Thursday, 15 November 2007

As I am writing this, I am just heading home from TechEd, waiting at the Barcelona airport for my return flight to Vienna. It has been a busy time for the Genome team since September - unfortunately so busy that we couldn’t take time to blog about all the things that are going on. We weren't at TechEd only as attendees, but also exhibiting in the Visual Studio Partner area, with a total of 8 TechTalkers in Barcelona. To catch up with all the things that have happened since September, I’ll start with TechEd, while the memories are still fresh.

For the second time already, TechEd Europe has been split into a Developers and an IT Pro conference, taking place separately during two consecutive weeks. The concept already worked well last year, and after successfully probing the concept for two years in Europe, Microsoft has decided to also split the upcoming TechEd US 2008 in the same way.

For the attendees, the split means much more focused presentations. While in the mixed TechEd, you always had the risk of ending up in an infrastructure talk as a developer (and vice-versa for the IT pros), TechEd Developers purely features topics for developers. The content of the presentations was not revolutionary this year, which makes it more understandable to me why PDC was cancelled. While last year's TechEd Developers dealt with a lot of technologies that were still a year away (Visual Studio 2008, LINQ), these same technologies were still the focus this year, but now they are about to be released (Visual Studio will be out in November). The most interesting talks for me were in the architecture track, were Pat Helland et al gave very concrete and useful explanations about the well known "So Overrated Acronym". Or, in other words, nothing new or overly interesting in terms of technology, but the architecture track was really good this year.

Exhibiting at TechEd Developers is also very different from exhibiting at just TechEd. People coming to your booth are knowledgeable about development, although in previous years it was amazing how few of them knew what an object-relational mapping tool is. This had changed dramatically this year: since many of the sessions (sometimes forcibly) tried to relate to LINQ, and mostly used LINQ2SQL as a concrete implementation, almost everybody knew that there are smarter and more effective ways to talk to a database than SQL and datasets. However, since many sessions just related to LINQ2SQL for no obvious reason (what does ASP.NET AJAX have to do with database persistence?) and hence didn't properly explain the concepts, the knowledge about LINQ was somewhat blurred ("...why do I need an O/RM when there is LINQ?").

Anyway, we already somehow expected this shift before the conference and therefore changed our tag line from "Tired of SQL?" (meaning: "Aren't you tired of hand writing data access in SQL?") to "The missing LINQ" (meaning: "Aren't you missing something in the O/RM implementation(s) Microsoft provides?""). We had a lot of interesting discussions at our booth, and people who had actually tried out LINQ2SQL already understood why there is need for additional O/RM implementations. Also, the appearance of Entity Framework, which will be released in the next 9 months, raised some interesting questions, which I will go into in detail in a follow up post. All in all we had more focused talks, and instead of explaining why someone would want to use O/RM, we spent more time this year showing what we can do on top of LINQ2SQL (which I will also address in a follow up post).

Right after TechEd we also attended a lab event for Visual Studio Industry partners, held in a hotel nearby the conference venue. Usually you need to go to Redmond if you want to talk with the Visual Studio team, which is quite far from Europe. To address this issue, the team organised an extra opportunity to meet, adjacent to TechEd Europe, for the second time. The event again proved very valuable to us, as you get 1:1 meeting time with developers from their team, where you can ask questions from general strategy down to technical details, and you can even debug together onsite if you want. From the information we got , a lot of things are now possible that we have been wanting to do for a long time already, and we also got some completely new ideas about how we can improve Visual Studio integration for Genome. I'll also blog about these ideas in a separate post.

Finally some non-functional observations of the conference: As with every Microsoft conference I have attended so far (whether it was a local Austrian conference or TechEd and PDC in the US), organisation was perfect. However, compared to the US conferences, TechEd Europe seems to have a significantly lower budget than the US conferences: while there are plenty of evening activities at the US conferences (ask the experts reception, Birds-of-a-feather sessions, attendee party), the European TechEd only features the evening expo-hall reception and a country evening (both of which also exist in the US conferences).

Posted by Chris

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