We spent last week Sunday to Wednesday in what was surprisingly cold and rainy Durban for Tech-Ed Africa 2009 at the ICC. 4 of us from emediaIT went through, mainly to make sure that we covered as much as possible during the event, but also because we feel that it is a worthwhile experience for any technical person whose focus is on Microsoft technologies.
We arrived quite early on the Sunday so went through to register before the rush and despite not having printed out my barcode (I am not sure why this waste of paper is recommended at a technology conference), was surely processed as quickly as I could have been otherwise. This year’s conference bag was a huge improvement over the previous year’s small backpack in terms of functionality and size, but the contents were not overly exciting. IT Intellect had opened their self-paced hot labs so we spent some time there going through some of their material which was well structured. The opening key note was interesting and clearly outlined Microsoft’s “3 Screens and a Cloud” vision, but the staged scenarios were a bit over the top. Windows 7 obviously played a big role as well and the multi-touch technology provides a lot of possibilities. Microsoft’s appreciation of the audience and their role in the industry was also good to hear. The opening street party to follow was sadly moved inside the ICC and because of this I am sure a great deal of the planned atmosphere was lost. We did however have a good meal and met up with some people we had not seen since the previous year.
We had discussed the sessions we all wanted to attend and after making it downstairs for a quick breakfast on Monday morning, we hit our first sessions at 08:00. I took a mixed bag of Developer/Architect and IT Professional sessions on all the days, mainly looking to enrich my understanding of current and future technologies and products we are using both internally and for clients. As before there were different types of sessions including break out sessions, white board sessions (particularly useful for getting direct access to some of the experts) etc so we also tried to balance our selection with that in mind. The “What’s New in Team Foundation Server 2010” by Siddarth Bhatia was probably the best for me on the first day and not just because of the “Code to live...” t-shirt. Work Item Hierarchies, Test Case Management and the new Dashboards look particularly awesome. Monday night was a free evening (except for the ladies who went to the Women in IT evening), so we took it upon ourselves to head to the Jewel of India restaurant we had been told about and enjoyed a pretty authentic and tasty dinner (I can recommend the Lamb Vindaloo).
I opted for lunch time sessions (in which case you get a little boxed lunch instead of having the full sit down one prepared) on both days, which is fine providing you don’t really need the break. I end up wanting to communicate with the office a fair amount even while away (Thank you Touch Pro and Mini 9), so to me it’s not really an issue eating that way while listening in on a session and catching up on some mails. I particularly enjoyed the Black Belt Tips with MVC by Jonathan Carter and was also lucky enough to catch the Managed Extensibility Framework session by Bart de Smet (who we met and really enjoyed last year). Both are excellent speakers and have an incredible wealth of knowledge to share. Tuesday night was the closing party which started directly after the last session at 18:30. It was at the Exhibition Centre across the road, but as opposed to the awesome effort made for last year’s parties, it lacked a bit of atmosphere, especially in terms of decoration etc. Even things like the radio control car racing, which was a cool idea, just didn't seem quite planned out. Louise Carver and the group who performed after her (who have one song I like in particular, but can’t remember the name) were really good though and the food was decent.
One is able to wander through the expo part of Tech-Ed during the course of the conference and all the sponsors etc have elaborate stalls setup to attract and promote their services and/or products. They normally have some form of giveaways or competition going and this year Guitar Hero and the XBOX 360 in general was definitely helping to pull people in. Wednesday morning is also the last chance to enter the competitions (most just require dropping a business card) and there were some great prizes up for grabs ranging from XBOX’s to Dell XPS laptops. The MVP lounge is also situated in the middle of this area and between this and the “Ask the experts” sessions, one has great accessibility to the speakers. The closing key note was enjoyable and reinforced some of the upcoming technologies. Multi-touch, surface computing and other technologies such as digital ink are really set to revolutionise the way we interact with just about everything.
On the whole, I did enjoy Tech-Ed this year and am glad that we went. We could possibly have gone with 3 as opposed to 4 people (as we share the information etc internally as best as we can) in terms of material covered, but everyone from our side was very excited to be there and found it to be a great experience. The sessions and speakers were of a high quality, I would say better than the year before in terms of the ones I attended, but I did get the feeling that costs had been cut in terms of non-essentials which do add to the overall experience. The latter is not a huge issue in my opinion as that is not why we are there, but 2008 (and I assume the Sun City Tech-Eds before that) set a precedent that was not equaled.
In short, if you didn’t go this year I would seriously consider it next year. Even in terms of straight value for money I feel it’s difficult to beat Tech-Ed from a skills development/growth perspective. Would like to attend the Europe/US event next year to compare.
Details: Date: 29 April 2009 Time: 15:30 (3:30pm) – approx. 18:30 (6:30pm) Where: Newton Park Library, 4th Avenue, Newton Park, 6045
Presentations: 1. T-SQL Peformance Practises. Tips and practises on optimizing queries and stored procedures for performance. Presenter: Iwan de Beet (Providence - Port Elizabeth)
2. Using threading to maximize the UI experience. This session will introduce you to issues relating to processing work in the background while maintaining an interactive user interface, whether your reading a file, calling a webservice or using a COM object or OCX control. Keeping the UI responsive can be tricky. Topics discussed will be threading, cross thread invoking, message loops delegates and anonymous methods. Presenter: Bruce Hodgkinson (Korbitec - Cape Town)
3. Silverlight - What is it and how can we use it? An introduction to Silverlight. How it has matured and how it can be used to create or augment existing applications. Presenter: Pat Ramadass (emediaIT - Port Elizabeth)
Attendance was not what we had hoped as less than half the confirmed attendees arrived, but let's hope the next event is better. PE has needed a developer community for a long time and it's a great opportunity for all of us to build one together.
Microsoft South Africa – https://www.microsoft.com
SADeveloper.NET – https://www.sadeveloper.net
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) – https://www.nmmu.ac.za
IT Intellect - https://www.itintellect.com
SA Architect - https://www.saarchitect.net
Barone, Budge and Dominick - https://www.bbd.co.za/
emediaIT also provided all the attendees with a copy of the TechEd 2008 DVD which has a huge amount of resources such as all the presentations from TechEd, ebooks, whitepapers and more, much of which was provided by the community including SADeveloper.NET, SA Architect and the MVPs.
The event was well attended for the first event of its kind and the speakers, Simon from Broken Keyboards and Shaun from IT Intellect did a great job of keeping the audience engaged and interested. It would have been good to see a better turn out from some of the other IT/Software companies in the area, but hopefully this will come with time.
As posted here, David Coates has begun a long overdue Developer Commnunity in Port Elizabeth and the surrounding areas. This is great to see and something that the entire Community has needed for quite some time.
Details of the first event, which is this coming Saturday 6th September can be found here. PE and the Eastern Cape are the only areas which have not had this type of representation, including on SADeveloper.NET and SAArchitect.net, but hopefully with this initiative that will soon be changing.
emediaIT and I are looking to contribute and assist this Community as much as possible and emediaIT will be sponsoring this first event.
Day 2 started off really well and I had one of the best night's sleep I have had in a long time, even though we had to wake up earlyish and I managed to make it down for breakfast for a change. I attended the following sessions...
DNS 2008 Style: How Name Resolution Changes in Windows Server 2008 Infrastructures
DNS is so pivotal to AD and Exchange and so I felt this session was important to attend, even though the changes do not seem as large as I had initially feared. Martin Coetzer took us through the management of DNS within Windows Server 2008 including use of the updated Dnscmd.exe
Realistic Software Testing with Visual Studio Team System
Chris Menegay took us through the automated web testing functionality built into VSTS and also through some of the gotchas and best practices for this and manual testing as well.
Writing custom LINQ Providers
We followed Frans Bouma's blogs while he was creating LINQ to LLBLGen Pro, but it was good to get further insight as to how some of the other providers have been developed. Bart de Smet showed us the principles followed in the development of LINQ to AD and LINQ to SharePoint.
Best and Worst Practices Adpoting Team System
This was another "Chalk and Talk" session with Chris Menegay, Gert Drapers and Willy-Peter Schaub. These sessions were particularly useful as we were able to provide the items to be discussed. Branching best practices and also requirements gathering were discussed.
Implementing WCF Best Practices
Shy Cohen and Ron Jacobs handled this session which was also a "Chalk and Talk" and there were a surprising amount of attendees who are highly proficient with the use of WCF in various applications.
Data Protection with Cryptography of Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 and CryptoAPI: Next Generation
We have used CAPICOM and similar in the past, but Rafal Lukawiecki provided a great session in terms of the new wrappers provided in the .NET Framework 3.5.
There was a lot of information to take on board and I was quite tired, but it was off to the Beach Party sponsored by the City of Durban after the last session. We were treated to an awesome event right on the Durban beach with live entertainment.
Day 3 was admittedly quite tough in terms of getting out of bed, but we had to pack and check out as the sessions for the day finished after 14:00. I ended up attending...
Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 Interoperability with PBX Systems
This was quite an interesting session as we have been working with Asterisk and OCS for some time now. Nireshen Beerbul was a very impressive speaker and explained the currently supported partner PBXs and also some of the new hardware based OCS devices.
TFS Planning is Crucial: Including Team, Solution, Source Repositories and Dependency Planning
This was the last session at Tech-Ed which was a bit sad, but Willy-Peter Schaub made it very enjoyable and interesting by letting us in on some of the vast VSTS and TFS experience he has.
This was followed by the Closing Keynote, the highlights of which were "The Galactic Story" by Stephen Attenborough from Virgin Galactic and the announcement of Microsoft SQL Server 2008 going RTM.
All in all, I really enjoyed Tech-Ed and had the privilege of meeting some greats within the industry including Willy-Peter Schaub and Bart de Smet. The event was all about building the community and improving knowledge of current and future technologies. The days were quite busy and perhaps it could have been slightly longer, but I am already looking forward to Tech-Ed 09. It's really an event that any technical person in the Microsoft space should be looking to attend.