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Notes from a trip to Microsoft BUILD 2012

11/6/2012 7:59:48 PM

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Yesterday I’ve returned from the Build conference in Redmond. The content was awesome, the swag was awesome and, most importantly, the people were awesome. But there were a few less than perfect things which can be reduced to one …

Location #1

This was my first visit to Microsoft’s campus, so it was really interesting in that regard. Other than that it’s hard to explain the choice of venue.

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Except for keynotes which were held in what is now known as BAT (big-ass-tent) the rest of the sessions were held in 2 buildings (Microsoft Building 33 and 92). As you can guess by the building numbers these are not particularly close. Here’s the map:

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It takes at least 15 minutes to walk from one to the the other. Microsoft tried to mitigate this by running shuttle buses between the buildings. I’ve tried to use the bus once. Ended up waiting 10 minutes for the bus in the rain and then when I finally got to the other building the session I wanted to attend was already full. So from day two I decided to choose the first session of the day and based on that stay in the same building for the day.

Another consequence of this layout was the need to have 45 minute breaks between the sessions. I’m not sure I mind this since that left more time for networking which is the most valuable part of the conference anyway (especially considering online availability of the content). But it’s worth mentioning that all the content would easily fit into 3 days if it was in the same building with ~15 minute breaks. And we could’ve had more content on day 4 (I’ve heard some sessions didn’t fit in).

Location #2

One of the main selling points of doing the event on campus was supposed easy access to Microsoft employees. While I was told that we actually got more talks by real engineers (as opposed to evangelists) than we would if the event was held somewhere else, I’ve heard from multiple Microsoft employees that they were forbidden to get close to the conference. Add that to the fact that they have their own life in Seattle area (spouses, kids, hobbies) and they have to go home and you actually get less access to them than you would if they were on “workation” in Vegas.

Location #3

This is totally random. Sorry for mentioning it here. But on the day I arrived I wanted to get a beer. So I wiped out my Windows Phone, launched Local Scout and found the closest place to the hotel that served beer and burgers. It’s called Red Robin (a chain burger joint). So I went there and ordered a beer. Bartender asked me for my ID. (and no, I don’t look like I could be younger than 21).  I complied and gave her my European Union ID card. She was really genuinely sorry, but said that it wasn’t good enough and she needs a proper passport (which I left at the hotel). I was a little upset, but agreed to settle for a burger w/o beer. To my surprise she said that not only I’m not getting a beer, but can’t stay in the “bar area” of the establishment and non-bar (restaurant) area was full. Oh, well.

When I returned to the same restaurant on the last day of my trip with passport in my pocket no one seemed to care about my age.

I don’t know if this is a state of Washington thing or what. I wasn’t asked for passport in US (except at border control) never before and never after that accident.

Few notes on the hotels

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Night shot of my hotel taken with Nokia Lumia 920

Tim Heuer has a great post with hotel tips for PDC in 2010. I would add one thing though.

I’ve chosen Silver Cloud Inn Redmond based on proximity to the event and actually walked from and to it from the Microsoft campus. That’s great, but … There was a great and free shuttle service from/to all of the official conference hotels (there were 17 of them) so the proximity to Microsoft wasn’t that important. On the other hand I’ve been to 2 parties (including some drinking and late return to the hotel) in the Bellevue center, plus I went there for shopping and actually went to the airport on a public bus (yes, I’m cheap) with layover in Bellevue center.

So, if I had to choose again I would choose a hotel in downtown Bellevue, rather than close to Microsoft Campus.

It was great, really!

I know this post sounds sour, but lets write this off on the fact that I was born in USSR or am European or whatever. I’m having hard time praising the awesome things (they were awesome what’s there to talk about?) and would rather mention the things I didn’t like (things that can be improved on). That said //build/ was awesome and I would do it again without blinking.

See you at BUILD 2013!

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Upcoming Trips

1/20/2012 7:26:20 PM

I’m 36 and, believe it or not, I have never been on anything that could pass as a business trip until 2 years ago. I was on 1 such trip in 2010, 5 in 2011 and in February 2012 alone I’m going to go on 4 (well, technically the “month” covers January 31st and March 1st, but who’s counting?).

So here’s a list. Come say “hi”, if you are nearby.

UK Windows Phone User Group (January 31st, 2012)

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I will be presenting my “Developer’s Guide to Windows Phone App Marketing and Monetization” at January meeting of WPUG in London. It’s free and there was even a careless promise of a free round. Really no reason not come. Plus all you Brits get a chance to make fun of my accent too.

TechCrunch Baltics, Riga, Latvia (February 9th)

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I was fighting my conscience on whether I should go there, but it said that I should get out of my comfort zone of hanging with developers and go and hang out with entrepreneurs, angels and VCs instead. So, here we go.

MS TechDays, Belgium (February 14th-15th)

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After booking this I’ve realized it’s going to be the first Valentine’s Day without my wife in ~18 years we are together. But ScottGu is keynoting, so what can I do, honey!?

Mobile World Congress, Barcelona (February 27th – March 1st)

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I was too cheap to shell out 2000+ Euro for the full pass, especially considering it mostly includes what looks like boring sessions of telco CEOs. So I’m going on an Exhibition Pass which covers App Planet (sub-)conference and it should be the most interesting part of it for me anyway. There will be some Nokia developer conference on the first day of it. Should be interesting and you have to apply for it and be approved by the organizers (I think). So will see how it goes. Looking forward to it and at least +15C in February!

Are you coming to any of these events? Comment here, drop me a line or ping me on twitter. And if you see me there, don’t hesitate to say “hi”!

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Notes from DevReach

10/24/2011 5:42:54 PM

Last week I’ve visited Sofia, Bulgaria. I was attending DevReach conference. I’ve decided to visit at least one international conference this fall and DevReach was pretty much the best possible choice judging by the caliber of speakers and sessions. And combining that with the total cost to attend, it was THE best possible value.

The Conference

The conference was held in the Arena Mladost multiplex and was very well organized. Aside from putting too much trust into Google Translate for the intro slide I have no complaints whatsoever ;)

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FYI, you can hardly translate “Welcome” into “Pasveikinti” in Lithuanian in any normal situation. The real translation in this case would be “Sveiki atvykę”. But Kudos for the effort ;)

Other than that minor minor thingy, organization was pretty much flawless. Conference WiFi worked like a charm. Something you don’t expect from a developer conference. The fact that it was held in a cinema meant that sitting was top notch and by the end of the day my ass and back had no complaints.

Speakers were great. Obviously there were no big reveals or announcements, but the fact that there were tons of great speakers and most of them weren’t from Microsoft and weren’t doing a boring “read material prepared by MS evangelism team while showing slides someone else made”, more than compensated for the lack of big announcements.

I’ve already seen, heard or read most of what Scott Hanselman had to tell, but the experience could be compared to seeing your favorite band on video and then watching them live. You don’t complain that they’ve played your favorite songs.

A special checkmark goes to participating in the live recording of an episode of DotNetRocks podcast.

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That was great, but considering the subject of “starting your own software company”, it was pretty strange not to see the founders of Telerik on the panel. I’ve expressed my surprise on Twitter and Richard Campbell admitted that this should be fixed and we can expect a DNR episode on the subject. Do I get a mug? ;)

As for Windows Phone, unfortunately Bulgaria is in the same situation as Lithuania – they can’t buy apps and they can’t submit apps directly. So interest in the subject is relatively low. I have no special arguments for Lithuania, but Bulgaria is a home of one of the biggest .NET vendors in the world, so, really MS, WTF!?

Another interesting observation – there are lots of female developers in Bulgaria.

Extracurricular Activities

I’ve arrived on Sunday (conference started on Monday). So I had a couple of hours for sightseeing. Sofia is a beautiful city, but unfortunately the weather was pretty crappy (I’ve travelled 2000km south and it was colder than back home and it was snowing!), so I couldn’t enjoy it properly. I guess I’ll have to return :)

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And what’s up with the homeless dogs? Are they some kind of sacred animals or just friendly habitants of the city?

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They can be seen in all parts of the city and it felt pretty strange, even though they looked sort of friendly. I like dogs, but I almost shat my pants when a huge black dog emerged from behind of a container right in front of me. Luckily the dog almost shat his pants too.

The location of the venue is relatively remote and there’s only one hotel next to it. So all the speakers and most of the international attendees stayed there. I had a great pleasure of meeting awesome people despite being a shy (read stupid) person: Scott Hanselman, Jesse Liberty, Stephen Forte, Joel Semeniuk, Gill Cleeren, Maarten Balliauw, Todd Anglin, Phil Japikse, Michael Crump, Tomislav Bronzin, Chris Eargle,  etc. (sorry, if I forgot to mention you personally!)

Pro tip: never try to save on the accommodation when traveling to a conference. Stay where speakers stay. It’s worth every penny.

After the second day of the conference there was a party for speakers and VIP attendees where I finally got a chance to meet great guys from Telerik: Vassil Terziev, Valio Stoychev (thanks for the ride!), Vladimir Milev and others. And it was great to reconnect with Emil Stoychev.

Conclusion

I liked it. I’ll be coming back next year. Hopefully as a speaker(?) ;) If you are looking for a great MS technology related conference in Europe which doesn’t force you to break your bank, look no further. DevReach is it.

P.S.: special thanks to Natalia Dimitrova for planning all of this and answering my stupid questions ;) And thanks to Ina Toncheva (sorry we had only a short chance to chat).

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