Microsoft

Dear Microsoft: Just Update My Photo and We’ll Be Cool

by Joey deVilla on September 21, 2011

If you were to go to Microsoft Canada’s blog for mobile developers as of this writing, you’d still see my photo in the banner:

canadian mobile developer banner

I really have no complaints about still having my face there, even though my last day at The Empire will be five months ago tomorrow. Being the Windows Phone guy was one of my favourite parts of my stint as a developer evangelist at Microsoft, and it’s always an honour to share a banner with Frederic Harper.

My real complaint is that the picture they’re using is from two years, and more importantly, twenty pounds ago (about the weight of a full-sized accordion).

Hey Microsoft: keep my picture up if you must, but could you at least use a newer, somewhat skinnier one? Perhaps one with me sporting my new, fashionable, I probably-paid-too-much glasses with Philippe Starck frames?

Self-portrait of Joey deVilla, taken in a mirror, showing off his new glasses

(By the bye, that’s my bathroom in the photo. I have a damn fine “re-bachelor” pad.)

If you’d much rather have a photo keeping with the mobile theme, may I suggest this one, where I’m posing with a phone and a wacky phone accessory? The pink says “Metro” – in every sense of the word!

"Moshi Moshi Metro!" Joey deVilla at Cafe Novo, holding Verna Kulish's pink iPhone connected to a pink Moshi Moshi handset.

That’s my friend and fellow ex-Microsoftie Verna Kulish’s Moshi Moshi Retro POP handset, which plugs into just about any smartphone. Feel free to Photoshop out Verna’s iPhone and replace it with an appropriate Windows Phone device – perhaps a Samsung Focus (my Windows Phone) or whatever Nokia’s releasing this fall.

Feel free to use either pic, Microsoft – as long as it’s current and skinnier, we’ll be cool.

This article also appears in Global Nerdy.

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Fabulous Parting Gifts from Microsoft

by Joey deVilla on May 16, 2011

In recognition of some damn good evangelizing, and to make sure I don’t forget about all the .NET developers out there, Microsoft Canada sent a big package to me at the Shopify offices containing some fabulous parting gifts, including a Dell Latitude E6500 with 8 gigs of RAM and the large battery:

My Dell Latitude E6500 laptop

…along with the Samsung Focus that was assigned to me, and DVDs for Windows 7 Ultimate and Office Professional 2010

Windows Phone 7 (Samsung Focus) box, Windows 7 Ultimate DVD, Microsoft Office 2010 Professional DVD

…and last but certainly not least, an MSDN subscription, which gets me all kinds of developer goodies including Visual Studio (still the nicest IDE out there, in my opinion):

MSDN logo

I’d like to thank Microsoft Canada (and Damir Bersinic, who made the arrangements) for these fabulous parting gifts. They weren’t under any obligation to send anything other than my final paycheque and expense reimbursements, but they’re taking a page from Gary Vaynerchuk’s The Thank You Economy, and I greatly appreciate the goodies. I was wondering how I was going to continue with Windows Phone and XNA development, but thanks to my old employer and coworker, that question’s been answered. I salute you with a filet mignon on a flaming sword!

This article also appears in Global Nerdy.

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Getting Paid to Work for Ballmer is Pretty Nice

by Joey deVilla on June 5, 2010

Joey deVilla and Steve BallmerMe and Ballmer at the Microsoft Town Hall in Toronto, October 2009.

David “DHH” Heinemeier Hansson recently wrote in the excellent blog Signal to Noise (add it to your reading list if it isn’t there already) that he’d never work for Ballmer.

Since he’s DHH, he doesn’t have to – he’s a principal at the development firm 37signals, whose web apps I like to cite as examples to follow, and the creator of the web framework Ruby on Rails. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t DHH: we can’t all be brilliant game-changing programmers who are also photogenic enough to have the option of becoming a male model when this computer fad blows over. When a Sith Lord from Microsoft comes a-calling with a job offer, we don’t automatically turn it down; we have to mull it over.

Darth Vader makes his offer: "Join me...we have a good dental plan!"

I’ve been working for Ballmer (quite indirectly: I’m a fair number of degrees of separation below him on the org chart) for the past twenty months. I can say with complete certainty that out of all the jobs I’ve held – from the job right out of school building multimedia CD-ROMs in Director to working with Cory Doctorow in his dot-com’s evangelism office in San Francisco at the height of The Bubble to various coding jobs from my own consulting shop to Toronto’s worst-run startup to that very brief stint as a go-go dancer at a nightclubmy current gig as Developer Evangelist for The Empire has been my all-time favourite of the bunch. I get to do two things I absolutely love – working with technology and schmoozing with people – and with a fair bit of autonomy: in the setting of my choice, with a set of priorities that I negotiate. I also get to work with some of the brightest and most passionate people I’ve ever met, both inside and outside the company, and it doesn’t hurt that the pay’s quite nice (although, as Dan ink will tell you, money isn’t the primary motivator in this line of work).

Joey deVilla playing accordion in front of the RailsConf logoPlaying accordion onstage at RailsConf 2007.

Until 2008, I’d worked mostly for small companies, many of whom you could fit into a minivan. I might not have considered working for Microsoft, or any large corporation for that matter, had it not been for a little moment that I internally refer to as “The Abercrombie Epiphany”. And oddly enough, it happened at RailsConf 2007, a conference devoted to DHH’s creation Ruby on Rails, where I played an ode to DHH onstage with Chad Fowler at the start of the evening keynote (that’s what’s pictured above, and there’s even a video of the song).

The second day’s opening keynote was about Ruby, Rails and the enterprise, and the crowd was not impressed. A good chunk of the IRC backchannel chatter was devoted to saying “enough with the enterprise already…who cares?” I distinctly remember someone referring to one of the presenters as “trying to be the Rachael Ray of enterprise computing”. The guy leaning against the wall behind me (I’d arrived late, having taken part in the previous night’s bacchanalia) in an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt started putting on a hoodie with the letters “A & F” on it and packing up his laptop. “Who uses this stuff, anyway?” he said to me as he picked up his Starbucks cup and walked towards the door. “I’m going back to the Marriott.”

It was probably the fact that he was wearing all that Abercrombie & Fitch – the company vaguely annoys me – that got me thinking about his question, “who uses this stuff anyway?” It turns out he did: he’d flown to Portland, stayed at a chain hotel, used a laptop and conference wifi, drank coffee from the shop with a branch in every mall and seemingly on every corner and bought clothes from a century-old retailer – and the cycles that enabled all that didn’t run two-week-marathon-written code living on 10-dollar hosting, but invisibly and everywhere on systems he didn’t think anyone used.

I wouldn’t give the incident any thought until just over a year later.

An office chair, a computer and some boxes lined up against an interior brick wallPacking up my stuff after getting laid off from b5media, September 2008.

What got me thinking about that little Abercrombie & Fitch experience was my getting laid off from b5media during the econopocalypse of summer 2008. I’d been interviewing with a number of companies, all of them small, and blogging the experience as a means of amplifying my job search efforts.

While working on a blog entry, I got an IM from Adam Carter, a tech evangelist at Microsoft. It went exactly like this:

Ever thought about working for The Empire?

(Yes, he referred to Microsoft as “The Empire”.)

Every culture has certain tendencies, and the “I build on Mac OS and deploy to Linux” culture of which I was part led me to instinctively dismiss the idea at first blush. Ridiculous, I thought, and besides, why would they hire me? I haven’t coded any .NET since those trivia games for MAXIM in 2002.

(Yes, I really did that, in an office across the street from the downtown Toronto Hooters. It was like working inside a beer commercial.)

But when my friends John Bristowe (who I’d have voted “most likely to work for Microsoft”) and David Crow (who I’d have voted “most likely to take a dump on Microsoft’s front door”) were making suggestions within the company that they hire me, I had to give Adam’s out-of-the-blue IM a little more thought. And in that thinking, I was reminded of the Abercrombie incident.

Archimedes moving the world with his lever

Many people would (and did) see working at Microsoft as “the safe move”, but to a guy from the culture of DHH, who’s always worked in all small companies and one medium-sized one and hadn’t used their development tools in over six years, it’s the scary one. When word got around that I was interviewing at Microsoft, I heard a small chorus of voices – one of them that nagging voice of doubt – saying the same thing: “You couldn’t pay me to work for Ballmer”.

But I took the job, anyway. It offered the most challenges, the greatest learning opportunities, a journey to places well outside my comfort zone, and I hadn’t done anything like it before. It was a window into a world I’d only seen from the outside, toward which I’d only made snarky comments from the peanut gallery. It offered me the lever that Archimedes talked about – one big enough to move the world – and a chance to see this computing the Abercrombie guy thought no one used.

(It even gave me the perfect excuse to pull out the Jean Cocteau quote at parties, when explaining my change in career direction: “Since it’s now fashionable to laugh at the conservative French Academy, I have remained a rebel by joining it.")

HacklabTO work table with my laptop plugged into a monitor, mouse, "Coding4Fun" book and can of Diet CokeYesterday’s work enviroment – my setup at HacklabTO.

What is working for Ballmer like? I can’t speak for all of Microsoft’s 90,000 employees, but this Developer Evangelist job is pretty sweet. I’m classified as a mobile worker, which means no cubicle – I’m either working out of the home office, a select bunch of work-friendly cafes, or quite often at HacklabTO, the “hackerspace” in Toronto’s colourful Kensington Market where I’m a member with 24/7 access. Every day’s work environment is different (the picture above shows yesterday’s, at the Hacklab), and this constant flux keeps me going.

I get to noodle with all sorts of interesting tech, from dev tools to cloud computing to game consoles to phones, and I have a hardware guy stocking me with the latest gear. I get to shape the content of a cross-Canada conference that thousands of professional developers across Canada, whose work makes your money move, your electricity flow and your favourite retail stores stay stocked. I get to participate in all sorts of fun stuff, from holding a pre-conference in a train car to having a little fun with Richard Stallman. I get to inspire students as they start their search for jobs in a shaky economy. I get to concentrate in the web, mobile, and open source — fields where the company’s traditional strengths aren’t.

Simply put, I get my shot at changing the world. That’s what DHH is also trying to do – he’s just working it from a different angle. If you want to do that as well, I’m sure you’ll find your own angle, whether it’s homesteading in your own indie software company working out of a cafe to doing it as a part of a Fortune 500 company. DHH is DHH, and you are you, and while he could never work for Ballmer, you might like it like I do, and that’s okay. After all, that’s why the saying goes “Do not follow in the footsteps of the masters; seek what they sought instead.”

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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Microsoft’s Open Source Party in Montreal

by Joey deVilla on December 7, 2009

Here’s a little hint: if you ever get an invitation to a Microsoft party from High Road Communications – they’re Microsoft Canada’s PR firm – accept it. They’re always in great places, have great tapas and drinks and they always invite interesting people. You’re guaranteed to have fun, and that guarantee is doubled if I’m there.

The W’s “Extreme Wow” Suite

On Thursday, right after the end of Day 2 of TechDays Montreal, my fellow developer evangelist Christian Beauclair and I made our way from Centre Mont-Royal (the TechDays Montreal venue) to the W Hotel. That’s where we were holding a little party to which we invited a number of local open source developers, some of who were at the previous night’s Career Demo Camp Montreal.

w hotel montreal

Montreal’s W hotel is a building that has undergone a radical personality change. It used to be the Banque du Canada building, the home of one of our federal government’s most stuffy, buttoned-down organizations. W hotels tend to be the exact opposite: everything about them suggests that they were designed by people who usually design nightclubs, what with DJ booths in their lobbies, electronica and funk music piped into every nook and cranny, dimly-lit hallways with lighting straight out of Blade Runner and other little touches that make it seem as if you’ve somehow managed to get into one of those secret clubs in New York City’s Meat Packing District. Simply put, it’s a pretty good place to hold a swanky cocktail party,

Christian and I followed the directions to the “Extreme Wow” suite that High Road had booked for the party. Here’s what we saw when we entered the room:

01 empty suite 1

The suite was located on the top floor of the W. It was one large room with a 20 foot-high ceiling and an equally high set of windows revealing a balcony looking out onto Square Victoria and a good chunk of Montreal’s skyline. I had a sense of deja vu and soon realized that the place reminded me a little bit of Tony Prince’s swanky condo in the videogame The Ballad of Gay Tony, minus the mobsters to whom Tony owed money and wanted him dead.

02 empty suite 2

Near the back of the suite was the bathroom, which in the spirit of open source, was itself open concept and had nothing to hide. Rather than being tucked into a separate room, the shower, tub and sinks were poised on a split level four or five steps above the rest of the room, with the shower stall being a glass-and-brick enclosure in the middle of it all, looking like the monolith from 2001. The tub was recessed into the floor beside it and covered with a sheet of plywood for the party, either in order to prevent people from falling into it or to prevent me from attempting to start a party hot tub:

03 shower

(Thankfully, the toilet had its own separate “water closet” room, just off to the side.)

The room had been rearranged to better suite a party than overnight guests. The bed had been removed and replaced with a hybrid couch/chaise lounge:

04 shower and chaise

Just about everything in the room could be commanded via the master remote control, which Christian found. It controlled lights, the TV, sound system and even the curtains and skylight blinds (which could be opened and closed via remote-controlled servos):

05 christian and remote

Here’s a view of Square Victoria from the balcony:

06 view from balcony

Christian also found a table centrepiece that reminded him of an M.C. Escher image that I had used in my slide presentation at Career Demo Camp Montreal:

07a christian

For reference, here’s that M.C. Escher piece:

07b escher

Having checked out the place and taken my first set of photos, I did what I always do in such a setting: I got got a drink from the bar and made myself comfortable.

The Presentations

It wasn’t just cocktails and conversations at the party. We had some presentations as well, starting with Nik Garkusha, part of Microsoft Canada’s Open Source Strategy team. He talked about how Microsoft views open source, as well as the work we’re doing in order to make Microsoft and open source work better together.

I split his presentation into two videos. Here’s the first…

…and here’s the second:

Brendan “Digibomb” Sera-Shriar, developer with Optimal Payments, WordPress evangelist, founder of PHP Toronto and WordCamp Toronto and organizer of WordCamp Montreal, talked about his experience working with The Empire: “They’re actually doing open source!”, his use of Windows and the Windows Platform Installer and how open source and Windows can work together:

Yann Larrivee, developer, founder of PHP Quebec, FooLab and the upcoming ConFoo conference, spoke next. He talked about how he enjoyed Make Web Not War 2009, the importance of “playing well with others” both inside and outside the world of open source and how Microsoft is participating in ConFoo:

Marc Laporte, developer of TikiWiki, and among other things, talked about PHP running under IIS. It’s in French, and if anyone would like to give me a hand translating, I would appreciate it greatly!

The Party

As nice as the photos of the suite above are, the place looks far better when it’s filled with guests:

08 full suite 1

09 full suite 2

10 full suite 3

11 full suite 4

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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Career Demo Camp Montreal

by Joey deVilla on December 5, 2009

career demo camp montreal

On Wednesday, a mere hour or so after the end of Day 1 of TechDays Montreal, came Career Demo Camp Montreal, a community event that combined presentations on job-hunting and career-building with demos of projects by Montreal-area developers.

What’s With All These “Demo” and “Camp” Events and Techdays?

techdays canada For this year’s edition of TechDays, we decided to try something new. TechDays is a two-day cross-Canada conference taking place in seven cities – Vancouver, Toronto, Halifax, Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg – and all the conference events take place during the day. There are no events scheduled for after 5 p.m., which means that on the evening of Day 1, the venues are ours – and unused. Since they’re already set up for presentations and it costs relatively nothing to hire an A/V tech for a few extra hours, we decided to make our venues open to local developer community events. We even lent a hand in helping put the events together.

This year, we opened our space to four such community events:

The Career Portion

People started milling in at around 6:00 p.m.:

02 audience

The evening began with Alex Kovalenko, Director of Operations at the tech recruiting company Kovasys. His presentation was all about what smart job hunters do, how to write a good tech resume, and the elements of a successful tech interview.

01 alex kovalenko

Alex was joined by a couple of his coworkers at Kovasys for the Q&A session, which included the question “What kind of salary can a PHP developer command in Montreal and Toronto? If I recall correctly, their answer what that in Montreal, they’ve seen a range of CDN$55k for starters to CDN $90k for leads. Salaries are 15% higher in Toronto, but with that comes a commensurate increase in the cost of living.

03 kovasys

Next came my presentation, Better Living Through Blogging, in which I talked about how having a blog has improved my life in a number of way, not the least of which was to help land me the last four of my jobs.

04 yann and joey

Blogs, I argued, were probably the most effective way for you to have control of your online identity and therefore to put your best foot forward to potential employers and customers. Among that stats and opinions I cited in the presentation were:

  • 77% of recruiters surveyed by ExecuNet said that they use search engines to check out job candidates.
  • According to CareerBuilder.com, 1 in 4 hiring managers say that they use search engines to research potential employees.
  • SearchEngineWatch.com reports that there may have been up to 50 million proper-name searches in 2006.
  • Tim Bray, Director of Web Technologies at Sun: “If someone came looking for a senior-level job and had left no mark on the Internet, I’d see that as a big negative.”

goku and vegeta

That was followed by a quick presentation by my coworker at Microsoft, Open Source Strategy guy Arun Kirupananthan, who used Dragon Ball Z as a metaphor for Microsoft (as Vegeta) and Open Source (as Goku) and how they can work together and talked about the Make Web Not War conference, which will take place in Montreal in May 2010.

The Demo Portion

The first demo was by Brendan “DigiBomb” Sera-Shriar, who presented WPTouch.

05 brendan 01

“With a single click,” he said, “WPTouch transforms your WordPress blog into an iPhone application-style theme, complete with Ajax-based article loading and effects when viewed from an iPhone, iPod Touch, Android or Blackberry.”

06 brendan 02

Next up: Patrick Lafontaine, MySQL developer and DBA:

07 christian and patrick

His presentation was on how to back up your MySQL databases effectively and for free-as-in-beer.

(I have to give Christian Beauclair kudos for volunteering to be his mic stand. It’s not easy holding a mic in a single position for ten minutes!)

08 patrick

Then came Sylvain Carle of Praized:

09 sylvain 1

Sylvain talked about the Praized API, which lets you harness their “white label” local search platform fro finding people and services in your local community.

10 sylvain 2

After Sylvain came Marc Laporte demoing TikiWiki, a Full-featured open source multilingual all-in-one wiki with content management and groupware features, written in PHP. It’s our plan to make TikiWiki one of the apps included in Microsoft’s Web Platform Installer:

11 marc

Bruno of DokDok did the next demo. DokDok is a way to share, track and version files of any size, and it’s done using an interface that everyone understands: email.

12 bruno

Then came Marc-André Cournoyer and Gary Haran of Talker. I liked the Ruby pseudocode that they displayed on the big screen:

13 talker

Talker is a group chat application that is particularly good for collaborative work. I may have to give it a try soon.

14 marc-andre and gary 1

Testatoo – I think it’s a pun on “tests à tout”, or “tests for everything” – was the next presentation, which was given by David Avenante.

16 david

Here’s a closer look at Testatoo in action:

17 testatoo

The final demo was Pierre-Luc Beaudoin’s L’Agenda du Libre du Quebec:

18 pierre-luc

L’Agenda du Libre is an online calendar of Free Software events in Quebec and was implemented in Django in under 30 hours:

19 agenda du libre

The Aftermath

stewie griffin

This was the first DemoCamp-style event where the presentations were some presentations were done in English while others were done in French. I felt like a Family Guy character listening to Stewie Griffin during the French presentations: I got the general gist, but missed out on the subtleties. Guess I’m going to have to work on my French!

With the demos done, all that was left to do was to award an XBox 360 Arcade to the presentation that the audience liked most, based on their applause. Marc-Andre and Gary of Talker won, and in a very generous move, decided to donate it to the Salvation Army so that some kids who’d otherwise never get the chance would get a video game console this Christmas. Nicely done, gentlemen!

No DemoCamp-style event is complete without a trip to the pub afterwards, so about 35 of us moseyed down to the 3 Brasseurs on Avenue McGill College and St-Catherine, where Microsoft bought the first round of pitchers.

21 3 brasseurs 2

A few brave souls, Arun and I kept the party going at Benelux where we continued to chat and drink until 2 in the morning, after which I had to scurry back to the hotel in order to get some shut-eye for Day 2 of TechDays Montreal.

I’d like to thank the following people for Career Demo Camp Montreal a success:

  • All the presenters, for putting in the time and giving great presentations. It’s not possible without you!
  • Jean-Luc San Cartier and Yann Larrivee for helping us put it together on the Montreal community end.
  • Christian Beauclair for his invaluable assistance with the A/V setup.
  • Matthew the TelAV A/V guy for his work and for staying late.
  • TechDays head honcho Damir Bersinic for giving me the latitude to use TechDays’ space for community events.
  • Microsoft’s Open Source Strategy team of Nik Garkusha and Arun Kirupananthan for helping to put this thing together on the Microsoft end.

(By the way, if you’ve got an open source project and are wondering what Microsoft can do for you, you’d do well to get in touch with Nik and Arun, shown below!)

20 3 brasseurs 1

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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Slice of Life: Me and Steve B.

by Joey deVilla on October 22, 2009

I bought a fuzzy “Cat in the Hat”-style raver hat with a Canadian flag pattern on a whim earlier this year, thinking that I’d probably find a pretty good use for it some day. That day, it turns out, was yesterday, where I turned it into what I believe was yesterday’s only Steve Ballmer photo-op with a non-management Microsoft Canada employee:

Joey deVilla and Steve Ballmer, wearing Joey's Canadian flag raver hatPhoto by Barnaby Jeans.

Yesterday was a busy day at the Harbour Castle Convention Centre, where we had an all-day Steve Ballmer-rama. In the morning, Steve keynoted an event showcasing Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Exchange Server 2010 for the media, key customers and partners. This was followed by an employees-only “town hall” where Steve did a short presentation followed by a Q&A session. On a whim similar to the one that led me to buy it, I took the hat (along with the accordion) along with me.

Following a suggestion from my co-worker Damir, I arrived very early for the town hall, grabbed a seat by the stage and donned the hat. When Steve made his appearance, he did so in classic Ballmer style, running and whooping, high-fiving people as he made his way to the stage. As soon as he saw me, he yelled “Hey!”, put the hat on and posed with me for the photo above.

I’d made a decent splash at Microsoft in my first year, and I’d been wondering if I could match it in my second, which began on Monday. This isn’t a bad start.

This article also appears in Global Nerdy.

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One Year at Microsoft

by Joey deVilla on October 20, 2009

I knew that I might be a little too busy to write an anniversary blog post with my work schedule this week. That’s why I wrote that article last month to mark having worked at Microsoft for 11 months. My schedule was a little less hectic then. Go and read the article if you like – everything that I wrote then still applies today, with the notable exception of a month’s time having passed.

Having said that, I still like celebrating milestones, so I thought I’d mark this day with a quick photo-collage featuring Yours Truly on the job:

one year at microsoft

As I wrote earlier: “It’s been great so far. I’m going to stick around for a little while.”

This article also appears in Global Nerdy.

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