Winners want to make app dev easier

Tony Cavaliere’s idea for software that frees application build managers from their desks during nighttime compiles has yielded him and other members of the Toronto Visual Basic User Group (TVBUG) the top prize in a new Microsoft Canada application development contest.

Microsoft awarded TVBUG a first-place finish in the company’s initial Canada-wide app dev competition for user groups. TVBUG’s PocketPCBuilder, the group’s entry for the contest, provides mobile access to compile info, sending details about code errors to the build manager’s handheld computer.

“There are always individuals on call (at night) to fix builds and do various other tasks,” Cavaliere said, explaining the philosophy behind PocketPCBuilder. “Wouldn’t it be nice if they could go to dinner, go to the movies and still be notified that the build is successful or unsuccessful?”

For their winning software, TVBUG team members received Microsoft SPOT watches, which adjust automatically to the local time, and provide news, weather and traffic reports. Microsoft also sponsors a trip for the winners to visit Montreal, where they will present the solution at the DevTeach conference; there will also be a barbeque feast in the group’s honour.

PocketPCBuilder is Cavaliere’s baby. The Toronto software specialist suggested it as a potential contestant when TVBUG president Rob Windsor told the group about the Microsoft challenge late last year. Cavaliere managed a team of 10, including himself, to bring PocketPCBuilder out of the realm of “possible” and into reality.

The program’s framework starts at the server. Cavaliere’s team created a system to automate builds on the back-end box. The server sends build details to a database, which a Pocket PC, sporting a rich client, can call for information. On its screen the handheld presents a list of errors associated with each application built, and tells the build manager not only what the error is, but also the name of the person who last checked-in the code. That lets the manager know whom to call to begin the fix.

Cavaliere said it took about 300 person-hours to turn the PocketPCBuilder idea into a genuine program. Some of the team members had to be taught about working in .Net, he said, but even veteran developers learned a thing or two from the project. “Although I’d taken on leadership roles before, never officially,” Cavaliere said, outlining his own education. “We only met once a week. We had to somehow organize things.” Cavaliere and company relied on common technologies to bring their uncommon program to life. “We used MS Messenger for online chatting….We also had my blog, which we used to post the meeting minutes.”

According to Lasha Dekker, Microsoft Canada’s vice-president, developer and platform, contests like this are her company’s way of getting closer to the developer community. “Our mission is to win the minds and the hearts of Canadian developers. Historically we were very good at offering volumes of technical information that stimulate their minds. Now we’re looking for some fun ways to engage their hearts. We thought the user-group competition would be one way.”

Dekker said the contest was “fairly successful” with five user groups participating; Microsoft plans to run another group-minded competition in the future. For more information about PocketPCBuilder, visit Cavaliere’s blog:

Dekker provided an update about another Microsoft developer contest, Last Developer Standing. (See ComputerWorld Canada’s April 15 issue, “Microsoft seeks top Canuck developer,” page 20.) This match for individual software experts has reached the second of nine rounds. It started on May 2 with 5,300 developers, Dekker said. About 2,000 of them performed well enough in round one to win a prize, but she couldn’t say how many attained the perfect score required to advance to round two.

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