Tech Days in London

Writing this as I come back from speaking at Tech Days in London, in a series of deep dive sessions following the launch of VS2010. The venue was a cinema in Fulham Broadway. The place was full (between 500 and 600 people), indeed over-subscribed. I understand that some folks who turned up were turned away (Health and Safety dictates that you can’t go over capacity in this kind of venue); desperately sorry for those unlucky few, but perhaps they enjoyed a day in London instead. It’s great to see so much enthusiasm for the new tools in Visual Studio. Yesterday’s VS2010 launch was packed out as well.

The decision to use a modern cinema was inspired. The seating is very comfortable, much better than you usually get in conference centres, and I think this must be the largest screen I’ve ever given a presentation on; there were no worries about people not being able to see the text. Though slightly disconcerting to see a few participants tucking into their popcorn! The audience was attentive, and I could see some heads nodding in the front rows, with, of course, the usual politeness and reserve to be expected from a British audience. I’ll be interested to see the feedback scores. A couple of questions: one asking about the version of Visual Studio you need to use these tools (Ultimate for all the functionality, though some limited functionality is available in lower versions), another about the relationship to M and Oslo (M is now part of SQL Modeling Services, and we look forward to being able to hook some of our visualizations to models in databases at some point in the future).

The speaker after me was Colin Bird, formerly of Conchango and now founder of a new company RippleRock. He gave a very interesting talk on Agile Development, making the point that Microsoft is really providing a tooling platform, with some tools, templates and so on in the box to get you started, but to get the most out of it you need to invest some resource every sprint into building up and maintaining your tools and automation, which should include customizing and extending Visual Studio to fit your own engineering practices and particular circumstances. I couldn’t agree more, and I think that it is our job in Microsoft to make it as easy as possible to implement and deploy those customizations. As an illustration of how far we’ve come, towards the end of my talk I was able to create a new extension to the UML designers and deploy it to VS in less than a couple minutes, as well as create a new DSL from scratch. A few years ago, I’d have been much more careful about demonstrating DSL Tools because of the wait times it took to do the code generation and build. Deployment was also a case of adding another project to create a .msi. And I wouldn’t have dared tried creating other kinds of VS extension during a demo.

This trip also made me realize how old I must be getting (that and the recently acquired reading glasses). I used to live in London when a PhD student, and would have expected to have needed to go outside at least once to get to my destination. I travelled on the high speed rail service from my home town of Canterbury which takes you straight into St Pancras station. It’s the first time I’ve used this service (I usually take the slower train into Charing Cross), and I have to say that St. Pancras really is beautiful, with a broad arching roof over the platforms. So I arrived under cover, and from there you can walk to Kings Cross tube without stepping outside, then round on the Circle line to Edgware Road, and a step across the platform onto the District line service to Fulham Broadway. The entrance to Fulham Broadway is integrated into the shopping complex and multi-screen cinema, so no need to go outside there, either. The experience was slightly surreal.

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