My Week at //build/ Part 3

January 17, 2012

Conferences, Nerd, Parent, Passion, Programming, Xaml

My apologies for this long-overdue wrap-up, but last quarter became really crazy. Not only did we move the family, but we got the very sad news that my father-in-law was in a fatal car accident & have been dealing with his affairs.

Because a picture says a thousand words, I’ve posted my pictures from //build/ to an album on my SkyDrive

As you can see from the pictures, I met amazing people from the tech community: Thought leaders; People I knew from Twitter; Podcasters; Speakers… so many passionate people who love what they do.

For me, //build/ was truly an experience & opportunity of a lifetime, and words cannot express how grateful I am that I was able to attend. I sincerely hope I never lose this feeling of awe & appreciation for events like this.

The rest of this entry is much less technically oriented & much more personal & (self-)exposing, so please feel free to just look at the photo album & quit reading here if soul-searching doesn’t interest you =)

Here go some more admissions / learnings / observations. Let me reiterate: If weaknesses make you lose respect for someone, please tune out now. There are plenty of blogs that are 100% professional, with only “safe” personality embellishments out there. For now, this isn’t necessarily going to be one of them.

Personal Learnings from my Experience at //build/

The fact that this blog is my own is both a blessing and a curse.

It’s a blessing because speaking only for myself enables me to be (too) candid about my journey.

It’s a curse because I am WAY too honest & public about how much growing up I have to to. I am very much a, “what you see is what you get” kind of person. As someone who’s been happily employed at the same place since October of 2000, not speaking for my employer & not seeking employment enables me to say things I might be advised not to, if I were trying to “brand” myself (isn’t that what the kids are calling it these days?).

Being a Working Mom (with a lot to learn) is HARD

Spontaneity FTL

Because I had asked for the time off for //build/ on such short notice, I booked the latest Monday night flight from DFW to SNA (6PM) so I could work that Monday (& only take 4 days off).

After I had booked my travel plans, a pre-conference workshop was scheduled for Monday, Sept. 12, led by Billy Hollis, whose Dot Net Rocks video was what sparked my interest in WPF.

Afraid the precon would sell out, I bought a ticket, hoping I might be able to catch a flight the night before.

Although I had mentioned the possibility of trying to fly out the night before to my husband, I hadn’t set that expectation well enough. I wasn’t going to attempt it if I wasn’t 100% sure I had done everything in my power to get my work project complete & ready for launch before I left.

After working all day Sunday, then packing as fast as I could, I ran downstairs with my suitcase & told my husband that I was ready.

To say my family was not happy about me trying to fly out a day early is an understatement.

My kids cried the entire way as my husband unhappily drove me to the airport.

I got out of the car, walked toward the check-in, and chickened out. I got scared of flying on 9-11 and afraid I wouldn’t have a car or a hotel room, but more importantly, I couldn’t leave my family so upset.

My 8yo broke out in hives that night. They lasted through Thursday, btw, causing her to miss school & causing daddy to stay home with her & take her to the doctor.

Oh yes, the joys of mommy guilt.

(My family handled my departure the next day much better, as they had been prepared for that).

Your Reputation Precedes You

At the //Build/ conference, I met many, many, many amazing people. Since the conference was in Anaheim, it seems appropriate to compare my reaction to meeting them to the look in a child’s eyes when experiencing Disneyland for the first time.

There was one person at the conference whom I was terrified to meet. This person was Mary Jo Foley.

I feel quite silly for that now, but nevertheless, I’d like to explain where my fear came from.

For a while before PDC 2010, I had been trying to learn XAML-based technologies (WPF & Silverlight) on my own time (nights & weekends), and attended multiple user groups for it (North Texas Silverlight, Dallas XAML, and a smaller group for Expression Blend).

My perception of the “Silverlight Is Dead” firestorm that happened during PDC10, resulting in Bob Muglia no longer working for Microsoft after he had been there for 23 years, is that it was a result of the power of Mary Jo Foley’s written word.

The negative effects I personally saw & experienced from that article were astronomical.

The number of attendees at the XAML-based user group meetings dropped tremendously. The frequency our Blend group met lessened. That firestorm made everyone who had invested in learning XAML insecure & afraid to continue on that path, including me.

An even bigger negative effect that firestorm caused was the damage it did in the minds of the upper-level executives I work with. The “Silverlight is dead” message pretty much cemented Flash in their hearts & minds. Trying to convince them that anything XAML-based, now, frustratingly goes something like this:
“XAML? You mean like Silverlight? Silverlight is DEAD.”
“But I am writing a desktop app, not a web app.”
“Silverlight is dead.”

Even the week of //build/ in her ”Microsoft to developers: Metro is your future” summary, she wrote, “Silverlight and .Net are not dead (yet).”

…Yet? Silverlight aside, why would she want to allude that .NET is dead?

I don’t understand why someone who is such a great journalist, seems to put a negative spin on Microsoft futures. Negativity scares me, so the thought of meeting her scared me.

My point is, I don’t know her. I know OF her, but because of the effect (losing jobs, losing interest, losing HOPE) that single article had on so many developers I knew personally, I realized I had vilified her in my mind as a result.

I briefly met her on the Thursday of //build/. She was very kind, and many who know her verified that she’s an incredibly nice person.

I apologize for the persona I built up in my head. Admittedly, it was ridiculous, but that is where it came from.

I’ve listened to quite a few podcasts with her speaking on them since meeting her, and she is unbelievably knowledgeable, well-spoken, confident, and bold. The saddest part of all this, to me, is that I hadn’t heard of her before that firestorm.

Kindred Spirits & Questioning My Social Crutch

I’ve always felt socially-challenged. I just don’t click with many people, day-to-day. I often find myself thinking how much better my time could be spent if I were doing something productive instead of talking about the weather or making small talk (no developer pun intended).

During //build/, I felt shockingly comfortable with people I had never met before, even able to have incredibly in-depth conversations right off the bat, like I’d known them for years. The more developers I meet, the more I’m excited to meet. Somehow, even discussing the weather with fellow devs is interesting (probably because it’s usually referencing how to code a weather app, but that’s beside the point). The only way I can describe it is that it felt like I was completely surrounded by this world I’ve only dreamt of, a world of kindred spirits.

During my last night there, I saw SmashMouth play at a crazy, fantastic party at the House of Blues, put on by DevExpress. When I arrived, I got a margarita & took a seat in the balcony. In my mind, I drank one margarita. What I realized when I got up to leave a few hours later was, that margarita had magically become bottomless (great & stealth service at the House of Blues).

Interestingly, that night became my only regret from the conference because I missed out on so many great conversations I could have had if I hadn’t gone to my hotel room to drink Gatorade before the next day of sessions.  For the first time ever, I truly wondered why I drank (especially when I felt so comfortable).

But here’s the interesting realization I had.

The weekend after I got back, I went to what any normal person would call the best night ever. My husband & I were picked up in a limo for a friend’s 40th birthday. We then went to dinner & dancing & didn’t have to worry about having a designated driver.

During dinner, everyone was talking about material things like what if means if you live on the East side of a local road or the West side. I just sat there feeling out of place & like an outsider, longing for someone to talk tech to, so I started asking people what they do for a living. Most groaned and said what they did briefly but didn’t want to talk about work. Then someone told me he used to work at Texas Instruments, up the street from my work, as an Oracle dev. My eyes lit up. It was like a drink of ice water in this oasis of profession non-passion. I had someone to talk to! But alas, he quickly cut me off with, “oh, I quit to become a house husband 6 years ago.” To be clear, I am not saying there is anything wrong with that. I merely want to share my reaction: “Bartender!”

Holy cow. Do I drink so I find non-technical conversations more interesting?

Wow, So Much Anger for… The Disney Channel?

During the DevExpress party mentioned above, I was approached by someone who told me he read my blog & felt the same way about his daughters watching the Disney Channel. I completely went off about it. I didn’t realize I had so much frustration with so few good, strong female role models, and with the level of Diva, flirting, teasing & sassy attitude those shows teach our kids, and I don’t think I shut up about it for the next 20 minutes. Oh, then I learned that the person I was talking to didn’t drink, which meant I went off in a non-sober rant to someone who had all his wits about him. Oh joy.

The funny thing is, all I thought about until I got home from my flight the next day (other than how much I wish I hadn’t wasted that night’s opportunity for more of the awesome developer discussions) was wondering where that outburst came from.

Then I got home. The TV was on the Disney channel when I turned it on, and this was literally the first thing I saw upon my return (I paused it, got my flip, and taped it, hoping that it could help the person I was talking to the night before possibly understand what about it made me so crazy. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure:

This is how TV is teaching our kids to behave?

Seeing this reinforced, to me, what made me react like I did (but I still feel quite apologetic for the poor soul who got an earful). I’ve also changed TV-watching rules at the house (yes I am now that mom that says TV can rot your brain – I hated when my mom said that!).

Why Put Myself Out There Like This?

So yes, I’ve said a few things I would probably be advised not to say, but I’m human. I try my best to learn from things and move on (I now have a strict “no tequila at conferences” policy, as a matter of fact – ha).

The reason I risk feeling this vulnerable with what I share stems from the response I got from my original blog post. It was surprisingly rewarding on many levels.

Not only have I had great conversations with many people about how it resonated with them, but it also exposed a shocking amount of supporters who have offered mentorship, words of encouragement and friendship.

But more than that, writing about my fears & weaknesses freed me to explore what had been replaying over & over in my head and actually let those repeat thoughts go. It has also helped me take a better look at what my fears are and why, and helped me figure out how to address them.

For example, public speaking is something I was able to avoid for 10 years. Preparing for a talk is hard & time-consuming. The fear of equipment failure is terrifying. The thought of being judged is paralyzing. Within THREE months of that post, I faced my biggest fear & did a presentation of NuGet at work. Think about that. I’d say that made this forum a pretty powerful catalyst for me to make myself accountable, so let’s keep going, shall we?

If I say something that makes me too vulnerable, I can always “go dark,” no?

One Comment on “My Week at //build/ Part 3”

  1. E. Ateş Güral Says:

    Sorry for you father, Cori I hope he is ok.And great post, thank you for the pictures also.
    I hope you don’t mind me asking about the “Silverlight is dead” part, what do you really think about it? As much as I know Microsoft is going for HTML5 more than Silverlight, now. As Mary-Jo’s article(not that I want to remind your bad memories) “Microsoft: Our strategy with Silverlight has shifted”, I believe it is not dead but lost some blood.I’d really like to know a professional’s idea about this subject.


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