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devLink 2008 Recap

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Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in devLink 2008. Randy Walker, Michael Johnson and myself drove down on Thursday morning. This was my second time to attend and John Kellar has done an excellent job once again in putting this conference together. An addition to the conference this year was an Open Spaces format that was held alongside the more traditional, "eyes-front" presentations. Before I get to that, I want to share my experiences regarding the rest of the conference first.

"Eyes-Front"

The opening keynote speaker was a very good speaker. That was the good. The bad was that he was speaking on outsourcing. Let's just say his relevancy score on my speaker survey was quite low. We'll move on :-)

Colin Neller did a great job talking about styling and theming Silverlight content. I really appreciated his talk because he primarily used Expression Blend and, being the developer that I am, I am completely inept when it comes to Designer-oriented tools. He told us to expect to see the UI skills of a 3 year old, but you know, his 3 year old skills were better than my skills. Charlie Calvert showed up his talk, so we all spoke with him for a few minutes afterwards.

I also attended a talk by Jim Wooley on LINQ to XML. I had already spent some time with LINQ to XML, so I didn't see a lot of completely new content, but I've got to give Jim props for his demos. It is hard to explain how nice the XML Literals support in VB.NET is until you can actually see it in action.

Joe Stagner presented the closing keynote. He basically talked about the direction that technology is taking, including an increased focus on parallelism (brought on by the advent of many-core over faster processors) as well as the direction that the web is taking. Regarding the web and startups, Joe brought up some points that I originally heard from Giles Bowkett's presentation at GoRuCo (online, of course) about how the web is making the need for venture capital cease. On the way out the door, a group of us spoke with him a little and he told us that Scott Guthrie had just had his first kid, right in the middle of the release of .NET 3.5 SP1, which explains why he has been silent on his blog. :-) Good for him for taking some time off and congratulations!

I'll spend the rest of my post talking about the more exciting part of the conference.

On Open Spaces

Being relatively sheltered under my .NET blanket, I hadn't really been exposed to Open Spaces all that much, except for reading about the ALT.NET conferences in Austin and Seattle. I watched a few of the sessions that were posted online, but I didn't really get a good feel for what was going on. Having experienced it now, I'm still not sure I can explain what happened, but it was a lot of fun.

The Open Spaces opened with an Opening Circle (open, open, open) where we were introduced to the format and the theme of "Good Enough." We had a board with time slots and locations and those who were interested in a topic took a post-it note, wrote their topic down, announced their name and topic to the group, and then chose a timeslot. This process continued until the board was full and, after reorganizing or combining sessions, we broke off for lunch.

Open Spaces talks

The first session I attended was a conglomeration of three (or was it four?) topics into one that I'll just entitle "Good Enough." Yeah, like the theme. Steve Harman wanted to come at the topic from the idea of motivating people from being just "good enough" towards the goal of continual improvement. We talked about ways of motivating and building passion. I really liked the idea that Leon Gersing brought up where the only wrong answer to any question is "that's the way we've always done it."

Next, we spoke about Distributed Source Control (DVCS, DSCM, which one do choose?) like git, mercurial and bazaar. I was able to offer a little bit of insight because I've used git locally on my machine and offered a very tiny bit of information regarding msysgit, but I quickly got out of my league regarding DVCS knowledge. Unfortunately, most everyone at the talk was attending because they wanted more knowledge, so Michael Eaton pulled Jay Wren in on a conference call because he had been using bazaar successfully. I wouldn't believe it if I were you, so here is a picture as proof :-)

Conference call with Jay

The next two talks all involved lots of D's. The first was "What *DD is" and the second was "How 'Should' Changed my Life." If you've been following development practices much, you'll probably have an idea what the *DD is referring to. Basically, the one who posed the question wanted to know the difference between TDD (Test Driven Development), BDD (Behavior Driven Development), DDD (Domain Driven Design), and the rest of the DD's out there. We spent a lot of time on pushing the benefits of using these practices as design tools, where testing was an additional benefit to simplified design. Regarding 'Should,' we spent time talking specifically about the naming side of BDD and how just changing the way you name things can make your development more in line with the business. After hearing Corey Haines talk about his experiences with BDD and Ruby, I think I need to write some Ruby code. I'm sold on the benefits that these practices provide, but it is hard trying to practice them when you're the one guy on the team who is sold on the practice.

What is *DD?

All in all, the Open Spaces part of devLink was my favorite part of the conference. Alan Stevens organized the Open Spaces side of the conference and, to be completely honest, he did an amazing job. I'm sold on Open Spaces as a conference format now.

Steak and Sushi

Outside of the conference, I enjoyed getting to hang out with a bunch of new and old friends. A group of 7 of us went out on Friday night (after the Rock Band/Guitar Hero III contest) in an attempt to find good sushi. We found it and got our picture posted on MySpace! Saturday night was steak and ice cream, though not at the same time.

This devLink was even better than last year. I'm now following at least 10 to 15 more people on Twitter now. I'm going to have to make this a yearly thing :-)

NOTE - Thanks to Alan for sharing these photos! The rest of his photos are all at http://picasaweb.google.com/DotNetJesus/DevLink2008.