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This ALT.NET Life

I’m sitting on a plane, traveling (late) to Remix Boston and mulling over the ALT.NET Open Spaces conference. It was a great experience that exceeded my expectations by a mile. Here’s my (long-winded and roughly-cut, sorry) perspective on events:

Brass Tacks

The people attending made it a really great experience. So… many… cool… people!

I was amazed at how easily people took the Open Spaces format and ran with it. The whole conference was like my OPML coming to life! Awesome! It was cool hanging with some of the people I’ve met in previous travels in addition to meeting some of the people I’ve drawn inspiration and stolen ideas from over the years! I’ve really only been in the community for just over a year, but I’m starting to create some real friendships and I hope I’ve sewn the seeds for a few more. I am only disappointed I couldn’t meet everyone but there just wasn’t enough time. I barely clocked any time with JP or Jeremy or Ray or Scott H or whomever. My only consolation is that this will undoubtedly happen again and being in the community makes you bump into folks from time to time. 

Steven “Doc” List was a great choice for facilitator. I hope he will consider doing the spring ALT.NET Conference in Seattle (around the time of the MVP Summit). Actually, Doc, if you’re reading this I’ve already decided you are doing it! No choice. We’re kidnapping you. He has a calm and clear style of speaking that brought a professional quality to the event and cut right to the essence of the simple (but amazingly effective) rules of Open Spaces.

The venue proved flexible and ideal. The hallways were small but the rooms were big. At a traditional conference I’d sight this as an annoyance but the idea of the unconference was full-on at work here so the “hallway” conversations were everywhere, some hallways simply had larger, thematic conversations going on.

And what of Scott Bellware or Scotticus as he’s called in some circles? Well of course he was in your face and passionate a lot of the time, but it served the conversation. No matter how we feel about his style of surfacing complaints (let’s call it) he’s the one that ultimately got this event off the ground. Turns out that getting in people’s faces works out for the common good some of the time. Who knew?

The Meat

The content was a mixture of technical and community talk. I attended a session attempting to clarify BDD/TDD, the Auto-Mocking Container / Fluent Fixtures jam, and co-convened a session called DDD-jitsu (sorry if Scott and I stole the discussion there for a bit). I derived some value from these sessions mostly in the “sharpen the saw” category. As I have a number of speaking engagements coming up in the near future I’m excited to pass some new insights along and bounce them off even more folks out there in the community.

A high point for me was Scott Guthrie’s demonstration of System.Web.Mvc. It is heartening to see this offering from Microsoft not only because it’s a delicious bit of kit but because it shows they’re really listening to us and responding to complaints, suggestion, criticism. This is something I can use because it’s a tool that follows my values and principles, and I’m glad Microsoft’s warming up to the idea it can support two styles of development culture: XP and RAD. The icing on the cake was seeing ScottGu’s whip wit as he came back to Bellware’s remarks. So, yeah, I had the whole perma-grin-punctuated-by-laughter thing going on.

As far as the community talk goes I enjoyed the discussion about using passion to drive change in organizations. I think that’s great and a number of people had some great tips for being a change agent and getting people to try things like continuous integration, TDD, and pair programming. I hope we don’t get too carried away as a group with the “conversion mentality.” Maybe that’s where these call-outs of elitism come from? Maybe?

In The End, We’ve Got a Start

This is a movement, make no mistake about it. Contrary to some recent speculation this group has an open door policy. Let’s not proselytize or evangelize or craft a ministry or religion or lead an inquisition (people have churches/temples/places-of-worship to do that), but let’s expect ourselves to embrace change, new ideas, and new people. In doing so, let’s allow transparency to mitigate criticism. We have a ways to go, friends. Luke Melia made an especially poignant comment toward the end that there was only one woman in attendance at the conference. I’d like to see that number rise, but it’s up to us to make an environment comfortable for women in technology. I’m in complete agreement with you, Luke; we have to open that door with our behavior.

It’s encouraging to see Microsoft people coming to the table as equal participants over agenda-setters. It’s more of a model of participants who happened to be employed by Microsoft than a vendor that drives the development community. There’s good evidence they started listening a long time ago in the MVC offering ScottGu demo’d. And I am confident ‘softies will find new opportunities to work with us to support our ideas. We, as a self-organizing community, can be a tremendous value to tool makers and I got the distinct impression Microsoft is aware of this and ready to engage on our terms.

The most important take-away for me (and ultimately the spirit of ALT.NET) is that we’re a developer community organized by developers pursuing a path of excellence. We self-organize, argue, and listen. We walk up to a developer we’ve never met before and say, “hey, I’m Dave.” Most of all we have fun!

And, really, do we need any more definition than that?

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12 Responses to This ALT.NET Life

  1. James Avery says:

    This is the first post I have read that makes me wish I had gone.

  2. Dave Laribee says:

    @Bil Bummed we couldn’t meet up. I hope your daughter is feeling better. Glad you liked the post and we’ll sync up next time.

    @Joe Great to meet you! Exchanging ideas in person really makes this whole blog deal a lot more meaningful, eh?

  3. Joe Ocampo says:

    Wow Dave! I like have you captured everything of value that happened at the conference.

    >”…We walk up to a developer we’ve never met before and say, “hey, I’m Dave.”

    Add ” and we do it with a smile! :-)

  4. Bil Simser says:

    Awesome post Dave! I’m glad to see some positive comments come out of this cloud as the air has been full of negativity and noise.

  5. I’m with Ray… I love you, Dave!

    Yeah, I’m reading this, and I’m looking forward to Seattle. Facilitating the ALT.NET conference was one of the more fun things I’ve done recently (second to my job, where I get to work with Scotticus and Bret Pettichord every day, along with the rest of a kick-ass team).

  6. Dave Laribee says:

    @Ray – Thank you.

    @Ben – Yeah! Great hanging and good example of the sharpening the saw stuff. I had so many examples. I already got the chance to steal (with credit) a few tips from Aaron and Jacob @ Eleutian!

  7. I couldn’t have put it better. I like how you’ve stated everything.

    I would also like to add that I’ve seen a lot of “yeah yeah, ALT.NET was just a bunch of head-nodding and back patting” but that was completely off the mark.

    I was able to sit down with a group of NHibernate experts and jump right into the deep-end so to speak and really talk about the challenges and strategies that we have been involved with. You can’t get that going to TechEd because if you’re lucky enough to see an NHibernate talk, it’s going to be an Intro. That’s just the way it is.

    I will do my best to make it in the spring time. It was awesome.

  8. Dave Laribee says:

    True, true. Kinda wish you were here now as I have another +5 hour delay now :[

  9. Dave,

    You gotta count the time that we spent talking when we were trapped in JFK with flight delays.

  10. Dave Laribee says:

    Yeah. I noticed this when I attended the ScrumMaster course recently. I hope it’s a sign of things to come but still think it’s up to us to be mature and maintain a welcoming atmosphere.

  11. Scott says:

    re: The gender imbalance.

    I’d hope that as the conference movement gains momentum that will balance out. The feedback I’ve gotten from some women is that the Agile community, and Agile “tactics” for lack of a better term, are much more female-friendly than traditional software development spheres.

    Check the keynote roster at this Agile conference in Orlando later this year.
    http://www.sqe.com/agiledevpractices/Keynotes/Default.aspx

    It’s 50/50. Which is much better than the 0% -10% you see at O’Reilly and MS conferences. The presenters and breakout session are evenly matched as well and perhaps even tipped towards more women than men teaching the classes.

    I think the lack of female attendees is most likely due to the word of mouth/blog promotion of this conference. The online world of tech blogging is still an “old boys club”. (count the number of women on any given “top 100″ blog list and see if you get up to 2 hands worth).

    I think given the agile tendencies of the presenters and audience at the ALT.NET conference, the women will show up once they hear about it.

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