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What do you get when you invite 14 companies for 3 1/2 days and throw a bunch of new stuff in their face and ask them to use it?  Well, in Wellington, it was called Expression for Art’s Sake.  This was a bit of an ‘artist in residency’ program where Microsoft invited some companies to bring their developer and designer staff to this event to learn a little bit about Expression Blend and Silverlight

Coming after WEB09 and ending our Auckland trip with a proper visit to a rugby game (here’s a scrum meeting for you agile developers), we traveled to Wellington for this event.

There was a HUGE spread of experience in the teams (about 38 folks in all).  Some were seasoned .NET developers, but hadn’t messed with Silverlight yet.  Some were incredible designers that hadn’t heard of Blend at all.  I personally felt the room was pretty bell curve shaped with regard to level of experience on these specific platforms.  The goal of these days was really to get baptized by fire.  Some teams had actual goals of coming out of it with working prototypes of applications while others just wanted to learn.

Expression event in Wellington

We started the week with some challenges.  The first was to get a working Silverlight application up on virtual servers provided by Microsoft.  This proved to be a bit of a challenge within itself.  Outside of the server poaching that was happening :-), not a lot of people had ever dealt with the web server side of applications before.  A few teams remembered the Web Platform Installer (WebPI) and got their server configured pretty quickly.  Others struggled and rightfully so as they’ve never seen server administration stuff before.  Each team, though, did get something up by the end of the task.  It was a learning experience for me seeing how foreign platforms can be when you’ve never worked with them.  Luckily WebPI makes this a LOT better in those scenarios to get the platform to a certain level.

The next task was a design challenge.  Arturo provided some context in describing the customer: a Kiwi.  No, not someone from New Zealand (which if you didn’t know that’s how they refer to each other as well), but rather the Kiwi bird…or rather a flightless bird!  Arturo’s challenge: design a cell phone for a Kiwi bird.  After about an hour each team would present their design as well as the process they took.  This wasn’t a software challenge, so no expectations of working software was happening here.  Teams presented sketches, research points, etc.  We learned that Kiwi birds, while being flightless, also don’t have a good sight, keen sense of smell, don’t talk, and once they’ve found their mate they are monogomous (which led to one design of the Booty Call device).  This was an interesting process to see how the designers worked with the research of their audience to come up with a design.

The third challenge was to put a bit of them both together: design and develop a calculator.  It may sound easy.  There have been many software engineers that have said calculators are more complex than people think.  This task took longer due to people getting deeper into the platform and tools.  I learned a lot about how people perceive the use of our platform and how they go about actually using it…it was interesting to observe.

The remainder of the time was the teams working on their own projects…some experimental, some literal.  The end results were pretty cool to see what people came up with.  Some were pretty complex ideas and some were simple prototypes.  One team really wanted to go all out and got their prototype working with dynamic data loading database-defined UI elements, etc.  It was a bit of a stretch goal for the timeframe they had – and each team wished they had one more day.

As I mentioned I learned a lot about how people think about using our platform and have feed that feedback to our teams.  I also learned a lot about how to ease people into the problem (note to self: DependencyProperty on day 1 may not be a good idea).  In the end, this was an awesome event and I met some really bright people!  Look for Nigel Parker’s blog to provide some more final context once he compiles all the video taken!  Here’s some feedback from some participants:

It was awesome, and we think we achieved what we want.  It was a good session and we really enjoyed it.

Awesome event, really enjoyed it.  I found the Expression experience very enlightening and powerful.

Darko’s post: http://www.zoroja.com/blog/2009/04/25/expression-for-arts-sake/

Before this week I had hardly touched Silverlight and now I don’t think I can live without it. – Tim Tait

I also had the opportunity to present at the Wellington .NET user group.  It was a great time and apparently one of the larger (largest?) turnouts they had.

Wellington Silverlight 3 usergroup

It was a lot of fun and I got to run through some new Silverlight 3 features as well as talk a bit about .NET RIA Services.  Thanks to all who came and thanks to Xero for hosting!.

Ryan Stewart and Tim Heuer

During the week as well, Ryan Stewart was also in Wellington for the Flex user group.  We missed the meeting, but hooked up with Ryan and some others for dinner to chat and socialize.  It was good to be in a relaxed setting and chat about things that don’t matter – as well as rant and vent :-)  Thanks Ryan for hanging out with us!

*Finally* we met at an incredible French bistro with the team from Webstock.  It was a great cap to an awesome 2 weeks in New Zealand.  Thanks to Nigel, Wellington and everyone I met!

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