Developers Improve Skills, One Tech Ed Session at a Time

Show Analysis: The news might be delivered in the keynote address or shown on the exhibit floor. But developers are diving into technical presentations, and learning which programming tasks remain tricky.

Tech Ed isnt about collecting tschokes, bouncing a blow-up ball over heads in the keynote audience or winning an Xbox because you were spotted wearing a certification hat on the show floor. While those may be nice experiences, most developers come to Tech Ed to learn pragmatic techniques for using the technology thrust upon them, and to find out about programming pitfalls without a too-personal sense of discovery.

For instance, developers hunched around IDesign Inc.s Juwal Lowy, a frequent book author and Microsoft regional director (thats a volunteer position, an űber-MVP). Armed with a whiteboard and a set of slides that said, "Whats wrong with this code?" Lowy guided programmers through the best practices in using C# 2.0, with advice like, "With generic interfaces, use explicit implementation to remove ambiguity." And code. Lots of code.

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Another session—the sort that takes place in a darkened room with a display screen the size of an IMAX—introduced developers to the productivity and application architecture improvements in Visual Basic 2005.

Programmers leaned forward earnestly, softly breathing, "Cool!" as Microsofts Steve Lees showed a sample of "little" enhancements to make developers jobs more efficient: code snippets, the ease of adding standard items (such as File and Edit, complete with keyboard shortcuts) to application toolbars, and the new "My." functionality that provides a shortcut to the attributes in the code being written.

Plus, conferences like this give you unparalleled access to the people who can solve your persnickety problems, the sort that generally result in finger-pointing between technical support departments. One developer explained, during a whiteboard session, that his VS.Net application was manifested in Outlook as an add-in, but the installation process didnt work.

This time, the finger-pointing was specific and it wasnt a euphemism: See the guy over there in the blue shirt, at the table next to the ice cream stand? Hes the guy responsible for Outlook integration, and hell find you the exact right answer. How long would it have taken you to find that right person via the telephone?

Not everything presented is about what you can do; the most useful information is often finding out about the tasks you cant accomplish. Or, at least, what you cant accomplish without a fair amount of brain sweat. Two of the speakers featured in Mondays Tech Ed keynote address, whod shown the integration possible between Visual Studio 2005 and Microsoft Outlook, demonstrated whats involved in building smart-client applications. Both were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about smart-client development (generally called VSTO, for Visual Studio To Office); said one of the presenters, "If you can dream it up, you can pretty much do it."

Yet, they warned explicitly about the things that can go wrong and described the functionality you cant depend upon, yet. Writing to COM applications is arduous; deploying to mobile devices is "a nightmare," with no solution forthcoming from Microsoft; and the Outlook connection has "a weakness in capability." Using the VSTO tools, you can create a folder just fine, but the only thing you can display in it is HTML. You can program your way around that limitation, but if you didnt know about the problem, you might struggle before you discovered it.

For Windows developers, Tech Ed is the place to become inspired about new technology and to find out how to use whats available today. Explained Toi Wright, lead developer at One Stop Designs in Frisco, Texas, "Im here to become a genius."

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