Tag Archives: CodeMash

Exciting Adventures at CodeMash – Part 1, Precompilers

Every year, CodeMash sells out quicker than the last.  It’s growing in size and popularity beyond belief, which is a good thing.  Overall, it’s been a great adventure.  As I mentioned in my past precompiler selection article, it was tough to choose precompilers, as there were so many great ones to choose from that seemed relevant to me.

Speaker Workshop with Leon Gersing

As I suspected, this was a wonderful Precompiler for me to start with.  The room was filled with some familiar faces (such as Cori) and a lot of new faces (including Kevin N., Sharon, DustyJohn, and Evan).  We had a brief eyes forward session on tips and tricks to use while presenting.  Once that was done, then Leon got us involved in group activities.

The first activity involved dividing the room in half.  One half of the room had to stand up in front of the other half of the room.  The seated half was supposed to observe the standing half.  Being up there, I either stood with my arms crossed (as I hate standing up in front of a quiet room where all eyes are on me and the audience has blank expressions on their face) or tried to make them laugh (did I mention that I don’t like standing up in front of blank faces).  For me, when I’m standing in front of a crowd and being observed, I’m typically presenting.  While presenting, I’m also reading my audience and trying to keep them engaged.  So standing still and trying to be quiet up there… not a comfortable thing for me.

Then there was the activity of lining up in groups and then coming to the center and introducing ourselves.  Some people introduced themselves with a question tone – so along the lines of “I’m Sarah Dutkiewicz?”  I knew not to come out with the question tone, but I’ve had practice speaking and had a speech class in college where the speech instructor taught me the tricks and helped me channel the self confidence to get away from that.  However, I started with a long introduction (that I ended up doing 3 or 4 times, so much so that I’m sure most of the people there could repeat it) and then ended with a “I’m Sarah Dutkiewicz!”.    Now I have to admit… doing the introduction a ton of times, I heard a lot of “Hey, Sadukie!” throughout the conference – so I knew my introduction style was effective.  But man, having to introduce myself so many times… I knew why, but I just had to do it.  That, and Leon is my friend and knows that he can put me through that and that I could handle it.

Overall, I really enjoyed observing others and how they carry themselves and then listen to Leon’s critique and suggestions.  Reading body language was quite an interesting exercise as well.  I look forward to putting the experiences in there towards becoming a better speaker.

Creative Problem Solving with Jessie Shternshus

This was the precompiler I really wanted to get into.  Jessie Shternshus of The Improv Effect led this session. They limit the session to 40 participants, so I skipped breakfast (other than peanut butter filled pretzels) so that I’d get a spot.  Well worth it!  Learning how to solve problems creatively by using improv exercises really turned out to be an effective session.  Starting out the session cheering “I FAILED!” and celebrating that set a fun tone for the session.  These are just some (but not all) of the exercises we did.

Defining Randomness

In this exercise, we got into two circles.  As we went around the circle, one person would make up a word and the person next to them would define the word, as if they were an expert on that word.  It was great to see how random the words really sounded and who got really creative with their answers (and how close they could tie to the sounds of the word).  It really flowed well for the group I was in.

Completing Words

In this exercise, we were still in two circles.  As we went around the circle, one person would start a word and the next person would finish the word.  Then, the two of them would have to say their word together.  To give you an idea of how our group went, we had these scenarios:

Person 1: For

Person 2: Play

Person 1 & 2: Foreplay!

Person 1: Shh

Person 2: It

Person 1 & 2: Shit!

Group Telephone

In this exercise, we were in a large circle.  Jessie would start by making an action at Jim (another one of the improv guys), and then he’d repeat it to the person next to him, who’d repeat it and so on around the circle.

Colossa… mama!

Suh, suh… hmm?!?

Oh the phrases and actions we passed around as a group telephone experience!  You learn about people’s different personalities and ways of conveying a message, and you can see how things change over time.  The second phrase started more as a saunter and the “hmmm?!?” was a slower, in-your-face experience.  However, this message travelled twice around the circle and sped up and turned almost into a tribal dance.  It was awesome to watch the evolution of the message!

No, but… Yes, but… and Yes, and…

This was an exercise between two people.  You had to try to carry on a conversation first with starting sentences with “No, but…”.  In the second part of the exercise, you have to try to carry on a conversation starting sentences with “Yes, but…”.  Finally, you had to try to carry on a conversation with “Yes, and…”.  We found ourselves sometimes struggling with the “but” part of the sentence, and when we both agreed on things, it was easy for the conversation to fall flat.  Honestly, I find it hard to carry on a conversation with only one of these.  I tend to employ each of these multiple times in conversations rather than sticking with one.  But that’s just me.

Tear Apart a Commonly Used Object

In this exercise, we got into groups and had to find all the faults in a commonly used object.  I was in a group that tore apart (no pun intended) 2-ply toilet paper.  It sticks to shoes.  It doesn’t make good crime scene tape. It’s a bad raincoat.  These were just some of the things we had to say.  This exercise was helpful in that we can apply it to tearing apart a business’s (or even competitor’s) product and see ways of how to improve the product.

Creative Uses of an Office Object

We had to suggest an office object and then 3 people would be at the front of the room and making suggestions of how else the items could be used.  The first object was a stapler, which the group came up with all sorts of creative ways to use it and the staples inside.  Then, there was the group that had to come up with uses for a pencil.  Let’s just say that the 3 of them seemed to assume it was a wooden pencil and they all tended to stick with a morbid, grotesque theme until the end when it was suggested to use the metal piece as a warmer for food.  This reminded me in a way of the props skits done on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”  This exercise helps us realize that if we think outside the box, we can use our tools to solve all sorts of problems.

Sentences with the Last Letter of the Previous Sentence

This was absolutely maddening to me!  I would rather have a conversation with someone without having  to think about the letters of the words being used.  I think this is because I’d rather listen to what people have to say and then play off of it.  I learned about Jean from Pittsburgh’s little boy and how his name came from somewhere in the family tree.   It was great talking with her!

3 Words, 5 Words

For awhile, someone would say 3 words and then the other person would follow with 5 words.  Trying to have a conversation while counting words is also maddening!  I opened with “Cards Against Humanity”, which led to a fun discussion – my intuition told me that Jean probably played it too!  But we found ourselves counting words a lot more, which, to me, interrupts the flow of the conversation.


There were quite a few more exercises going on throughout this session – it’s jam packed with interaction and thinking outside of the box.  I loved participating in these and learning how to apply them to our day-to-day dealings.  I am so glad I was able to get into this session, as it was well worth it!

Thoughts on the Precompilers

Overall, I chose wisely as to which precompilers I felt I would benefit from the most.  It was great to be in sessions that had participation other than sitting and writing code.  It forced me to be a little out of my comfort zone and really taught me some things about myself that I never realized.  I look forward to channeling the skills that I’ve learned in these sessions in future presentations.

CodeMash Decisions, Decisions… Precompilers

This morning, as I get settled in after a wonderful holiday season, I’ve been looking at the precompiler descriptions and session descriptions for CodeMash.  It’s hard to believe that CodeMash is next week!  Here are my thoughts so far just by looking at the descriptions.

PreCompiler – Tuesday

This is my short  list for precompilers for Tuesday.

  • Cloud Architecture with Windows Azure
  • Developing Mobile Applications with PhoneGap
  • Developing on Windows 8
  • Speaker Workshop

While the sessions on testing looked interesting, I digest a lot on testing when I’m working with the LeanDog crew, so I’m going to take a break from that.

The Windows Azure session is on my short list for many reasons.  For one, they mention Pottermore in their description and tracking that site’s story from afar, it’s good to see that mentioned.  (No, I’m not a Harry Potter fan.  I’ve more been interested in it from a tech perspective.)  I also have been wanting to work with Azure for some of my personal projects and figured it’d be good to catch a session on it.

The PhoneGap session is on my short list mostly because I’m curious about mobile development tools other than the Microsoft tooling (as I’m playing around with the Microsoft tooling).  Don’t expect to see me playing with Android or iPhone development just yet – taking baby steps as it’s truly nothing more than a side venture at this point.

The Windows 8 session is on my short list because I’ve been enjoying Windows 8 so far and should probably pay attention to Windows 8 development a bit more.

The Speaker Workshop is on my short list because even though I speak at various venues, there’s always room for improvement.  Yes, I’ve been speaking recently for a consecutive 5 years? 6 years?  I’ve been speaking at user groups and conferences (local, regional, and national) since 1999.  But it’s Leon, and I’m sure he’ll have a different perspective on things and offer more nifty pointers for speaking.

PreCompiler – Wednesday

This is my short list for Wednesday.

  • Creative Problem Solving
  • HTML5 Workshop
  • Into the Mind of a Hacker
  • Web Development with Python and Django

Creative Problem Solving intrigues me, as it’s using improv techniques.  One of my mentors is involved in improv, and hearing his tales, it just intrigues me more.  I’ve wanted to catch this in the past but haven’t had the time.  Maybe this will finally be the time for me to catch it!

HTML5 Workshop would help me update my web development roots a bit.  I’ve had a little time to play with HTML5, but not as much as I’d hoped for.

Into the Mind of a Hacker appeals to the white hat in me.  When I was in college, I was known for finding flaws in university systems and reporting them to the engineering’s college computing team.  Boredom at its finest had me getting into things but with good intentions.  Every now and then, I catch sessions like this that remind me of my past.

Finally, the Django and Python session is on my list as I mentioned to them that I may be available to help them with Windows support.  Having tinkered with Python on Windows in the past, it wouldn’t hurt if I helped where I could.  I may be in and out in here though since there are other sessions that I want to catch.


There are too many awesome sessions to choose from – including those that didn’t make it on my short list!  These are just the ones that I personally am interested.  You can see the full list of precompiler sessions on the CodeMash site.

Hope to see you there!

My Love for Local & Regional Conferences

Recently, I was talking with a local guy who wanted to get more involved with the community, as he wants to eventually go the MVP route with hopes of one day working for Microsoft.  He mentioned that some people told him about conferences like TechEd and VSLive.  While those are great conferences, they’re also expensive – not just the ticket price but also accommodations and other incidentals.  In my reply back, I had to recommend looking at local conferences.  Here are a few reasons why I recommend local and regional conferences over the big conferences.

Quality of Speakers

Something to keep in mind is that speakers have some place they call home, even though they may travel a lot for work.  Here in the Heartland District, we have all sorts of speakers who’ve spoken at the bigger conferences (TechEd, VSLive, etc.) who call Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, or Tennessee home.  Even here in Cleveland, we have quite a few hometown greats who have spoken at national conferences.  So just because we’re in the Midwest and not on either coast does not mean that we’re exempt from having awesome speakers.  What’s nice about having these speakers calling this home is that it’s easy to woo them to speak at a conference close to home – not travelling far from family, giving them time with both the community and their own families.

Cost of Attendance

Looking at TechEd, the student rate is $995.  The student rate – as in a discounted rate –  is close to $1000, which is expensive for a typical student’s budget.  While I may be out of college for almost 10 years now, I remember what it was like to live on a student’s meager budget.  There’s no way I could have afforded going to something like that.  The professional rate is $2195 or that and an additional $400 for the pre-con.  While the “big names” are presenting there, it’s quite a bit of money to see content that we can find online, perhaps by the big name or someone else.  Add to it that this rate doesn’t include travel or hotel accommodations.  All of these numbers add up.

Now let’s look at some of the local conferences that can attract the big names at a fraction of the cost.  Take a look at conferences like CodeMash (in Sandusky, Ohio in January) and devLink (in Tennessee in August).  These conferences have attracted well-known speakers including Steve Smith, Scott Hanselman, Eric Meyer, and Mary Poppendieck.  These are multi-day regional conferences that are typically more affordable – both in terms of conference costs and accommodations.  They offer typically conference talks, workshops, and open spaces, amongst other networking opportunities for their attendees.  These are the two closest to my home and held here in the Heartland District.  Similar conferences include MADExpo and That Conference.  Other conferences that attract similar caliber of speakers include Stir Trek,  CodePaLOUsa, CodeStock, and Kalamazoo X.  The ticket price of these, even at the professional level, aren’t much greater than $300 for multi-day events – much more affordable than even the student rate of TechEd.

Networking on a Local Scale

While you may be wanting to network with people throughout the world, it might be even more helpful to network with those in nearby communities to achieve whatever goal you’re trying to achieve.  Local and regional events are greater for reaching the local audience (as opposed to the larger conferences that target a wide network).  Other local and regional events in this area that are great to check out include  DevDays, Days of .NET, SQL Saturdays, PowerShell Saturday,  TechNet Events, and MSDN Events.  The costs for these tend to be minimal – usually to cover food.  Some of these events may also be free.


In an economy where employers may not necessarily pay their developers well or even cover their training, events like TechEd and VSLive become even less of an option for training.  However, besides going to user groups where you usually hear about one topic and network with the locals, there are other options.  When budgets are tight but you still want to get a great quality of presented content, take a look at local and regional conferences.  Once you look at them, you’ll find a great way for growing your career perhaps in your own backyard!

Submitting Talks, New and Old…

Earlier this week, I was talking with my a few speaker friends on submitting talks for conferences – as I’m specifically looking at submitting talks for:

Strategies in Submitting Talks

It’s interesting to hear some of their strategies. Some of my friends will submit all of their talks that they can do, in hopes of at least one getting picked. Some only submit talks that they’re interested in doing. Some submit talks that they’ve given over and over for the past few years. Some submit talks that they haven’t given yet but would like to give. There’re all sorts of strategies throughout my friends’ speaking submissions.

Preparing to Submit Talks for Multiple Conferences

This morning, I spent time updating my presentation topics and abstracts page. I’ve retired yet another talk, as the technologies have changed and my interests have changed. I’ve also created a new talk, inspired by my recent experiences and research.

I’ve submitted 3 of my talks to CodeMash this morning. One of my talks is brand new, but I think it would fit well with CodeMash and the topics that have appeared in the past and that are still trending. The other 2 talks I’ve given in various forms – separately and mashed together – at user groups and other events. I’ve had fellow community members ask me if I would be giving {insert a topic or presentation here} at {insert a conference here}, and every time I hear people asking for a presentation, I make note of it and try to include it in my submissions. Since CodeMash’s sessions are 60 minutes, I submitted these talks in their whole forms rather than the mashed together version.

By the end of today, I will have my submissions in for Ann Arbor Day of .NET, which happens at the end of October. I’ve got one submission in so far due to requests from the community to submit a talk, but I hope to get at least one more in, possibly my new talk if they’re interested. We’ll see how that goes.

Central Ohio Day of .NET’s call for speakers isn’t open yet. However, they’ve announced their date, which makes it easy for me to check my availability and possibly submit talks. Since I’m already in that groove for submitting talks, it makes it a little easier in determining what I want to submit to Central Ohio Day of .NET.

My Personal Strategies

For me, I’m glad to see all of these Calls for Speakers at once, because then I can get what I want to talk about figured out and submitted all around the same time. These are some of the things I think about when I submit talks to conferences:

  • Is the topic something I’m passionate about? If it isn’t something I’m passionate about, then I’m not delivering the talk. For me as an attendee, I hate going to presentations that are given by a passionless speaker. If they don’t have that positive energy and aren’t excited about the technology, I’m not easily sold on why I should be interested in their topics or ideas. As a speaker, I find that it’s a lot easier to prepare and give a talk on something I’m passionate about. As a speaker, I also tend to notice the attendees engaging more and asking more questions when I show that I’m interested in the topic.
  • Is the topic relevant to the conference? If it isn’t relevant to the conference, I’m not submitting it.
  • Are the technologies/strategies in this presentation still relevant? If the technologies or strategies in a talk are outdated, I look to see (1) if they have been updated, (2) if I am still passionate about the updates, and (3) if they’re worth continuing to present on.
  • Is there public interest in this topic? If there isn’t interest in a topic, then there aren’t people to listen to it or to converse with about it, which means there is no point in delivering this presentation.

I don’t think twice about submitting new talks – every talk I’ve given was a new talk at one point in time. Most of the time, I try to debut talks at a smaller event – be it in an office environment for a lunch’n’learn, at a local user group, or at a developer community event.


There are different strategies out there for submitting talks to conferences. My advice is find what works for you and stick with it. Do you have any strategies or advice on submitting talks that you’d like to share? Leave a comment here!