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Be awesome, network hard and embrace the cloud: Intergenite highlights, TechEd NZ 2014

Every year we hit TechEd NZ with a vengeance and make sure we bring a splash of yellow to proceedings (see here for a recap of this year’s splash of yellow). And every year our TechEd attendees – speakers and delegates alike – return to work both tired and invigorated, full of new ideas (and looking forward to some early nights).

Recognising the look of information overload in their eyes, and cognisant of the workloads awaiting them upon their return to the office, Intergen’s friendly Marketing team gives them respite for a day or two before pouncing on them and demanding they produce their highlights so we can immortalise the best bits of TechEd NZ 2014 here on the Intergen blog.

And here’s what they told us (those we managed to successfully ‘pounce’ on, that is) – with people’s top tech tips and sessions wrapped up at the end for the developers amongst us. 

Hamish Dobson (Practice Lead, Enterprise Applications, South Island)

So what have I been up to lately…? I’ll give you a clue.

I’ve watched Michelle Dickinson combine a walkthrough of Microsoft’s latest Surface 3 with a martial arts lesson; I heard a guy called James Whittaker wearing a “Do Epic Shit” T-shirt talk about the data economy and his internet-connected hot tub which can order its own chemicals; I used a little white wristband to operate a coke vending machine; I overindulged at a help yourself lolly stand; and I watched speakers from around the globe talk about the latest and greatest technologies from Microsoft. I’ve been at TechEd New Zealand 2014!

So much great stuff to talk about, one truly inspirational session was James Whittaker’s Succeeding on Purpose which can be found here.

Our own James Carpinter presented Building Applications as Scale with Azure Websites which was a fantastic session. Chris Auld was his usual entertaining self, presenting on Azure Document DB and The Architect as Economist .

Andy Prow and Kirk Jackson did a fantastic series called Hack-Ed which can be found here – oh how vulnerable we are in the digital world:

The full session list can be found here. 

Microsoft TechEd New Zealand 2014 Keynote

Angela Gilbert (Senior CRM Consultant)

One of the first sessions I attended was James Whittaker's session in the new "Awesome" stream.  I actually ended up attending a few sessions in this stream.  I think it was a good, well-attended addition to the technical streams.  This was appropriately called AWE101. Pretty much summed it up.  James had titled it Succeeding on purpose and he was a charismatic speaker and as I left, random strangers told me that this was likely to be the best session they would attend the entire conference. A pretty bold statement for the second session into TechEd2014. But, upon reflection at the other end of TechEd, I might just agree with them.  James' session had things you could take away and apply to your life – not just your working life. 

His insights into what makes a person successful were fascinating.  He was also mindful of the New Zealand tendency to stereotype Americans as arrogant and added just the right blend of self-deprecating humour to make us appreciate what he was saying rather than focusing on potential cultural barriers. The savvy man was also wearing an All Blacks top. Yep, he had us all in the palm of his hand.

But what he had to say, also stuck with me. Some of the things that still resonate with me are things like specialisation is key.  But it has a use-by date. Or, as he put it, "Use or consume before the sell by date".  It has a dark side – you can become a one trick pony.  So be ready to bail. He used his own life career paths as examples to highlight his points. Another useful thing was that we are who we learn from. (Lucky we have so many great mentors at Intergen.) And don't just pick one mentor, either.  James was saying that you need a mentor for every different thing you need to learn.  Find the one that does X the best, and ask them.  Another great thing for me he said was how useful routine is for getting yourself into the zone.  He does the same thing before every presentation (push ups, loud music, tweets).  I use this technique a lot for raising my son (get a routine going - it makes things easier), but now I can see some areas of my life might benefit from a certain routine.  Mainly thinking about my Round Taupo event again this year on this one. Push ups might be not quite right – but something active before I start the race might be just what I need to get into the zone.

Finally, James advocates knowing what centres you and making time for that activity.  For him, he knows he loves the forest, his hot tub, and being in a brewery.  Funny – I think that might be what centres my husband, now I think about it!

Some other sessions I attended and enjoyed were the Innovation streams.  I listened to Guy Sherman explain about the 1000km tennis match. They had set up screens and courts in Christchurch and Auckland to promote the ASB Classic. They could hit tennis balls in one city, and have a tennis ball machine replicate the trajectory and spit a tennis ball at the player in the other city. Christchurch won the match!  It was fascinating to hear the difficulties they overcome.  And internet latency played a bit of havoc with their system. But it looked awesome!  Guy also showed some other demos of other cool things they had done (tug of war with real rope between Aus and NZ - across the Tasman was one of them).  His main point was the you can take trustworthy technology and combine them in a new way that changes things up.

Just so you know I wasn't just all about the Awesome or the Innovation streams, I also got back to my developer roots with some technical sessions.  I attended a DEV session on TFS builds by Rami Mounla.  Rami gave a great history on TFS and had a crazy myriad of electronics up on stage to turn on lamps and LEDs to show his TFS builds working (or breaking).  Loved his Ariane 5 example of a test that wasn't done during User Acceptance testing and resulted in the rocket exploding under the gaze of the mission controller who could see years and years of hard work blowing up in front of him.  All because they had a 64 bit number in one computer and a 16 bit register in the other, and when it tried to write to the 16 bit register, it overflowed and ended up negative.  This caused the rocket to think it was 90 degrees off course and it tried to correct itself and snapped in two under the stress.  One thing I really enjoyed from Rami's presentation was him reminding us that we all are human and have a strong sense of belonging, of wanting to join in. Rami used this technique to get buy in from his technical lead to participate fully in the build breaking monitor.

There was a single CRM session that I attended, also presented by Rami.  Rami made good use of the latest social listening components in CRM2013 and had some great demos for us.  I think a lot of companies would appreciate the new social listening abilities Microsoft is giving us with CRM2013. Go and check out some of them online if you can.

Another excellent session was Bryn Lewis in an Innovation stream on the Things of the Internet of Things.  Bryn had some Arduino chips and had done some cool things with them.  I loved his pulse rate demo, showing us he really was a pretty cool customer in front of 200 people.  I also appreciated the Code Club he helped out with – helping kids programme Arduino chips and getting into technology and the cool things you can build. 

Microsoft TechEd New Zealand 2014 Hub

John Jameson (Senior Infrastructure Consultant)

There’s a whole lot you could talk about but three things that stuck out for me are as follows:

Networking: Sometimes its feels this an overused term but events like TechEd are a fantastic way to catch up with people in the industry, clients and just as importantly other Intergen staff.  Tools like Lync are great but there still is no comparison to a face to face catch- up and it’s interesting how your perception changes when you speak to someone in person.  Even while I was waiting at Wellington to airport I bumped into some clients and had a chance to catch-up and talk about what was going on with them.  It was also nice to talk to some the ex-Intergen staff including Ian Morrish who ran a really interesting session on SharePoint Solution Architecture for New Zealand Size Deployments

Make Yourself More Awesome: What I found really interesting is that in this TechEd they had a whole stream of sessions orientated towards personal improvement.  I maybe I was a little dubious to begin with that Techies would be interested in this type of session but the turn-out for the sessions were phenomenal.  Many of the session were full and late comers had to watch on screens outside and these weren’t small breakout rooms, many of them were in the Sky City theatre.  A real standout speaker in this space was James Whittaker (Distinguished Technical Evangelist from Microsoft) who would easily be one of the most inspirational speakers I’ve heard in recent times. 

Technical goodness: Often the session are run by experts in the local industry (including a bunch from Intergen) and other companies. These sort of session are hugely valuable as it gives an insight to what other companies in the industry are doing, it also gives you a chance to get different perspective on how to do things, or simply some valuable technical tips you can take away. 

Tosh Mackevics (Junior Developer, Cloud Services)

My main goal for TechEd was to learn a bunch of things I didn’t know about and get a few ideas to be able to implement them back at Intergen. For this year’s TechEd my particular focus was on SharePoint in the Cloud, Application Lifecycle Management and Azure. This year there was definitely an increase in Microsoft pushing Azure – I must have heard the word at least 100 times a day!

Here are a few of my key learnings: 

SharePoint and Azure: An interesting point I picked up from a session was that you can use external file storage in SharePoint using Azure blob storage.

Updates to Visual Studio: This session the presenter demoed a few new additions to Visual Studio which included the ability to edit web pages directly in the browser with the content crossing straight over to visual studio source files including CSS changes, most of these changes are available through web essentials.

Release Management: probably the most useful/interesting session for me is a product in TFS called Microsoft Release Management this tool has the ability to automate all your deployments from environment to environment, Release Management is centred on a server then each environment has an agent installed which is used to get the packages in order to run the deployment. Each deployment can be set up in different stages for approval etc. they can be scheduled and used for Continuous Integration for example after a check-in the solution can be run/tested on a build server and if successful release management tool takes that packages to use for deployments. This is a tool I intend doing more research on and trying it out.

Updates to Microsoft Test Manager: This session went through a few updates to both Microsoft Test Manager on premise and in the cloud, and the difference between the two, Microsoft has been updating TFS Online every 2 – 3 weeks a lot of the changes I never seem to pick up on and this session really got me thinking I need to stay up to date with the updates as Microsoft is often adding small useful features that can often go unnoticed like Shared Parameters for test cases.

SharePoint Online for Developers: This session presented by SharePoint Master Wayne Ewington detailed some tips and tricks for developing within Office 365,what I took away from it was that a few months ago the development team for Office 365 released a project called the Office 365 Developer Patterns and Practises which is a set of useful tools and method for developing against SharePoint online they are pushing for community contributions to the project and is available on GitHub

Extending Team Foundation Server: This session focused on the APIs that can be used to access information from TFS including the use of service hooks such as zapier. The presenter went through a demo where there were options for two backlog items and depending on which one had the most votes made it to the backlog, the presenter got the audience involved by accessing the site from their mobiles to vote and we were able to view the voting in real time.  

Microsoft TechEd New Zealand 2014: Intergen presence

Paul Organ (Junior Developer, Enterprise Applications)

Being a first-time attendee at Tech Ed earlier this month, I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard wonderful tales and stories about the experiences to be had and the wide variety of activities and presentations on hand. But what was it really like?

The bulk of Tech Ed was spread out over three days with a focus on industry lead presentations, split into various tracks e.g. Developer, Infrastructure etc. This allowed attendees to pick and choose what interested them. I went for a balanced approach focusing on some topics directly related to software development but also others that interested me of which I had minimal knowledge.

Over the course the conference, I was exposed to a wide variety of pressos ranging from JavaScript MV* frameworks (AngularJs, Backbone, and Ember) to nanotechnology to surviving a proverbial shark tank. In between sessions I was able to navigate my way through a sea of vendors (including our very own Intergen!), seeing what other companies had to offer and gain an insight into what other sectors of the IT industry were all about.

I was really impressed by the quality of the speakers and their ability to engage an audience where even an Introduction to ASP.NET vNext presentation by Daniel Roth got me off my seat. Overall, TechEd was an amazing experience which has given me a bit of food – no, a banquet – for thought and things to investigate further. If you are lucky enough to be given the opportunity to attend in future, take it!

One week out from TechEd, the main thing that has stayed with me is ASP.NET vNext. A huge development and shift in the near future around the .NET framework which will vastly affect our day-to-day and software development in general at Intergen with some well overdue features and overhauls. 

Nick Dunets, Intermediate Developer

The key themes I saw, along with my highlights:

Azure/ Migration to Cloud: Microsoft's definitely betting on the cloud as a key strategic direction. We however should be aware of its limitations and unbiased when estimating any enterprise cloud migration work as it's not as seamless as advertised. Security and data synchronisation are examples of bottlenecks). Cloud neither magically makes your app scalable, it should be carefully provisioned in the architecture. The sessions to look up:

  • ARC306  Migrating an identity-centric app to Azure
  • DEV320  Building web applications at scale with Azure Web Sites
  • PCIT416 Windows 8.1 Security Internals 

 Offline-enabled Mobile apps: I attended both sessions by Rob Tiffany about Offline-enabled mobile apps. Alas there are no breakthroughs. Syncronisation has never been seamless, and the cloud doesn’t offer a silver bullet, either – so there is still lots of room for custom development. The sessions to look up:

  • WIN304  Supercharge your Mobile LOB Apps with SQLite and Offline Data Sync via Universal Apps for Windows Phones and Tablets
  • WIN307  Wrap a Mobile API around Your Enterprise and Take Data Offline with NoSQL via Universal Apps for Windows Phones and Tablets 

Amongst more specific dev sessions I'd like to highlight

  • DEV302  Using Git with Visual Studio 2013: I had previous experience with distributed version control systems aka DVCS (Mercurial not git). To put it simply - they're much better than traditional centralised source controls and Microsoft admits it by providing TFS integration with git. Branching and merging in DVCS virtually cost nothing encouraging good development practices, simplicity to maintain multiple versions / hotfixes etc.
  • DEV309  Who Broke the Build? -Ask the Lamp: Was interested in this one as many projects at Intergen lack good dev infrastructure like Continuous Integration / automated builds (especially small). Provisioning dev infrastructure for every tiny project is an overkill but it's getting much cheaper with adoption of Visual Studio Online. Investing into creation of CI-enabled project templates might be a good idea.

Posted by: Katy Sweetman, Marketing Director, Empired Group | 29 September 2014

Tags: TechEd, Cloud, Azure, mobility

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