Saturday, September 16, 2006

FoxForward - Day 2

I was really, really tired this morning as I began obsessing over my session last night, did my blog entry, and the next thing I know it's 2 AM. I awoke about 9 AM and went down for breakfast at close till 10. Sat down to breakfast with John Harvey and John Miller who I also had the pleasure of having dinner with later this evening.

Well, there are the Three Tenors - I guess we were the Three Johns today.

I missed the early sessions as I was speaking with several of the attendees and other presenters who I hadn't had the privilege of speaking with before or had not seen in years. In my last blog post, I mentioned my general aversion to technical sessions and that goes double on sessions before lunch when my only coherent thoughts are on mass quantities of caffeine beverages.

I simply believe I learn more when AFK just chatting with folks in any case.

After lunch, I made the effort to spend some time in Bill Anderson's session on design patterns and Dave Stevenson's CursorAdapter session. I got more out of Bill's session as it was theory oriented and not so much code oriented. Dave's was heavily sprinkled with code which reads like Greek to me when I don't have a screen in my face. Both were very professional and the audiences were captivated. As I concluded with ReportListeners yesterday, the interest level indicated to me that a lot of folks have yet to integrate CursorAdapters into their applications. As the old saying goes, for many it's a "solution waiting for a problem".

...and I'm fine with that. I still think we made the right decisions on putting those features into the product. When a developer needs the unique advantages these two broad features provide, it's better that they are there than not.

I missed Dave's next session on the XMLAdapter. I had some phone calls and had to start getting ready for my session on the VFP product cycle. I sat in on Ed Leafe's session on Python for Fox Folks as he had the larger crowd and I could more easily sneak in and out the back without interrupting. Also, Ed is known to be of strong opinion on VFP, Python, and other topics via his ProFox listserve and I had seen some of his preparation for the session and was intrigued.

Very nice presentation. Ed has a calm, relaxed manner as he presents and is effortless at fielding questions. He doesn't seem tightly wedded to his materials which comes across, at least to me, as a prepared speaker who's completely in his element.

I also caught some of his next session, an introduction to Dabo. I have to admit some ignorance on this topic but understand that it's an Open Source language that is Python based and Ed is a major contributor to. But I was only listening with half a brain as I prepared for my session which followed immediately after.

So then came my turn. My topic was the inside history of a VFP product cycle. This is a topic I would never have even considered exploring while I was at MS for two reasons: One, before the current MS policy of being open with communities it was verboten to discuss anything about what when on at Campus with anyone outside. I was taken to the woodshed, metaphorically, on a number of occasions early in my tenure there for being too open. And Reason #2 is that it probably would have been unfair to the current MS team members to discuss process which was still being used.

I really wanted someone at MS in the VFP world to vet my slides before I presented them to make sure I was in conformity with the current version of NDA but....who? The only person there who is officially sanctioned to support VFP to any degree is Milind Lele and Milind, while a good guy and I'm sure working hard to support the product, is simply not a member of the Fox community and I'm not sure would be a good sounding board. Alan and Ken have moved on and anything they do involving VFP is, AFAIK, unofficial.

I'll leave this at if Ken, Alan, Milind, Calvin, or anyone wants to look at my slides (because I may present this again at some point), all they have to do is email me and ask for copies. I will take whatever suggestions they might make as the gospel and edit accordingly.

So my session hummed along. I was comfortable doing it because it was a topic that I am intimately familiar with and I enjoyed dispelling a lot of the myths about how the product is put together. I had a few negative questions at the end about the future of VFP but
the official roadmap is pretty clear and I simply repeated what's already been said elsewhere.

The most interest appeared to be in how Test assessed testability and risk. I suppose it's because most VFP shops are small affairs but these was very little knowledge of structured testing and testing methodologies in the attending group. Stew (Mike Stewart) used to present a testing session at conferences a few years back and I'm thinking I might revisit the topic in the future. Some of the stuff we used to do to automate testing designers and whatnot is pretty alien to the average developer but could have value as an approach to acceptance testing or reduction in otherwise manual testing. Hmmm...have to ponder this.

The messages I really, really wanted to get across were a bit deeper. I used to get a lot of comment while at MS from our MVPs and others that folks were glad to see me hired because I was "one of theirs". The implication was that others already there were part of the MS Borg Collective I suppose.

I really wanted to get across the fact that this wasn't true - the Fox Team I was a part of really was about the community and how we could best serve our customers. These folks, and I won't name them to avoid embarrassing them, really put the interests of VFP and the VFP faithful above their personal careers. These are brilliant people and could have been (and some are now) extremely valuable to MS in other, more strategic, product areas.

Some have moved on but fight to spend their spare time coming back to service the Fox folks. They do this at some personal risk I suppose becauwe if something gets messed up in their new teams, someone could use that time spent with Fox as an excuse.

I also wanted to get across how seriously we took customer wish lists and bug reports. For practical reasons, we had to say "no" to 10 suggestions for every one we took. Some people over time saw this as favoritism and I always felt bad about that and wanted to set that record straight.

Finally, at the Q&A, I wanted to stress that VFP survives and thrives not because of the amount of marketing that MS does for it, but on the sheer ingenuity and professionalism of VFP developers. And that's going to always be that way. The community does not give itself enough credit, IMHO.

I ended my session on time, in fact, about 10 minutes early. The remaining time was spent in informal discussions on a variety of issues. I was asked some SP2 questions but demurred to answer because I've been gone for a year and didn't feel I was in the position to answer authoritatively.

Afterward, I drove John Miller and John Harvey to the aforementioned dinner at an informal restaurant where a Florida Gator group was meeting, making it hard to grab a table. We were joined by a couple of the other guys and about 10 other conference attendees were seated elsewhere in the restaurant. Good food; good company; a nice dinner.

Came back to the hotel and everyone with me retired for the night. A problem here is that there is no hotel bar and I didn't stock the Portabar for this conference because the small number of attendees didn't cost-justify it. So there's no natural watering hole to gather to at night; the acoustic jam players are not in full attendence as well.

If Kevin does this again next year, I'll have to think about how to address this informally.

...and I hope he does do it. This little conference has a lot of potential. He took a big risk to put this on and it's definitely no-frills as a speaker as he pays no expenses. But, honestly, speaking is more networking and name-recognition than anything else and it should be worth it to a potential presenter to attend even shouldering expenses. The day of the big, flashy VFP conference is probably over. But the small, manageable conferences could be around a very, very long time if the "supporting casts" understand their roles and manage expectations accordingly. Some may disagree but that's my opinion.

Not sure how much of the conference I'll be participating in tomorrow. I have no sessions and the regular track goes go 5:15 pm, but I have a long trek back to SeminoleWorld (Tallahassee) and a pretty nasty workday Monday. So I'm thinking of leaving sometime around lunch and if I have anything of interest to talk about for Day 3, I'll post.


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