Glossy reflective table not included)"

Here’s a great “back-to-school” deal — if you’re a student at an eligible Canadian university or college, you can get the top-of-the-line edition of Microsoft Office 2007 for CDN$64. That’s the fullest version of Office that you can get, which means you get:

  • OneNote (Note-taking software par excellence, the Office app I personally use the most, which is why I listed it first. I am the OneNote king.
  • Word (Word processor)
  • Excel (Spreadsheets)
  • PowerPoint (Presentations)
  • Outlook (Email, calendar and task management)
  • Publisher (For producing publications, whether print or online)
  • Access (The little database that could)
  • Groove (Collaboration and file sharing)
  • InfoPath (For making and filling out forms)

The Ultimate Steal The program through which you can get all this software for around the cost of three cases of beer is called The Ultimate Steal, and it’s quite simple:

  • You have to be a student actively enrolled in one of the eligible Canadian universities or colleges. The simplest way to prove this is to use your school email address; there are other ways to prove you’re a student, and they’re explained on the site.
  • You have to have a course load of at least 0.5. If you’re enrolled, it shouldn’t be too hard to qualify for that.

The super-deluxe, all-singing, all-dancing version of Office for CDN$64. That’s a pretty goal deal.

Thanks to my coworker Christian Beauclair for pointing this out on Canadian Developer Connection!


FIRST Robotics Competition

This article originally appeared in Canadian Developer Connection.

FIRST Robotics Competition

I’m going to be at the FIRST Robotics Greater Toronto Regional Competition tomorrow, where I’ll be watching robots built by high school students compete in “high intensity robo-sports”. The robots are six feet tall, weigh 120 pounds and were all built from scratch by the students in only six weeks. I’ll take notes and photos and post my report next week.

The competition started yesterday and runs through tomorrow at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga. If you can’t make it there in person, you can catch the live webcast.


The C# “Yellow Book”: Free as in Beer and Good as in Beginner’s Guide

Cover of the "C Sharp Yellow Book"

As a new Microsoftie and programmer returning to C# after a six-year absence, I have a lot of learning and re-learning ahead of me. In preparation for this, I spent the better part of an afternoon in the “Computers” section of my neighbourhood bookstore going through the C# programming books, sorting the gems from the junk. I took the “beginner’s mind” approach and looked at all the books on the shelves, regardless of the skill level they were written for, even the books that devoted whole chapters to basic concepts like looping and branching. At the very least, it would give me an idea of the current state of programming literature was like in the .NET world.

A couple of weeks later, I stumbled across the C# “Yellow Book”. It’s the standard book for first year computer science students at the University of Hull (I know of it thanks to a Black Adder episode) and written by Rob Miles, a Microsoft MVP and lecturer at that university. Each computer science student there is given a free-as-in-beer printed copy of the book, and now anyone can get a free-as-in-beer PDF copy online.

The C# Yellow Book is quite good, and can easily hold its own against some of the commercial C# books I’ve seen, which typically sell for about $35. It’s written in a clear and breezy style, explains it concepts well, has examples that actually work (I tried some out just for kicks) and often goes beyond typical beginners’ books with many asides called “Programmers’ Points” that explain good programming technique. Its 185 pages cover most of the basic C# language — and most of the example code is run in console mode except for the section near the end that covers basic Windows Forms. After finishing this book, you should have enough background material to tackle an intermediate book on C# or introductory books on .NET topics like GUI programming, ASP.NET or even game development for the PC, Xbox 360 and Zune (yeah, really, the Zune) with XNA.

I’d say that Rob has a strong incentive to make the book as good as possible because it’s the basis of a course at his university and because he can get some rather immediate feedback from its readership. If only that was true for a professor of mine back at Crazy Go Nuts University, whose Pascal programming book (it was the eighties) had terrible examples, an incomprehensible presentation and writing style and annual revisions to foil used-book sales and to force each new class to buy the latest edition. Kudos to Rob and the computer science department at Hull for giving away the course textbook for free!

If you’re a starving student looking to learn Windows programming, I’d recommend getting your hands on a copy of Rob Miles’ free-as-in-beer C# “Yellow Book” and pair it with Microsoft’s free-as-in-beer Visual C# 2008 Express Edition. Alas, I can’t point you to any free-as-in-beer computers.