29 Sep 2010

Tech·Ed Africa - How to find the gems in the sessions?

image_54Tech·Ed is around the corner and if you have seen the session catalogue, you will see there is 267 295 sessions available for you to attend! How are you supposed to know what sessions are quality that you should attend?

Disclaimer: Rights Management Server is a great product for certain situations and I am picking on it in this post as an example more than anything else.

Know Yourself

The first thing to get right is to know yourself – if you have just started writing C# code, attending an advanced session on the internal workings of LINQ may be a waste of time as you may not be able to keep up to speed.

Knowing yourself is not just about knowing your skill level, but also knowing what is important to you – if you have no plans on using Rights Management Server (RMS) don’t attend the sessions on it, because you will miss out on other great sessions that may bring you a value, however this does not mean you should only attend sessions for technology you know and work on.

Identify Trends

channel-9-logoPart of the benefit of the conference is exposure to items which you may not get the time to see during your normal day, so you may be tempted to go to that RMS session because you do not know about it but my suggestion to this is that  when you are looking for sessions on topics you do not know about, you should look at where the hot trends are (they aren’t in RMS). A great way to see what the hot trends are is to to look at what community and knowledge sharing sites, like Channel 9, is talking about.

The reason I suggest new trends over other items is this that the new trends is where the cutting edge technology and learning is and so there is often not a lot of content available on that topic, compared to say RMS where it is well documented and training is easy to get hold of.

Decoding Sessions

Every session at Tech·Ed has a code, and this code has some key information that will mean you get to the right sessions easily. If I look at one of the sessions I am presenting, the code associated is APS309, but what does that mean?

  • APS – This is the track, or the high level concept that the session is part of. APS in this case refers to Application Server. Microsoft has a great guide to all these TLA (three letter acronyms) on the technical track page. The only item missing from there is WTB, which stands for Whiteboard which I will cover next.
  • 3 – This digit is key, it identifies the level of the session and is between 1 and 4.
    • 1 indicates a introduction session - where you can come in with zero knowledge on the topic. Expect it not to be deep, expect the pace to be slow and expect it to cover the concepts.
    • 2 indicates a beginner session - you should’ve seen something on it before arriving. Expect it to cover usage scenarios and the pace and depth to be increased.
    • 3 indicates a technical session – you should be working with the technology. These often go fast and deep or explore a new area in that space.
    • 4 indicates a deep dive – you should expect a session that is for the most advanced of people.
  • 09 – This is a unique identifier.

The next thing about understanding is to read the abstract for the topic, this is the overall plan for the session. So if we take my session again, the title is: Intro to Workflow Services and Windows Server AppFabric however if you read the abstract you will note that it mentions Workflow Foundation (WF) first and talks about developers using it. Then it mentions WF and usage with Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and how they integrate in .NET 4. Finally it mentions AppFabric and hosting.

This tells you a lot of my plan for the session, I am going to talk to developers first about WF and then WCF. Finally I will bring in more technical topic of hosting these in AppFabric. This does not come across in the title, which is why the abstract is important to read and read carefully.

Session Types

There are two types of sessions breakouts and whiteboards. A breakout is a formal presentation where normally one person presents a topic with demo’s. A whiteboard is far less formal and often includes panel discussions – here you will find the topics often change based on the questions and discussions with the audience.

I have personally found when I need to learn a technology I head to a break out, but if I know the topic then the whiteboards give senior developers much better value.


Tech·Ed is first about getting a few thousand passionate people together which means you have the option to network with experts and make great contacts. Most presenters will take time for questions, but if not, most will welcome you coming up to them afterwards.

In addition to this there is also two special options for networking:

  • Community Lounge – Community leaders are some of the smarted and most passionate people I know and the community lounge provides a great place to relax and talk to them.
  • Ask the Experts – This is a special event where experts make themselves specially available to take questions and have one on one (and sometimes one on many) discussions. This is a great chance to get contacts so that when you run into a problem you have a lifeline.

Get Started Now

Don’t wait until you arrive at Tech·Ed to start thinking about sessions, start thinking now about the sessions you want to go to and digging into what trends and speakers you should be finding.

A great tip for corporates is something we at BBD do each year for the 30 or so people we send – a pre event get together. Here the people who have been before share some guidance and what to expect about the event with those who have never been and we all talk about the sessions and speakers we are excited about to help those who do not have the time to do deep research find some gems.

Lastly, for those who tweet, start following the Twitter conversation for the event! There is an official account @teched_africa and an officially long hashtag #TechEdAfrica. To really impress people you can combine them both into a single Twitter Search @TechEdAfrica OR #TechEdAfrica!

Update 8 Oct 2010: I presented a short session based on this post to the staff at BB&D which you can find below:
26 Aug 2010

South African ID Number Checker in Excel version 2

18 February 2016: Fixed a bug in the multiple checks with the date display. Thanks to John Sole for pointing it out.
8 August 2014 - Just a quick note that the spreadsheet has been updated with better checking if the date is valid (including leap years), plus has been cleaned up a lot and finally will show you both years if we can not be certain which century the person was born in. Tested with Excel 2013 - your mileage may vary on other versions.
Want this as an app for your smartphone? Click here

A long time ago I built a simple Excel spread sheet which worked out if an ID number was valid or not. Since I released it, I have received a lot of feedback about the spreadsheet. Most of the feedback was around how it worked, but a week ago Riaan contacted me and pointed out a bug in it so I took this as an opportunity to rebuild it.

Not only does the new version check the validity of the ID number, it also tells you where the person was born, gender and birth date.


Something else that I wanted to do was clean up the calculations. So now they have been moved to their own (hidden) tab and are documented.


For those who need to do a bulk checking, the second sheet of the Excel spreadsheet contains the ability to check multiple ID numbers.


I want to extend a massive thanks to Riaan Pretorius, not only for pointing out the bug but also running the new version through it’s paces and finding some issues in it. The fact this one is much better is owed to him, I just typed the code Open-mouthed smile

You can download the Excel file below!

20 Aug 2010

Visual Studio Mobile Site

imageDid you know that there is a mobile version of the Visual Studio website? I stumbled across it recently and it is fantastic resource to have on your phone.

One of the really great parts is the Crack the Code game, which gives you four snippets of code (2x C#, 1x F#, 1x VB.NET) and asks you to figure out how many errors there are. If you work out correctly you get access to wallpapers for your mobile device and if you get all four correct you get a limited edition Visual Studio 2010 Window 7 theme!

To access the site go to http://mobile.microsoft.com/visualstudio (note the mobile in the URL) on your mobile device!

22 Jan 2010

I <3 Nokia

The management at Nokia have scored a big point today with the big announcement in the UK yesterday where they have made Nokia Turn-by-turn FREE. This has solved the headache of paying Nokia for convenience and also showed Nokia is aware and dealing of the moves of the big players like Google.

14 Jan 2010

Holy download fever Batman

Seems that in the last week, and just in time for me to be in Canada where they have bandwidth, that a bunch of things have become available for download which deserve your attention:

VS 2010 Quick Reference Guidance is now out!

Plus hotfix 1 for it

Visual Studio Team Foundation Server 2010 Upgrade Guidance is now out!

The new Nokia 5800 firmware ( is out – which brings it up to the level of the X6 in features now!

Lastly, and sneakily at the end of this post, my latest open source tool is out. Now I am not going to tell you what it is, but it is for presenters (mostly) and requires .NET 4.0 Beta 2 and Windows 7. Hopefully the name will entice you to check out Rule 18!

02 Dec 2009

Google Maps City More Info

I was answering a question on World Cup 2010 Dizcus and found an amazing feature on Google Maps. I was looking for maps of cities in SA, and I stumbled across this cool more info link.


More info takes you to a portal for the city with information on the time & timezone, a high view map of the area, photos and videos of the town, popular places and related maps. This is a great resource when you are looking for information on a city that you have never been too! Below is a screen shot from my home town of Johannesburg.


27 Nov 2009

Has Nokia stopped piracy?

Nokia5800 The Nokia 5800 I have runs on the Symbian S60 5th Edition operating system and it seems to be a decent OS, but built into it is the most interesting anti-piracy system I have seen. So how does it work? Note: I am not an expert in this, this is my view after a few weeks looking into it, so I may be wrong.

First every application needs to specify what features it uses and based on that it can either be flagged into one of three categories:

  • Unprotected
  • Protected
  • Testing

Testing has no security, and is just good for testing. However for the other two, they must be signed with a SSL certificate. For unprotected applications you can self sign, in other words using the certificate on the phone to sign the application. For protected you’ll need a certificate from a certificate signing website - which there are just a few of and these sites also require you to signup as a publisher which costs $200. So once you pay $200 and you go through the process you can sign an application however it is locked to the IMEI of the phone. This means that the application can only ever be run on a specific phone.

Now the security model falls over, if you go out and get the publisher details since you could take other peoples applications and strip out the existing certificate and sign it with your own, but that costs $200 (and you are logging with a central company what software you are signing, so that they may be able to track it). Why I think this works is because almost every single application out there is much cheaper than $200. In fact for $200 you can get so many apps legally that I question who would pay $200 if they were not a legitimate publisher.

I think this process is much better than the iPhone’s app store - since you do not need to get a companies permission to sell the software. You can build it, host it anywhere and viola it is available.

A similar process is available in Windows Vista+ x64 for drivers, which must be also signed in a similar process. I am wondering if this should not occur for all applications in Windows as well - however there are a lot of changes that would need to be implemented.