Observations from Minnesota Developer Conference 2011

imageThis week in Minneapolis the 6th annual Minnesota Developer Conference (MDC11) was held in Bloomington and it brought with it a record crowd of 500+ attendees. The event was broken into 7 tracks with 4 sessions each along with a keynote. I am also involved in setting up and running a “Rock Paper Azure” tournament for attendees of the conference to have some fun with game theory. I participated as a speaker as well as attendee and I have to say it was well worth my time.

Soft Skills. This year’s conference included a track on “Soft Skills” that I participated in where we showcased a TechMasters meeting. Jaim Zuber, the current President of the club, led the efforts to organize the schedule and worked with the conference organizers to make it happen…Great job Jaim! In case you’re wondering, TechMasters is Toastmaster’s for Geeks, and is a full fledged chapter with all the benefits of being a Toastmasters Club. Why is that significant?

TechMasters Demo Meeting.  People in the engineering and technology sciences including software have what some may call a well earned reputation of needing some polish in our communication skills. Dilbert showcases this every morning by showing the typical life that is sometimes laughably too close to reality of an engineer trying to fit into a business world.

The ability to speak and communicate ideas and approaches is critical to success in anyone’s career, and Toastmasters provides a tried and tested program for how to get there. There are a lot of Geeks in Minneapolis, and a lot of us could use some help. TechMasters meets every Tuesday morning at 7:30 at the Benchmark building (7610 West 77th Street – Map). The typical meeting will start out with a business meeting then go thru a schedule where members are assigned various roles. The roles include things like Court Jester who leads off with some humor, a Grammarian who provides a word for the day and reports at the end of the meeting on use of language and word pictures, a Topic Master who runs the impromptu portion of the meeting, scheduled Speakers and Evaluators, etc. The roles rotate week by week so everyone gets a chance to practice the different types of speaking and critical listening.

Observations. The enthusiasm in the air at the event was great, with lots of conversation about projects people are working on, the technologies they’re using and compelling new things worth paying attention to made the day go by quickly. Again this year people packed into Jon Von Gillern’s session on .NET Tips and Tricks, and Scott Davis had people standing outside his room while he showed how to leverage Blend to build Silverlight apps. Jeff Brand delivered sessions on Mango and Silverlight 5 that were so crowded I wasn’t able to get in the room, great job Jeff! I particularly appreciated Robert Boedigheimer’s participation in my session on how to play Rock Paper Azure with some insight in how to build winning bots. I sat in on Jeff Lin and Paul (last name?)’s session on Ruby and Heroku that was very well done. They started with a blank slate, and explained from the ground up how to built a social app and deploy it.

Next up. In a few weeks I’m scheduled to be at the Twin Cities Code Camp (register) which will once again be held the CSCI building at the University of Minnesota. This weekend event will be an opportunity to connect with the development community and see what we should be paying attention to. I’ve got a session on new features of Windows Azure 1.5 release that will explore what was announced at BUILD and show scenarios where you can use it. One thing worth noting is that 6 of the sessions will be delivered by TechMasters members. If you’re interested in developing your speaking skills and developing the confidence to stand up in front of your peers, you should join us some Tuesday morning, the door is wide open!

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