The Houston TechFest has come and gone in a flurry of activity that I would say was widely regarded as a success. There were, of course, a few v1.0 type glitches as to be expected from an inaugural event as large as this one. Nonetheless, for an event of this size to be coordinated so well the first time is a big accomplishment, so kudos to Michael Steinberg and the others from the Houston .NET User Group (HDNUG) for putting this show together.
The 7 track extravaganza had about 500 participants and covered some of the most talked about topics in technology today including DotNetNuke, LINQ, WF, TFS, Silverlight, WCF and Acropolis. The gathering was also opened up to a more diverse audience with an entire track dedicated to Java based content. I can’t speak for any of the sessions that I missed, but here are my thoughts on the sessions I did attend:
Keynote on Silverlight
Brad Abrams is a terrific speaker, and the upbeat Microsoft promotional video had the crowd going from the very beginning. Silverlight shows well, and a charismatic delivery like the one provided by Brad make this new presentation technology very intriguing. The 10 year blue badge alternated demos between his Mac book and PC to lay to rest OS compatibility issues. He even used FireFox on the PC Brad posted a great summary that has interactive demos of the content on his blog. Be sure to check out the Silverlight airlines demo — how friggin’ cool would it be to book flights this way!
SQL Server 2005 Performance Dashboard
Jeremy Gaige from Idera walked us through the SQL Server 2005 Performance Dashboard that comes free in the current version of Microsoft’s RDMBS. This tool is pretty sweet, and I had cursory exposure to it going into the session. Unfortunately, Jeremy didn’t have his machine configured correctly to do the demo. I found this odd as he knew that he was doing a demo on this technology and it didn’t sound like a last minute problem. Idera had enough time to set up a booth and point out why their database tools were better than the free options that came with SQL Server, but they didn’t have time to help people understand what they had signed up for. Despite the delivery issues, Jeremy knew his stuff and had some great slides that helped me to see more about what is offered out of the box.
Exploring .NET 3.0 Workflow Foundation (WF)
At the speakers’ meet and greet dinner Friday night, I got to spend some time with HDNUG webmaster and experienced technologist John Ebeling. Although the live band at the Armadillo Palace was blasting Texas country music in our ears, I was able to learn that John has a wide range of experience in delivering software. This was helpful in the second session as I had to imagine what the presentation would have been like without technical difficulties. John ended up having had slides, but no demo. This was 2 in a row! Did I just pick the wrong sessions or were there similar issues across the board? John did an excellent job of covering for the glitch, and his ability to deliver the presentation without having a display on his machine showed his level of comfort with the subject matter. Afterward, there was a lengthy, but cozy Q&A session on the technology. Past project compadres Meng Lan and Phani Potturu joined me in picking John’s brain during the lunch break.
ORM and NHibernate
Microsoft Windows Communication Foundation (WCF)
Just after lunch, I got to meet David Walker whom I was planning on listening to during the 2:45pm session on WCF. I am currently stepping through Michele Leroux Bustamante’s book on the topic, and there are many opportunities for me to use WCF in my day job. David was very modest in noting that he is the organizer of the Tulsa TechFest, which was spoken highly of throughout the geek community. David’s presentation was very professional, and had the right mix of .ppt and demo content. He showed the simplicity in creating WCF services, and pointed out that upgrading your existing .asmx services would be trivial in most cases. I am sure we will see more great stuff from David as he is now a Microsoft MVP.
All Builds Are Good with Continuous Integration
And finally we have my 75 minute primer on how to automate your build, test, and deployment processes with continuous integration. It was more work than I thought to put together the presentation content since everything needed to be installed locally. The discussion of CruiseControl.NET, NAnt, and NUnit walked the group through the tools describing how each can be gradually added to a technical environment to increase stability, decrease risk, and eventually provide software that has fewer bugs in it. The audience participation was great, and I appreciated the thoughts and questions people offered. Most of the group had not implemented any type of CI on their project, and we even had one guy who was still trying to convince his boss that source control is a good thing! Wrap-up comments included a good one that Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server provides a nice alternative to the open-source CI stack (Insert clever acronym like LAMP, WIMP, REST, etc here). Not having any experience with TFS, I can not say whether it is better or worse, but I do know that you can’t beat the price for the solutions I presented
It was great to meet so many smart people who have such a passion for software development. If you attended the Houston TechFest, please leave a comment or link to another post to let me know what you thought.