Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Back from GLGDW

I got back from Milwaukee late last night. What a conference! Many people were saying it was the best conference they ever attended. Here are my thoughts:

  • I loved the format: one track so everyone was in one room and lots of audience participation. It took a little getting used to, and definitely was hard on time management, but it was great hearing audience members telling everyone about their experiences with X or what utilities they use to solve a problem. It felt more like a big workshop rather than a conference.

  • Whil's daughter Aleix, who helped with everything from registration to book sales, was amazing. At 13, she has the poise and self-confidence of someone much older. For example, she came to dinner Saturday night with 6 of us without her Dad--who, although he gave another excuse, was scared of the Thai restaurant we went to (gd&rfwh)--and it didn't faze her in the slightest listening to our typical 40-something conversation.

  • Nearly every speaker told me that even they learned a lot. In fact, most speakers attended every session, something you rarely see at other conferences.

  • The only negative was the wireless connection provided by the hotel. It only worked in the lobby, not the conference room, nor in my hotel room (although some people said it worked OK in their rooms).

Here's a breakdown of the sessions:

  • Best Practices for Development Environment Setup: the first session, this was sort of a panel presentation on Friday night. I say "sort of" because there wasn't a table for panelists, but most of the speakers sat in the front row. Rick Schummer ran the show and did a great job of encouraging audience participation. In fact, that session set the tone for the rest of the conference. The topic was about the best ways to set up the VFP IDE, such as modifying the VFP system menus to provide quick access to commonly used utilities.

  • Best Practices for Error Handling and Reporting: Rick did his usual great job presenting his session on error handling, pointing out things such as the priority of error handling in a mixed environment of TRY structures, Error methods, and a global error handler.

  • Best Practices for Class Design: given that I've been using VFP for more than 10 years, I didn't expect to learn much from this session, but I was surprised. Marcia Akins challenged everyone with her ideas of the "must, could, and should" rules of class design and provided lots of examples to nail down the points. I'll definitely used some of the things she taught to make my class designs better in the future. Best of all, she gave away treats to people with the best suggestions or answers!

  • Best Practices for User Interfaces: Tamar Granor's session showed us good and bad examples of user interfaces (not just computer UI) and broke it down by section, including dialogs, menus, user accessibility, and so on.

  • Best Practices for Data Access (local): I'm ashamed to say that I missed Andy Kramek's session because I really wanted to go over my session one more time. Fortunately, Andy writes great white papers so I know I can get the content from there.

  • Best Practices for Data Access (remote): Andy's second session, held Saturday night after one of the best Thai meals I've ever had, was one of two sessions (Nancy Folsom's was the other) where some of the best practices were somewhat controversial. For example, Andy suggested that DSNs are preferred over DSN-less connections and that stored procedures are to used as a last resort. Not everyone agrees with these, but given Andy's extensive experience in this area, it's best to at least reconsider your views on these areas. He even gave a short break so those so inclined could get a beer from the nearby bar!

  • Best Practices for Refactoring: Nancy Folsom's 8:30 am session was one of my favorites. She went through reasons for refactoring, general concepts (for example, test before and after the change so you can confirm functionality wasn't affected and don't change too much in one swoop), and then detailed techniques, showing examples of code before, during, and after refactoring. Some of the "bad smells" (reasons to suspect you need to refactor) were controversial, such as the presence of comments (even her slide has a "wha??" after that point!), but thought-provoking. She only finished about half her material due to audience participation, but I think that's a good thing, as it was great to explore ideas with others.

  • Best Practices for Reporting and Output: Barbara Peisch showed how she provides a generic reporting dialog to her users and showed the advantage of using a common output routine for all reports.

  • Best Practices for Project Management: Cathy Pountney discussed a wide range of issues when working on VFP projects, such as team building and management, scheduling, requirements analysis (she hates the term "gathering", which implies that requirements are just lying around waiting to be scooped up).

  • Best Practices for Vertical Application Development: my session did not start well. For some reason, my laptop wouldn't talk to the projector. I've never had problems with projectors before, so this was unexpected and very unpleasant. After fiddling with settings and a restart, we decided (15 minutes after the session was supposed to start) to rearrange the schedule and do the Best Practices for Debugging panel session while I moved everything I needed over to Rick Schummer's laptop. As a result, I totally missed that session (which I'm bummed about), including not giving the best practices I'd planned to present, so I'll blog about those in the next couple of days. I finally started at 4:45, more than an hour late, but after getting over the jitters due to what happened, using someone else's system, and not being able to show everything I planned because I couldn't install everything, I think the session went well. I discussed application activation and licensing, maintenance models, version update mechanisms, support policies, and, after a short break to allow those who were getting hungry to leave (it was past 6 pm at this point), error reporting. It was great getting feedback from the audience about how they do some of those things--I definitely liked the audience participation, even if it made it impossible to cover everything (as Nancy and some others found) or finish on time (in my case--my session was about 1:45 rather than the planned 1:30, but there was nothing after my session so it worked out).

  • Best Practices for Designing Middle Tier Components: Craig Berntson discussed the importance of separating business logic, data access, and user interface into different components, even if they're in the same physical layer, and presented some simple classes that explained the concepts very well.

  • Best Practices for Deployment: Rick Borup's session was probably the closest one to the "best practices" theme, as he discussed the five stages of deployment. I came away with several good ideas about how to make deployment work better.

The general consensus was that there should be another GLGDW next year. Whil didn't promise anything, so anyone interested in attending an inexpensive conference where you'll learn things that simply aren't presented at other conferences should email Whil and tell him they'll be there next year. Thanks, Whil, for going to all the hard work of putting on yet another great conference, and here's my vote for GLGDW 2007.

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