Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Speaker Training

Last Thursday I was at Microsoft Reading TVP attending a course on how to improve your skills as a speaker.  This was a free course for sponsored by SQL Bits and run primarily so that speakers at the forthcoming SQL Bits 7 could be taught how to prepare and deliver good quality presentations.  As not all the spaces available were taken by SQL Bits presenters the remaining spaces were open to anybody in the community which is how I managed to get on the course.

The ‘host’ for the day was Guy Smith-Ferrier who with 20 years experience of giving presentations to audiences big and small was ideally qualified to be able to help us improve our skills and Guy was ably assisted by 4
‘group leaders’ Mike Taulty, Dave McMahon, Simon Sabin and Andrew Fryer all very experienced presenters in their own right.

To help reinforce the information we were going to receive we had to come prepared with a 5 minute presentation which we would give first at the beginning of the day and then for a second time at the end of the day to enable us to put some of what we had learnt into practice.

The day started with coffee at 9:00 which was greatly appreciated and it also gave time for people to arrive as the traffic was really heavy with some attendees being delayed by it.

We started the presentations at 9:30 with ‘How to explain absolutely anything’ which not only covered how to decompose your subject but also structuring the presentation and the difference between demo and production code.  One of the things that I found especially useful was a tip from Mike Taulty about altering your content for the amount of time that you have available – if you only have 5 minutes what would you want to tell/show an audience? what if you had 10 minutes?

With the first presentation over we broke out into 5 groups of 4 people and gave our own presentations.  The intention was to give the 5 minute presentation and then have 5 minutes for the group to provide feedback on your presentation. The time allotted for this session was very tight and unfortunately we were not always able to keep to this schedule, time between presentations for people to set up their laptops (mine didn’t want to behave and I must have burnt 5 minutes just trying to get it to play nicely) and the feedback lasting longer than anticipated made my group in particular overrun.

After our session we were to break for coffee before moving onto our next presentation given by Guy but as I mentioned my group overran and we ended up missing the coffee altogether and unfortunately delaying the start of the next presentation.

‘Planning your Presentation’ came next which telling us the standard slides we should look to include in a presentation, the volume of text, how best to construct your slides, strategies for your slide deck and thinking about text vs pictures in your slides.  The tip that sticks with me from this presentation is tell ‘em, tell ‘em and tell ‘em again which several of the group leaders mentioned more than once in discussions.

We then moved straight onto ‘How to give great demos’ beginning with considering if you should ‘start at the end’ to show what you’ll create during the talk, covering various strategies for the type of demo (live, using snippets, canned) , what to do if you cannot perform the demo live, demo dos and don’ts and finally the difference between understanding and remembering.

We then broke for lunch which us a chance to talk to other people about what we had covered and some, such as myself, to go through our presentations and change them before we had to give them again later in the afternoon (breaking a cardinal rule of presenting – never change your presentation just before you are about to give it).

The afternoon kicked off with ‘Preparing your laptop’ which revolved around ensuring that your laptop display would be optimal for the people attending the presentation covering subjects ranging from changing your resolution and DPI to the fonts and colours that you use.  The general advice here from the experienced speakers was alter your laptop to the modified settings as soon as you know you are going to be doing a presentation and get used to using it.

Again we moved straight into the next presentation which was focused on ‘Presenting your presentation’ and Guy took us through what to do 15 minutes before your presentation, introducing the presentation, handling questions (to and from the audience), the use of humour and ending the presentation.

This was the end of the formal presentations, we broke for coffee and then proceeded to give our own presentation for the second time, this time we broke into different groups of people under different group leaders so that the group would be seeing the presentation ‘fresh’.

After we had completed the presentations everybody reconvened to provide group feedback on the what we had learned from giving and watching the presentations.

Then there was the normal eval forms to fill out but quite unexpectedly there was swag as well.

During the day the only resource that we were limited with was time, there wasn’t enough time to do all the presentations that Guy has created on this subject, no specific time for changing our presentations should we feel the need and the time allowed in the session for us to give our 5 minute presentations seemed ‘optimistic’ having a bit more time may make life a little easier.  Guy has already tweeted about this and I believe that it is all going to be taken into account if the day is run again.

So was the day worth it? Oh yes.  Not only did we have Guy sharing his knowledge of presenting but the discussions involving the other group leaders yielded yet more tips borne from their experience providing a wealth of additional knowledge.

It was a brilliant day, I’m sure it will be run again and it will be even bigger and better.

If you are at all interested in giving presentations and you get the opportunity to attend this in the future I wouldn’t hesitate to apply to go on the course you won’t be disappointed and most likely learn an awful lot.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Guathon London

Today I went to the Guathon event in London at the Odeon Covent Garden, this meant I had to get up at 4:30 this morning to catch a train to get me to the event on time which wasn’t nice.

I managed to get to the venue by 8:30 but the venue wasn’t open and the pavement got crowded as more and more dev’s turned up but the doors opened at 9 just after 9:30 we were ready to go and what was nice was free wifi access which made tweeting easier for everybody.

The day kicked off with a session on VS2010 and ASP.NET 4.0 Web Development where Scott firstly went through changes/enhancements to visual studio IDE which turned up some useful information (such as being able to change intellisense to a consume mode to make TDD easier by pressing CTRL+ALT+SPACE), and then Scott went onto the changes to web forms in .Net 4.0 showing things such as the QueryExtender for Linq data sources to allow users to enter in free text type searches without you having to add code to change your Linq provider, SEO toolkit and lots of other goodness.  You definitely got the impression the ASP.Net webforms is far from dead in Microsoft’s eyes which is contrary to a lot of what you hear in the blogosphere.

The first session overran by approx 30 minutes which resulted in the second session ASP.Net MVC 2 being split over lunch break and some of the demo’s dropped to enable Scott to get through as much material  as possible.

During the lunch break the heaven’s decided to open and so more than a few people came back a little wet (I thought I was bad but @plip probably wins as he was soaked).

The 3rd session was run by Mike Ormond who talked about Windows Phone 7 development, which was very interesting and judging by the twitter comments generated a lot of debate about the platform.  At the end of the day I caught up with Matt Lacey (he runs the WP7 user group) and asked him about his thoughts on WP7 had a brief, but interesting, conversation about the platform, what Microsoft are doing and what may happen in the near future.

By the time we got to the fourth session we were running late so we didn’t break for coffee but ploughed on with ‘First Look at Web Futures: ASP.NET MVC 3, SQL CE and IIS Express’ with Scott having about 45-50 minutes to fit a 90 minute presentation into, including building an app from scratch.

First Scott discussed IIS Express and SQL CE and both look very promising, I will be eagerly awaiting their release, then Scott went on to create an app showing the use of Code first and the Razor engine  (I particularly liked the Razor engine syntax it looks very clean and I will have to have a play with it when I get the chance).  Then with time rapidly running out Scott did Dependency Injection in MVC3 in 8 minutes showing how to use a DI framework, he used Ninject in the demo, to remove your coupling and allow for good unit testing.

All in all a very good day was had by all and Scott was on form coding samples, answering questions and generally being knowledgeable on the development environment, and Mike did a very good presentation on WP7 just a shame he couldn’t give us all one to play with.

A very big thanks must also go to Phil Winstanley and Dave Sussman for helping to arrange the whole event, well done guys you did good.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Self managing team – myth or reality?

Recently I have been musing over the self managing team and whether such a thing really exists.

One of the pillars of agile is the self managing team that is always looking to improve what they are doing and committed to delivering working software at the end of every iteration.

Whilst in theory this all sounds fantastic in practice things don’t always work out like that and what happens when the ‘self managing team’ doesn’t manage?

All the various literature about this describes a group of motivated, empowered individuals, who want to succeed and want to ensure that the work is completed and delivered.  This group of individuals will work together to over come issues that they experience and will ‘manage’ themselves ensuring that if anybody in the team is not performing as expected they will either compensate or ‘encourage’ the person to perform as expected.

In reality a team may bear little resemblance to this with some people not wanting to bear any responsibility for the work “I did what you told me, if its wrong its not my fault”, others doing work they associate with their role “I’m not a tester – that's your job!”, some people simply want to work by themselves and be left alone, etc. It is with a team made up of these types of individual, the dysfunctional team, that the agile ideal of a self managing team seems to fall flat if not simply fail. 

So does the self-managing team exist?

To be honest I think that it depends on the environment that you are in with larger companies having a better chance to create and sustain a self managing team than a small company.  The reason for this is down to resources and larger companies often have the resources to pump into an agile adoption that smaller companies don’t.

If you read books such as Succeeding with Agile by Mike Cohn then self-managing teams seem to be the norm for agile/scrum environments and in companies that have had the pleasure of Mike coming in and coaching them I’m sure that’s correct, but in smaller companies that don’t have the resources to be able to bring a coach in they can struggle. 

One of the key things is top down adoption with management understanding what agile adoption means for the company and supporting it (another thing mentioned in Mike’s book) and if this doesn’t happen in an organisation big or small the self-managing team will not be a reality as command & control and death march projects will be the norm.

So are self-managing teams a myth or reality? I firmly believe that in larger organisations committed to agile they are a reality but for large organisations not committed to agile or smaller organisations with limited resources I tend to doubt they exist.

What do you think?

Monday, 2 August 2010

Nu – package installation made easy

I heard about Nu today on The Morning Brew which had the following 2 links:

Now I followed the instructions in Bil Simsers article and after some initial problems with running Ruby from the command prompt on Win 7 (not sure why but opening a command prompt at a folder rather than from the start menu resulted in being told ruby was not installed – go figure).

I followed Bil’s article down to the ‘diving in’ section and within a few moments I had installed nHibernate, nUnit, Rhino Mocks and nLog.  To say I was impressed would be a bit of an understatement, in just a few moments I’d got the latest versions of OSS software I use and all their dependencies without having to download and run several installers.

Later that day I also saw this and got very excited only to ultimately be disappointed to find out that it was only some mocked up images (although I’m sure that somebody will probably have built it by the time I post this) but firmly believe that this should be the way references should be added in the future.

I will be looking to use Nu myself from now on but wonder what does this mean for projects such as hornget, which I know Steve Strong tweeted about fairly recently, and other package managers that have been created.

I do ask myself is Nu the piece of software that changes the .Net landscape for package management by showing us who use .Net how it should be done?