Boston Azure Firestarter a Success!
We had 60-something folks attend the Boston Azure Firestarter (more photos) on May 8, 2010 in Cambridge, MA. This event provided both talks about important Azure concepts and hands-on-roll-up-your-sleeves-and-write-some-code Labs. Yes, attendees brought laptops! Feedback was positive. Many thanks to all the folks who helped make this event possible. This was a Boston Azure cloud computing user group event, supported by and hosted at Microsoft.
Those who helped prepare for the event, work the sign-in desk, help with technical problems, and handle the pair-programmer matching service included Nazik Huq, Chander Khanna, Joan Linskey, and Maura Wilder. Jim O’Neil and Chris Bowen (our East Coast Microsoft Developer Evangelists) were also on hand for trouble-shooting and general support and help.
Here was our speaker lineup:
- David Aiken from Microsoft’s Windows Azure team came from the left-coast in Redmond to the right-coast in Boston to keynote the event. David gave many demos, a couple of which were My Azure Storage and his new URL shortening service hmbl.me.
David’s keynote was followed by:
- Bill Wilder: Roles and Queues talk + lab (http://hmbl.me/1OHBMZ)
- Ben Day: Azure Storage + lab
- Andy Novick: SQL Azure + lab (http://hmbl.me/1H46PK)
- Jim O’Neil: Dallas and OData (http://hmbl.me/1OHC5W)
- Panel Q&A (in the order shown in photo below): Mark Eisenberg (Microsoft), Bill Wilder, Ben Day, Jason Haley, and Jim O’Neil
After hours, a smaller group unwound at the sports bar over at the Marriott. This included Jim O’Neil, Maura Wilder, Joan Linskey, Bill Wilder, Sri from New Jersey, (okay, other names are vague!) …
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I am sorry to be a realist, but I’d like to point some negative, and some positive things about the Azure boot camp. Please do not take any of it personally as it is strictly an account of a personal experience.
The night before I attended the boot camp, I had prepped my machine according to the instructions supplied in the blog. Brought a machine /w Windows Server 2008R2, SQL Svr 2008 (Developer ed), VS2008 (Pro), & VS2010 (Pro), + all Azure tools to the boot camp.
I left my home at 4 in the morning and drove for 5 hours to get to the specified location. Upon arrival, i realized that there was no parking like most traditional Microsoft events. My team and I had to each find a parking space on the street, which took us overall up to 40 minutes in the unfamiliar city of Cambridge. On a side note, it would’ve been nice to know in the event posting that there was no parking, and people need to show up about half hour in advance to find a place to park their cars. My team and I made it to the location about 1 hour late. We were just in time for the labs and the q&a session.
When the labs began, I started getting an error, stating that the azure tools/app fabric was looking for SQL Express installation (even though I had a SQL Server Dev installation). Upon talking to some of the ‘helpers’ they informed me that I had to install SQL Express. With their encouragement I took the time (30 mins or so /w updates due to incompatibilities /w WS2008R2) to do so. In the process I missed the first lab. Halfway through the second lab one of the Microsoft MVP’s came and fixed everything with just a single command line entry.(Thank you Jim).
Last but not least, I want to touch base on the handouts. They were so ambiguous that upon working on them by myself after the boot camp, (since i missed the labs due to technical errors) I got lost multiple times. I think from a developer stand point, the person who compiled them was very familiar with the technology. However ‘teaching’ it through handouts was not exactly their ‘greatest’ strength 😦
On the bright side, I did get to learn a lot of concepts behind Azure. The info sessions were quite informative, and filled in many gaps in my understanding of the technical and financial aspects of the platform. I am sold on the technology, however I can’t wait till my freshly ordered books arrive to start experimenting more with it.
Thank you all for the effort! I think next time I’ll be leaving 1 hour earlier than normal if i want to attend, and also thoroughly research everything prior to arriving to the event.
@bleepzter – Thanks for taking the time to provide such detailed feedback.
As someone who attends many of these events, I also find it frustrating when information is not clearly available in advance. (Pet peeves of mine are around parking and whether food will be served.) I can completely relate; not knowing where to park can be annoying in the extreme. I took a look at the Eventbrite sign-up page and all it says is “free on-street parking will likely be available” – the “likely” modifier included since we can’t be sure whether other events or activities will make it hard to find free spots – so in light of your comments, I see how the parking instructions could have been WAY more helpful generally (for starters, by including WHERE to look for these “likely” available free parking spots!). This will be addressed for future events.
Also, there was parking available in the NERD building itself (that’s where I parked), but due to construction that was going on that day on the NERD property, that was probably
hardimpossible to figure out. I had sent out an email alert on Friday explaining how to get into the NERD parking area by driving in the exit (given the construction), but I assume nobody on your team received the email. (I am not sure who you are, but given the distance you drove, I can guess – you and your team may have been invited by one of our friendly hosts, and while I was definitely looped in on that, thinking back now I am not certain I ever fully got you incorporated into the Eventbrite registration, so perhaps nobody on your team got the email blast with the parking instructions – and I didn’t think to additionally send a copy of it to you directly – a costly oversight for you, as I can now see.)
Then once you did get there, you got right into catching-up mode again. I don’t know why you got an error from the AppFabric demanding SQL Express or what the issue was – the version of SQL you had installed ought to have worked fine – but thankfully Jim (using advanced Wizardry!) was able to diagnose it and fix it rapidly – though not until you were 30 minutes behind on the lab after the false start with loading up SQL Express. Ouch.
By the way, the organizers did not take machine configuration challenges lightly. We did realize that there was a certain amount of risk in asking attendees to show up with machines already configured and went through some steps to minimize issues: (a) we allotted time at the March and April Boston Azure User Group meetings where machine configuration help was available (this also helped vet the configuration instructions provided in the blog post you refer to; ultimately dozens of people went through the steps, though we could not cover all configuration combinations); (b) we allotted 8:00 – 9:00AM on the day of the event for last minute fixups; and (c) we offered pair programming as an alternative for anyone who either did not have their own gear or had configuration problems (in advance of the event we offered to help pair up those without working machines with other attendees who did have working machines, and I believe we were 100% successful at finding pairs for those who asked). So it is not like we didn’t try, though (a) didn’t help you since you were 5 hours away, (b) didn’t help you because you were driving around an unfamiliar city on a Saturday trying to find legal, all-day parking, and (c) didn’t help you since you probably didn’t get the emails offering pair programming and definitely missed the additional announcements at the beginning of the day around pairing (since you were trying to park).
I assume the lab that you tried after the event was the Roles & Queues lab. And, for sure, the Roles & Queues lab material was not ideal for use stand-alone – it was intended to be used on-site during the event by those who’d just seen the talk and had me on hand to answer questions – so fair point. I am the author of this lab and the accompanying talk. If I can answer specific questions offline, please feel free to drop me a note.
Finally, I am glad there was also a bright side for you. There was a lot to be learned, and it is good to hear the event helped fill many of the gaps in your understanding. And next time you attend such an event in Boston, I surely hope you do not need to leave still another hour earlier (that’s no fun); instead, I hope you simply find parking info where you expect to see it, and have no further worries. Or drop me a line, and come up the night before – you can crash on my couch – and I will personally show you where to park for free at my house. 🙂