I'm at the ALT.NET Conference this weekend to gain a better understanding of where the .NET community is heading and to spread some Ruby love. The conference is using the Open Space format, which seems to be alot like a BarCamp. Although, since I've never been to a BarCamp I'm not so sure what the difference is. This seems to be more focused on interactions and discussions as opposed to presentations, so I suppose that may be the difference. Unfortunately there isn't alot of information online about what "Open Space" is.
There are some really stellar folks in attendance, you can see the full list here. Roy Osherove is here, and he looks way different than I've always imagined in my head. I met Jim Newkirk of NUnit fame in the hotel lobby. Scott Hanselman is also here, and seems to be a bit defensive about a perceived (or not) anti-Microsoft bias. There are other folks from Microsoft here as well, including folks from the MSDN team. And Brad Wilson (who I just today realized isn't getting my twitter replies because I'm not being followed by him) is here as well. Oh, and did I mention Scott Guthrie? Yeah, he's here too. I was really surprised and happy to see him here, mostly so I can pester him over and over again that we want IronRuby on Rails support from Microsoft. And of course there is Martin Fowler.
Doc List started the conference by setting the expectations and demonstrating the fishbowl discussion technique by starting a discussion on what exactly "ALT.NET" means. This discussion is an ongoing topic on the blogs right now, so I wasn't surprised that the discussion continued for a while. It even survived a couple attempts by Doc to kill it. In the end we don't have any cleared definition for ALT.NET; but we did hear alot of opinions. This seems to me to be alot like the Web 2.0 discussions of a couple years ago. ALT.NET, like art, is hard to define but you know it when you see it.
Then we were given time to think up the topics we would like to discuss for the next couple days. When someone wanted to add a topic, they would write it down on a post-it, move to the center of the room, introduce themselves and the topic, and put the post-it on the board. We quickly had double the post-its than we have rooms and time slots for. There was some consolidation to the list of topics and eventuality we added our initials to the post-its we want to attend or be involved with.
Scott Guthrie added a note to discuss the often rumored yet unannounced MVC/Model2 ASP.NET framework. And Scott Hanselman added a note to discuss making said MVC framework work with dynamic languages via the DLR. The topic that got the most submissions seemed to be TDD, BDD, and DDD. I added a note to discuss dynamic languages on the CLR; specifically what folks are looking for from them and why some developers fear them. I also volunteered to present on the topic "Ruby for
Dummies .NET Developers". There was alot of topics and talk about Ruby and Rails, so I expect some good discussion. I look forward to tomorrow.
Afterwards, I took the opportunity to introduce myself to Scott Guthrie and promptly cornered him on what his thoughts were on the topics put forward. He said that it wasn't all that surprising and that he was excited to present his new MVC framework. He said he thought it was a good blend of extendibility and "opinionated conventions". It was a really fun discussion and we got a bit of a crowd at the end. I'll hopefully record an interview with him tomorrow.
Scott Hanselman also floated around the room taking notes on what folks specifically thought was wrong with the current Microsoft toolset. There were some honest gripes, but it mostly seemed to be folks complaining about features that are most likely already in Visual Studio but are either buried in the UI or not as extensible as folks want. But I started thinking those discussions were missing the point of what I think the meaning of ALT.NET is. To me, ALT.NET is at heart the embrace of Agile by the .NET community and the recognition that the .NET community determines its own fate; not the toolset vendor (Microsoft). But the tools aren't the answer; people are! The Agile Manifesto holds the following value: "Individuals and interactions over processes and tools". My wish is that Microsoft would focus more on improving individuals and facilitating better interactions, but the heart of the matter is that the .NET community needs to do this regardless of what Microsoft does with its tools.