Last night's dinner was entirely worth the late trip back to Brooklyn from Microsoft HQ. I was pleasantly surprised with the good advice offered by Ms. Bonnie Halper of StartUpOneStop.com and pleased (though not surprised) with how engaging Ms. Sarah Chipps of girldeveloper.com was. The attendees were interesting and conversation was delightful (hooray for finding fellow runners!)
Something that struck me even before signing up for the dinner though, which was then reinforced at the event, was how Microsoft and .NET heavy the speakers were. Which of course makes sense – the event was sponsored in part by Microsoft and the event was hosted at their offices. That's quite smart of Microsoft. They're investing in a segment of the development market that might not necessarily be as exposed to the up-and-coming technology in development that they would look for in their hiring practices, and then pushing their own products. As I can attest, it is intimidating going to tech events that you know are going to be an all-boys club. Case in point, the Microsoft Evangelist who gave a talk on Silverlight, Mr. Peter Laudati, commented right off the bat that though accustomed to speaking before large groups, they were generally always men with a few women. Last night it was the opposite: all women with a handful of men.
From a strictly business standpoint, Microsoft is getting the one up on competitors who aren't investing in the development of the female half of the talent pool. They helped facilitate a great set of panelists and created some good networking opportunities. By doing that, they had the opportunity to seriously push their own technology. And boy, did they. Laudati's title couldn't have been more apt, (I'll admit, I was impressed with his Bing maps demo, and I am a fiend for Google) and Chipps' background is straight up .NET (she hilariously Photoshopped "C++ for Baby Geniuses" over a book being read by her in a childhood photograph).
What amused me about Laudati's talk was how he seemed slightly nervous about the fact that he was speaking for an all-women group. He spent a good two minutes I would estimate commenting on how problematic it is that there are so few women in the room at most of his talks. I was thinking to myself, "Well, duh. You're preaching to the choir on that. But what about the cool stuff I can develop with your product?" It brings to mind a similar point Chipps made in her blog not long ago that talk is essentially cheap. People aren't going to respect you as a developer unless you're doing cool things. So stop talking and go do cool things.
I wished I could have made this point to Mr. Laudati (whose talk ran 15 minutes overtime. I felt terrible for the speaker from hakia.com) so I might have had more time to hear about Silverlight, which I knew a bit about but was very intrigued to hear more. At one point near the beginning he commented that "this is all very technical" and I thought to myself, "Yeah! Because we're all techies! We like technical!" I wanted to hear about exciting new development technology, and felt a bit gypped that time was wasted wibbling about a problem everyone in the room was aware of. The problem is why we were in the room in the first place.
So to add something to Ms. Chipps' comment, "shut up and build something." But if you're going to talk, make it worthwhile!