I was pleased to be introduced to DevLink by Brian Prince this year. It is a great conference, catering to the more southern members of the Midwest development development family, similar in structure and content to CodeMash in January. Held at a college campus, it has a loose, collegial feel (unsurprisingly) and has some great content. The proof is in the pudding – a lot of people made the trek from Ohio and Indiana to Nashville for the three day con.
I went a day early to take part in a community leadership mini-con that the Midwest evangelism group for Microsoft put on. Thrown in a unconference format, this was a gathering of sixty or so movers and shakers in the Microsoft developer’s community, along with a few of us hangers-on. Steve Webb and I went to try and soak up as much of the community goodness as possible, and some great southern barbeque as well. We got what we were looking for.
Open Source Community
Due in part to the MVC4WPF project, I have a recent interest in the community surrounding open-source. I held a session on the Open Source Community and had a great discussion with a few experienced souls. We determined that in order to have a successful open source project and surrounding community, you need four things:
- A strong leader, who can focus the energy of the group, and set direction. Scattered development makes everyone feel bad about the project, and the only reason people participate at all is to feel good.
- An easy patching process. If people don’t feel like they can participate, they won’t participate.
- An existing user base of sorts. If there is already a group of people working on the project, they produce the core of the open source community.
- Tool Availability. If you need VSTS 2008 to do the work, then fewer people will be interested. You need to be able to do work on the product on your home machine.
The biggest key to growing a community is popularity. Popular projects – at least in the Microsoft world – have four common characteristics:
- Need. There has to be a need for the end result of the project.
- Caretaking. Long after the shiny newness of the project has worn off, someone has to care for it.
- Ease. Use, development, documentation, everything.
- The source should be included in the product install.
Another cool discussion was on the topic of sponsorship. As one would expect, it is harder and harder to get companied to pay for the trip to a conference – even an inexpensive one like DevLink – along with the time off, the travel, et cetera. The group came up with seven ways to sell your company on the idea that going to a con was a good idea.
- You will be cool by association. Especially if you are giving a talk, you get to say “Hey this consultant of ours went and presented a paper along with the Famous Tim Wingfield!” or whomever.
- Being elite is more marketable. Following along with the last tip,. it is true that elite-ness is quite marketable.
- Providing training / brain dump. When you get back from a con, offer to run a session or do a screen cast to train others.
- Put some skin in the game by offering to pay for part or take vacation time.
- It is true that events build experience, and experience improves marketability. IF you go and get exposed to Azure, you can look a client in the eye and say “I have some experience with Azure. What do you want to know?”
- Networking! Local people travel. You can sell and recruit.
- Point out that the sponsoring company will get to retain top talent. People stay where they feel they are valued, and a cheap way to show value is sending people to events.
On the issue of companies paying the small sponsorship fee to become an actual sponsor of the event (apart from sending people) we discussed the idea of selling access to an opt-in email list. This could be for sales purposes if you are a tool vendor, or recruiting if you are a consulting company.
At the con
Hey, wait, there was a con too! After all of that that brain pumping at the community summit, I got to go hear the hippest cats in the Midwest talk about some cool technology. Learned a lot, too.
Thursday was set up as two half-day sessions, which I was only sort-of impressed with. Don’t get me wrong the content I attended was really very good, but three hour sessions are really very hard to do. I’m not sure I would recommend it to the organizers for next year.
I started my day listening to Jim Wooley (aka @linqkinq) chat about database driven web. He had a good strong overview of the various new ways to quickly set up ASP.NET data access, along with experienced view into the enterprise ready techniques. We got a first look at RIA Services, along with the tasty morsels of LINQ and Entity Frameworks in action.
The afternoon session was on cloud deployment, from the very experienced Ben Henderson. We did a few end to end deployments of cloud applications on both Azure and S3, and I learned about the S3 Organizer for Firefox, which I recommend to anyone working in the cloud space.
The next two days of the con were the usual hour-long segments of technological goodness. There were regularly seven tracks going on so no one had a problem finding something that they were interested in. Additionally, there were the open spaces, which follows a free-flowing hippyism format with an open grid and user generated content. I ran a session on the Managed Code Rootkits that I learned about at Defcon, and had a great conversation with Steve Wallace and others. (We decided that more research was necessary as to the risk, because if you have admin access, there are worse things you can do than munge up the .NET Framework.)
On top of it all, I had a great time in Nashville, without really ‘doing’ the city at all. I didn’t go to a ball game, I didn’t hear any big name acts, I didn’t see any celebrities, but I had a great time. The community summit was at Jack’s Bar-B-Que, which is a Nashville standout. The hotel was two blocks from Broadway, where all of the fun is. There was lots of good music to be had on every street corner – who needs to go to a show? The restaurants that we visited had no fewer than fifty beers on tap each, so how can you you argue with that, I ask. All in all a good time.
So thanks to Brian for inviting me, Steve for putting up with me, the organizers for bring good at what they do, and the presenters, attendees and volunteers for making DevLink an all around great con. Can’t wait for next year.