Trip Report: LightSwitch Southwest Speaking Tour

This month I spoke in Fresno, L.A., and Phoenix areas on Visual Studio LightSwitch. I broke up the “tour” into two driving trips since I spoke in Fresno on the 11th and then had a week in between before I left for L.A. and Phoenix last week. Of course, road trips would require me to tack on a couple days vacation :-). It’s summer and I LOVE the great outdoors so it was a perfect excuse to get away from home. See below for details on the awesome developer community (and hiking) experiences.

Fresno, CA – Central California .NET User Group

The Central California .NET user group meeting in Fresno was put together by Gustavo Cavalcanti. Gustavo has spoken at our local user group here in the San Francisco Bay Area before and so when he asked me to come to Fresno I wanted to return the favor of course. Fresno is only a few hours away from where I live in the Bay Area and was a perfect opportunity to make my way to Yosemite for the weekend :-). Gustavo and his family graciously let me stay the night at their house after the talk so I could take off to the amazing national park in the morning. (See below for pictures)

About 30 people came to the meeting in Fresno. There were predominantly professional developers in the room (people paid to write code) but there were also a few non-devs, and database and IT admins in the room. I also met an interesting fellow that knew me back in my FoxPro days that had moved onto Cold Fusion/JSP/Java instead of .NET 10 years ago that was extremely interested in LightSwitch. So because of the mixed crowd, I started with a basic intro for 45 minutes and then slowly transitioned into the pro developer uses around custom controls and extensibility. I first explained the SKU lineup and ran through all the designers to create my version of the Vision Clinic sample. I showed how to federate multiple data sources, use the screen templates, program access control, and ran through the deployment options.

I then transitioned to the more programmer-focused tasks. I showed all the method hooks in the “Write Code” button – I called this the “developer escape hatch” and got some smiles. :-) I talked about the 3-tier architecture & file view on the Solution Explorer. I then moved onto the more advanced development scenarios using the Contoso Construction sample and showed how to add your own helper classes to the Client & Server projects in order to customize the code. I also showed how to add a custom Silverlight control to a screen – this got applause. Finally I demonstrated the Extensibility Toolkit and some additional themes and shells. The pro-developers really appreciated the fact you could customize the app in a variety of ways. Most devs had no idea that LightSwitch was this flexible.

Santa Monica, CA – Los Angeles Silverlight User Group

The L.A. Silverlight user group (or LASLUG as they call it) put together a cool venue in Santa Monica to have the meeting called Blank Spaces which lets people rent out office space by the hour. Unfortunately I was a bit late because my smartphone led me over to City Hall instead (argh!), but when I showed up people were still eating their pizza so I was cool :-). It was co-sponsored by, a great LightSwitch developer resource run by Michael Washington that caters more to extending and customizing LightSwitch. The main organizers, Michael and Victor Gaudioso are Silverlight MVPs and considering this was a Silverlight user group I was expecting a room of Silverlight gurus (something that I definitely am not). I have to admit I was slightly nervous. Fortunately (for me) the room of about 40 people was mixed with developers of all skill levels and expertise. Victor later mentioned that they have talks on a variety of .NET technologies so it draws all kinds of .NET developers.

Because the room was almost all professional developers that had seen LightSwitch before, I did a super-quick intro and then ran through the more advanced development scenarios like I did in Fresno. I also showed a sneak peak of the Office Integration Pack that one of our partners is working on. It’s a free extension from Grid Logic that will help LightSwitch developers work with Microsoft Office (Outlook, Word, Excel) in a variety of ways. People were very interested in this as I imagined they would be – making working with Office via COM easier is always welcome by .NET developers ;-). Look for that release within the next couple weeks on the Developer Center.

In addition to questions about Office and LightSwitch, I also had a couple questions after the talk on deployment and pointed people to the Deployment Guide here. And we also had a couple folks from DevExpress who built the XTraReports extension for LightSwitch that provided some give-aways and bought me a well deserved glass of wine after the talk. Thanks Seth and Rachel!

Chandler, AZ – Southeast Valley .NET User Group

The Southeast Valley .NET User Group is  run by Joe Guadagno, the president of INETA in North America (which provides support to Microsoft .NET user groups). This venue was the coolest of all. The meeting was held at Gangplank – a FREE collaborative workspace that provides office space and equipment to the public. I spoke in an open space with desks scattered all over the back of the large room filled with people working on all sorts of stuff together, mostly hunched over a computer.

There were about 30 people in the area where I was presenting. What was interesting is that apparently I drew a very different crowd that normally Joe sees. He said he only recognized a few faces in the audience. He had booked 4 hours for the meeting but considering it was 118 degrees, we settled for a 2.5 hour presentation with a cold beer chaser :-). I started with a basic introduction to LightSwitch and then ended with the advanced extensibility similar to the format I did in Fresno. There weren’t very many questions with this group but there definitely was applause at the end so I think people enjoyed it. In fact, I was cc’d on an email to Joe from an attendee saying that he had traveled all the way from northern Arizona to see the presentation and that he really enjoyed it. Plus he won an ultimate MSDN subscription! I have to say Joe definitely had the best SWAG of all the groups. Thanks to all our partners that supported the event.

One of the prizes was a set of tickets to the Diamondbacks game the next evening. So one of the attendees got to come with us to see the Padres lose. See below for pictures and stories…

Fun Stuff

YOSEMITE – For me, Yosemite National Park is the most amazing place in the world that I have ever been. And I have been to a lot of places in the world. Born and raised in L.A. my family used to trek the 8 hours to go camping there every year. Every year of my childhood up to the time I was 16 has pictures of me in Yosemite. Yes it’s crowded on the weekends especially in the summer but it is 100% worth seeing. If you are a good hiker you can easily get away from the crowds. I have never been to a place where so many monuments and waterfalls are all contained in the same valley.

I camped out near Bass Lake because I only had two weeks notice to make a reservation and if you want to camp in the Yosemite valley you need to make plans months in advance. Not a big deal for me at all though because I love driving mountain roads in the summer and the campground I stayed in (Chilcoot) was beautiful and not crowded at all. There were no bees, bears or raccoons, only mosquitoes bothered me there so it was perfect. I was there for two nights so the first day I drove to the Wawona Tunnel and hiked up to Old Inspiration Point and then to Bridalveil Fall. (Click to enlarge pictures)

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The second day I woke up early and hiked up to Vernal fall, up the mist trail and then to the top of Nevada fall. I have already been to the top of Half Dome (twice actually) and they started to require permits this year so I just went to the top of Nevada fall. It’s well worth the steep 7 mile (round trip) hike. It took me 80 minutes to go up and 70 minutes to come down which isn’t bad. It was absolutely gorgeous and afterward I grabbed a beer at Curry Village and then jumped into the Merced River to rinse off.

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PHOENIX – Who can pass up a road trip from S.F. to L.A. to Phoenix to Sedona to S.F.? I definitely can’t. And neither could my friend Jenn who joined me. Even in August with a heat wave in Phoenix. Yes a heat wave in Phoenix that even the devil would think twice about visiting. My mom calls me a lizard because I love the heat. Well it was 115 degrees and that was about my breaking point! Thank god for air conditioning and a pool. We still had a blast. Being a huge baseball fan, Joe took us to the Diamond Backs game on Friday night. I was a little skeptical about going to an indoor stadium but once I got inside the place was amazing! (And air-conditioned thank the lord!) They did a really great job making it feel open with lots of huge glass windows all around. They also had a pool and Jacuzzi there that holds 30 people you could rent out for a game! Crazy! Anyways they were playing the San Diego Padres who looked like little league (or worse) out there with a 3 error shutout (D-backs 5, Padres 0). Thanks to Joe and the rest of the gang that took us out for a great baseball night!

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SEDONA – After the talk in Chandler (Phoenix area), Jenn and I headed up to Sedona. I have been to the Southern half of Arizona many times but this was my first trip to the Northern part. WOW! I did not realize how beautiful and green Arizona actually is. When you think of Arizona you probably think cactus and sand. And the state definitely has a lot of those things. But once you get to Sedona and see the amazing red rock and alpine forest your opinion definitely changes. Oak Creek on the way up to Flagstaff is absolutely breathtaking. The trees and animals reminded me a lot of here in California, especially the sierras. But the rocks – WOW. Definitely like no other place I’ve seen. Sedona was beautiful but expensive so we only stayed one night but we maximized our time there. When we got there we went on a Pink Jeep tour up to Broken Arrow. Man that is the ultimate job! Driving a huge jeep up rocks and down deep canyons. It was a lot of fun.

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The next day we hiked up to the top of Wilson Mountain, the tallest peak in Sedona. You rise above the red rock and it gives you a totally different perspective. An attendee of my talk recommended this one and I’m so glad I did it! (Thanks Mike!) It was about 8 miles round trip to the top with about a 2200 foot elevation gain. What was really awesome about this one was the change in terrain. You start at the bottom with red rock, snakes and cactus and then ascend into a lush, green, alpine forest – about 20 degrees cooler up there. Absolutely beautiful.

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The drive back to S.F took us out Hwy 40 through Barstow, CA where we spent one last night and in the morning up 99 to 46 to 5 back home. I don’t think I’ve ever drank as much Starbucks as I did on this trip to keep alert while driving. But it was an absolute blast! I think I need to take a couple more weeks exploring Arizona. Thanks to the amazing developer community for having me come out and speak at your local user groups. I hope you had a great time because I definitely did!