Keith Rome and I just returned from an excellent day at Florida's FREE Code Camp. This was WELL WORTH attending; several speakers were truly world class.

Props goes to Nova South Eastern University who provided a fine location (seen below). The lecture theatres were clean and new, with spotless desks. Very unlike the University I attended in the UK; which was probably last modernized in the 1800's!

Nova University
Most people know by now that these Code Camps are organized by hard working Volunteers in the local community, with help from their Microsoft DEs, DCCs etc. The amount of work required to perpare for this 200+ attendee event is very much appreciated.

So, how did it go? Thanks to Delta and the Superbowl filling every flight to Florida we arrived very late Friday evening missing the social- dang it. The silver lining is this meant I spent nine hours with Keith Rome who educated me in many areas of .Net I know little about. Keith is seriously smart. My background includes three CS degrees, Keith's degree was not CS related; he is one of the many self taught programmers out there. Yet, in many, many areas he beats me hands down - amazing talent. Listen up recruiters, a CS degree is not mandatory!

After meeting a few fellow attendees at our nearby hotel (+ a newbie speaker on quite the ego trip, LOL!) we trundled over to registration. Keith is seen below scrutinizing the final session schedule.

Not being locals, many speakers were new to us but the keynote pointed us to some stars. Apparently most sessions were packed often running out of standing room. You can tell the session below was one of the less well attended because we still had room on the floor! I don't know who the guy at the front is, he seemed mega-bright and I meant to say hi during the day - if anyone knows him LMK who it is. The quality of attendees in general was impressive, they were not quite as friendly as us Georgians but since Keith and I crashed their party that's OK.
Packed room with random smart guy at the front
Talking of stars, Corey OMara showed people how a professional presentation should be done, introducing VS 2005. You can see him below wowing the crowd with his animated presentation style.
Corey OMara getting 100% attention from the audience
Other attendees told me there were many more great speakers  - Doug Turnure and Kirk Evans got mentions, but the man of the day was Tim Walton and 'Tales from the Server Side'. The first session was so packed his session was ran again and packed to capacity again! World of mouth got out very quickly. His Geordie (from Newcastle but sounds Scottish to most Americans) accent took even me a minute of to adjust to, but the material... OMG was it interesting. On top of content to die for he had us all rolling with laughter and the hour flew by. Tim talked primarily about debugging apps using dump files - which I had tired to do recently but lacked the time to read the 150 page pdf . His intro was very useful; I am already lobbying for him to attend the Atlanta Code Camp. If necessary I will personally pay his air fair from Tampa to Atlanta (seriously), please someone from Microsoft pull this off - every developer in Atlanta needs to hear what Tim has to say.

Ok time to start wrapping this long post up. The photos below try to illustrate how packed the closing keynote was. Plus, do you see how much swag was provided? There must have been over a hundred prizes not including the t-shirts, mints, candy, DVDs etc thrown into the audience. Pretty impressive swag, but I heard a rumor Doug Turnure said it was nothing compared to what we'll see at Atlanta's code camp. He mentioned something about needing a flat bed truck to haul it all, right Doug?

Lots of people

Lots of people + my friend Greg (far right) mesmerized by swag

Did someone say swag? Note the huge boxes that were still unopened
We have been giving this stuff out 30 minutes and our hands are still full!

Ok everyone knows I call things as I see them, no sugar coating or (unjustified) bias towards Microsoft here... It was a great day but just a few observations of how Atlanta can be better:

One presenter I saw appeared hung over. He simply read from slides and was often right clicking menus to find out what the product did. Note to presenters: Please prepare and practice your material. Even if you are local superstar with a confident swagger try to make an effort, please!

Not that we are discouraging amateur speakers from presenting (myself being a TOTAL AMATEUR). Some speakers at Florida were obviously nervous and not very polished (aahhem.. not a bit like moi talking about NUnit to 80+ people last week, honest!). Being inexperienced is fine, everyone can see they are making an effort and attendees still take knowledge away from the talk. Drinking until 4am then speaking on something you have barely researched is not at all impressive.

There was only one other low light. A handful of speakers were somewhat rude if us regular ‘plebs’ tired to speak to them. All the best speakers were very friendly and talked to the attendees. I guess that is what differentiates superstars everyone likes (e.g. Mark Dunn) with the wannabes superstars who's local following make them feel like Tom Cruise.

OK, that was way too much negativity. It was an AWESOME event, thanks again to all that helped organize it. Today I am submitting my own talks for Atlanta's Code Camp – hopefully one will be accepted, but given the quality of Florida it will not be surprising if I do not make the grade.