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    Tools to help non coders build apps for Windows 8 and Windows Phone

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    Looking for tools to help you build a Windows Phone or Windows 8 app? Here’s a few suggestions

    As Windows 8 and Windows Phone have matured, a number of tools have appeared to help app developers build apps. There are two types of tools generally used to help app builders. Tools that help you target multiple app platforms (cross platform tools) and also tools that will generate apps for a specific platform (app generation tools). This post focuses on app generation tools for Windows Store and Windows Phone. Hopefully over the coming weeks I’ll have a chance to provide more information on each individual tool

    In this post I will introduce the following app generation tools, if you know of any other tools I should mention, let me know and I will add them to the list!

    • Windows Phone App Studio
    • Web Application Template
    • ZipApp
    • Project Siena
    • IdeaPress

    Don’t forget! Canadian Developers can get rewards through their apps through the Developer Movement! With tools like these, even non-coders can explore the world of apps and get cool stuff! Earn points by registering, building an app, or even watching a video to learn more about coding! Register today.

    Windows Phone App Studio

    Creates apps for: Windows Phone

    Required by developer: A browser

    Description: This tool provides you with pre-built templates that you can customize to build beautiful looking apps for Windows Phone. You provide the pictures, the text, and the information, the templates do the formatting and navigation to provide a really nice user experience. Recipes, tourist information, sports teams, lots of templates to choose from!

    windows phone app studio

    Web Application Template

    Creates apps for: Windows Store

    Required by developer:

    • Windows 8.1 – If you have Windows 8, you can find the Windows 8.1 upgrade in the Windows Store on your start screen. If you don’t have Windows 8 yet, students in technical programs can access Windows 8 through DreamSpark Premium if their faculty has subscribed. Otherwise you can download and purchase Windows 8.1.
    • Visual Studio 2013 - Students can get Visual Studio 2013 from DreamSpark, BizSpark and MSDN subscribers can get Visual Studio 2013 through MSDN. Anyone can get Visual Studio 2013 from the Visual Studio download center

    Description: This tool is designed to convert websites into Windows 8 apps. A great tool for anyone who has built a website and wants to explore building a Windows store app. You can use all your existing website functionality and integrate it into Windows. At its simplest you would literally just have an app that shows your website, but if you spend a little time modifying the json file used to customize the template you can quickly integrate features like search, share, and tiles. With a little extra work you can add push notifications and offline content. The perfect first entry to the Windows Store for web developers. Good documentation provided as well! When you install the tool you get a new application template in Visual Studio. Create a new project based on the Web Application Template, then modify the json file to customize your application.

    web application template

    ZipApp

    Creates apps for: Windows Store

    Required by developer: A browser

    Description: This tool is design to help you build apps that collect information from different social media sources including Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and RSS feeds. Choose from a variety of templates for different look and feel. You also have the option of including additional content by creating HTML pages. This is a very easy tool to use. It even generates a package you can submit straight to the store without using Visual Studio.

    Note: You may occasionally get an error or two in the package, so it helps if you can open it up in Visual Studio to make corrections. I’ve helped a few developers who got stuck with ZipApp solutions, but many developers have used this tool with no issues whatsoever and published some very popular apps.

    zipapp

    Project Siena

    Creates apps for: Windows Store

    Required by developer: Windows 8

    Description: Project Siena is a Windows store app that creates Windows 8.1 apps! It is designed to help you create an app to present data. Step one: Identify a data source to make available through the app. You could have data stored in an Excel Spreadsheet, through a REST API (which means there are open data sources you can use), RSS feeds, or SharePoint lists (useful for line of business apps). Step two: Add the data source to your project. Step three: add controls to present the data to the user. There is no coding required. Anyone who is comfortable in Excel and PowerPoint can use Project Siena. There are video tutorials on the website to help you as well.

    Note: When this post was written, the RSS feed was not a live feed, so when you add it as a data source it does not continuously feed new data. The project is still in beta right now and the plan is to add the live data feed in a future update.

    project siena

    Ideapress

    Creates apps for: Windows Phone, Android, and iPhone

    Required by developer: Browser and a WordPress site

    Description: IdeaPress allows you to take your WordPress site and make it available as a Windows Phone, Android, or iPhone app. You add a plugin to your Wordpress site. Create a new project on the IdeaPress site and provide the URL to your Wordpress site, design the look and feel of your app, then either download the code and package it for the store, or have the Ideapress team help you publish.

    ideapress

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    Visual Studio Tips and Tricks: 5 great keyboard shortcuts

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    VisualStudioLogoHere’s five of my favorite keyboard shortcuts in Visual Studio, I think there’s a good chance there is at least one of them you haven’t seen before!

    Find more Visual Studio tips and tricks here

    Move code ALT+UP/DOWN

    This keyboard shortcut is new in Visual Studio 2013. If you put the cursor on a line of code and use the <ALT><UP ARROW> key the line of code you have selected moves up. If you use the <ALT><DOWN ARROW> the line of code selected moves down.

     

     

    Create Collapsible Region CTRL+M+H/CTRL+M+U

    Chances are you have noticed the “+” and “-“ symbols in the margins that allow you to collapse and expand your classes and functions. Did you know you can create your own collapsible regions? If you select a section of code and then use the key sequence <CTRL><M><H> you turn that region into a collapsible/expandable region. The key sequence <CTRL><M><U> will remove the collapsible region (it doesn’t delete the code, it just removes the icon that allows you to expand and collapse.

     

     

    Comment code block CTRL+K+C/CTRL+K+U

    Whether it’s because you are trying to track down a but, or experimenting with code change, from time to time you will want to comment and uncomment blocks of code. If you select a block of code and use the key sequence <CTRL><K><C> will comment out the section of code. <CTRL><K><U> will uncomment the code.

     

    Peek Definition ALT+F12

    When you are going through your code and you want to examine the code in the method you are calling, many programmers will use the <F12> key or the pop-up menu option Go To Definition. Go To Definition will navigate to the called method, however many times you don’t need to navigate to the code. Sometimes, you just want a quick look at the method. If you have installed Visual Studio 2013 there is a new keyboard shortcut <ALT><F12> which will give you a preview of the method being called inline. You can use the <ESC> key to close the preview.

     

     

    Navigate Forward/Backward CTRL - /CTRL SHIFT -

    When you have multiple files open at the same time you may want a way to quickly move back and forth between two or three different locations in your code. If you have moved from one location to another you can use the keyboard sequence <CTRL><-> to move to the previous location and then you can return using <CTRL><SHIFT><->

     

    Where do I get Visual Studio 2013?

    Students can download Visual Studio 2013 Professional at DreamSpark

    MSDN subscribers can download it from MSDN

    Anyone can get express versions of Visual Studio for free or 90 day trials of Visual Studio Professional, Premium, or Ultimate at the Visual Studio downloads center.

    Learn more about the new features of Visual Studio by watching the Visual Studio 2013 New Features at Microsoft Virtual Academy

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    Behind the Microsoft Super Bowl Commercial – inspiration for Imagine Cup?

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    ImageCupLogo[1]The Microsoft Super Bowl commercial is all about the power of technology to change our lives. Find out a little more about the stories behind the commercial, and maybe you’ll be inspired to enter Imagine Cup with your own life changing idea!

    You know when I started writing this blog post, my first thought was Go Hawks! But, as I started to learn more about the individual stories behind the Microsoft commercial, suddenly the game faded into the background as I got caught up in some amazing stories of how technology is being used today to change lives. Fair warning, there is no way you can watch some of these videos and not get a little emotional!

    Here’s is the original commercial:

    Steve Gleason – the narrator

    The narrator of the video is Steve Gleason, former NFL player and post-Katrina hero of the New Orleans Saints, now living with ALS. ALS has taken away his ability to move and speak independently. Steve narrates the Super Bowl Ad the same way he communicates daily -- using his Surface Pro to speak using Tobii’s eye gazer technology.  You can learn more in this video telling Steve’s story. You can also check out Team Gleason.

    Braylon O’Neill – the boy running between the pylons

    In the commercial, you also see a little boy running between pylons on prosthetic legs. That little boy is Braylon O’Neill. He was born missing tibia and fibula bones in both of his legs. Microsoft technology is used by his physical therapist to analyze his gait mechanics. You can learn more about this inspiring young man’s story. He is also a featured athlete on the Challenged Athlete Foundation website.

    Sarah Churman – hearing her kids

    The lady holding the earpiece to her ear is Sarah Churman. She grew up with 85% hearing loss. She got a hearing implant in 2011 that has changed her life. Microsoft technology is used interoperably as part of the solution that picks up the vibrations. You can learn more about her story and you can follow Sarah’s blog.

    Hal Lisko – the painter

    The older gentleman who talks about losing his sight and his fear of not being able to paint is Hal Lasko, 97. He was a typographer and would hand draw letters and type faces. The ability to zoom in on Microsoft Paint has allowed him to continue creating remarkable works of art. You can learn more about his story and see his artwork at hallasko.com.

    Scott Bedley – the kids on Skype

    The kids in the classroom waving are taught by Scott Bedley. His class uses Skype to connect his students with other students around the world. Imagine playing 20 questions to figure out where the person you are talking to is going to school. You can learn more about their story.

    The surgeons – Kinect in the operating room

    The surgeon in the operating room is using GestSure. In the past a surgeon would need to scrub in and out to go look at different x-rays and views. The Kinect technology allows the surgeon to manipulate the images without scrubbing out. You can see a more detailed video, and you can also visit the GestSure website to learn more. I saw a similar project at the Imagine Cup World Finals in St Petersburg. A team of students created a similar system that allowed a surgeon to bring up patient files, history, and open different sets of x-rays and images using the Kinect in the operating room.

    What’s next? Imagine Cup!

    It’s not just big research companies and private industry that are changing lives. Every year, students from around the world use their passion, imagination, and skills to try and help others with technology. Microsoft encourages this innovation through the Imagine Cup, a worldwide competition that asks students to see just how far they can go using today’s technology. At the Imagine Cup world finals I have seen students from Slovenia using big data to analyze bee hives, students from Ukraine designed gloves to translate sign language into speech, students from Australia who help diagnose pneumonia with a cell phone, the list goes on and on!

    We are thrilled to be having Canadian Imagine Cup Finals again in 2014 and I cannot wait to see what Canadian students bring to life! Find out more about the finals and how to enter at www.imaginecup.ca and you can see all the stories behind the scenes from the Microsoft commercial at the site Empowering Us All.

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    My first experience developing for Windows Phone

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    Christian HissibiniWindows Phone developer Christian Hissibini (Histech Solutions) shares the story of his first encounter with Windows Phone and share the lessons he learned along the way.

    This post is also available in French/Cette poste est aussi disponible en francais.

    Curious by nature, passionate, and too often searching for that great mood generated by taking on and accomplishing a new challenge. One of the objectives I set myself last September was to learn how to develop Windows Phone applications.

    For a strong start: Combine fun and utility

    From experience, I’ve learned that the best way to approach a new development platform is to start with small bite size and concrete projects.

    Speaking of bite size, food is one of my passions, but I hate cooking (I suspect I am not alone in this J). So for lazy gourmets like us, the perfect thing for us would be easy access to an assortment of quick recipes; hence the idea for an application “Fast Food Recipes”. Now that should provide motivation, don’t you think?

    Why the Windows Phone Platform?

    Some may wonder why I chose Windows Phone over other platforms. Here are a few reasons that motivated my choice

    • It’s an emerging market where there is the maximum potential for applications to be developed.
    • A good opportunity for me to learn more about C# and XAML
    • The charming Windows Phone Interface
    • Etc.

    Before you begin, get your workspace ready and equip yourself with all the essentials

    Getting the developer tools

    As a student, I get to take advantage of the DreamSpark program. This is a program for students that provides free access to a host of software, making it easier to learn, and fostering innovation and the creation of new applications.

    Among the collection of three tools offered by DreamSpark, I needed the following :

    • A developer license valid for 1 year
    • Microsoft Visual Studio 2012 (or 2013 now) and the Windows Phone SDK

    If you are not eligible for DreamSpark, you can get the Windows Phone SDK for free, and when I wrote this post, a developer license was $19 (cheaper than 2 Big Mac combos)

    Documentation and learning resources

    Famished for code, but with no desire to spend hours digging through a library of books, I needed documentation that would quickly satisfy my appetite for action. This need was easily met, due to the online resources at the MSDN site.

    I recommend anyone trying to get started being with the resource titled Getting started with developing for Windows Phone.

    The approach here is very interesting. In fact, it’s a series of detailed tutorials broken into sections. By following the instructions step by step you find yourself very quickly being taken by the hand through development, the language is easy and clear.

    One of my favorite sections was How to create your first app for Windows Phone. It’s always fun to get something working in your first 30 minutes. Just think back to that euphoria and motivation that comes after the much loved “Hello World” J.

    The other sections are no less interesting, and you will find precise explanations on how to use tools and templates, directions for creating beautiful applications, additional helpful information on the platform and a number of sample applications available for download.

    One more thing I really appreciated, is the way the platform benefits from the MSDN support and an active developer community.

    I really enjoyed the series of tutorials entitled Building Apps for Windows Phone 8 Jump Start. These tutorials, following a simple approach, are targeted at beginner and experienced developers alike.

    I would be remiss moving to the next step without mentioning Microsoft Virtual Academy, a veritable gold mine of free training, primarily around Microsoft technologies.

    To Work!

    Plan of attack

    Energized by my first attempts, I threw myself into Visual Studio determined to create my first application “Fast Food Recipes”. I told myself I know exactly what I want, so it shouldn’t be hard to jump straight into writing code …BIG MISTAKE!

    In the end, I spent two hours going in circles, I kept coming up with new ideas and my basic app concept kept getting derailed. You know how hard it is to bring to life an idea that isn’t fully flushed out.

    Paper and pencil – The dynamic idea duo

    I therefore had no choice but to interrupt my work and go back to square one, this time returning to habits that have frequently smiled on me in the past. In this case, planning out exactly what I want on a piece of paper with the goal of answering questions such as:

    • What will this application do?
    • What are the main goals of the application?
    • What functionality will it contain?
    • Etc.

    With the help of a pencil, I sketched out the structure of the application and the different interactions of the interface as a storyboard.

    Below you can see one of my early sketches for my application interface.

    clip_image002

    These sketches were very useful because they allowed me to visualize the UI (application user interface) and by doing so, evaluate if my ideas made sense or not.

    For example, when I started, I hadn’t considered the need to organize the recipes into categories, but when I walked through scenarios, I realized I had to include a menu to help the user navigate or just to make suggestions, the way restaurants do ;)

    clip_image004

    NOTE: At the moment when I did my first sketches, I didn’t know about the Windows Phone design templates. To make proper drawings, I recommend you downloads the template here http://cmsresources.windowsphone.com/devcenter/en-us/downloads/Sketch_Templates.pdf

    Once I had my sketches completed, it was easy to start working on the XAML and to create the interface for my application

    <The Code />

    For readability purposes I am not going to talk about the code itself here, but in future posts, I will explain certain technical coding details, and will share some best practices I learned, often after many failed attempts, so come back for more!

    Conclusion

    After reliving this first experience I recall a few concepts that helped me out :

    • Start with a small project
    • Get the tools you need
    • Learn the basics with the online documentation
    • Find code examples to help you figure out certain concepts
    • Sketch out your idea to better flush out your project and vision
    • Check the online forums and reach out to the community for answers to your questions.

    I hope you enjoyed this post.

    Enjoy your adventures on Windows Phone!

    Here’s my Fast Food Recipes application on the Windows Phone Store: http://www.windowsphone.com/fr-fr/store/app/recettes-de-fast-food/f7507661-dcaa-4154-9947-91c00287cf97

    P.S. A quick note from Susan – first of all: great post Christian thank you! Second, a reminder that Canadian Developers can earn rewards as they learn to code and publish apps on the Windows platforms, visit Developer Movement to find out how you can earn points and cash them in for rewards!

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    MA PREMIERE EXPÉRIENCE DE DÉVELOPPEMENT WINDOWS PHONE

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    Christian HissibiniDéveloppeur Windows Phone Christian Hissibini (Histech Solutions) partage son premier rencontre avec la platforme Windows Phone. Son histoire raconte des trucs et lecons pour tout développeur interessé au platforme Windows Phone.

    Cet post est aussi disponible en anglais/This post is also available in English

    Curieux de nature, passionné et trop souvent à la quête de cette agréable sensation générée par l’accomplissement de nouveaux défis. L’un des objectifs que je m’étais fixés pour le mois de septembre dernier, était d’apprendre à développer des applications Windows Phone.

    Pour bien commencer : Essayer de joindre l’utile à l’agréable !

    Par expérience, j’ai appris que la meilleure façon d’aborder une nouvelle plateforme de développement est de débuter par de petits projets concrets et digestes.

    En parlant de digestion, manger est une chose que j’adore, mais je déteste mettre du temps en cuisine (je suis sûr que nous sommes nombreux dans ce cas J). Donc l’idéal pour des gourmands-paresseux comme nous, c’est d’avoir des recettes diversifiées de cuisine rapide à portée de main; d’où l’idée de l’application « Recettes de Fast Food ».
    Il y a de quoi avoir de la motivation pour la suite non ?

    Pourquoi la plateforme Windows Phone ?

    Certains se demanderont pourquoi j’ai opté pour cette plateforme et non une autre.
    Voici donc quelques raisons qui ont motivé ce penchant :

    • Il s’agit d’un nouveau marché qui s’ouvre avec un max d’applications potentielles à développer.
    • Une bonne occasion pour moi de me familiariser d’avantage avec le C# et XAML.
    • Le charme de l’interface qu’offre le système Windows Phone.
    • Etc.

    Avant de se lancer, bien préparer son environnement de travail et se munir des essentiels

    Se procurer les outils d’environnement de développeur

    En tant qu’étudiant, je bénéficie des avantages du programme Dreamspark. Il s’agit en fait d’un programme ouvert aux étudiants, et qui leur permet d’accéder gratuitement à une foule de ressources logiciels, facilitant l’apprentissage et, permettant la création de nouvelles applications et l’innovation.­­­

    De la panoplie d’outils gratuits qu’offre Dreamspark, j’ai eu besoin des suivants :

    • Une licence de développeur valide pour 1 an.
    • Kit de développement Microsoft Visual Studio Professional 2012. (ou 2013)

    Si vous ne bénéficiez pas du programme Dreamspark, vous pouvez vous procurer le Windows Phone SDK gratuitement. A l’heure où j’écris ce billet, une licence de développeur vaut 19$ (Moins coûteux que 2 trios Big Mac J ).

    Se munir de la documentation et ressources de formation

    Affamé de code, mais n’aimant pas m’éterniser dans la cuisine littéraire, il me fallait trouver une documentation qui allait très vite apaiser ma faim d’action… Chose qui fut très facile, grâce aux ressources en ligne disponibles dans le site MSDN.

    Je conseille à tout débutant de commencer par consulter la ressource intitulée Getting started with developing for Windows Phone.
    L’approche ici est très intéressante. En effet, il s’agit d’un ensemble de tutoriels détaillés et classés en sections. En se laissant guider par ces instructions pas à pas, on se retrouve très vite la peau d’un enfant à qui on tient la main pour l’aider à former des lettres, tellement le langage est abordable et simpliste et, les références claires.

    L’une de mes sections préférées est How to create your first app for Windows Phone.
    C’est toujours le fun de pouvoir réaliser quelque chose qui marche dès les 30 premières minutes d’apprentissage. Souvenez-vous de l’euphorie et de la motivation qu’a toujours suscitées ce cher « Hello World » J .

    Les autres sections ne sont pas moins intéressantes, d’autant plus qu’on y retrouve des explications précises sur l’utilisation des outils et templates, les directives pour concevoir de belles applications, d’autres informations utiles sur la plateforme et de nombreuses démos d’applications téléchargeables.

    Une autre chose que j’apprécie énormément, est le fait que la plateforme bénéficie du support MSDN et de sa communauté très active de développeurs.

    J’ai pris beaucoup de plaisir avec la suite de tutoriels vidéo intitulée Building Apps for Windows Phone 8 Jump Start. Les formations, d’une approche simpliste, sont aussi bien adressées aux débutants qu’aux développeurs avancés.

    Je ne saurais passer à l’étape suivante, sans oublier de mentionner le programme Microsoft Virtual Academy, qui est une vraie mine d’or en termes de formations gratuites principalement axées autour des technologies que couvrent les plateformes Microsoft.

    On passe à table !

    Plan de travail.

    Galvanisé par mon premier essai d’application, je me suis tout de suite lancé sur Visual Studio, avec la détermination de réaliser mon projet d’application « Recette de Fast Food ». M’étant dit que je sais ce que je veux exactement, donc il n’y aurait pas de difficulté de se lancer tout de suite dans l’écriture des lignes de code… Mais… GROSSE ERREUR!

    En fait, j’ai passé deux heures à tourner en rond, car de nouvelles idées fusaient de partout et mon idée de base avait tendance à être dénaturée. Et vous comprenez combien il est difficile de formaliser des idées instables.

    « Papier – Crayon, duo de choc au service des idées »


    Je n’avais donc pas d’autres choix que de calmer mes ardeurs et de revenir à la case départ, cette fois-ci en observant des pratiques qui m’ont souvent souri par le passé. Il s’agit ici de formuler exactement ce que je désire sur une feuille de papier en tentant de répondre aux questions du genre:

    • A quoi servira cette application ?
    • Quelles sont les principales cibles?
    • Quelles seront ses principales fonctionnalités ?
    • Etc.

    A l’aide d’un crayon, j’ai esquissé la structure du système et les différentes interactions au niveau de l’interface, à la manière d’un storyboard.

    Ci-dessous, vous avez l’une des esquisses que j’ai réalisées initialement pour l’interface de mon application.

    clip_image002
    Esquisse initiale de l’application

    Ces esquisses ont été d’une très grande utilité car elles m’ont permises de visualiser l’UI (interface de l’application) et ainsi d’évaluer si certaines de mes idées tenaient la route ou pas.

    Par exemple, dans mon idée de départ, je n’avais pas pensé organiser les recettes en catégories, mais en simulant les cas d’utilisations, je me suis rendu compte qu’il fallait absolument un menu pour guider l’utilisateur dans sa navigation ou tout simplement pour lui suggérer des possibilités, à la manière des restaurants ;)

    clip_image004
    Évolution de l’interface de l’application

    Note : Au moment, où je réalisais mes premiers dessins, je n’avais pas connaissance des templates de dessin Windows Phone, donc pour réaliser proprement vos dessins, je vous conseille de télécharger ce template à l’adresse suivante : http://cmsresources.windowsphone.com/devcenter/en-us/downloads/Sketch_Templates.pdf

    Partant de là, il m’a été facile d’aborder le traitement du XAML. Et aussi de faire évoluer l’interface de mon application.

    < Place au code />

    Par soucis de lisibilité, je ne parlerai pas développement de code ici, mais dans des posts futurs, j’aborderai certains détails techniques du codage et, partagerai avec vous des bonnes pratiques que j’ai apprises, souvent au gré de plusieurs essais maladroits. Donc, affaire à suive !

    Conclusion

    Je vais conclure ce premier retour d’expérience en rappelant quelques notions qui m’ont été utiles :

    • Démarrer avec un petit projet
    • Se procurer les outils nécessaires
    • Se documenter à l’aide des ressources en ligne
    • Reproduire des exemples afin de bien comprendre certains mécanismes
    • Faire des dessins pour mieux matérialiser son projet et développer sa vision
    • Parcourir les Forums en ligne et au besoin poser des questions à la communauté

    J’espère que vous avez pris du plaisir dans votre lecture.

    Bonne aventure Windows Phone !

    Recettes de Fast Food sur le Windows Phone Store : http://www.windowsphone.com/fr-fr/store/app/recettes-de-fast-food/f7507661-dcaa-4154-9947-91c00287cf97

    P.S. N’oubliez pas, cette année au Canada, dans le cadre du Mouvement des développeurs, vous apprendrez sous la tutelle du Sensei du code et maîtriserez l’art de coder! Amassez des points à chaque étape, puis échangez ceux ci contre des récompenses géniales!

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