It pays to do community ..

I am incredibly honored to be the recipient of the INETA Community Champion Award – the annual recognition for those who contribute notably to the Microsoft developer community. While the recognition from INETA is definitely rewarding, I have actually gotten much more back from our wonderful community compared to what I have given and have to share this recognition with my cohorts. It takes effort, persistence & contributions from a lot of folks to build a truly rewarding developer community that benefits everyone involved. This will be a quick post thanking several people that I truly respect & enjoy working with, along with thoughts on running a technical User Group.

First, INETA is the mothership for most Microsoft/.NET based developer communities that we have worldwide. If you are a community member or leader, make sure you know all about INETA and the resources available to you. The INETA Community Champion program is wonderful way of recognizing those who stand out in their contributions .. find out more details @ http://www.inetachamps.com/. If you are a community lead, make sure to record your contributions with INETA. See someone doing a lot for your local developer community? Nominate them for the INETA Community Champion Award or ping me & I’ll be happy to. Like they say – you already do a lot, why not get recognized for it? Here’s a quick view of the wonderful certificate INETA sends your way!

INETA_Cert_Cover

INETA_Cert

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out the 2012 Q3 INETA Community Award Winners page HERE – a stellar group of folks indeed. Not sure how worthy I am to be on the list, but thanks anyways INETA :). What’s important to note is that community leaders have a support system to fall back on which helps build developer communities. Communities cannot operate in a silo; it has to be a consolidated effort from folks without vested interests. And technical communities need to be fun & engaging for volunteers to happily contribute. Every community has its story .. here’s a short version of ours!

June 2011. Windows Phone has been out for a little over 6 months. In Central Ohio, just like in many other cities, we have the .NET User Group as CONDG – Central Ohio .NET Developers Group and few other User Groups focused on Microsoft technology stack. While these groups were great & had regular meetups, we also had a bunch of passionate Windows Phone developers in town. We used to talk at other meetups on how we could use a dedicated forum just to focus on the mobile technologies; Mobile is a different beast after all. After a lot of planning, cross-checking on resources & advice from other community leaders, we started the Central Ohio Windows Phone User Group. A small group of passionate developers to begin with, we soon found out that we could easily talk about the Windows Phone ecosystem once a month, if not more often – the dedicated forum was absolutely worth it. And the shiny gadgets that we brought along did not hurt. In fact, my most enjoyable times at our UG Meetups was often the hangouts after the technical talks – the sharing of what’s new on our phones, the next big App idea, the banter! Even though we were a little late getting back to our spouses, the geek talk was pure fun.

Then, Windows 8 came along. What we were so passionate about in Windows Phone – the Modern UI design, the fast & fluid UX – that was all suddenly mainstream & bigger than ever. We quickly adapted and finally regrouped as The Windows Developer User Group. We now embrace a wider technology stack, starting from XAML with C#/VB.NET, C++, HTML/CSS/JScript & game development in XNA/DirectX. The wider reach paid dividends and our little User Group grew to 70+ members. We have a long way to go, but we’re excited to see the passion in the new Microsoft ecosystem grow – that was the primary reason why we wanted the forum. Our meetups offer terrific speakers sharing their technical knowledge, as well as serving as a networking tool to increase awareness & learn from each other. We have our group of regular patrons & the trickle of new faces every month. This is what technical community should be – for developers & by developers.

Now, a little something about our locals. Here in Columbus OH, we have an absolutely rocking developer community – developers from all platforms who just need a forum to come share war stories & learn from each other. We are able to pull off conferences/events sheerly due to the passion that the developer community has towards improving our craft – this is truly amazing, and I hope folks in this town realize how wonderful it is to be ensconced amidst so much talent. On the Microsoft stack, we have involvement from the northern Heartland DPE folks – Jeff Blankenburg, Brian Prince, Jennifer Marsman, Clark Sell, Dave Bost & David Isbitski – I don’t think I need to tell you how superbly awesome every one of them is. Jeff deserves a special thanks for helping our UG get off the ground & providing support throughout. Doug Mair and Chris Ellis are truly the pillars of our User Group now – they have stepped up selflessly and make sure that our group has a long life ahead. Doug & Chris – Thank you for what you do; this recognition is as much yours as mine. Michael Collier, who runs our sister User Group – Central Ohio Cloud Computing User Group, deserves a big thanks for helping us spread the word. Cheers to patrons like Craig Blazakis & Rylin Slotterbeck. Also, our UG quickly found a solid support system in our awesome sponsors, who make sure we are never short on logistic supplies & raffle prizes – thank you for your involvement. And lastly, I circle back to our wonderful UG Members who come to our meetups with so much energy to share & learn – it makes for a truly delightful community.

Still with me? Because now comes the good part :). We, at the Windows Developer User Group, have had a good run in growing our little group with the help of passionate individuals. In no way can we claim success, but only a little pride in what we love doing. Running a technical User Group and slowly building up a community is not for the faint-hearted; here are some personal tips that I have seen working. Most community leaders will tell you the same things and it is common sense. But here goes:

  • Again, running a User Group is not easy – there are a thousand things to take care of. So, be in it for the long run & without a vested goal in mind.
  • The focus of the User Group needs to something that you are truly passionate about. Otherwise, volunteering is just not fun and you will see interest fall off the peak.
  • Too much of anything might cause fatigue – applies for developer interest. If you already have local User Groups with similar focus, do not create another UG just to target a very small technological area. Try to invest your time & energy towards growing into a leadership role within your existing developer community.
  • Be wary of time and always be conscious of the fact that folks are coming to User Group meetups sacrificing family/personal time. What value are you providing in return of their precious time? Stick to announced meeting times.
  • A user group is a community offering; it can never be about one or two people. Even though you may have started a group yourself, give up control – it shows leadership & contributes to the life of the user group. Create leadership teams within the user group, so that the group can function fine even if one/two of the owners move out. Delegate work, since it provides volunteers with a sense of ownership & stake in the success of a user group meeting. If your group becomes big enough, consider democratizing the board through elections.
  • There is no easy pill towards spreading the word – try everything. Social & web presence is big, but so is reminding folks at other UG meetups about your group’s existence & upcoming meetings.
  • Seeing the same faces every month isn’t a bad thing – it starts with a small group of passionate developers. Ask every one to try to bring a friend each month. Keep spreading the word through networks.
  • Get some really good speakers, as their klout draws attendance. Tap into INETA’s Speaker Program if your group is Microsoft focused. Encourage locals to come share knowledge.
  • Pizza is the glue :). Food is optional, but matters when done right. At the end of a long day’s work, wouldn’t you want some refreshments before gearing up for some learning? Food helps in networking as well. Celebrate milestones & seasonal events if your budget permits.
  • Get sponsors – lots of them. Knock on doors & remember to not feel bad – you’re not doing this for yourself & people will see your big heart.
  • Giveaways is again optional, but a big draw if you have junior developers & University students in attendance. The Microsoft stack has plenty of vendors, partners & publishers to make sure your group is well-stocked with raffle prizes. Pace yourself with the prizes so that you don’t ask your sponsors too often.
  • Give your group some identity & members some sense of belonging. A strong logo, focused social presence & the occasional custom-printed UG shirt does not hurt.
  • Plan on few hackathon-type events throughout the year, if your group is development focused. We developers love to get hands-on.
  • Give up your ego and truly listen to members about what’s working & what’s not. Seek feedback from other community leaders.
  • Network & build bridges.
  • Listen, host, embrace & enjoy. Repeat.

That’s all from me. Thank you once again INETA for your support infrastructure & the recognition.  Cheers to our User Group & the awesome folks who make it worth it!

Adios.

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2012 M3 Conference – A retrospective!

January 2012. M3 Conference has had it’s inaugural run in Nov of 2011. After a few months break from the planning madness, the M3 crew was back at it. The goal was to make M3Conf truly a hallmark mobile conference in the midwest & increase the value proposition for attendees. Oct 25-26 of 2012, and we’ve just wrapped up the second year of the conference. Only attendee feedback will say how successful we were, but at least, there were no major hiccups.

Here are some things that stood out for me from this year’s M3 Conference:

  • We started the year re-evaluating the core promise of M3 Conference – an all-out mobile conference, catering the midwest with some of the best brains in the industry. Focus on not just one, but all aspects & all major platforms of the mobile ecosystem. Thankfully, we were still golden; an unique offering for a town full of passionate developers.
  • However, there was plenty of feedback to improve upon – the need for more hands-on experience, the big no-no of lunch boxes etc. So, months of planning ensued.
  • Quick tip for fellow conference organizers: If budget permits, get a solid event organizer on the team. Since we’re forgetful geeks, the event organizer role does immediately take a lot of pressure off our shoulders. Smaller details and on-the-day logistics can be nicely delegated to. Thanks Cindy Groeniger for all the help!
  • We had really pushed COSI to it’s capacity last year; so a short venue search followed. There really aren’t a whole lot of choices for such event hosting in Columbus and the Ohio Union was a natural fit. Boy, it did not disappoint on M3 day. I would admiringly take photos of the Archie Griffin ballroom chandeliers & wooden flooring; glad that most attendees I talked to said the venue worked out perfect.
  • We talked at length about extending the conference to 2 days to provide for an intimate learning experience through workshops. There were, off course, challenges like finding the right tracks for the workshops, folks to run it, finances and so on; but in the end, it was a go. Feedback & high interest in learning mobile development hands-on was hard to ignore; we took the plunge and experts in our awesome developer community stepped forward to help.
  • Unless a conference makes a huge name for itself & is guaranteed a sell-out, there is always the guessing game of attendee count. Despite a sold out M3 Conference in 2011, we’re not sure of hitting the projected headcount and spent several nervous weeks wondering about our bottomline and commitments. IT, business & local media blood streams help a lot, as do alumni of the conference .. we finally proudly sold out our Day 1 workshop day & reached near full Day 2 headcount targets.
  • One of the things we were most proud of was the kind of speaker talent we attracted this year. The speaker line-up was simply stellar – http://m3conf.com/home/speakers.
  • I have always had much to learn from & proud of my primary partners in crime – Tim Hibner & Phil Wilson. Tim’s superb organizational skills holds the conference planning together. And I’m convinced that Phil and his folks @ Fine Citizens have a magic wand to make just about anything look good.
  • An event of the size of M3 Conference now takes a lot of orchestration to pull off. And we would not get much going without the help of our awesome volunteers. True champions of selfless help, hats off to my dear friends for your volunteering spirit – Travis Smith, Matthew Noggle, Matthew Middendorf, Bob Reid, Troy GIbson, Brenda Hibner, Chris Judd, Carl Brack & others. Honest thank you from the bottom of my heart.
  • While we got praise for serving steak @ lunch, the parking scenario left a bad taste. Essentially, there were big misunderstandings between the parking ramp operator & the Ohio Union; rest assured, we’re consolidating records and reimbursements.
  • Clash of the Titans – this was an curious experiment and ended up being one the high-points for me during M3 Conference. I was to be the anchor for a panel discussion involving 3 rockstars in the mobile space: Jeff Blankenburg for Windows Phone, Ben Von Handorf for Android & Leon Gersing for iOS. With greek mythical references & audience tweet-up questions, we tried our best to harass our esteemed panelists, without success. It ended up being a energetic discussion about mobile strategies from MSFT/Apple/Google and developer polyglotism. Thanks guys!
  • Surface giveaways – Now, we had built the tradition of M3Conf raffle prizes to be the latest & greatest. With Windows 8 launch on the same day, and the MSFT Surface selling like hot cakes, what better way to top off our raffle prizes with 2 of the shiny tablets.

In all, M3 Conference was a great experience for us, the second consecutive year. Just like last year, we’ll send out a little survey trying to gauge what attendees/speakers felt about it. Please give us honest feedback so we could improve upon it.

Adios!

Control.Location (ToLake) => Shift (Priorities)

[This is purely a personal post .. not to be held accountable for 5 mins of your lost time if you continue reading :)]

Mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve 2011: We are headed to NYC to enjoy some time off. My wife’s on the phone, even though we’re driving through the WV mountains with spotty connectivity. On the call is the Dean of a Graduate School, negotiating the details of an impending job offer. Wife hangs up with a big smile, having bagged exactly the terms she was hoping for. She was just finishing up her long-winded road to a PhD in Psychology @ The Ohio State University. Surely bagging just about every Teaching award at OSU had to count for something. Yes, a coveted Assistant Professor position @ The Allegheny College was now guaranteed. I am a very proud hubby indeed ..

So, it was apparent that 2012 would bring on a family move. After considerations of commute time & city amenities, we decided on Erie, PA. Yep, right by the lake. Let’s break down a little what this means, with few photos to end …

  • It’s a step closer to nature & a quieter life. Hard to get deers in your backyard and a bustling mall 3 minutes from home.
  • We have gotten ourselves a small condo amidst lush settings.
  • The gorgeous beaches & outdoor life offered by Presque Isle State Park are a stones throw away.
  • The other day, we decided to go for a little drive after lunch. 1.5 hours later, we’re on the Maid of the Mist @ Niagara Falls!
  • Now, to be fair, we might get the brunt of lake-effect snow; but we’ll take it in our stride!
  • More precious family time …

Now, what happens to my work & community involvement? No, I’m not giving up coding to open a restaurant just yet! I’ll continue to work for Sogeti, since my client has graciously agreed to some remote work. So, I’m in the process of building my ultimate home office where no sunlight shall enter; yet bytes shall sustain through 360 degrees of LCD! With some work from home time, I would have more energy & opportunity to devote myself to driving our MSFT Mobility efforts, which takes no trivial time. So, hopefully a lot more fun times coming up in Windows Phone & Windows 8 development with my rather talented colleagues! And more blogging, writing or arguing on Twitter :).

Now, as for Columbus OH, I guess I love our local developer community & being around some of the sharpest folks. So, I will be driving down twice a month for the weekdays .. yep, Extended Stay it is. No cleaning – get that? Most months, it will possibly be the odd weeks, so that we can keep organizing The Windows Developer User Group meetups/hackathons and the mad dash to end for M3Conference. So, if you are hacking stuff or playing games or need a hand moving? – Give me a holler when I’m lonely here in Columbus!

Adios!

Sleepless in Seattle …

Delta Force Rangers – Just like in combat, this is an elite group in the software industry when it comes to the Microsoft technology stack. It is the group of some of MSFT’s closest & best partner companies, believed to be the most influential in advising/delivering on MSFT technologies to our customers. Sogeti USA is a part of that elite group and we were invited to a Delta Force Rangers special event on Windows 8 @ the MSFT Redmond campus. And I was fortunate to be able to attend! Here’s the little story of four days of awesomeness ..

  • Got no qualms in accepting that this was the first time I got invited to Seattle/MSFT campus purely for work. So, I was really looking forward to soaking it all up, and it turned out to be an enlightening experience. Best part was catching up with folks that I talk to often, but have not met in person. The Hyatt House, MSFT campus & specially the cafeterias did not disappoint. Hopefully, more folks from our Mobility practice get to attend these Ranger events in future.
  • Day 1 & Day 2 were all sessions on Windows 8. It was great to hear from candid experts on a variety of development areas, hardware & what Windows 8 meant for enterprises/mobility. A lot of the sessions were under strict NDA for obvious reasons .. so my lips are sealed :). All I can say is you may want to really watch for news around Oct 26 – the Windows 8 GA date!
  • An evening reception on second night may have seemed bland compared to the Seattle Mariner’s game on first night. But boy, we were in for a little surprise after dinner – yep, Samsung Series 7 slates for all !! Complete with dock & bluetooth keyboard/mouse.
  • To sweeten the deal, our Global MSFT Business Development Lead, Darren Baker, personally dropped off a kickstand case for my slate .. how cool is that. Using the slate as a daily device now for Windows 8 development & showing the UX to clients.
  • Now, surely there would something wanted in return, right? Yes, MSFT wanted us Rangers to code a little, all in the fun to gain some experience. So, we were paired up based on our skills – 10 teams of 4 members each. And one day to dream & code up a working Windows 8 application, complete with all sorts of OS integrations & leveraging Cloud services. Go!
  • Guess I lucked out to be in an awesome team – Scott Newsome [Planet Tech], Hardeep Meen [CDW] & the awesome developer in Adam Grocholski [RBA]. We set our sights on a FDA product recall app, complete with Live Connect personalization, social integration & Azure services feeding Push Notifications. Between Thursday 8AM and the Friday 8AM deadline, our team slept for 1 hour only !! Hardcore effort to prove ourselves ..
  • Now, in all fairness, there was a little incentive for us as well. So, Friday had all the teams show off their Windows 8 apps. And while others were impressive, our team won .. woot! What’s the prize – the MSFT Surface tablets gets shipped to all members of the winning team the day it is publicly available. Heck yeah! 🙂
  • Oh, and not to be forgotten, we all got our customized traditional Delta Ranger Tilley hats – arguably the best hats in the world. And no Redmond trip is complete without a visit to the MSFT Company Store, where money simply knows to walk out of a geek’s wallet.

In all, a truly wonderful week of learning, networking & coding with peers. Windows 8 is going to big – the whole PC landscape is changing. Let’s gear up!

Adios

CodeMash V2.0.1.2

1200 tickets sold in under 20 minutes! That’s the kind of excitement & passion the CodeMash conference generates during the 3 days of geekdom every January. Where else would you be in shorts in the middle of a blizzard in frigid northern Ohio! Where else would you find so many stars under one roof! This year was simply bigger & better at the newly-expanded Kalahari resort in Sandusky OH. CodeMash 2012 was an enormous success, thanks to the untiring work of a small group of volunteers .. kudos geeks & geekettes.

While there were the usual stellar sessions & world-changing conversations, here are some of my personal high points:

  • For folks heading up to CodeMash from Columbus OH, there just isn’t an easy way to get to Sandusky without stepping off the highways onto small country/rural roads. The last couple of trips have always been in the middle of snowstorms, making the drive tricky. This year, we had a little respite with unusually warm weather & no snow. So, the drive up wasn’t bad; the drive back — not so much, with a few inches of snow! Guess it’s part of the Codemash culture!
  • The renovated Kalahari looked quite nice, with the expanded Convention Center easily offering more room for close to 1400 folks to stretch legs.
  • I know we are supposed to create & give back, rather than consume. However, I wasn’t speaking .. so why not throw repentance away for a few days, eat/drink & take it all in. Have some fun!
  • First evening: Sat in a corner bar with the two flamboyant Azure MVPs Michael Collier (@MichaelCollier) & Brent Stineman (@brentcodemonkey), and we just chatted for hours over unending beer. Good times!
  • I was staying at an offsite hotel (yeah, don’t ask) and really liked the Shuttle setup, so we didn’t have to drive & dash across the cold parking lot. Thanks organizers.
  • Bacon — plenty of it everywhere, breakfast or other times.
  • I thought Ted Neward’s (@tedneward) keynote was entertaining. Yes, some folks didn’t like the profanity; but c’mon, we’re adults & sometimes you know what you getting into. It was interesting.
  • Really enjoyed the fact that so many Microsofties made the trip across to attend CodeMash. Pretty darn AWESOME to meet & talk to Scott Hanselmann (@shanselman) .. what a smooth operator. The other time, almost bumped into a skinny guy .. ahem, Jon Skeet (@jonskeet).
  • Always nice to meet fellow Windows Phone developers & share war stories. And there was plenty of WPDev love .. sign of times changing. Also, you may have noticed using mobility with Azure makes me a happy camper .. so specially nice to meet THE Wade Wegner (@wadewegner).
  • The Breakfast, Lunch & Dinners served were quite nice .. thanks to Kalahari’s catering. They mostly managed to keep up with hundreds of hungry geeks. And the dessert bar on Day 1 — awesome! It’s ok steak-loving gents; ok to like some sugar once in a while.
  • The WiFi — yes it worked, unbelievable.
  • The Pecha Kucha — had my reservations at first, but it turned out great. Between Scott Hanselman’s coordination & sheer brilliance from Leon Gersing (@rubybuddha) and Mel Grubb (@melgrubb), it was quite entertaining. Reminded us of humility, passion, fun & enthusiasm that keeps us on the path of software craftsmanship.
  • Lock-picking training from Gabrielle Sempf (@gabriellesempf). Yeah, she showed us how we live in our little bubble of safety called locks in our homes.
  • Hanging out with fellow Sogetians, especially Nihar Shah (@niharshah), Susan Yount (@susaninfj) & Mike Yotive (@myotive), who somehow know how to make me laugh.
  • Seeing the usual rockstars — David Giard, Bill Sempf, Sarah Dutkiewicz, Chris Woodruff, Keith Elder, Jeff Blankenburg, Clark Sell, Mike Lutton, Rich Dudley, Brian Prince etc. Always lots to learn from them, as well as scores of friends that I got to catch up with.
  • Favorite session: SignalR talk by Brady Gaster (@bradygaster).
  • Drinks & plenty of it .. let’s not go there ok?

Now, my one little contribution to this year’s CodeMash was a small article in the conference magazine, called the Mashed Code Magazine (@mashedcodemag). Cheers to Nick Watts (@thewonggei) and the editorial team for pulling off a polished magazine for 2012. I wrote a rather fanboyish Windows Phone Mango article for your reading pleasure .. you owe it to yourself to try a Windows Phone, if you haven’t already :). Link below .. download as pdf or in eBook format & enjoy!

In all, another GREAT CodeMash. Cheers to all & we shall meet again next year!

Adios.

Recap on “Pragmatic Windows Phone Developer” talk @ FANUG

Last Tuesday, Aug 30th, I had the wonderful opportunity to head up a little north to Findlay OH and talk about Windows Phone development at the Findlay Area .NET User Group (http://www.fanug.org/). Thanks a bunch to @FANUG leader Brian Cobb (@brianjcobb) for having me over.

I thought we had very nice turn-out and hopefully I was able to get folks somewhat excited about Windows Phone & developing for it. We started out with some basics of why & where we are at with the Windows Phone platform and moved on to some demos. In retrospect though, since not many people had done Windows Phone development before, may be it would have been better to show some more basic stuff about Project templates & toolsets; guess something for me to learn & keep in mind. After the meeting, we headed out for the customary drinks at a local sports bar & had wonderful conversations over how the MSFT Surface should change the world etc. 🙂 In all, a great experience with a wonderful group of developers, with logistics working out perfectly. Thanks @FANUG!

My slides for the day can be found here.

Also, below are some useful links if you are looking to get started with Windows Phone Development:

  • Commercial home of Windows Phone is here. Learn about the phone, features, carriers, devices & upgrades.
  • For the Windows Phone Development SDK, head over here. The App Hub is also the one-stop portal for signing up with MarketPlace Registration & application submissions. It has a large number of links to very important resources & also an active forum for Windows Phone Developers.
  • Developer Resources on App Hub here.
  • Windows Phone Team Blog is here .. tons of news & great articles.
  • What is Mango & resources for developers here.
  • Lots of Windows Phone code samples can be found here.
  • Want to look around Windows Azure? Start here for a free trial or here to activate your Azure benefits from MSDN.
  • Home for OData is here .. learn about the technology, producers, consumers & SDK.

 

Thanks to everybody who attended. I hope to be in Findlay again sometime soon.

Adios!