Recap: TechEd 2010 in New Orleans – We’re Jazzed Ya’ll Were Here!

TechEd New Orleans banner

Wow! What a week! I remember the first time I saw a TechEd backpack was back in 2003, where the words “New Orleans” caught my eye. And after 7 years of waiting, my career-long dream came true of attending a Microsoft conference back home.

Earlier this month, TechEd returned to New Orleans for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, bringing 10,500 attendees to the area. And now considering the oil disaster in the gulf (I must admit I agree with The Daily Show that something is trying to kill N.O.), there was no better time for an economic boost for the city. TechEd even caught the attention of the major local newspaper (The Times-Picayune), describing cloud computing and the technical in-depth training TechEd provided. But Visual Studio 201? Opps! =D

The best part of TechEd for me was being a local among the locals. I’ve said for years that “Community is walking among the people”, but having this sense of Community^2 was incredible. I felt like I’ve known local attendees all my life, and for non-locals, I found myself with every conversation playing tour guide, making sure they had the most enjoyable TechEd experience possible. Fortunately, a local told me about http://www.nomenu.com/ which was a lifesaver in giving people French Quarter restaurant recommendations.

Highlights

Lowlights

  • N.O. was under a heat wave advisory for that week. Heat index was between 110-115(!) most days.
  • On Tuesday, there was a city-wide Internet outage for nearly 30 minutes. I never heard what caused outage.
  • The convention center food wasn’t quite Cajun. “Cajun meatloaf” just isn’t right. But, I said it was to encourage folks to support local merchants by eating at local shops across the street. =D
  • The effects of the Oil Spill were readily apparent. Just a few blocks away from TechEd was the annual Oyster Festival, where locals held a jazz funeral. Additionally, on that Thursday, a 134-year old Oyster bar closed .

GeekGive.org Habitat build

Last year at TechEd, MVP Steve Andrews, MVP Mark Rosenberg, INETA members and I chatted about what we could do to help New Orleans. We came up with a concept similar to GiveCamp, but instead of donating code, we’ll donate volunteer hours. Driven by Steve Andrews, he created GeekGive.org for conference attendees to volunteer their time at a local charity before the conference starts.

GeekGive.org volunteers

Takeaways

  • At the first GeekGive event, we had 18 Microsoft MVPs and several Microsoft employees donate 126 labor hours, saving Habitat for Humanity up to $4,000
  • This first GeekGive event received press coverage, including a worldwide press release by Microsoft:

Nestor Portillo, director of community and online service at Microsoft, was one of the volunteers. "When Steve asked us to be involved, it was an automatic yes," Portillo says. "For us, it’s a privilege to be able to contribute."

I’ve always wanted to help on one of those type projects but never really figured out how to.  This seemed like the perfect opportunity, and also, since some of my friends from around the country would be there also, I thought it would be a great time to catch up.  What a great time and a great feeling to help.

me and peter kellner

  • Special thanks to DEs Dani Diaz, Jennifer Marsman, and Zain Naboulsi for finding a sponsor from within Microsoft to help with the event. And the water bottles from Paulette Suddarth from the MVP Award Program were a huge hit, if not a lifesaver.
  • GeekGive.org is confirmed for more projects, so stay tuned!

Bytes by MSDN interview

I did an interview with Zain Naboulsi for the Bytes by MSDN discussing what’s new in Visual Studio 2010. I’ll let everyone know when it goes live.

Bytes by MSDN sign

Women in Technology Luncheon

I nominated my undergraduate advisor Dr. Donna Reese, Associated Dean of Engineering from Mississippi State, to speak on a panel on how to retain Women in Computer Science.

Dr. Donna Reese presenting

Takeaways

  • It was great to watch my advisor speak about her passions. It also made me realize how much she’s inspired me to be outspoken about my own passions as well.
  • One interesting statistic she shared is that less than 40% of women who enrolled in a CS program do not finish their degrees
  • There were 400+ women at the event.

Women in Tech luncheon

GNO.NUG evening event

Local .NET UG leader George Mauer threw together an ad-hoc meeting on Tuesday night during TechEd.

Takeaways

  • 2 MVPs and I presented short sessions to about 10 attendees.
  • My biggest takeaway was Alan Stevens’ session Does Your Code Tell a Story comparing writing code to writing books. He quoted one author who said, “Write a terrible first draft.”  I thought this was great advice on how to get started. Also relates directly to the agile methodology as well.

Booth duty each day at the MSDN Booth

My “actual” job at TechEd was to work the MSDN booth, which ironically is my former team, so I took the liberty of doing CodePlex demos as well. Hey, old habits die hard.

clip_image002[6]

Takeaways

  • We had nice business cards for quick references for all the MSDN links we were demo’ing. We also gave away Mardi Gras beads, which definitely attracted a lot of people to the booth who wanted to bring some home for their kids, etc. I also made some “Mardi Gras dogs” by twisting the beads together as if they were an animal balloon. Made for nice decorations at the booth.
  • I wore my Vibriam Five Fingers shoes one day (I was trying something creative to attract folks to the booth, and it worked). Although I hate the pink color – will blog about that tomorrow.
  • Anyone wearing anything from the local area I invited over to the booth to introduce myself as a native, and chat about whatever was on their minds, how teched was, etc. That’s how I found nomenu.com. again, what a lifesaver that site was for me!

What we demo’ed:

Our primary focus was on the following tools and sites:

We also made sure people were aware of 

Habitat for Humanity Build with DevExpress

Instead of purchasing a center-stage booth, DevExpress decided to purchase the smallest booth possible and donate the rest to a Habitat for Humanity build. It was the same house as the first Habitat build, so we got to watch the process first hand.

As the primary sponsors for the house, DevExpress and Habitat did a wall-raising ceremony to kick off the day.

wall raising ceremony w dev express

By end of the day, the concrete slab we first started with during GeekGive now had exterior walls up and all interior walls built.

house with externior walls built

You can see more photos on the DevExpress Community Blog post about the build.

Attendee Party

Attendees were treated to *the* Zydeco band Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr, and the Zydeco Twisters. New Orleans locals and I flocked immediately to the front of the stage to enjoy the absolute best Zydeco performing band.

Rockin' Dopsie, Jr

And maybe we got a little too close. Thanks to my LSU shirt, Beth Massi and I were invited to dance on stage.

Thanks for reading and Geaux TechEd!!!

CodePlex banner does WhoDat Chant at Greater New Orleans .NET User Group

On Wednesday night, I spoke at the Greater New Orleans .NET User Group http://www.gnonug.org/. Thanks to George Mauer for organizing and to our sponsor Antares Technology Solutions for organizing dinner.

I was very happy with the turnout, considering the construction, the Krewe of Thor parade, a fatality accident on I-10 East, and the Saints parade being the night before. I talked for 2 hours on CodePlex and Visual Studio. A glass of Purple Haze Abita Beer (a New Orleans classic brew) never tasted so good afterwards.

In keeping with my tradition of taking the CodePlex banner with me wherever I go, a few of us Who Dats got together afterwards to do a Saints chat.

Looking for last-minute gift idea? Buy The Art of Community book by Jono Bacon

I’m embarrassed to say just how long I’ve had Jono Bacon’s book sitting on my coffee table, as a constant reminder to myself that I haven’t written a blog entry yet on The Art of Community. In the spirit of agile, I’m going to sit here and write a review on the first chapter. Since the book starts off with a high-level overview of community concepts, I’m hoping this blog post will entice you to read the rest, or consider getting this book for someone you know who loves meetups, blogging, twitter, or any other community activity.

Just a quick aside, why I’m beating myself up for taking so long to write this, is because I want to be just like Jono when I grow up. I met Jono at his first Community Leadership Summit. Not only did I immediately realize that Jono is one of those people who “gets community” (and if you’re reading this and know what i’m talking about, go buy this book now!), but also, he’s someone who can empower and inspire other community leaders who also “get community” to go above and beyond. For example, if you’ve ever read Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower – Book 7”, we find out that there’s one special breaker who can enable the other breakers to work 300% better. I’d say Jono is like Ted in that aspect because of the way I saw him inspire myself and others at the Community Leadership Summit. (And if you haven’t read the Dark Tower Series, I swear this reference to Ted is a good thing!)

Thoughts on Chapter 1

I have to say I’ve never read just a first chapter of a book (not even a book by Stephen King) that’s inspired me to write a blog post on it. But I feel compelled to get the word out to my respective communities about this book without further delay.

Community = Belonging

I thought I’d heard it all after nearly 8 years at Microsoft on why do people participate in community, from recognition, common need, identity, response to a crisis, and passion. I thought nothing would ever top “passion”, but then I got to page 5 and read about a sense of “belonging.”

I had just boarded a flight from SEA to PDX to visit Oregon State University’s Open Source Lab, when I read about this idea of “belonging.” I spent the entire 45-minute flight trying to prove this term wrong, that “passion” clearly had “belonging” beat. But I couldn’t. I kept thinking about growing up back home in New Orleans, and how we have a tremendous sense of community there. I thought about going to Mardi Gras as a native compared to a tourist. Natives come together at Mardi Gras because it is about celebrating the community we belong to and celebrating who we are. Or even better, check out the #whodat twitter stream and see the passion of the New Orleans Saints fans going on right now. (Who Dat?! Who Dat?! Who dat say they going to beat dem Saints?!)

Even though I’m 3,000 miles away, I can still feel a sense of belonging to New Orleans. Online communities, like #whodat on twitter, give me an opportunity to express how important it is for me to feel connected to New Orleans.

Or as Jono says on page 5, “If there is no belonging, there is no community.”

Social Capital

This is probably the best explanation I’ve ever seen describing how reputation does not equal community. Way too often, I’ve seen people try to form communities based on reputation. Similar to the “if you build it they will come” flawed notion of community-building, there are folks who think if you reward people with “social capital” they’ll participate more. But as Jono describes on page 7, “People don’t make money for the purposes of just having money: they make money because it allows them to do other things.” Or more specifically, “Most people who work with social capital are not merely air-kissing, hand-wavey, superficial animals who simply want to name-drop and be name-dropped in the interests of social acceptance.” They are participating in the community because of that sense of belonging. Thank you, Jono. Thank you.

Storytelling

When I got to this part in the book (and it’s only on page 8), i thought my head would explode from excitement and wonder. I’d never ever thought in 8 years to ever think about how we communicate with each other in the community. And yet, here it is, such a simple concept on page 8, “[Jono] realized that the mechanism behind communication in a community is stories.”

When I read this sentence, I had about 16 different memories come flooding back in a single moment (which is usual for me. I have a very strong visual memory.) Each memory consisted of various groups of “people I belong to” telling stories for hours. Whether it is me telling my infamous Uncle Jimmy stories (and why I have a honest-to-god fear of plants), listening to someone talk about ASP.NET MVC, or just comparing Hurricane Katrina aftermath stories in a bar in the French Quarter, storytelling is truly how communities communicate.

Communities provide Opportunity

On page 10, Jono describes his first encounter with Linux and how he “smelled the sweet aroma of opportunity.” I can definitely relate to my time spent on the Visual Studio team. When I first saw a concept spec of a “Tip of the Day” for the Visual Studio start page, I could definitely sense the opportunity to do something cool. But I also love Jono’s quote of “If there is no viable path, we enter the world of fantasy.”

And just when I thought these concepts couldn’t get any deeper, I was helplessly enthralled once again by reading “Opportunity is born in a sense of belief.”

For me doing the 382 Tip of the Day series for Visual Studio, my “belief” was that there were others like me out there in the world. Others who knew what it was like to be a community of one (when I was in college), sitting alone in an office working day in and day out on Visual Studio, not knowing about 98% of its features. It was that belief that make it possible for me to write a tip every day for 1.5 years.

Community Manager

So far in chapter one, I’ve been swinging my legs back and forth, just having the time of my life reading this book, until I saw one word that I vowed to never use in the same context of community: enable.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

I must pause for a second to wonder whether this is “the Microsoft” in me that is saying this. Sometimes you get so accustomed to working a certain way that you have trouble figuring out whether your instincts are right, or if you’ve just been trained to think a certain way. Go read my Why I Love To Hate Agile post to understand about my performance neurosis.

I guess that same neurosis applies to community, but I’ve never thought about it. I’ve spent significant time among other Microsoft community folks, and I’ve spent some time with non-Microsoft community folks who were running online forums. But, reading this book has probably given me the broadest perspective possible on community. And to see Jono use the word “enable” was a real wake up call. In fact, I had to laugh out loud at myself.

A very long time ago, way before I joined CodePlex, I had a very passionate conversation with a coworker whether community managers are supposed to “enable the community to do something” or whether “enable” was just the word to use when you didn’t know how to actually do it. The argument was the community manager should be able to clearly state what the intended outcome was and what his/her involvement would be. After this conversation, I stopped using the word enable, and thus became sensitized to it.

The root issue of this conversation was about how to measure the performance of a good community manager. I hope Jono explores this later on. Or maybe we can have this as a session at next year’s Community Leadership Summit. I honestly believe there’s “no one size fits all” answer here.

But I digress… yes, absolutely, a community manager enables, just as I described at the beginning of this blog post how Jono is a community manager who enables community managers.

Conclusion

And this concludes my book report on the first 14 pages of The Art of Community. And to think I only have another 350 pages to go before I’m finished with the book. That’s only another 26 blog entries on the subject. =D

The Art of Community
Website: http://www.artofcommunityonline.org/
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Art-Community-Building-Participation-Practice/dp/0596156715

Cheers!

DevLink 2009

Another year, another DevLink.

DevLink Jerseys for 2 years

Highlights

  • Tweets about me moving the ship from Jim Holmes and Leon. I am here to do epic battle with Microsoft, so their tweets me the world to me.
  • Telling my Uncle Jimmy stories one night at the bar. I so have to go into standup comedy.
  • Setting Leon up for that spike about “well get a better compiler” in the Deep Fried Bytes podcast
  • Meeting the nature boy rick flair
  • I discovered PockeTwit for the Windows Mobile phone
  • And of course Open Spaces more on that below.

Open spaces

I really liked Jeff’s puzzle one, because I got to have a childhood moment about the NES game Shadowgate. I might actually have to buy (another) Super NES now.

I really liked getting to use a projector during the open space i proposed on agile development. I was happy to see others stand up and start using the whiteboard to describe their agile processes, despite . It was nice that I was able to share what I wanted to share, but learn stuff from others (the Honda agile approach with swim lanes and what goes in and out. We don’t do this quite this visually in the CodePlex team, but there is a notion that this is happening in our releases).

Happy Open Space attendees

Alan Stevens in Opening Circle

Lowlights

  • The conference wasn’t long enough for me =D I only get to see these folks twice a year, maybe 3 times if I’m really fortunate. I only got 3-4 hours a sleep (and this was after a red-eye) because I wanted to max hour the time I got to hang with everyone.
  • I wished I had submitted a talk called “How To Program Manage an Agile Team” I’ll definitely submit for CodeMash

OSCON 2009: One of the greatest weeks in my Microsoft Career

Yep, it’s a bold statement to make, but I like to live life in capital letters. Last week at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention was truly epic. The Community Leadership Summit + OSCON 2009 epitomized everything I’ve ever wanted to do in community as a Microsoft employee.

I didn’t realize how special last week was until we Microsofties went out to dinner on the last night. As we discussed how much interest there was in the guitar hero competition, someone commented how we (Microsoft) were invited to participate to play. It was Ubuntu’s idea to put together the competition. We provided the guitars and the venue. When I first heard my coworker’s comment, I nearly rolled my eyes thinking I was listening to classic PR/marketing talk (yes, I’m obviously a proud female developer), but then the significance of the statement hit me.

Community is about focusing on what we have in common, while putting aside what makes us different. The Community Leadership Summit and the Guitar Hero competition gave everyone common ground to come together and talk. I’ve done community for Visual Studio and for CodePlex my entire 8 years at Microsoft, but I’ve always wanted to engage with the open source community to say “Hey ya’ll. This is what I do at Microsoft. Come teach me your expertise, and I’ll share what life is like promoting OSS within Microsoft.”  For a total of 7 days, I was given this opportunity, which was truly one of the greatest weeks of my career at Microsoft.

Highlights

  • When I grow up, I want to be like Jono Bacon, the Community manager for Ubuntu. I want to be cool enough to organize an event like the Community Leadership Summit. I cannot wait for his Art of Community book to come out. @JonoBacon I know you hate me for beating you in the guitar hero finale =) but please sign my copy of your book when it comes out.
  • "Don’t cut people off before they have a chance to grow.”  This comment from the CLS had the biggest impact to me personally.
  • Empower people by asking them “what do you like doing? what do you do best?” This comment from the CLS had the biggest impact to me as a program manager / community manager.
  • Larry Rosen remembered me! I attended a talk by Larry Rosen a few years ago on the Microsoft campus. I was surprised that he had remembered me from such a brief introduction years ago. But then again, there are not many 5’1 women on crutches hobbling around declaring how they are going to tame the Microsoft Legal department. (don’t ask me how that’s going.)
  • I learned a lot outside the Microsoft platform bubble. Working in Redmond day in and day out, I’m not really exposed to much going on in the outside world. I had a great time visiting the various booths to learn what’s out there. Oh yeah, and there really is an OSS version of Guitar Hero called Frets of Fire. Who’d a known?
  • The guitar hero competition. I will *never* forget when, right as Jono and I were about to play in the finale, someone screams “JONO! THE FUTURE OF OPEN SOURCE DEPENDS ON YOU” OMG, that was a top 5 moment of my career right there.

Best Opposing t-shirt photo op

"I am the empire" and GPLv2 t-shirt guy

New friends from CLS

folks from Community Leadership Summit

Little Kid rockers

little kids rocking guitar hero

Putting together guitar hero bracket

ubuntu folks putting together the bracket

First comes denial in who won the guitar hero competition

the look of shock

Then acceptance =)

the look of acceptance

See ya’ll at OSCON 2010!

Community Leadership Summit Trip Report

Community Leadership Summit banner

Jono Bacon, the community manager for the global Ubuntu community, organized the first Community Leadership Summit for community managers to come together and share ideas. I loved the fact it was run as an unconference or open space. I get so much more high quality information from open spaces than I do from traditional style conferences. The saying that the room knows more than the speaker is very true. Just attended an unconference for proof.

It’s been a long time since I’ve attended a conference where all we talked about was community. It was a totally re-energizing experience (as if i needed more energy). Pictures at bottom of blog post.

I hope folks from #cls will swing by the Microsoft booth at OSCON on Weds and Thurs to say hi as i wear my CodePlex banner as a cape. I’m jealous of the Brazilian flag guy. (you had to be there for it.)

Quotes

  • “Understanding community is about understanding the human condition.”
  • "Everybody deserves to have a great community."
  • "Don’t cut people off before they have a chance to grow.” 
  • "It takes a village to build a program."
  • "It’s amazing what people will do to get a badge on a forum site. If it worked in kindergarten, it will work forever."
  • "Marketing should not be allowed to use the word ‘community.’ They should especially be banned from using the phrase ‘join our community."
  • "In today’s online world we speak glob-ish as our default language"
  • "People like people who help them."

Other Takeaways

  • We need to design a reputation system that goes beyond just what the person does online. We need a way to track offline events, like running user groups, public speaking events, etc.
  • Similar to design personas, we need personas for members who participates in our online communities so we know how best to engage and empower them.
  • You have to assign tasks to community members to make them feel inclusive. Otherwise saying "look at the list" will cause them to leave.
  • People don’t want to take surveys when they are upset with your product. It’s like pouting. You got to make the feedback channel personal.
  • Empower people by asking them “what do you like doing? what do you do best?” The example used here was in a user group meeting, an attendee who wasn’t technical turned out to be a professional meeting organizer. They were significantly more productive in that meeting because of her help.

Misc

Pictures

The Microsoft (Microspotting.com) “I am the empire” t-shirt and the Free Software Foundation’s GPLv2 t-shirt.

I am the empire t-shirt with the Free Software Foundation GPLv2 t-shirt

Picture of the CodePlex agile talk suggestion

DSC03641

Thanks again Jono and everyone who helped put together this summit. It was awesome!

Attending CodeMash 2009

I’m heading back to Ohio next week for another CodeMash. My write-up from last year says it all. And yes, I found my friend Rob again by writing a hand-written letter. I can’t recall the last time I wrote a letter to anyone.

I’m looking forward to chatting with people about CodePlex features and everything else I blog about. Too bad I can’t relive wearing my LSU sweatshirt like I did last year, but I can still try. (LSU beat OSU for BCS championships 3 days before CodeMash.)

image

And yes, gotta love being an “Adamantium” Sponsor. =D

Video from CodePlex Town Hall meeting at PDC now available on Channel 9

I do most of my blogging about CodePlex over on the CodePlex team blog, but every now and then there’s something cool I want to share over here with you all.

We did our first ever CodePlex Town Hall meeting at PDC with members of the CodePlex community demo’ing their favorite projects, then in the last 30 minutes, I showed some of our wireframes (we just say no to specs over here) for future designs to get feedback.

You can watch the video at http://channel9.msdn.com/posts/Dan/CodePlex-Town-Hall-at-PDC-2008/

Thanks to Dan over at Channel 9 for filming and posting the video! And thanks again to Tamir Khason, Kevin Dostalek, and Joseph Guadagno for doing the demos!

CodePlex Town Hall participants: Sara Ford, Tamir Khason, Kevin Dostalek, and Joseph Guadagno

PDC 2008 Day 2 – 4 pictures

My camera battery died after Day 2. Must buy new camera that charges via USB (instead of draining.)

As announced on the CodePlex team blog, Channel 9 and I hosted the first ever CodePlex town hall. Thanks to Tamir Khason, Joseph Guadagno, and Kevin Dostalek for doing demos of their (or their favorite) CodePlex projects!

CodePlex Town Hall speakers

After the demos, I did 30 minutes of discussion about the new CodePlex.com homepage design and the documentation tab feature.

Demo'ing

And now for some random pictures. Here’s a picture of me standing taller than Keith Elder from Deep Fried Bytes.

Sara Ford standing taller than Keith Elder

Jeff McWherter (who just got his MVP award in October) and I juggling (we’re passing every other, I think.)

Jeff McWherter and me juggling

Will Twitter for Microsoft MVPs

This week is the MVP Summit at Microsoft.  When i’m not deleting email or getting my 4 hours of sleep (thanks upstairs neighbors), i’m hanging out with our MVPs, listening to their feedback, learning more about their projects.

Thursday afternoon members of the CodePlex team will be at the Sheraton Hotel Seattle for the Communities Side Session.  We’re trying to get the message out to all MVPs who use CodePlex to swing by for CodePlex swag, demos, and your list of feature suggestions.

To help get the word out… I have started Twittering.  The first entry says it all.

http://twitter.com/saraford

Okay, now what apps do i download to read and tweet?