Personal retrospect on StirTrek & a MSFT product

It is a rather gloomy rainy spring day here in Ohio. To brighten things up though, our StirTrek Windows Phone 7 application just went live in the Marketplace !! StirTrek is now a super-popular software conference in Columbus and this year, the conference website let us feast on XML/JSon feeds for the data. So, it only made sense to attempt a nice metro WP7 app that sliced & diced information on sessions, speakers, timeslots, tracks etc. Hopefully, attendees find it handy, as we gear up for a even better conference this year. StirTrek also brings back quite a few memories from last year. The wife isn’t home from work yet, so why not pour out my heart in words 🙂

Around 3PM at last year’s StirTrek. I stand a little confused in the hallway trying to decide which session to attend next. Finally made up my mind to go hear William Steele (@wjsteele) from MSFT talk about the upcoming Windows Phone .. boy, was it a good decision! I had always wanted to do mobile & dabbled into a few other platforms in the past. It only made sense working for a solutions company with mobile being hot, right? Somehow though, heart did not permit to simply bite the bullet and dive into iOS or Android, just because their hardware sells. What am I missing? Then, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Steve B announced Windows Phone — a complete reboot from past generations with Silverlight & XNA runtimes. Hmmm .. I sit up; but details were sketchy. Then MIX 10 happened and the developer CTP tooling was released. How about the best IDE in Visual Studio to write mobile apps for the new platform using familiar C# or VB? There was excitement about the seriously low barrier to get started. I was in the middle of catching up on the MIX recordings when StirTrek came by. I guess at that time, not too many had enough details to talk about Windows Phone .. with the exception being Bill Steele. He did a very nice dance-around of the WP7 features and where the phone/platform stood out. I even remember Bill doing a demo of a from-scratch Tip Calculator .. it was super fun to get started and nothing holding us back! Since then, I have met Bill several times over the past year; and what stands out is his child-like enthusiasm for technology & flying!

So, that was StirTrek last May. Over the next few months, much effort was put in around building the foundations of a developer ecosystem before Windows Phone 7 actually launched in November. This seems to be a complete contrast to other competitors in the Mobile space who keep products & development tools in secrecy until launch. MSFT has always operated on scale; scores of partners producing variety of hardware & thriving developer base. We grow with feedback from the community, right? Windows Phone was to be no exception. There were times last June/July last year where playing with unfinished control sets (like the Bing Maps Silverlight control) made you wonder if you were the only one trying things out & failing. I have gone from those times to now, where it is literally impossible to keep up with all the cool stuff, Nugets & toolkits people are churning out.  This is how a development community thrives & that’s the way it should be.

Talking about evangelism, another person comes to mind .. Jeff Blankenburg (@jeffblankenburg). Yes, we all know him & his passion for technology. But over the last year, I got to see a lot of him personally and genuinely saw the difference caring makes. I was equipped with a prototype Windows Phone as early as last July or August so I could deploy my apps to a real phone. How about this for service .. Jeff dropped by my workplace, with his wife, to deliver a phone I needed urgently for a WP7 presentation! Where else shall I get so much care for developers? Jeff is now a WP7 champion & a huge evangelist for the platform in this region. His “31 days of Windows Phone” (here) serves as a great resource to quickly look something up when developing for the Windows Phone.

Now, what about the product team at Redmond? Are they going to let things slack in the face of huge competition? Thankfully quite the opposite! I want to mention two people whom I really admire — Brandon Watson (@BrandonWatson) & Ben Lower (@benlower). Geeks who love developers. Over the past few months after WP7 launch, there has off course been some harsh criticisms of the platform & the developer experience. I have seen multiple occasions where folks have blogged, essentially saying .. “This is crap ..” And every time, I have seen Brandon Watson reach out and ask ..”Hey, tell us how we can improve?” Now the product team totally need not bother, but they do since they care. I think this is simply awesome! It is through evangelism from the likes of Brandon, Ben, Jamie, Jeff Wilcox etc. that we developers take to heart the commitment towards the future of this platform. It is thoroughly refreshing to see a young product team slogging it out & coming clean on roadblocks like the NoDo update. Dunno about you, but I’m all in.

MIX 11 happened a few days back; and I missed it again (yep, no sponsorship). Not sure why exactly I came to work on Day 2; I was glued all day with Windows Phone goodness being showered. Mango as an update & the developer toolset enhancements are looking really good! We stay hungry for more and to see what the rest of the year means for this platform. While I do the usual custom solutions most times, I now have a unique position in my company. I am now the National Solutions Lead for MSFT Mobility .. sounds big & empty, right 🙂 However, I get to roll out readiness campaigns to make sure fellow geeks are well-fed & then be heavily involved in Sales Push to evangelize the platform and craft WP7 solutions for our clients or deliver mobile web on top of MSFT technology stack. Whatever the year holds, I am excited!

So, long story short .. this is another fanboyish post, right? Does it hurt to be passionate about a platform if you harshly criticize its shortcomings and have a lot of respect for iOS & Android? Sometimes, it is the people you get to work with that makes the difference. Off course, we are behind in the game and folks doubt whether we have a chance. But we have hope and relentless innovation on our side. May be a few Gartner/IDC predictions help, which, even if half true, mean a lot of action for WP7 developers. Like Steve B once said “..we keep coming & coming ..”. So, let’s keep sharing the love, as every developer matters!



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