I am going to be as blunt as possible... what do you want me to do for you?
I am an Evangelist. My job is to bring you the good news about Microsoft's technologies and show you what's possible. How do you want me to do that?
When I was a consultant about 6 years ago, I primarily read books and magazines to keep current on technologies. Occasionally I would hear about a Microsoft seminar or event that I would try to attend. I found those useful, but often a bit "sales-y". I really wanted to go to training classes, but those were cost prohibitive (especially on the heels of the Dot Bomb and the wake of 9/11). Most of what I learned, I learned from self study.
Fast forward to today, and I still use books as a major component of my continuing education, but my primary source of technical information is blogs. I do a lot of searching on topics through Live.com (I have been Google free for almost a year now), and 90% of the hits that I end up clicking on are blogs. If you are reading this, my hunch is that your habits are roughly the same. Judging from my referrer logs, my blog gets a ton of hits from internet searches, indicating that most of my readers don't subscribe... they find my blog while looking for the answer to a problem they are facing.
Just because I spend a lot of time trying to write the right things for my blog doesn't mean that's the way you really want to learn. You might prefer something in person, you might prefer going offline and reading on your own, or you might prefer doing something on your own with someone in the room that can help you. What do you want me to do for you?
How would you like to hear about stuff like Visual Studio 2008, WCF, and Silverlight? Do you prefer cutting out of work one day, going to the local Microsoft office, and watching presentations on this stuff? Do you prefer attending user groups at night after work, do you prefer Code Camps on Saturdays? Would you prefer sitting down in an instructor-led lab and working through some examples with someone there to guide you through rough spots? Do you prefer podcasts, do you prefer screencasts?
What if there were a 2-day event like a Code Camp done in the middle of the week? Would you attend that if there was no cost for registration? What if there were a 2-day event like a Code Camp that focused solely on architectural concepts? Is that something that would be interesting?
The thing is, my job (and this goes for the rest of the Evangelists at Microsoft as well) revolves around you. We are here to help you. We do a lot of the stuff that I mentioned above (user groups, Code Camps, blogs, etc), but honestly... I think we do a lot more talking than listening.
How can I help you?
I am asking for comments. I am asking for links. I am pretty serious about this... I want to know what you think.
Given the wealth of task-independent information already online, I always like to see learning aids which target a very specific task or technology niche.
I find screencasts (or, alternatively, podcasts) very easy to share with my peers in the office. We've enjoyed LearnVisualStudio.net and .NET Rocks, and DNRtv, for example. I think there are enough authors available, so maybe just an evangelist dedicated to aggregating and organizing that content would be good (if there's not one -- or more -- already?).
So, to cite a not-so-new-but-still-too-unknown-to-me example, a screencast demonstrating the ins-and-outs of the "How to: Create an ASP.NET Login Page" MSDN article that I relied on this morning might be helpful.
Since my first was born, I definitely prefer attacking this stuff during the ix-ii-v. I recently attended a live MSDN webcast during lunch one day and found it more helpful and engaging/interactive than even I anticipated.
Two day code-camps in the middle of the week would be a great thing. The last three companies I've worked with have been good about budgeting for training -- the main problem is that the training that is typically available is not very good beyond a certain level, and they never do a good job of covering the newest technologies.
You actually came to my company in Atlanta a couple years ago, and we were able to field about 40 people to come listen to you -- out of a development group of about a hundred, not including PMs, BA's, etc. It was absolutely wonderful.
Even better, you took a bunch of the developers out and worked through the issues they were having with their applications -- and for them it was like finally making it into the big leagues; they suddenly felt like they were real developers instead of mere cogs in the machine.
That was great. What would be even more wonderful is if you could do something similar in an open session, maybe for two days, talking about the Microsoft technologies you are interested in, where you think business development is heading, and working through real world applications.
To quote an unpopular figure, there's the stuff we (as developers) know, the stuff we don't know, and the stuff we don't know we don't know. If you could help us with the last ... well that would be pretty cool, ya know.
I'm going to echo Lance's "ix-ii-v" comment and add a M-F qualifier. During the work week, I definitely leverage the web to find most of my technical information, be it from MSDN or blogs or webcasts. But when it comes to after hours and weekends what little time I might spend in front of the PC is generally limited to recreational pursuits. Any off-work hours that I do use for study time is dedicated to reading books of interest (~5 hours/week).
I've found that the various hands-on-labs I have had the privilege of attending at either the legendary Building 20 in Redmond or at the Microsoft regional offices here in Denver, have always provided the best learning experiences for me. That said, I really would like to see more HOLs and/or online tutorials that help guide developers through the steps required to develop more complex scenarios (i.e. something with a bit more substance than using workflow to say "hello world").
For instance, the various WCF samples that are available on MSDN are excellent code resources, but they would be vastly improved if they also included a tutorial or lab manual on how to create the same solutions from scratch (i.e. something like the old WSE HOLs that had 'before' and 'after' project folders with a step-by-step doc on how to create the code related to each lesson). Simply downloading, installing, and running pre-built code does not really do much with regard to teaching developers the steps that are required to actually construct and deploy "real-world" apps (I doubt using a makecert script is going to go over well in a production environment).
In other words, I'd find it much more instructive and beneficial if I were able to "forward engineer" a sample solution from scatch than it is for me to have to dissect a completed project in the debugger in order to try to find out how it works. Being able to fully grasp the techniques and technologies that go into building the samples would make it a lot easier to learn/apply/extend the same concepts for use in real apps. The HOLs and tutorials are great tools for this; there just needs to more of them that correspond to some of the more complex sample scenarios on MSDN.
Screencasts are great because no travel is required and I can look at them on my own time. Besides, you can travel for 24 hours to make a presentation to 300 people but stay at the office for a morning recording a session to reach thousands of us.
I do enjoy Hands-On Labs on technologies. It's always important to have easy and free downloads of the examples - who wants to type tons of code?
Also, I wish MS would use its VPC technology more. The worst thing about trying out something new is the setup and configuration time - not to mention the hazards of beta code on a production machine.
Kirk Allen Evans has a question . Can you help him with the answer? I guess one of the problems with