More Free Education

In my last post I mentioned getting a free education, with no extra time. If you are willing to invest just a little time, there are even more educational opportunities out there in the form of user groups and code camps.

A user group is a gathering of geeks, typically focused on a particular aspect of development. These are clubs that meet on a regular basis, usually one evening a month. Each meeting someone presents a technical subject of some sort that is of interest to the group. These are great places to network, find out what other developers in your area are doing, and get feedback or help on things you are working on. Most user groups are free, or at most charge a very small fee to join the club.

Code Camps are a little different. They are larger gatherings that are held on a weekend, usually all day Saturday. Local experts deliver sessions on a variety of topics. Most are free, a few may charge a small fee to help defray costs but it’s still a bargain for the education you get.

So how do you find user groups or code camps in your area? Google! Or whatever your favorite search engine is. Just enter the name of your town followed by user group and if you live in even a moderately sized community you’ll find a wide array of groups to join.

If you are lucky enough to be in the Birmingham, Alabama area here is a list of code camps / user groups in my area that I am personally affiliated with.

BarCamp – – Coming up August 25th and 26th, this is a code camp where the attendees have a lot of say over the presentations. (If you’re not in Birmingham be sure to check the main site as there are BarCamps across the country).

Birmingham Software Developers Association – – A group of developers that meet to focus on primarily Microsoft .Net but do cover other topics. I’ll be presenting at the November meeting on Developer Tools.

Birmingham .Net User Group (BUG.NET) – – This is a large group that focuses exclusively on .Net related topics.

Internet Professional Society of Alabama (IPSA) – – User group that discusses all aspects of internet development. Does cover .Net, but not exclusively.

Magic City Technology Council – – This group is a nice departure from most in that it focuses on methodologies more than nitty gritty code techniques. Recent sessions have covered Extreme Programming and Project Management, to name a few topics.

Note the list above is far from comprehensive. Birmingham had over 30 user groups in the area last I checked, the groups I listed above are the ones I am a member of. A quick Google will find many more.

Getting involved in a user group is the quickest, most inexpensive way to get a good technical education, and at the same time keep the magic of coding alive!

Free Education with No Extra Time

Every developer has the need to constantly improve his or her skills. But where do you find the time? I have a wife and kids, am a member of seven different organizations, and have a demanding job. But I have found a method that’s both free and costs me no extra time: Podcasts. Let’s talk about the who, what, when where, and why of podcasts (although not necessarily in that order).

For those of you who don’t know what a podcast is, it’s similar to a talk radio show only placed on the internet. Some shows stream their feeds live, but virtually all place their files on a webpage so that you can download it later. Most are MP3, but there are a few other formats as well, such as WAV.

These shows are target to a specific audience, and there is a nice selection out there for the developer. So how do you listen to a podcast? Well, you can download and listen on your computer. As you might expect, the term “Podcast” takes it’s name from the Apple iPod, and you can listen on an iPod or any MP3 player. I personally have an HP iPaq, a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). In addition to keeping up with my appointments, it will also play MP3’s. I like it because I don’t have to carry an extra device around, and because it has a tiny speaker built in, so I don’t have to use earphones if it’s not convenient.

That covers the what and how, now the when. I listen when I am doing manual tasks. Driving back and forth to work I use a car charger and stereo adapter to hook my iPaq to my car stereo. When I cut the grass I use ear buds under a set of hearing protectors. I also use my ear buds when doing chores around the house, even when shopping! Nothing helps take the drudgery out of picking up milk after work like listening to some new ASP.Net techniques while you do it.

Now we come to the who. Who to listen to? A simple search will turn up hundreds, if not thousands of podcasts. Where do you go for the best? Well, here are my top pics:

DotNetRocks – – Carl Franklin and Richard Campbell put on a weekly show, interviewing a big name in the Microsoft Development world. With an archive of over 180 shows, there’s plenty of good material to keep you busy for quite some time. The earliest shows run about 2 hours, and cover a bit of news in addition to the interview, the more recent episodes run approximately an hour, and concentrate mostly on the interview.

Hanselminutes – – Hosts Scott Hanselman and Carl Franklin spend half an hour each week discussing technology related topics. The majority of the shows focus on ASP.Net development, but on occasion Scott will divert into other topics like cool development tools, or nifty gadgets.

TWiT (This Week in Tech) – – Many of us remember TechTV. Leo Laporte went on to found the TWiT.TV group. Leo’s weekly show, TWiT discusses the latest in the tech world in general. The latest trends in hardware, software, plus corporate news are discussed. Leo has a weekly rotating roundtable, with names like John C Dvorak and Patrick Norton dropping in.

Security Now – – From the TWiT family of shows, Leo teams up with long time guru Steve Gibson to discuss security on the world wide web. You can also download the show from Gibson’s site,

Well there you go, there’s a few shows I listen to on a regular basis. Should be enough to get you started. Oh, almost forgot the why. Well, you’ll have to answer that for yourself, but if you’re like me, you want to be the best developer you can be.

Free Education? With no extra investment in time? Sounds like a winner to me!

Developer Tools

This is going to begin a series of blog entries on “developer tools”. I’m going to expand though on the traditional definition of developer tool, and go beyond just software, although I’ll discuss some of those as well. I’m also going to mention things like physical tools, sources of free training, and organizations you can become a member of. All of which will help you become a better developer.

Speaking of organizations, it’s an organization that I’ve picked out for the first tool: Toastmasters. Yes, I can hear your puzzlement now, Toastmasters? OK, so perhaps you don’t regularly give speeches. But very few of us work in a vacuum, having specs e-mailed to us and sending them back out without speaking to anyone.

If you’re like me, you speak with people every day. You meet with users or customers to discuss their requirements. You speak with other developers to go over specifications. Your boss, project manager, or employer drag you into endless meetings. Often in those meetings you are tasked with presenting, be it a proposed solution or the final results of months of coding. In all of these instances you are “publicly speaking”.

Toastmasters provides you with the tools to polish your speaking habits. Through practice and friendly, supportive suggestions your speaking skills will quickly improve. They also have a variety of books and manuals targeted to different needs, including developers. The two I’m working through right now are called “Management Presentations” and “Technical Presentations”.

Toastmasters has many clubs, and likely has a club in your area. Head on over to and do a search for a club near you. Attend a meeting, it won’t cost you anything to attend one meeting and see what it’s all about. If you are someone like me, who just happens to really enjoy public speaking, or you just want to improve your ability to communicate with your coworkers, Toastmasters will give you the tools to fulfill your vision.

Paid Blogging

Over on today’s blog post, Robert Scoble mentions some company that does pay per blogging. It’s an interesting concept. After all, folks like John C. Dvorak have been getting paid to talk about their opinions for years, they just do it in a magazine format or on TV. How would it be wrong for an average joe to get paid for his thoughts? Of course there ought to be a few basic rules.

First and foremost it should be disclosed there is payment going on, and who is coughing up the bucks. And second, it ought to be clear if that payment has an effect on the posting. That helps us to understand the difference between a true opinion piece like the afore mentioned Mr. Dvorak might write, and something that resembles a late night infomercial.

I can think of a lot of reasons why someone would not want to accept money for a blog, or certain situations why it might not be appropriate. On the other hand, I can think of some situations where it would be OK to get paid for their thoughts. After all, we we don’t own our thoughts, who does?

Oh, and just for the record, I ain’t making squat for this.


Arthur C Clarke, in his “Profiles of the Future” book said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I’ve been working with computers since the late 70’s and sometimes I still feel like it’s magic. And as a programmer, there are those moments when I’m a sorcerer, getting the computer to perform it’s magic to my command.

In this blog I plan to focus on technology issues, focusing on development topics. I am a long time Visual Basic (and before that Basic) coder, but now make my living writing C# code for nuclear powerplants. I also manage a team of developers, keeping up with their work and providing a little guidance and training along the way. I’m also delving into the SQL Server 2005 and SharePoint worlds, as part of a large Business Intelligence project we’ve initiated.

I’ll wrap up this first post for now, but plan postings in the near future on the various tools and topics I use in my daily work. I also have a personal blog, check out