Microsoft Tech Days Canada 2008

microsoft tech days If you’re a Canadian developer using Microsoft technologies, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the upcoming Tech Days training conferences taking place in 7 different cities across the country. Tech Days is Microsoft Canada’s first attempt to move beyond the marketing tour-style events they usually do and into something more substantial. This is immediately obvious from the price – these are not free events. Some cities are one-day events, and cost $249.99 (or $129.99 before October 15th). Others are two-day events, and cost $499.99 (or $249.99 before October 15th).

What do you get for your money? Your choice of sessions from five tracks, plus a fairly impressive learning kit worth about $1000. Quite honestly the learning kit alone is almost worth the price of admission – you get a full copy of Visual Studio 2008 Professional, a full copy of Expression Web 2, the complete TechEd 2008 DVD Set, and a 6-month subscription to TechNet Plus. Do the math…$249.99 isn’t bad at all.

What about the sessions? I’m going to be honest, my first impression is they aren’t much different than the marketing tour. Here are a few examples:

  • Building Killer Line-of-Business Applications with WPF
  • Goin’ Up to the Data in the Sky: ADO.NET Data Services for Web Developers
  • Mastering Your Samurai Skills of Silverlight
  • Beyond Relational SQL Server 2008: Managing Unstructured and Semi-Structured Data

Notice anything? WPF, ADO.NET Data Services, Silverlight, SQL Server 2008 – these are all the latest and greatest from Microsoft. I wonder how many developers are using these things right now. I know I’m not. How much will developers be able to take back to their jobs? Especially considering each session is just an hour and a half?

There are some sessions that aren’t so focused on the new stuff, and the IT Professional sessions seem even less marketing-like. There are also some sessions that are likely to have a much bigger impact even if they are focused on beta bits, such as the one on ASP.NET MVC. Still, I’m left wondering where the WCF sessions are, or even sessions on Workflow! What about something from Patterns & Practices? And if Microsoft really wanted to make it interesting, why not a session or two on some commonly used open source technologies like NHibernate or SubSonic or something?

David Crow wrote about this today too, and he says the website is a bit misleading. You should definitely read his post on the event. David points out that the primary innovation here is that 90% of the content is being delivered by non-Microsoft employees:

Once you scroll past the usual suspects, you’ll find a group of Microsoft friendly people from other companies. Consultancies. Big corporations. Smaller companies. Client side. It includes MVPs like Colin Bowern, Mark Arteaga, Laurent Duveau, and Barry Gervin. And others like Robert Burke and Ken Cox. Sure lots of these speakers are MVPs, it means that they are “exceptional technical community leaders”. They are experts. They write books. They blog. They consult. They build things in the real world.

He makes a good point – but simply having non-Microsoft speakers doesn’t guarantee quality, of course. It remains to be seen how effective this format is.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on the cities in which Tech Days is happening. Developers in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Halifax, and Vancouver don’t have to go anywhere. Everyone else needs to get to one of those cities to attend. I don’t know how Microsoft Canada came up with that list, but I’m once again disappointed to find that Edmonton is missing. We’ve got an amazing developer community here, one of the most successful user groups in the country, and yet we’re passed over for Calgary. That sucks. I know it’s expensive to get everywhere, but why not force the Calgarians to come up to Edmonton for once?

I encourage you to check out the Tech Days website for yourself. Read the session abstracts and figure out which ones would be useful. If you want to attend, you’ve got until October 15th to get the early bird price. Finally, check out John’s funny post on the Canadian Developer blog. You’ll laugh!

Canada gets a conference for startups: Startup Nation

Early this morning Jevon MacDonald at StartupNorth announced Startup Nation, a conference for startups in Canada. The two-day event will take place in Toronto on November 13th and 14th and features a number of high profile speakers, including Howard Lindzon, Lane Becker, Leila Boujnane, and Canadian participants in the YCombinator Summer ’08 class. Here’s how the conference is described:

StartupNorth is Canada’s only grassroots conference for startups. Created for entrepreneurs and by entrepreneurs, StartupNorth aims to educate and inspire by connecting you with other entrepreneurs, mentors and the ecosystem of support needed to create and operate a successful startup in Canada and the world.

Yes, they seem to be conflicted about what to call it. Some pages and images say “Startup Nation” while others say “Startup North”. The URL is

I think this type of event is great for Canada. The more opportunities we have to get people face-to-face meeting one another, sharing knowledge and ideas, the better. That said, there’s something about this conference that rubs me the wrong way.

At first I was put off by the fact that it takes place in Toronto, yet is called “Canada’s conference for startups.” I guess you can’t really hold that against them though – you’ve got to start somewhere, and Toronto is as good a place as any. Other conferences such as Mesh and Northern Voice are similar in this regard.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my problem with the conference is the price. A regular ticket costs $355 CDN, with early bird tickets running $295 CDN (before October 12th). What was that about grassroots and such in the description?

I am kind of surprised at the price. Even if the conference wasn’t completely free, it seems expensive compared to something like Northern Voice which only costs about $50. They are able to do that with the help of sponsors – surely Startup North could have signed up enough sponsor support.

I was further put off by Jevon’s comments on his post when others asked about the price. He seemed to take a very defensive approach. Furthermore, he listed Red Herring Canada and TechCrunch50 as examples of more expensive events. Sorry Jevon, I hope the conference is a success, but you’re not TC50.

There is a lot of talk about connecting, and networking, and meeting with some really smart people. Thing is, many of them are fairly accessible already – no $400 fee required. So what does Startup Nation offer beyond that? Can the workshops and training make up for the steep entry fee? I’m not convinced you can learn that much in a day or two.

What do you think? Would you pay $400 on top of travel and accommodations to attend Startup Nation?

ALT.NET Canada in Calgary

I came down to Calgary early this morning for the ALT.NET Canada conference being held at the University of Calgary. For those of you new to the term, ALT.NET refers to “a self-organizing, ad-hoc community of developers bound by a desire to improve ourselves, challenge assumptions, and help each other pursue excellence in the practice of software development.” When I first started hearing about ALT.NET in the developer blogosphere last year, I got the impression that there was an “us vs them” kind of mentality. Either you believed in ALT.NET or you didn’t. A number of other developers I’ve talked to remarked that ALT.NET seemed somewhat cult-like. Given that, I wasn’t sure what to expect for this event. I’m happy to report that it has been great so far!

ALT.NET Canada ALT.NET Canada Schedule

The conference is an “Open Spaces” style of event, which as far as I can tell is basically an unconference. There is no set agenda, the attendees are the discussion leaders, and there’s lots of open spaces for people to use for breakouts. About 75 people came out today, most from Alberta but some from Vancouver, Winnipeg, and other parts of Canada.

I think the sessions are a bit long at an hour and a half, but that doesn’t stop people from going off and having their own discussions so it’s not all bad. The first session I went to was on the web UI of the future, and then I joined the discussion on telecommuting. After lunch I went to a session on occasionally connected apps, and finished off with a session on volunteering development time. All very interesting and thought provoking.

A large number of people went out to Schank’s tonight for beer and food, so that was good. There are two sessions tomorrow morning to finish off the conference. The sessions are being documented here, and there’s even some video up. You can see my photos from the event here. Also check out #altnetcalgary on Twitter for more discussion.

Questionmark Users Conference Day 3

The conference is now over! Today’s half-day included three encore sessions from the previous two days, and the closing session, “The Road Ahead”. Some news on the next version of Perception was shared, and lots of feedback was gathered using these nifty little electronic voting devices.

It was a lot of fun for me to meet my colleagues face-to-face, many of whom I have only spoken to via email. More importantly though, I got to meet and talk with customers – the people who actually use the software I help to create. Getting their feedback was really great!

If I met you at the conference and you’ve stumbled across this post, please feel free to get in touch! I’d love to catch up.

I’ve got one meeting left today and then I have some time to explore San Antonio before I head to the airport tonight. I probably won’t venture too far, but the weather looks great for wandering. Actually, I’m sitting outside writing this!

Questionmark Users Conference Day 2

questionmark I think today went more smoothly for me than yesterday, probably because I felt a little more comfortable having met a bunch of people. I still learned quite a bit too, so I am feeling pretty good about the trip as a whole. I think it was a worthwhile experience for me.

Sessions I attended today included an overview of our reporting options, a session exploring the ways to integrate Perception with other projects, and a couple of Q & A sessions. Again I was struck by the high level of knowledge that some customers have.

Tomorrow is the last day of the conference, but it’s really only a half day. The big news will be an announcement about the next version of our software, so that’s exciting!

Drinks with epodcaster! Wes, Greg, and Mack

After the conference ended today I had the pleasure of meeting up with Jennifer Navarrete and her family. Jennifer is a fellow podcaster, and we’ve been Twitter buddies for quite a while (she’s epodcaster). When she saw my status updates about being in San Antonio, she asked to meet up, and I’m glad she did! It’s always great to meet people in real life 🙂

Tonight’s conference event was pretty cool – they got us all into buses and took us to a place called Sunset Station. They handed out drinks as we walked in! There were nacho and fajita bars inside, and they eventually expanded into a dance room for line dancing and the like. Music wasn’t too loud either, so it was great to walk around and chat with people.

I don’t leave San Antonio until tomorrow evening, so I plan to do a bit of exploring/shopping in the afternoon. Should be fun!

Questionmark Users Conference Day 1

questionmarkToday was the first official day of the conference, and it was really interesting. The hotel we’re at (Westin Riverwalk) is a great venue because all of the meeting rooms are on the same level. We started out with a “birds of a feather” breakfast, followed by the conference kickoff and general session. Our CEO, Eric Shepherd, shared a number of company highlights. Notably, Questionmark turns 20 this year!

The rest of the day were breakout sessions. I attended a “Training with the Techs” session to learn more about assessment authoring with our Windows tool, a Product Central session to hear from customers about how we can improve our product interfaces, and another training session on reporting. I learned quite a bit at each one, not only from the Questionmark staff who were presenting, but from customers too. Some customers have an incredible amount of product knowledge, they truly are experts.

This evening was the “Dine Around” event. We broke into groups and ventured out on a photo scavenger hunt! Each group also had a reservation at a particular restaurant along the river walk. It was lots of fun! I can’t wait to see the slideshow tomorrow morning.

I’ve started uploading some photos to this photoset, but it’s slow-going. The upload speeds for the Internet here aren’t very good.

2008 ETS Community Conference

On Saturday I attended the annual Edmonton Transit System Community Conference. I went last year too. The free half-day conference, which started in 1999, is a way for ETS to share information with and gather feedback from the public. The event started with a keynote by Bob Boutilier, GM of the Transportation Department for Edmonton (not just transit, but all transportation). His remarks were really interesting, and his love for public transit was definitely on display (he came to us from Toronto, where he had a major impact on that city’s public transit systems). Here are my notes from the keynote:

  • This is the 10th anniversary for the Community Conference, and 2008 is the 100th anniversary for ETS.
  • There were 61.9 million trips in 2007, an increase of 7.8% over 2006. ETS is anticipating 63 million trips in 2008.
  • “Transit will never make you money.”
  • Due to poor planning in the past, ETS is having a hard time acquiring land for LRT expansion.
  • Another challenge is the “pickup truck and two car” mentality of many Albertans.
  • The current city council is viewed as very pro-transit, so there are two years to make serious in-roads before new members are elected.

Bob spent quite a bit of time talking about the “5 legged monster” that is the current LRT expansion plan. The idea is to try and capture riders outside the city, so they don’t need to drive in. This regional plan means working with 23 adjacent municipalities, something ETS is quite far along with.

100 Years of ETS

After the keynote, there were two breakout sessions. I attended the Manager’s Update with ETS Manager Charles Stolte, and a session Exploring New Technologies. Here are some notes:

  • ETS will be hiring 240 additional operators this year.
  • Clean diesel bus acquisitions: 231 in 2007/2008, 57 in 2009, 42 in 2010.
  • The cost of hybrid buses has fallen to about $600,000.
  • LRT car acquisitions: 37 in 2008/2009.
  • The first new LRT car will arrive in mid-May, and ETS will hold a public showcase.
  • ETS is working on a “bus of the future” with features like padded seats, color signs, Wi-Fi, GPS, and TVs.
  • The U-Pass created 700,000 new trips in 2007/2008. There was a 30% increase in ridership at both the U of A and MacEwan.
  • ETS is losing over $3 million per year due to the U-Pass.
  • Centennial week will take place September 12th to 20th, 2008.
  • ETS is testing a new information kiosk called “Info on the Go” at Churchill Station. It helps you with directions, routes, weather, and more.

I found the session on new technologies really disappointing, since they only covered “Info on the Go” and nothing else. Apparently they are exploring the use of text messaging, wireless Internet, and email in addition to having a physical kiosk.

Attendees received a notepad, pen, and ride-guide, and a really cool 2008 ETS calendar. It’s really high quality, and is full of historical transit photos!

Northern Voice 2008: My Post-Mortem Post

nv08 A week ago I was in Vancouver with Megan, getting ready for MooseCamp2008 which is the “unconference” part of Northern Voice. I’ve attended the conference ever since it began back in 2005, and I have enjoyed myself each time. I usually learn something new too (this year I learned that I am a WikiGnome). Attendance keeps going up, and the organizing committee is continuing to organize the conference, so it must be going well. It’s bigger and better each year!

Despite this, I find myself wondering why I should be attending Northern Voice. It just doesn’t feel like the “must attend” event that it was in 2005 and 2006. Yes, even last year felt a little different.

I don’t know why this is exactly, but here are some thoughts:

  • It’s less exciting. When NV started, blogging was still relatively new to most people. It was exciting. Lots of people were experimenting. Maybe it’s a bit tired now? Too many people doing it?
  • A related point: blogging is no longer enough. Just look at the website – NV is now a “blogging and social media” conference. Yet NV is still a two day event, which inevitably means that you can’t get as in-depth as in the past. There’s simply too much to cover.
  • It’s not downtown. The UBC campus is great, but it has a completely different feel. It’s further away from hotels and restaurants and people and general buzz. I think NV was better downtown.
  • The schedule sucks. Seriously, it has gone downhill in the last two years. Take a look at the schedules from 2005 and 2006, and compare that to 2007 and 2008. I don’t know about you, but I’d take the early two any day of the week. At least you can sort of make out what the sessions are about by reading the titles. This year the NV schedule had some really whacky session titles.
  • NV has become too Vancouver-specific. I love Vancouver, and I fully appreciate that it has been home to Northern Voice for four years now. I don’t think that justifies “Inhospitable Climate: Dating in Vancouver’s Techno-Mediated Scene” from this year’s schedule, however. MooseCamp is also getting fairly Vancouver-specific, with a couple Vancouver TransitCamp sessions in the last two years.
  • The website is stale. Aside from the fact that there are two websites (the main one and the wiki), I think simply changing the color scheme each year is bad. For long-time attendees like myself, it gives the impression that the organizers didn’t care enough to make it better. I know they’re all busy people and they truly do care about NV (and I do like all of them!), but that’s the impression it gives. Gnomedex gets a visual refresh each year, and I think that makes a difference.
  • It lacks polish. Kind of related to the website and schedule points. When it was just getting started, I loved that NV was a little rough around the edges. Four years in? I expect more. For instance, I expect the nametag to fit inside the nametag holder.
  • The wireless was spotty. Okay, this one is strictly related to this year, but lots of people were having connectivity problems all weekend. Too many live streams going maybe?

You should also have a look at the Post-Mortem page on the wiki for more comments.

All of that aside, there are still some awesome reasons to attend NV. There are some incredibly creative and smart people who do, like Duane Storey who created this amazing poster:

Northern Voice 2008

Some other positives:

  • Lunch is now included! This makes a huge difference, as I said last week.
  • Somehow, the organizers have managed to maintain a very diverse group of attendees. There are lots of women (somewhat unusual for a tech event), and people with varying levels of technical knowledge.
  • You will learn something new.
  • You will make new friends.
  • I like that I get to see some familiar faces in meatspace.
  • I also like meeting new people who I may have only communicated with online. There aren’t many opportunities for this.
  • It’s a personal conference. Unlike some other events, you’re not inundated with logos and slogans and pitches and buttons and stickers and such.

One other thing I wanted to mention is that James Sherrett should get the “top moose” award for 2008! Yeah I just made that award up, but seriously, he was everywhere. I have a feeling he put in more than his fair share of hours to make NV08 a success. His session entitled “Is advertising killing blogging?” was pretty good too.

So there you have it – my Northern Voice 2008 post-mortem post. Hopefully it doesn’t sound too negative! I look forward to seeing what NV09 is like.

Another Northern Voice in the books


I don’t think this was my favorite edition of Northern Voice, but it wasn’t bad either. I’ll elaborate on that when I do a wrap-up post in a few days, but a few things have already been captured on the Post-Mortem wiki page.

I think Northern Voice is still a great event for people interesting in blogging and social media, and I admit I enjoyed it. If you’ve never experienced the conference, consider attending next year (yes it sounds like the organizers are definitely planning to hold NV again in 2009).

See you in twelve months!

Northern Voice 2008 – Free lunch!

Make your own wrapLast year Megan and Sharon went out in the rain to get us McDonald’s. I don’t remember what I did for lunch at Northern Voice in the years before that – I may have skipped lunch. This year, for the first time ever, lunch was provided!

And not just today, but yesterday at MooseCamp too. I think providing lunch was a really good idea. Food makes people happy. And the fact that no one has to leave means the conversations can continue. It’s hard to remember what Northern Voice was like in previous years without lunch, because this is what it should be like!

Here’s what was on the menu:

Friday: The DIY Sandwich Bar (Salads, assorted rolls, veggie fixins, deli meats, three cheeses, Nanaimo bars, brownies & dessert squares.)

Saturday: Mexican Buffet (bean dip with tortilla chips, corn & black bean salad, flour tortillas, chicken, veggies, monterey jack and cheddar cheeses, sour cream, salsa and guacamole, chocolate brownies.)

My wrap was soooo messy, but it was also really yummy.

Good call on the food, Northern Voice organizers.