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!

Pittsburgh GiveCamp Needs Volunteers!

This weekend, I was supposed to be going to the Pittsburgh, PA area to help them with their first-ever GiveCamp. Unfortunately, I have to stay back due to health issues, but while I can’t be there, I want to be able to get them the help they need.  One of their organizers sent this today:

Come and be a part of something
special this weekend

A small group of software developers and web site designers will be
spending this weekend helping 7 local non-profit groups to build web sites,
system integrations, and solve other technical issues. It will be a marathon
event for sure but on Sunday afternoon we will go live with all of the projects
from Pittsburgh’s first GiveCamp.

Even with all of the support there are still some technology gaps that need to
be filled and we can really use your help in these areas.

– PHP experience

– Web Design (HTML, CSS, Photoshop)

– Experience with any CMS including Drupal, DotNetNuke, Joomla, Orchard, etc.

– WordPress themes

Even if you can’t volunteer for the entire weekend, please consider
volunteering a few hours on Friday or Saturday and add your experience to one
of our projects. In just a few hours you can help make a difference to these
groups and in turn they will spend the rest of the year making a difference to
thousands of others right here in Pittsburgh.

The event is being held at the DDI offices in Bridgeville. You can find the
location and sign-up form on our web site.



If you’re able to help them, please volunteer to help them!  The Pittsburgh community, from what I met in April, are a great group – yes, they seemed to like me even though I root for their rival NFL team!

Electronics of the Future

If you’re following me on Twitter, I’m sure you’ve seen my creepy pickup line experience that I’ve had recently.  Thankfully, that was my only bad experience at the world’s largest electronics fair – the Hong Kong Electronics Fair (Autumn Edition) 2010.  While visiting the fair on its last day, my husband and I saw all sorts of devices that we won’t see in the States for at least 6 months – Windows tablets, tablets loaded with multiple OSes (including one that switched between Windows and Android), eBook readers, and many other electronic gadgets.  We were lucky enough that our visit here to Hong Kong coincided with this event, and I’m very thankful that my hubby’s uncle explored the fair before we arrived and was able to show us what we were interested in.

More details coming soon…

Calling All Industry Professionals for the Imagine Cup

I got an email this morning from my friend Matt Hester – followed by one a little later from Jennifer Marsman – about volunteer opportunities for the Imagine Cup.

As I mentioned in my post “Why Microsoft + Being a Student = Awesome“, the Imagine Cup is a great chance for students to show off their skills and solve problems using technology.  There are competitions focusing on different aspects of technology, including:

It’s not just a developer’s world – there are challenges for our designer and IT counterparts as well!
To all of you who are in the industry, the Imagine Cup needs us.  While the students are doing the work and working with their faculty mentors, they also need mentors from those of us in the field, in the real world, putting our skills to use outside of a classroom.  Whether you’re an IT guy who’s doing desktop support or even playing with PowerShell… or maybe you’re a designer who builds UIs that others use… or yes, maybe you’re a developer who has an interest in software design, embedded development, or games programming… the Imagine Cup wants you.  As industry advisors, we can help the teams to steer them in the right direction, lending real world perspectives, and encouraging the students to join the community.  So if you have a few hours to inspire those studying to be in our field, I highly recommend signing up to be an industry advisor.
Signing up is easy!  Here’s how to do it:
  1. Go to http://www.imaginecup.us
  2. Click “Get Started”
  3. Fill in your details
    • For the User Type field, select “Industry Professional”
    • For the school, start typing the name of a school you’d like to work with and the list of schools will appear after a few characters.
  4. Once submitted, you’ll get more information via email.
So what are you waiting for?  Become an Imagine Cup Industry Advisor and make a difference in the future of our industry!


Why Microsoft + Being a Student = Awesome

I’ve been following Microsoft on Facebook and Twitter for quite awhile, and it’s amazing to see what they have out there for students.  All I can wonder is … why weren’t these programs around when I was in school?!?  So check this stuff out…


As some of you know, these programs have sparked my interest – WebsiteSpark, BizSpark, and yes, even DreamSpark.  I had originally heard about DreamSpark first and then about the others later.  I found it quite interesting to see just what DreamSpark entails.  So Microsoft is providing professional tools to classrooms and students alike, free of charge.  And we’re not talking just 4-year colleges either – community colleges, vocational schools, and even high schools can get involved!  If you have a verified (confirmed usually by a school/organization/something that can verify the student status) Windows Live ID, then you can get access to a variety of Microsoft’s products at no cost.  For more details, check out the DreamSpark FAQ.

Imagine Cup

Not only can you get their products, but you can also use their products to solve problems and compete against other students in the Imagine Cup.  The 2010 event already happened. There were 3 winners in each of a variety of areas – including Software Design, Embedded Development, Game Design, IT Challenge, and Digital Media. 

There’s talk already of the 2011 Imagine Cup, as its finals will be held here in the US, in New York City.  The 2011 theme will be along the lines of the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goals.  For more details. check out the 2011 theme page.  Ready to compete?  Then get planning to take over the world, as the Imagine Cup may be one small piece of code for you but may solve one giant problem! 

Microsoft Tech Student

Recently, they launched Microsoft Tech Student on Facebook.  It’s a great way to reach students via social networking through a site that many students are familiar with.  It is also a great way to present what offerings are available for students.  Thanks to that page, I now know about XNA in Academia – yes XNA programming in schools!  How neat!

Academic Evangelists

Finally, I want to talk about another group of evangelists that work with academia, called academic evangelists.  These are the people who spread the word about Microsoft to those in academia.  Now you won’t find them on the “Meet Your Local Microsoft Evangelists” site; I’m not sure why that is.  However, your local evangelists would be able to help find who the academic evangelists are. I know for sure that you can find a few blogging over on the Springboard blog.  They’re a great resource for students and teachers when it comes to learning about the latest and greatest technologies and how to get involved in the community.


These are just some of the offerings that appear in the academic realm.  Seeing all of this makes me jealous!  If I had these available to me when I was in school, I’m sure I would be in a different place.  If you are a student or know a student who’d be interested in this, definitely check out what Microsoft has to offer – it’s a wide world of opportunity out there!

The Tech Events Initiatives

As I mentioned in my PyOhio recap, I finally met William McVey, who will be leading the Cincinnati Tech Events initiative.  I also have Catherine Devlin on board, being the first community member to volunteer to take lead on one of the sites and running the Dayton Tech Events initiative.  What you probably don’t know is that there are others.

Finding the Need of the Tech Events Sites

When I was in college, I was introduced to the idea of user groups.  The Toledo Area Linux Users Group (TALUG) held their meetings in one of our engineering buildings, and since I was on campus, I found the location to be very convenient.  Add to it that it was about Linux, something that my friend Nivex had me look into over the summer leading into college.  So I attended a few TALUG meetings, and I really got a good vibe (even though they used to tease me because they knew I preferred Microsoft technologies).  In April 1999, I co-presented with Nivex, and I would give another presentation later that year.  I really liked this user group stuff.

After college, though, I returned home to Cleveland, as the economy continued going down the wrong road.  While I was getting settled working “in the real world”, I had to wonder if there were any user groups.  My friend (and then co-worker) Martin mentioned that there was a Cleveland Linux users group.   While I enjoyed my time with TALUG, I knew I wasn’t ready for another Linux user group.  I needed to find something more aligned with my Microsoft-friendly tendencies.

I eventually shifted jobs and moved into the IT realm (from tech support).  I was working in a situation that had me on call 24/7, with little time for me to even think about user groups.  I felt so disconnected and so burdened that it eventually wore on me.

Once I found a developer position, I had more time on my hands.  I work during business hours, but I have time after work to pursue my interests.  My friend Russ told me about this .NET developer user group that meets once a month that he thought I might be interested in.  So I checked it out, as I was excited to see a user group more inline with my preferences.  And this got me thinking again… are there other groups out there besides this group and the Linux users group?  For a city as big as Cleveland, I would’ve expected some easy way to find them.  But it just wasn’t there.

If It’s Not There, Make It There

I enjoyed going to that .NET user group, and in the next few months, I would add another .NET group and a SQL Server group to the list of user groups that I frequented.    As I found out about other groups, I kept thinking about putting together a site of the groups I was finding.  But then I realized that it would be a large, time-consuming task.  I was a little hesitant, as I really enjoyed my time after work and wasn’t sure if I was ready to commit to such a project.

Fast forward to October 2008… I was home from work, fighting an unexplained case of bronchitis, and getting stir crazy at home.  My body was a physical disaster, but my mind wouldn’t shut down.  So to appease my mind, I came up with a project to work on – that’s how Cleveland Tech Events started.   I started with 4 or 5 user groups and then embarked on a search on the Internet for other groups.

The site has grown over the past couple years – over 40 user groups now and still growing.  People are talking about the site, and thanks to their suggestions, it continues to thrive.

If It’s Successful, Grow It

After awhile, I realized that if Cleveland had this issue, what about the rest of my friends in OH and MI?  (I chose those two states because that’s where a lot of my friends are and that’s where I spend most of my time.)  Unfortunately, someone else has Detroit Tech Events.  However, I was able to grab some of the other localities – Lansing, Ann Arbor, and Grand Rapids for Michigan.  As for Ohio, I grabbed Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Canton, Akron, and Toledo.  

I started updating Columbus Tech Events, as Columbus is my home away from home.  After I got Cleveland and Columbus going, I caught others’ attention – those who want a site like that in their area.  I got Dayton Tech Events set up, and Catherine Devlin has been running that operation since it opened.  William McVey will be running Cincinnati Tech Events, which will be transitioned over hopefully in the next couple weeks.

Looking for Leaders

The following sites are looking for a leader to run the community initiative:

  • Columbus Tech Events
  • Toledo Tech Events
  • Ann Arbor Tech Events
  • Lansing Tech Events
  • Grand Rapids Tech Events

I am looking for leaders for some of the other sites, so if you are interested, please email me at admin@techcommunity.info – an account specifically used for these Tech Events sites.