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Developer Interview: Dr. James McCaffrey

Dr. James McCaffrey is a busy guy. To begin with, he works for Volt Information Sciences Inc., where he manages technical training for software engineers working at Microsoft headquarters. He's also a contributing editor to MSDN Magazine, writing the monthly "Test Run" column. In addition, Dr. McCaffrey is a speaker at the upcoming VSLive event in Las Vegas. His discussion had the coolest title, which I wanted to dig into a little further. He also has decades of development experience, so I thought it would be a good time to ask him a few questions about development, Visual Studio 11 and more. We had an email chat, and here's what he had to say.

Your "Chalk Talk" has the most intriguing title at VSLive ("Particle Swarm Optimization"). Can you tell us what that will cover?

JM: Particle Swarm Optimization is an artificial intelligence technique that models the behavior of groups such as a swarm of insects. PSO can be used to find the solution to a numerical optimization problem in situations where there is no effective traditional technique.

How can understanding this topic help a typical developer?

Particle Swarm Optimization is particularly useful when trying to harvest meaningful information from huge data sets such as log files. Also, many developers find PSO just interesting in its own right -- sort of geek entertainment (in a good way).

What are some products you've helped Microsoft develop?

I am very proud of the work I contributed to early versions of Internet Explorer. Even though the Internet was primitive at that time, we knew we were working on technology that would help change the world. I'm currently doing some work at Microsoft Research that has the potential to be just as important.

What do you like best about software development? Least?

The one aspect of software development I like the most is that it involves constant learning; new problems and new technologies for solving these problems emerge continuously. I can honestly say there aren't many things about software development I don't like. Even testing and debugging are enjoyable in a way.

Have you had a chance to play around with Visual Studio 11? If so, what are your initial thoughts on it?

I took a first look at VS11 just this week. I'm amazed at how many new things there are in the tool itself and the Framework 4.5. I'm particularly interested in seeing how VS11 enables developing applications in the Cloud through Windows Azure. My first impression is that VS11 will make developing Cloud apps much easier than it is now.

You taught programming for many years. What would you say was the hardest thing for your students to grasp?

It may sound trite or obvious, but when I was teaching, pointers seemed to be the make-or-break topic for freshman CompSci students. Students who really grasped pointers were able to master all the more advanced topics.

What do you feel is the greatest value of VSLive?

At VSLive, I love getting the chance to learn about all kinds of interesting new Microsoft technologies, and I enjoy the opportunity to chat with the speakers and attendees from all parts of the US (and other countries too). When I go back to work after VSLive, I feel re-energized and can often immediately apply some of the things I learned to my work.

Posted by Keith Ward on 02/25/2012

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