As I describe in this month’s Editor’s Note column, the October issue of MSDN Magazine is Charles Petzold’s last as a regular columnist. He is leaving our pages to take on a role as a programmer and writer at cross-platform tools provider Xamarin. Charles has been a columnist at MSDN Magazine since 2007, when he kicked off the Foundations column covering the finer points of WPF, WCF and WF along with co-authors Juval Lowry and Matt Milner. And Charles has been writing features for MSDN Magazine going back to 1986.
Now Charles is embarking on what he calls “a whole new chapter” of his life. He’s already busy at Xamarin, writing a book on Xamarin.Forms titled “Creating Mobile Apps with Xamarin.Forms.” The new C# and XAML platform enables developers to share UI code among iOS, Android and Windows Phone apps. He’ll also be presenting on Xamarin.Forms at the Xamarin Evolve conference next week, October 6-10, in Atlanta.
I asked Charles about his experience at MSDN Magazine and what he’s looking forward to in his new role at Xamarin. He described writing the DirectX Factor column, which launched in January 2013, as extremely demanding, as it dove into the sometimes-arcane world of DirectX and native C++ development. Charles’ first DirectX Factor columns focused largely on DirectSound, before shifting to Direct2D and the challenge of exploring 3D graphics in the DirectX environment. Charles will tell you that he enjoyed writing for MSDN Magazine because it helps him learn and master new technologies and concepts, and his foray into the DirectX stack offered plenty of that.
“Part of the impetus behind the DirectX Factor column was my desire to do something really challenging after nearly a decade in C# and XAML environments,” Charles says. “On average, I’m sure I spent more time programming and writing for each DirectX Factor column than any previous magazine writing. I enjoyed the experience immensely, but I think DirectX is intrinsically a full-time job. It’s complex and extensive and extraordinarily versatile, and I found that the minute I would move away from DirectX to do something else, all the DirectX would start dropping out of my head!”
Despite the steep learning curve, Charles calls DirectX “essential” for applications that need a high level of versatility and performance around graphics, text or audio. His last columns focused on the 3D aspects of Direct2D graphics, and in fact 3D has been a motivating technology for Charles over the years. He singles out his October 2007 Foundations column, titled “3D text in WPF,” as one of his all-time favorites.
“I remember seeing some animated 3D text in a TV ad and wondering if I could do something like that in WPF 3D, which I had recently been exploring,” Charles recalls. “I can still remember the difficulty of working out the code, but I also remember my joy at seeing the results.”
Charles is leaving MSDN Magazine, but will continue to write—and learn—in his new role at Xamarin.
“I like challenges and learning new things. That’s a big part of the appeal of writing to me, and particularly writing for MSDN Magazine and its predecessor, Microsoft Systems Journal,” Charles says. “Often I would get an idea for an article for the magazine, but I wouldn’t know exactly how to do what I wanted to do – how to realize the vision in my head. Sometimes I never did figure it out, and I’d have to think of something else to write about. But I enjoy the process of getting to a point where I’m confident enough in my solution to the problem to write about the experience.”
But Charles says that working as a freelance writer was “no longer working well” for him, and that he had begun considering alternatives. When he started contracting for Xamarin earlier this year, it opened up an opportunity to work for the cross-platform tools maker on a full-time basis. He jumped at the chance.
Now Charles is with the Xamarin documentation team, writing his latest book, and preparing to talk about the Xamarin.Forms platform at the Evolve conference next week. And after that, who knows.
“I’m curious myself what I’ll be doing at Xamarin after the book is completed. There’s a lot of very cool stuff going on in mobile development, and hence within Xamarin, so I’m sure the fun work (and the challenges) won’t run out any time soon.“
It’s been our pleasure and honor to work with Charles over the years at MSDN Magazine, and our hope is that he will appear in our pages again in the months ahead, writing the occasional feature article on Xamarin’s tooling for C# developers writing cross-platform apps for Windows Phone, Android and iOS.