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Visual Studio Live! Orlando - impressions from the event by the free pass winner Peter Kuhn

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Peter Kuhn
Peter Kuhn
Joined Jan 05, 2011
Articles:   43
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0 comments   /   posted on Dec 14, 2012
Categories:   General
Join the fun Zombie Survival challenge by Visual Studio Live! Orlando and SilverlightShow to win a free Imaging Developer Toolkit by LEADTOOLS ($2,495 value)

This week I attended a Live 360! conference in Florida for which I won a free pass in SilverlightShow's "Futuristic Challenge" a few weeks ago [1]. Arriving in Orlando was quite a shock for me at first. Back in Germany we struggled with snow storms and less than zero degrees during the last weeks, so the 25°C in Orlando combined with a high humidity was crushing. Another shock was imminent when I entered the Loews Hotel where the Live! 360 conference was hosted: air conditioning on full throttle cooled down the whole building to what felt like entering a freezer, something that was especially apparent when you had to walk from the main building to the lunch tent outside, fighting a massive wall of hot and moist air on your way. During the sessions A/C was cranked up even more so despite several layers of clothes, I and others often shuddered – fortunately only because of the low temperatures, not out of the presented content :).

The hotel itself is located next to the Universal Studios entertainment parks and has a spectacular scenery just a dozen steps away from the conference area entrance – you could often see attendees sit there before the sessions and during breaks, enjoying the warm and sunny weather (at least until day three when we had a significant drop in temperatures).

The Conference

One of the greatest details about the Live! 360 event is that you practically get four conferences in one. In particular, you could freely choose from and match and mix sessions from four separate tracks:

  • Visual Studio
  • Cloud and Virtualization
  • SharePoint
  • SQL Server

All of the tracks were physically located and hosted very close to each other so you could easily jump back and forth without losing time – I was afraid you'd have to walk long distances and lose precious networking time but that absolutely was not the case, everything was set up perfectly, with a big meeting area in between all the different track areas:

Each of the tracks had three sessions in parallel, which often made it really hard to pick one because there were so many interesting topics colliding. Although my main focus naturally was on the Visual Studio side of things, I also tried to get a glimpse of the cloud and SQL Server sessions too. My somewhat limited interest in SharePoint still got its share in the key note by Jay Schmelzer, who talked about Web enabled apps for Office and SharePoint 2013. More on the conference details can be found on the official web site [2].

The sessions

The great variety of sessions and speakers made the conference a unique experience. Ranging from perfectly planned and executed presentations like the one by Steve Riley, to pragmatic sessions by the very entertaining Billy Hollis, the conference had something in it for everyone. Obviously I only had the chance to attend a small subset of what was offered, but I still want to share a few impressions of my personal favorites.

Day 1: Designing High Performance Data Visualization Dashboards

Nick Landry from Infragistics did two sessions on day 1, and I actually attended both of them. The first one was the only one of the whole conference focusing on Windows Phone 8. Although I didn't really expect to learn anything new (I already spent weeks on the new platform details) I really enjoyed it. However, Nick's second session was the one that really blew me away. He had changed the title slightly from "building data visualization dashboards" to "designing data visualization dashboards" and apologized in advance to everyone who expected a code-focused session. Instead, he taught the fundamentals of human-centered interactive dashboards in a more theoretical way, well sugared with samples and demos – all in all I left the session really impressed.

Nick Landry on Windows Phone 8

It's these sessions that I like those conferences for most – they let you take a look at things you normally don't see or care for, and to start thinking outside the box. Well done!

Day 2: Navigation and UI Shells for XAML Applications

Billy Hollis was another speaker I attended multiple sessions from. The level of this session didn't quite reach into what we have done and experienced in dozens of WPF and Silverlight projects during the last years, but it was extremely helpful to get some opinions and inspiration on certain aspects from someone from the "outside". Again, attending a conference like this proved to be a mind-opener that is capable of softening your ingrained habits. Also, Billy has an extremely entertaining style of presentation that is very pragmatic – you have to like it I guess, but if you're open to his style you'll have a good time in any of his talks.

Billy's session also reassured me in my plans to do some future articles on the topic, and that this is one of the most underestimated areas in application development. There was lots of feedback and additional requests in the end that clearly showed the need of people for more guidance, best practices and recommendations in this area.

Day 3: Patterns for Parallel Programming

I hadn't heard or read the name Tiberiu Covaci before (sorry Tiberiu if I'm not doing you justice – no offense), but all the more his session turned out to be a real surprise. I have a weakness for parallel computing although I don't come to use it in my day job or free time projects as much as I would love to. Tiberiu presented the involved concepts and patterns in a very entertaining way by demonstrating how to parallelize – wait for it – the cooking of goulash.

In the end, we not only had a better understanding of parallel computing patterns, but Tiberiu also had found a possibility to cut the goulash cooking time in half by inviting a few dozen friends, to "satisfy the small devils at home" faster (he was lovingly talking about his children) – thank you for a great session!

… and the Rest

As I said, I can only give you an overview of the sessions I actually attended, and I'm sure there was a lot more excellent content during this week (take a look at Allen Conway's blog [3] for more session details, for example). I was tempted to go to John Papa's talks but his sessions explicitly were marked as introductory. Nevertheless he is still an extremely popular guy who is able to attract lots of fans easily – his JavaScript session was moved to the keynote hall, and after the talk the line of attendees with additional questions was ever-growing.

Unfortunately, on day 2 some of the cloud computing sessions around security topics and cost estimation were cancelled due to speaker illness – I would've loved to attend these, and from what I've heard others were disappointed too. Yet still, the number of alternatives was so great that you barely would run into gaps that couldn't be filled by other sessions.

The Good and the Bad

Taken aside the already mentioned attempt to freeze all attendees with A/C cannons, the major pain point of the conference, "as usual" one is almost tempted to say, was the Wi-Fi. When some hundred attendees simultaneously tried to access the internet during the session breaks, technical limits were reached quickly and more or less made any services unavailable. This was especially unfortunate because the accompanying conference mobile app was quite useful and allowed providing feedback on the sessions online – but only if you were lucky to actually have internet access. Other small issues affected e.g. the parking options with the hotel. The staff apparently was not prepared well enough for the discounted parking fees and how to technically handle them, which resulted in several people struggling to get off the lots, blocked drive ways and the need for unconventional ad-hoc solutions for the first two days.

Apart from these minor glitches the conference was a blast. Most of the sessions were really entertaining and helpful, especially the Q&A parts and the possibility to talk to the speakers afterwards. As always, the networking options in between sessions proved to be one of the most valuable details. It's great to meet with others and exchange opinions, learn from their experience and learn about the cool stuff people do that you'd never hear about otherwise. And of course, it once again was an opportunity to finally meet some people in person that I had only met online so far. Let's not forget the outstanding lunch in different themes like Mexican or Italian, with discussion round tables set up for different topics that created the perfect frame to enjoy yourself and stay a bit longer and talk to each other!

The enormous lunch tent with discussion round tables offered excellent food options


I enjoyed the conference very much, and I hope all others did in a similar way. In this short summary, I very much focused on the sessions and didn't even mention the additional features like the huge exhibitor area and after-conference events that I'm sure everybody also loved. If you have the chance to attend one of the events in the future, I recommend to do so. As mentioned, the variety of options offers something for everybody, and the networking time easily doubles the value.



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