Devweek review

DevWeek T-Shirt
I designed my own T-Shirt at DevWeek 2012

I spent 3 days last week at the DevWeek conference in London. This was the first time I have gone, and I’d recommend it. I’m going to pull everything into one post for now, but I think I’ll be returning to some of the themes in later posts, so if this is a bit TL;DR for you, please let me know in the comments if there’s anything you’d like a summary on. Visual Studio 11 and the new TFS are two things that come to mind, but there’s also some interesting things about managing software teams that I want to return to once I’ve finished reading Peopleware.

If any of these interest you, check out the slides and code available on the DevWeek website.

Day 1

Tuesday 27th March schedule

Windows 8 for application developers – Mike Taulty

Microsoft’s Mike Taulty (twitter : @mtaulty ) got the keynote slot this year to talk about Windows 8 and Visual Studio 11. I’m sure most .Net folk have heard of both by now, but I certainly hadn’t had a chance to install the previews and try them out. This talk reinforced Microsoft’s vision of a single OS for all devices, although this only seemed to be Desktop, Netbook and Tablet, there was nothing on the new versions of Windows Server 8 (which looks like it would save me a lot of time setting up and deploying to new servers) and Windows Phone 8 so I’ll just have to keep reading the blogs to keep up with those.

The main goal of Windows 8 seems to be doing what they did right in Windows 7 and making it better. For some things, that’s borrowing from Windows Phone 7 (the Metro UI being the most obvious, and controversial), but there’s also Charms, which look like Microsoft’s take on Android’s Intents (a simple, powerful channel for de-coupled cross-app communication), a settings page which looks far more like the iPad than the old Control Panel, built in Cloud Syncing that includes app data (and easily extensible – there was a nice example of selecting photos for your profile from disk, SkyDrive or PhotoBucket seamlessly), which shows what Android and iOS should be doing for cloud integration, and looks as simple as Firefox sync or Amazon’s whisper sync to set up. Given the recent changes that iOS and Android have been getting in their latest releases, it looks like the next generation of devices are converging on some standard functionality, so consumers don’t have to lose functionality when switching between platforms.

Interestingly, the new version will also be LiveCD / bootable USB compatible. An obvious decision given the lack of optical drives on the Windows 7 tablets that will likely be upgraded, but will be interesting to see if Microsoft can make the experience as smooth as the Linux/BeOS LiveCDs. Given the advances from the Windows XP to he Windows 7 installer, there’s a good chance.

WinRT is Microsoft’s push for the new platform – bring the Metro UI to C, C++, C#, VB and HTML/JS developers equally. Channelling the .Net developers through .Net 4.5. I’m not sure where this leaves Mono developers, so .net might not be the cross-platform solution that MonoTouch and MonoDroid promise. If you want to develop on a tablet, as I wondered in my last blog post, just use Visual Studio 11. Microsoft might become the leaders in developing apps for your Post-PC world 😉

I think the most telling takeaway from this talk for how you develop for Windows 8 was this:

“There are no Windows in Windows 8 – every pixel is yours”

You have a blank canvas, how are you going to fill a 7″ tablet and 2 42″ monitors with your metro app?

A tour through Visual Studio 11 – David Starr

The next major release of Visual Studio is on the way, and our favorite IDE just keeps getting better. This session shares significant additions and improvements slated for the next version of Visual Studio. The specific focus is on the tools that will make developers’ lives better, and how we’ll use them in real life.
Learning points:
• What’s coming in Visual Studio 11
• Which features add major value, and which are just a “meh”
• How these new tools will change how we work

My first impression of Visual Studio 11 was how much it reminded me of Ice Cream Sandwich (especially in the dark theme), and how many of the speakers were not fans. David Starr (twitter @elegantcode) pointed us at the Uservoice page for Visual Studio 11 where the lack of colour in the default theme was the number 1 most requested feature. Note that Visual Studio 11 is not a Metro app, so it will live on Windows 8’s desktop (legacy?) view.

According to the talk, Visual Studio 11’s main driver was about listening to the community and giving developers what they want, so Monty Hammontree listened to what folk were saying on Twitter, and sending via the “help Microsoft improve Visual Studio” feedback and designed Visual Studio to have simpler tooling, a minimal UI, and allowing Visual Studio to better handle the development tasks that aren’t coding, such as requirements. Read Monty’s blog above to understand the philosophy behind the changes. Although the SQL server team and the NuGet team haven’t got the memo as both built-in components are still using the 2010 colour scheme.

As with Windows 8, Visual Studio is borrowing a lot of ideas from the community and building in things that were previously only provided by add-ons, including their own add-ons like the productivity power pack, whose Solution Navigator is Visual Studio 11’s SOLUTION EXPLORER (yes, it’s all caps), and allows you to drill down and search through filenames, classes and methods.

Depending on which edition you use, there’s an improved code comparison tools that makes merging easier, a new code duplicate finder, a new test runner that can be set to run tests after every build (that includes nUnit and xUnit support), and an ability to fake any DLL (such as the System and HttpContext) in your tests, but I think the 2 things that will really help me out are the preview tab and the speed improvements.

The preview tab opens when you hit F12, or click on something in the solution explorer, or whenever you’re browsing rather than editing. It appears on the right hand side, and stops Visual Studio from opening multiple tabs by re-using the same window as you browse, then offering a simple button to turn it into a normal tab once you’ve found what you want.

The speed improvements come mainly from better backgrounding of tasks, so the UI is not blocked. Msbuild is now used for all builds, allowing the build to be architecture independent, and this feeds into the test runner and the built in source control tools.

The other big takeaway from this talk is that if you are running Visual Studio 10 SP1, you can load your project files in the Visual Studio 11 beta, save them, and they will still work in the old version, so no more breaking projects when 1 member of the team upgrades – so long as they don’t start using C#5 features like async (I’ll get to that on Day 3)

ASP.Net and Visual Studio 11 – Robert Boedigheimer

Robert Boedigheimer (twitter: @boedie) covered some of the same ground as David Starr, but he quickly got into the nitty gritty for us ASP.Net developers.

There a lot of improvements in the editors to make them more context aware for HTML and JavaScript, for example, renaming and IntelliSense support for HTML5 tags, the IE9 Javascript engine built in to add IntelliSense and references for Javascript, colour picker and CSS3 support in the CSS editor, as well as awareness for common hacks and vendor-specific prefixes so there’s no more warnings.

There’s a new Page Inspector, which looks like IE9 inside Visual Studio, that gives access to most of the web developer tools, with the ability to link back to the source code so that the CSS/HTML changes can be tested and fixed with a much shorter feedback loop.

There are some validation (including Anti-XSS), performance and feature improvements, as well as support for Web Sockets via IIS8. There was a lot of talk about how to improve performance of you website, making use of caching and minification, which are useful for everyone, but there are a few nice tricks in the new framework that make these easier and more powerful.

Even if you’ve had a look at Visual Studio 11, be sure to check out these slides, as you might learn a thing or two about improving performance.

High performance software development teams – David Starr

This one will definitely be of interest to my colleagues. Discussion of SMART goals and how to create teams that constantly outperform expectations (without lowering expectations 😉 ). Successful teams are ones that don’t stop learning, keep communicating, have short feedback cycles, and make decisions rather than reacting impulsively.

I’m not going to go into detail, as I’m sure David Starr can explain it better himself, but there were a couple of things he said that I’ll repeat here and let you cogitate on:

Successful teams ship software and are in a position that they can always ship software quickly.

Well-functioning organisations don’t need heroes to do lots of overtime, or need to fix things whilst ignoring the team.

If your well-maintained and performant data centre runs at 80% efficiency, shouldn’t you make sure you’re not working your staff harder than your machines?

Although on that last one, remember it’s always easier to add a new machine to your data centre than a new developer to your team.

Day 2

Asynchronous programming with C# 5 – Andrew Clymer

This is the sort of deep technical talk conferences like this need. Andrew Clymer from Rock Solid Knowledge showed plenty of code to demonstrate the pain of asynchronous programming in .Net by looking at how to spin off a background task from the UI, and update a control with the result (with an aside into other places where the technique is useful.

Fundamentally, async and await allow you to free up a thread and do asynchronous programming whilst the framework does all the dirty work to make sure the return message ends up on the calling thread and exceptions are raised in the right place, so writing a callback is as simple as:


async void OnClickGetUsers
{
try {
var users = await Server.GetAllUsers();
UserListControl.Add(users);
} catch (TimeoutException e) {
DisplayError(e.Message);
}
}

And all you have to do is use the Task / Task<T> as the return value from Server.GetAllUsers().

If want to run many tasks, create your own wrappers for legacy tasks, or write task-aware WCF clients, go have a look at the blogs and screencasts on his site.

Pragmatic architecture – Oliver Sturm

I was a bit disappointed with Oliver Sturm‘s talk. There was a nice concept in there, walking through the breaking down of a project into its architecture and talking through the decisions to be made at each step, but it didn’t quite work as a talk. It was listed as “The short talk”, as a pre-cursor to a workshop on the Friday, which I couldn’t go to, and I think the session was designed to interactive, so the size of the room and the expectations of the audience didn’t give the talk the dialogue it deserved. I’ve seen Oliver talk about more technical topics and those have been good, so I hope the workshop session lived up to the potential

ASP.Net MVC hidden gems, tips & tricks – Shay Friedman

Apart from a few broken demos, Shay Friedman (twitter: @ironshay ) gave a good overview of some lesser known frameworks and options in ASP.Net MVC. Most of it could be summed up by the first slide : Use NuGet, but the rest discussed all the nice extensions, frameworks, and scaffolds that you can get via NuGet, as well as a couple of simple error handling tricks, and pointing out the built-in controls from WebMatrix.

Cognitive biases and effects you should know about – Kevlin Henney

I’ve seen Kevlin Henney before, and he’s got a great, humorous style. In this very informative talk, he didn’t disappoint. His basic thesis was that everyone is biased, even about bias. If you’ve ever come across the Dunning-Kruger effect or read Kluge, you’ll have a fair idea where he was coming from. Basically, humans have a world view that is great for avoiding being eaten by a tiger, but not so great for the modern world. And Success is a better teacher than failure, because we try to forget failure. If you want to learn, mentoring is good, and practice is good, and trying to learn without either is very tough.

Day 3

The frustrated architect – Simon Brown

A great talk from Simon Brown to set up the last day.

How do you build an architecture in an Agile team? How does an agile team works with non-functional concerns like performance and scalability? What did we forget when we threw front-loaded architecture out the window and moved to Agile?

A great teardown of the problems with Agile-driven architecture, followed by some resources and ideas to help you think about how to resolve those in your own teams.

Go see the slides for yourself and understand that architecture is social and the architect needs to understand the developers and the users, and a good architect is a developer and a leader, and isn’t someone who kills trees with 400-page documents that are never read.

Storyboarding in Visual Studio 11 – Brian A Randell

I think Brian A. Randell (twitter: @brianrandell) is a Disney fan. He managed to get some Disney storyboards to demonstrate the power of storyboards. It’s prototyping from Visual Studio via a special set of templates in Powerpoint.

The interesting point of the talk for me though wasn’t the Powerpoint side, it was the additions and changes in Team Foundation Server that enable the feedback loop to send those storyboards around the development team, out to the client, gather specific feedback, and pull that back into the tasks. I wasn’t interested in TFS before, but I am now.

M-V-VM from the ground up – Dave Wheeler

I only saw the first part of this two-parter from Dave Wheeler (twitter: @finiteplane) but it was all I was looking for to understand MVVM as mainly an ASP.Net MVC developer. He had some strident views about keeping developers and designers separate, but the talk was mainly about building up a simple app and demonstrating best practice to make lives of both developers and designers as easy as possible.

To make the M-V-VM pattern work, the Model does all the back-end communication and exposes business objects, the only code in the view code-behind is the untestable UI-tied behaviour (like weird animations, and non-standard behaviours), the the ViewModel responds to ICommands like “DeleteUser” and replies with INotifyPropertyChanged events back to the UI, allowing the behaviour of the presentation layer to be tested independent of the designer’s layout preferences.

Agile Engineering Practices – Neal Ford

An Agile talk, responsive to audience demands (via a talk menu that was voted on), Neal Ford (twitter: @neal4d) gave a great journey through some interesting topics on Agile Engineering in ThoughtWorks.

In Information Radiators, he spoke about code metrics and providing information on failure and success as directly and as unobtrusively as required.

In Design Practices, he talked about the complexity of simplicity (why is it so hard to make the design simple), the importance of throwing away your experiments (but keeping the results to learn from) and how well the original design patterns from the Agile movement have aged, re-iterating the good ones, and replacing the not-so-good ones.

In Test Driven Design, he showed how TDD improved the design of a solution as well as the quality using a Kata example, as well as a series of studies from Dr. Laurie Williams that show that TDD costs a lot less than you think (which I wish I’d known about when I gave my TDD talk a few years ago), and writing more code makes you go faster.

In feature toggles, he discussed an alternative to branching and merging to allow multiple developers to work on multiple features without a merge ambush leaving developers lost and contemplating throwing away a week’s work.

In DVCS magic, he talked about how his team uses git, and how they modified things to minimise developer downtime and frustration and increase productivity.

Overall thoughts

This was a good, well-organised conference, with a heavy, but not exclusively Microsoft focus. At 90 minutes, the talks were longer than most conferences, but the speakers tended to make good use of the extra time so few of the talks felt stretched or over-long, and they all mostly ran smoothly.

The venue was good, but there was a big split between 2 of the rooms (and the exhibition area) and the other 10, heightened by lift failures on the final day, but that wouldn’t put me off going again.

The lunches were also the best I’ve had at a conference, so 3 cheers to the organisers for that.

Looking forward to coming again next year (Next DevWeek 4th – 8th March 2013). Anyone want a talk on developing across multiple offices?

 


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