Coffee and Code #1

This article originally appeared on the Coffee and Code blog.

Yesterday, I held the first Coffee and Code day at Toronto’s Urbana Coffee, at the corner of Bay and St. Joseph Streets. The Coffee and Code plan is a simple one: about one day a week, instead of working at the home office or Microsoft’s Toronto or Mississauga offices, I set myself up in a wifi-equipped cafe somewhere in Toronto. As a result, instead of being tucked away, I’m easy to reach, where you can walk up, join me for a coffee and talk about Microsoft, programming, the industry or just about anything else.

Urbana’s Bay/St. Joseph branch used to be a hair salon, which means that its south half, where the stylists used to work, has plenty of power outlets. Although their wifi requires a password, it’s clearly written on the chalkboard behind the counter. As long as you buy something, they don’t seem to mind people hanging out all day – I was there at 11 a.m. and stayed for a full seven hours.

Nobody showed up for the first couple of hours, which was all right – it gave me the opportunity to get some work done, which involved some long-overdue getting up to speed on developing for Azure and Windows Mobile. This involved some downloading, which proved to be a good test of the download speeds of Urbana. I was usually able to get download speeds of about 100 to 120 kb/s, except for when the raver kids a couple of tables over were downloading mash-ups, which slowed things to a molasses-like 20kb/s. As Murphy’s Law would have it, this was right when I was getting those mobile SDKs.

R.T. was the first to drop by.

The first guy to join me was R.T., who’s doing some contract work using Ruby on Rails. He asked what it was like moving back to Microsoft development languages and tools after years of programming using PHP, Python, Ruby and MySQL. I told him that although it sometimes feels like I’m doing things backwards and upside-down, I’m having fun, enjoying getting back into C# coding and playing with interesting stuff like ASP.NET MVC, Silverlight and XNA.

I was then joined by Ahmed, who I hooked up with a copy of the Windows 7 beta (I’d snagged a couple of discs from the TechReady conference). He asked me earlier if I knew about CodeCamp, which will take place in April. Not only did I know about it; I also knew that Microsoft was a sponsor. He also asked if Coffee and Code would involve some kind of coding activity. I’m open to the idea and also open to suggestions. What sort of project would you like to work on?

Andrew dropped by a little later on in the afternoon.

Andrew was the next one to drop by. He does a pretty good business with his indie Rails development consultancy and works from his apartment, which was just around the corner. He was pretty interested to hear about the ASP.NET MVC framework, which takes some of its some of its inspiration from Rails. He mentioned that he might like to try it out in BootCamp on his Mac.

Anton wanted to know about getting into software development.

Anton also dropped by. I know him from the our local rock and roll karaoke night in downtown Toronto. He loves working on his computer and asked how he might get into writing software for a living. I told him that when I decided to leave my first job to become an independent coder, I found customers first and learned the ins and outs of a new-to-me development system – Visual Basic 5.0 Professional Edition – by building software for them. (I pointed out that I did have some programming experience under my belt already, but at the time, I’d only been doing it professionally for two years.)

R.T. suggested that Anton look through GitHub for open source projects and find a couple that he’d like to contribute to. Not only does it give you valuable experience, you can show the code you developed to potential employers (since it’s open source and not under N.D.A.) and it also builds up your base of contacts in the industry. I also suggested that there are a number of worthy Windows open source projects at CodePlex.

I also hooked Anton up with a copy of the Windows 7 beta.

All told, I had four people show up to the first Coffee and Code. There was about an hour-long period when all four were at my table at the same time, which was fun. I answered some questions, they seemed to enjoy themselves and better still, none of the four had met any of the others, which meant that they’d all made new connections through the event. I’m going to declare the first Coffee and Code a success.

I’ve decided to set the date for the next Coffee and Code: next Tuesday, February 24th at Le Gourmand (152 Spadina Avenue, just south of Queen Street and north of Richmond) from 1:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. (and I’m thinking of showing up for the morning as well…watch this space). I’m calling it for that day because I’m going to be in the area for a couple of reasons:

  • The Developer Lunch at the Sky Dragon dim sum restaurant (top floor of Dragon City mall, at the corner of Spadina and Dundas), which takes place at noon, and
  • HacklabTO’s open house evening, which takes place every Tuesday. I’ll be there to check on their progress repairing the Lisp Machine I donated, as well as to show off the demo XBox 360 that just got assigned to me. I’ll probably also show them some quick and dirty XNA development.

So don’t forget – next Coffee and Code at Le Gourmand on Tuesday!