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Notes from Visual Studio Live! No Typical Developer

As the newly incumbent editor in chief of this online magazine, I eagerly anticipated attending the recent Visual Studio Live! conference in Orlando.

I looked forward to the opportunity to mingle with developers, talk about their concerns, their motivations, their challenges, their likes and dislikes of working within the Microsoft developer environment.

Basically, I wanted to talk to the folks on the front lines to help me align our coverage with what they want and need.

And that's exactly what I did, engaging with attendees at every opportunity: over coffee and danish during breaks between sessions, over meals, during social/networking events and so on.

The main -- and also enlightening and somewhat surprising -- takeaway was this: There's no typical developer who comes to these conferences, this one being part of a larger Live! 360 event.

John Papa at Visual Studio Live! Keynote
Microsoft's John Papa at Visual Studio Live! Keynote

Following are some notes on this and other insights I gleaned from the nearly one-week conference.

No Typical Developer
For some reason, I envisioned a typical developer profile of a roughly 30-something male working at a midsize/large enterprise with a sizeable developer contingent and supporting staff.

I found those, but I also talked to women, senior devs -- much experienced folks with decades of experience -- and even some who served as almost one-person dev shops, responsible for just about everything in the workflow, even including handling "help desk" calls.

Budget Constraints
In the mainstream media, I'm continually told the economy is booming, that America is being made great again and companies are thriving in the new order, spending their newfound largesse and increasing investments.

What I found is quite different. Attendee after attendee mentioned tight budget constraints and scarce resources and support. Everybody seems to be struggling to make do with what they have, and they attended Visual Studio Live! to learn about tools and techniques that can help them get their jobs done easier and cheaper.

Not that Cutting Edge
I continually write about the new, the previews, the betas, the next greatest, cutting-edge wonder tool coming down the pike. Many of our commissioned hands-on tutorials deal with the same.

What I found, however, is many developers more concerned with the here-and-now caretaking of existing and legacy technologies. One developer had to maintain four different versions of Visual Studio because of the hodgepodge of disparate systems and components that they separately had to tie into. (I admit that sounds odd to me. It seems there should be some way to use just one version for all the functionality needed, but I didn't get an opportunity to delve into the details for why this approach was needed, unfortunately.)

At a panel discussion presentation, few in the audience were familiar with Progressive Web Apps, an initiative I've written about multiple times -- something I thought was the wave of the future in the mobile space, familiar to just about everyone. That wasn't the case for this and several other newer or cutting-edge technologies. Some coders were interested in this new-fangled Xamarin thing, for example (I thought it was a popular, well-known adjunct to the Visual Studio experience).

This tells me to review our coverage strategies to determine the correct mix of content. To go beyond examining the latest previews and betas and include more about the here-and-now challenges faced by devs on a daily basis.

To be fair, several of our commissioned hands-on tutorial experts do touch on the established tools and techniques along with the latest iPhone X dev tips and such. But perhaps we need to do more entrenched, legacy stuff. You tell me in the comments section of this article or via e-mail (address at the end).

Foresighted Companies
Related to the aforementioned budget constraints, I found it interesting that even small companies were sending their developers to Visual Studio Live! Even though times are seemingly still tough for many, firms of all sizes are sending developers to learn how to do their jobs better.

More than one attendee said their bosses (actually some of them were bosses) see it as an investment for the future. The initial cost, they believe, will be more than offset by productivity gains and new initiatives or techniques that will directly affect the bottom line.

I worked for a successful media conglomerate during the lean mid-2000s that followed the same philosophy, sending me and other staffers to educational and professional events while most others were cutting back on travel and almost all other expenses. They knew business ran in cycles, and during the next upturn the company would be better positioned for growth and success than competitors chasing the quarterly bottom line. The owner of that company wasn't a multi-billionaire for nothing, I'm guessing.

Calling Them As I See Them, and Looking for Help
Believe, me, I'm aware that the above might be perceived by some as an advertisement for the conference. But I'm an old-school, seasoned, professional journalist who has had ethics and objectivity drilled into me starting with high school journalism classes through a college journalism degree through decades of experience at several organizations. I call them as I see them in both news articles and opinion pieces like this blog post.

So that's what I saw and learned. And based on that, I want to do better in serving our readers. Please share your thoughts on the site's contents -- what you like, what you don't like, what you'd like to see more of. Please comment below or drop me a line.

Posted by David Ramel on 12/22/2017 at 11:47 AM


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