DevCorner: Microsoft BUILD 2014 Report

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The fourth Microsoft BUILD conference was held in the first week of April this year. It is the premier conference for developers focused on the Microsoft stack. For at least the past two of these conferences, that focus has been almost entirely around the Windows Runtime, Windows Phone, and Azure platforms, although we received a few strong hints that the focus may at least partially return to desktop development in a future iteration.

Where

BUILD has been hosted in San Francisco at the Moscone Center for the past two conferences. Prior to that, it was hosted in Washington at Microsoft HQ once, and I’m not sure where it was before that. Microsoft has seemed very comfortable with the Moscone Center, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them continue to run with that direction going forward.

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Hoopla (keynotes and announcements)

Sticking to their pattern thus far with BUILD, Microsoft (and partner companies) made a number of major announcements during the three-day event. They do this during keynotes in the first two mornings of the show. There were so many announcements this time, in fact, that both Wednesday and Thursday mornings were entirely dedicated to keynotes that ran from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Sessions began after lunch. [tweet this]

Since these keynotes are always a big event, you end up in a HUGE (holding thousands) room with lots of monitors, bright lights, and loud music. It’s a big deal and a big overload for the senses. But the optimism and getting glimpses of the present and future are always neat. And optimism is good, so these things are fun in addition to being informative.

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At BUILD 2014, Nokia got a large amount of stage time, thanks to their impending partnership with/acquisition by Microsoft. Several other software vendors got variable amounts of time, either to discuss a use case with the Microsoft stack that they’ve lived out as a company, or to talk about how they’ve used or are using Microsoft products to develop and produce whatever innovative technology they hang their hat on.

Wondering why there are two keynotes or how those are reasonably broken up? Based on my experience, the first day is hardware and consumer devices/platforms, and the second is Azure/cloud and use cases (after they’ve run through the various components, they bring out folks who’ve connected the dots to really compose or experience a full solution).

Quality of content

There are a healthy number of tracks for each session time in BUILD. If anything, there are always too many to choose from, and you end up having to make some tough choices. Fortunately, all of the sessions are posted during or shortly after the conference. If you’re a Windows dev for anything relatively-modern, I’m confident you won’t be lacking quality sessions to attend at any given point in time.

I will say that I’ve been disappointed both times I’ve attended by the lack of desktop knowledge on hand. Neither time, for instance, was I able to connect with anyone really familiar with most of Media Foundation, even though it’s the modern Windows answer for most of your media needs. I hope this changes in the future.

Giveaways

You’ve undoubtedly heard about these. At the first BUILD, attendees were given some type of (Samsung?) tablet that ran an RC version of Windows 8. The second, I believe they received Windows Phones and Surface tablets. The third, it was Surface Pro tablets and Acer Iconia mini-tablets. This time, it was Xboxes and $500 gift cards to the Microsoft store. These giveaways are obviously not a reason to attend in-and-of themselves (save some money and just by one). Rather, it has historically been pretty awesome to be able to play around with what is usually the focus of the conference, maybe try and develop for that platform, and be able to show some of the information you’re bringing back to co-workers (this last time, with the Xbox, it seemed to be a departure from these benefits, but there was some suspicion that the Xbox was actually a back-up giveaway option, perhaps after new Windows Phone devices weren’t ready for prime-time). Case-in-point: I turned my $500 GC into a Nokia Icon that I’ve put the Windows Phone 8.1 developer preview on, and I’m using it to run/test the version of Coach’s Eye for Windows Phone that is in development. [tweet this]

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Channel 9

Channel 9 is the MSDN video blog/broadcasting site where you can get plenty of developery goodness. It has a significant presence at BUILD; they broadcast unique sessions on Channel 9 from the conference, and people are able to get up-to-the-minute information about goings-on during the conference at this location. If you’re not at BUILD while it’s being hosted, I’d recommend checking here to scrape what information you can.

There is also a Channel 9 app for all three of the major mobile platforms, and you can find detailed lists of sessions this way. It’s probably the best way, as an attendee, to figure out what sessions you’re going to go to and when.

After-hour events/connections

Every company/MS partner who’s anyone seemingly has a soiree going on following one of the days of events during BUILD, located at some hip establishment within walking distance of the conference itself.

This time around, we attended a Nokia after-hours party where we had an opportunity to have little bits of hands-on time with newly-announced devices and technologies, as well as ask questions to some semi-knowledgeable individuals. We also met with four Nokia individuals (several management, a dev, and a UX) for lunch, in order to demo to them (side note: if you’re going to do this, I URGE you to consider what it means to demo to a person outside of your company in advance of going, right down to considering the story you want to tell and how you want to discuss the motivation for and benefits of the app–you may end up feeling like an ass, otherwise).

…and that’s all I’ve got this time around!

Author
Larry LaHaie

Larry LaHaie is a Senior Software Engineer at TechSmith.

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