120x90_Developer_Black_0401107 Yesterday was our first ever Silverlight DevCamp here in Dallas.  Our goal was to get as many people as possible to "experience" Silverlight first-hand by getting them write code instead of only listening to lecture.  The format, more like "hack day" than "Code Camp" was a little bit of an experiment - first, the perception is that not many people have been trying to write Silverlight applications, and second, we've never done a semi-structured event before, so we were concerned that people would be interested.  As it turned out, my fears were misplaced.  Sure, we had our bumps and bruises along the way, and there were things that definitely could have gone better, but the event went off pretty well all things considered.  The people that came to our event were awesome - very positive, and upbeat, and ready for the challenge.  They all seemed very glad that they came, and are excited about attending the next one.

I'd like to extend a HUGE THANK YOU to the following folks that made this event possible - without your help, this event never would have happened...

  • Jef Newsom and the guys from Improving Enterprises were amazing - providing the facility, allowing us in late at night to get everything set up, getting shirts for everyone, managing the installation of the PC-based development environments in their rooms, sharing their coffee...  These guys totally went an extra 5 miles, and I really appreciate their help, hard work and friendship.  Thanks Jef and Todd!
  • Tal McMahon - Tal volunteered his services all the way from Wisconsin!  After being introduced to him through my co-worker Larry Clarkin, I know that Tal would not only make a great host for the introductory session, he was invaluable as a proctor in the labs as people were busy coding.  Thanks Tal! You were totally awesome!
  • Roger Guess - Roger (of http://www.silverlightaddict.com fame) came out to also help proctor the event.  Any time I needed help with anything during the day, Roger was willing to pitch in to make it happen.  Thanks Roger!
  • Phil Wheat - Phil was at an event late (3am?) on Friday night in Austin, but was still able to come join us in Dallas for the event with only 3 hours of sleep!!!  His help proctoring the rooms was incredibly valuable, as was his help in putting together some of the training materials.  Thanks Phil!
  • Giovanni Gallucci - Giovanni came to hang out with us, take pictures, and cheer us all up when things were the craziest.  Thanks Giovanni for helping out and I look forward to seeing the pictures!
  • Ado Bitar - my friend at Telligent Systems was there to film Tal's presentation as well as capture another cool interview for me with Tal for Code To Live.  Thanks Ado! 

One thing I can definitely attest to is that you can never have too many good people around to help with events like this  - Thanks a lot guys! 

Also, I'd like to thank everyone that came out, on a Saturday, to attend the event.  I'm sorry about the VPC and temperature issues, but you guys really hung in there and helped make this totally successful!  I really appreciate all the great feedback on the event too - it's really important to me and my team to make sure that we're putting on quality events for you to enjoy and learn from. 

Here's a summary of what I took away from the comment cards, our hallway discussions, and my own personal impressions...

Things that went well:

  • Subject - People were definitely interested and passionate about Silverlight.  That is definitely a good thing - we did pick a topic that is interesting to people.  It was also good to have a mix of 1.0 and 1.1 content.  Although most were focused on the 1.1 .NET programming model, I had a chance to work with a few folks that were really interested in trying out Silverlight 1.0.
  • Format - definitely a good thing.  Getting people to try Silverlight is more effective than telling them about Silverlight - hands down. 
  • Food - plenty of good food that is NOT pizza.  It's amazing... we always joke about developers eating pizza, but the developers in Dallas, at least, seem to be pretty sick of it.  Yeah, sandwiches were more expensive, but it made people happier.
  • Proctoring - having people around to answer questions, or at least help people work through their problems was really, really appreciated.  We couldn't always answer every question, but we could at least help people get through some of their challenges and point them at online resources that could help.  I was also glad to see so many people working together!  That's the spirit of Hack Day - people helping (and learning) from people.
  • Book - we gave each attendee a copy of the MS Press book "Introduction to Silverlight 1.0" which was great for everyone to use as a reference manual.  The book didn't have much in the way of 1.1 information, but was a good reference source for the very new folks that needed more guidance than our format or proctors were able to give.

Things to work on for next time:

  • Don't treat everyone the same - in our event, we opened up the floor to let people start writing code.  Those with some amount of Silverlight experience (and those with no fear) took off like a shot.  Those with little to no experience would have liked more structure.  What we'll do next time is provide two "tracks" - one room with an Instructor-led Lab environment, and one with a wild-west coding environment.  That will appeal to both groups, and make everyone happier.
  • Get more help - due to the problems we experienced on Game Day, and how spread out people ended up being, it was really hard for Tal, Roger, Phil and Myself to actively patrol each room and help people.  The ILL item above will help with this I think, but it's always better to have more help than less help...
  • Start later in the morning - we're developers, after all, and an 8:00 start time on a Saturday is just crazy!  Complimentary to this was "don't schedule it to last as long".  I wonder how many people would have come if it had been a shorter event?  We ended up wrapping early after all (4pm-ish) based on feedback from the group (and the rising temperature in the building).
  • VPC issues - next time, I don't want to use VPCs if I don't have to - I'd rather rent computers and image them, or provide Virtual Labs over the Internet.  I've been in contact with the VL people at Microsoft, and I intend to call them back next week to see what our options are for another one of these camps in the Summer 08 using VL instead of VPCs.

All in all, I think it was a really good event and a positive experience for everyone.  Unless they snuck out without saying anything, I wasn't aware of anyone that left the event regretting their decision to come.  Everyone had a good time, and learned a lot about Silverlight development.  For that, I am very thankful :-)  Although we expected more people based on the flurry of email and phone calls we received at the last minute, we ended up with about 50 people throughout the day, of which almost all of them stayed to the very end.

Thanks again to everyone that came out and everyone that helped run the event - I hope you did enjoy your experience, and will join us for the next camp.  Don't forget about our upcoming Dallas VS08 InstallFest on Dec 5th and the We Are Microsoft event on Jan 18-20.