PDC 2008, a Software Development Odyssey

I had always meant to share details about my trip to PDC 2008 last fall for those curious what it is about.
The PDC for those interested is the annual worldwide Professional Developers Conference for Microsoft developers – this is the big show, where big announcements are usually made.  So with thanks to the PDC-related blogs I had read before I went, here is what my first PDC experience was like in case it helps anyone else –
We stayed at the Westin Bonaventure – movie fans will remember the scene from "True Lies" when Arnold Swartzenegger rode his horse thru the hotel lobby and into a glass elevator that went up the outside of the building while chasing a terrorist
Well, that was the hotel we stayed at – in fact our last day there, NBC was filming an episode of Chuck at the bar on the main floor of this hotel ….but I digress….
PDC 2008 was held in Los Angeles at the Civic Center next to where the Lakers play  Now PDC restricted the attendance to 8000 attendees and actually has somewhere between 9-10,000 people at the civic center including all of the staff, presenters, etc – its massive – this is a typical scene after the main roow empties after each days keynote address.
This would be the first PDC without Bill Gates as he had retired earlier in the year.  The Day 1 keynote was given by Microsoft Chief Architect Ray Ozzie to announce the new Azure platform…
Being a complete and utterly hopeless geek, I convinced my boss that we needed to be in the front row (more on that in a later post).  So, over 8000 people sitting in a massive conference room and as far back as the eye can see – rows of netbooks, laptops, smart phones, people twittering, flikr’ing, blogging to their websites all of the world – and all at the same time.  All of the rooms and hallways everywhere you looked were lined with wireless gateways…..there was more wireless communication going on this building than probably an average city of 100,000+ because here it was all simultaneous….and in each room hosting lectures, people would gravitate to the outsides of the room nearest power outlets making the outside aisles look like small refugee camps of people sprawled on the floor while waiting for their devices to recharge – every outlet in the building was always being used.

The first night they had a developer reception with hor’deorves from around the world at different stations and lots of beer freely available while you perused the vendor displays. T-shirts, bouncy balls, swag of all kind, everywhere you looked and the accomodations during the event are top-notch – the hallways are lined with Pepsi and Coke coolers, tables overflowing with granola bars, candy bars, Hostess snacks, nature snacks, Starbucks coffee machines, and distilled water machines.

But back to the real reason we are there – One of the coolest things was out of all of those thousands of people, who ends up sitting in the row in front of me at my first presentation? – the CEO of my company who had come to this event with his son – a potential future software developer.  Want to work at a great software development company? – find one where the CEO is a former software developer himself – that’s the key.

During the day – non-stop lectures in one of perhaps 20 venues around the civic center on every development topic – I focused on the Team System, SQL Server, and Business Intelligence talks – while my boss focused more on the user interface-related topics like Silverlight and WPF and we both attended the C#, 4.0 Framework, and future Microsoft tools talks.  Many of the speakers were incrediblly talented and excellent presenters as well – I was jealous.

Now Tuesday night was unique – they had a special Developer Only event at Universal Studios – being close to Halloween we were treated to the Haunted version of Universal Studios – the park was dimly lit down most streets with fog machines making the streets murky – down the first street we went down, at the sight of the blood-thirsty clowns with actual running chainsaws coming at us was enough for a few women to head back towards the entrance – other streets had zombies coming out of the darkness towards you, and other streets had plague-infested villagers haunting the guests.  Through it all though, most intersections had free Wine & Beer stations which gave you the motivation to walk another block though all of the horror.  Before going into 1 attraction I politely asked the attendant if it were OK to take our beers in with us – the response was "we encourage you to take your beers with you" – nice – Based on that, I felt I needed 2 with me when we went to the Waterworld show – which was funny in its own way as at that attraction, the first 6 rows are painted with a warning that those rows would get wet during the show – now all of us being software developers had to test this by sitting on the row just immediately above that as huge waves of water hitting the crowd is an exact science I am sure…and of course, we got drenched but not as badly as the poor dude who thought he was pretty smart by wearing a rain poncho into the show – they actors gave him a little extra water – how foolish of him to taunt the Waterworld Rain Gods.

During the few times where there weren’t presentations going on, you could check out the Vender Pavilion and play with techonology like the many Microsoft Surface computers (operated with your fingers – think of a giant IPhone)

4 days of content in which I probably filled 50 pages of notes, after each talk you could hang around and ask the presenters questions (many of them authors of books we have read) – all of this was wildly entertaining and really boosted ones motivation to stay current in this business.  When the last talk was given, and our brains were fried from the constant onslaught of new technologies and information heaped on us for 4 days straight – nothing was left to do except wait for our 6 AM LAX flights – so we decided we needed to take the subway to China Town for lunch.  There I bought my daughter a real chinese tea set (with little kitties on it) – there seemed to be some disagreement among the Chinese people I asked about what the characters on the tea set actually meant – the shop where I bought it said it meant Hello…the Chinese restaurant thought it said "Good Fortune"….oh, well , both are acceptable I guess and it was a hit with my daughter.

Incredible opportunity, still trying to find ways of passing on to others all of the information we picked up.  I left feeling inspired and also in awe of how much there is to learn.  I would love to hear from other developers how you facilitate knowledge sharing in your companies

Events like this just reinforce how many opportunities are out there in all kinds of technology to distinguish yourself – if you want to.  Nowadays, even exclusive events like this are sharing all of their presentations online for free – so no excuses for those wanting to learn more but not able to make the trip.  During an interview with Becky Quick of CNBC earlier this year, Warren Buffett reiterated some key advice that I try to pass on to new employees – Invest in yourself. 


About bradosterloo

.NET Software Developer working for Innovative Systems, LLC in Mitchell, SD
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