Although our headquarters is near Pittsburgh, our developers all work from home. We’ve been doing the virtual dev team thing since the dawn of the company when two of the founders lived in Chicago and the third lived in Pittsburgh. In 2004, when we decided to hire our first new developer, we hired someone we knew from the Chicago area, and he worked from home too. Still does.
Keeping the developer role a work-from-home position has allowed us to recruit great developers from all over the U.S. It’s worked out well for us.
While there are great benefits to working from home, every now and then it’s nice to engage your fellow teammates in meat-space, or IRL, as the cool kids say.
Hence, TrackAbout DevCon was born.
TrackAbout DevCon 2011
The first DevCon was a 5-day affair held at our offices outside Pittsburgh in January 2011.
Highlights of that first wintry Con:
- The newer developers got to meet everyone in the company face-to-face for the first time. Putting faces to names and voices was huge.
- We took a tour of a local customer facility to see TrackAbout software in action.
- We had deep discussions about several challenging architectural topics. We made some tough decisions about things we would and wouldn’t be building.
- We tackled a difficult upgrade of our ORM, NHibernate. Our multi-tenant, hosted nature and a change in the underlying session and connection management of NH made upgrading from 1.X to 3.0 a real challenge.
- We pair programmed.
- We wined, we dined.
- We cobbled together a ridiculously excessive microphone setup using pro microphones and a Mackie mixing board and piped the signal into Skype. The goal was to enhance the feeling of inclusion for one developer who couldn’t make the trip. The audio quality was great.
- We attempted to get to Dave & Busters but Snow Miser had other plans. We hit up a local brewpub instead.
- Nearly killed myself and two developers driving the CEO’s Ford Explorer in the snow. It was a slippery slope. Literally.
- We played fancy Euro-style board games.
By all accounts, the first annual DevCon was a roaring success.
TrackAbout DevCon 2012
Having vowed never to return to Pittsburgh in January, we chose Orlando for our second annual 5-day DevCon. We booked a hotel conference room for our meetings.
We made T-shirts:
We had a clear goal in mind for DevCon 2012. We would expunge every last vestige of VB.NET from our codebase! TrackAbout was originally 100% VB.NET (well, technically first it was ASP/VBScript…), but we converted much of it to C# over the years. Still, the largest, hairiest project in our Visual Studio solution remained in VB.NET, and that remained a source of frustration on the team.
We (well, Jesse) did a great deal of planning and preparation for the conversion effort. We evaluated several batch code converters before settling in on one with the best balance of performance and the fewest scary side effects. Nevertheless, there were many minefields left in the converted code that we knew we’d have to hunt down and deal with during DevCon.
DevCon 2012 was a hoot. Highlights included:
- We successfully achieved our goal and completed the C# conversion.
- Individuals gave presentations on interesting topics like HTML5, Business Rules Engines, Android development, the Razor view engine, automated acceptance testing, and interactive UIs with Backbone.js.
- We shared our lists of who we follow on Twitter, blogs, and podcasts and why.
- We reviewed our developer interview process.
- We finally made it to Dave & Busters! But they’d done away with all the classic arcade games. Something about maintenance of legacy systems being expensive…
- We went to … um … Medieval Times and came to the nearly instantaneous and uncomfortable realization that we are not the target demographic.
- We played Euro-style card games.
- We played 8- and 16-bit Nintendo console games.
- We had Sharing Time with selected readings from “The Secret”.
- Ok, we didn’t do that, but it was proposed.
- We had great meals and great times. Medieval times.
For DevCon 2013, we head back to Pittsburgh, but NOT in January. We’ll probably nudge it to April/May for reasons of climate and to expand our possible destinations in even years. We plan to visit Pittsburgh every two years to keep up relations with the mothership.
We’ve yet to pick our Big Hairy Audacious Goal for this Con, but whatever it is, I’m sure this team is equal to the task.