Windows Store

Some interesting things are happening in the app marketplace lately. After a very poor start, Microsoft’s Windows Store is beginning to emerge as a viable competitor to more established developer targets like Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

This is news because, until recently, the app store comparison has not been flattering to Microsoft. Industry analysts have long complained that the Windows Store lacks the quality and quantity of apps that are readily available in rival app stores.

These headwinds have been fed by user apathy to Windows 8 and what I would describe as “withering” media scrutiny. That may be changing, however — according to TechCrunch, Microsoft’s Windows Store averaged 1.7M daily downloads in October.

Growth is still very choppy from month-to-month, as this article titled Windows Store app growth stalls. Despite some breakout months, the lack of robust incremental growth must be a constant headache for Microsoft.

But it should be noted that other bright spots are starting to emerge from the Microsoft ecosystem. For example, Windows Phone is seeing 200M downloads per month according to Microsoft, so the company is finally making a dent in this thriving app market. The strong adoption of Nokia’s Lumia line of phones running Windows 8 is to be credited with much of this surge, no doubt.

Of course, we have to consider the adoption rate of Windows 8 itself, which got off to a dismal start in late 2012. By June 2013, Windows 8 powered just 5.1% of all personal computers according to Net Applications. By October 2013, that percentage had risen to 9.1% of all systems online so the massive Microsoft install base is starting to bear down on the adoption numbers.

In what appears to be a smart (albeit obvious) move to reduce “sign-up friction”, Microsoft is opening Facebook login to Windows 8 and Windows Phone app developers.

Finally, the momentum that Windows Azure has generated in the past 12 months is another bright spot for app developers. It’s not overstating the case to say that Azure is now a legitimate cloud alternative to Amazon Web Services. Azure is priced to compete head-to-head with AWS and, despite giving up a 3 year head-start to Amazon, Azure has comfortably surpassed the $1 billion revenue milestone for Microsoft.

Where do all these numbers leave developers, you might ask? Apple and Google are still the front runners in app marketplaces, both in terms of quality and volume — but it’s starting to look like a third horse is entering the race at a steady gallop. That’s good news for app consumers and it’s even better news for developers using Microsoft’s developer tools within the .NET ecosystem.

At InnerWorkings, we’re watching these trends closely — our platform usage data is showing signs of increased interest in Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and Windows Azure training. After a very slow past 12 months for those technologies, it’s good to see our users inquire about filling skills gaps to meet the pent-up demand for app development.

Rockstar Programmer

I read an excellent article by Scott Hanselman titled The Myth of the Rockstar Programmer over the weekend, and I agreed with almost every word of it.

There is so much emphasis these days on individual achievement and “lone wolf” success that people easily forget software development is largely a team activity.

At InnerWorkings, most of our customers are software managers with challenges that stem from the nature of their large and often distributed software teams.

In many cases, they will admit that it’s nice to have some genuine “rockstar” performers, but what they really need is a team that can deliver high quality, bug free code on time and at scale.

A “rockstar team” to quote Mr. Hanselman.

When you look at the mix of skills and experience in most software teams, it’s no surprise that getting some consistency in programming skills and raising the bar on code standards is high on the priority list.

For example, one of our largest healthcare clients is migrating thousands of developers from legacy systems over to .NET and while many of their developers have multiple years of coding experience, they are new to managed code and developing with the .NET framework.

Training and skills development are a necessity, rather than a nice-to-have, in this scenario.

Other clients are acquiring competitors and bringing hundreds and often thousands of developers onto their development platform and toolset, not to mention adopting their coding standards and best practices. Time is not on your side as a development manager in this situation; you need a custom learning program to train these new developers and a learning platform to track the results in real-time.

When faced with large scale, organization wide challenges like these, rockstar programmers are a helpful addition but the real endgame for most of our customers is to get everyone on the software team performing to a high level, working on their coding skills, and mastering many different aspects of application development, testing, and deployment.

In situations like this, our hands-on .NET training solution fits the bill and we can show real value to software organizations over many years. The “rockstar team” isn’t built in a day but it’s an admirable goal for any development manager facing the challenges of running a successful software team.

Binary Programming BallWe’ve discussed the ubiquity of software and Marc Andreessen’s opinion that software is eating the world on this blog before.

So it’s perfectly natural to draw the conclusion is that now is the ideal time to be a software developer.

In a recent speech about the future of education, Bill Gates did just that by claiming that we have entered a “golden age of programming”. The underlying argument is that programmers have never had it better — is this really the case?

I would argue that this era is defined by so many choices for software developers, and career choice is an excellent indicator of opportunities. If you want to build enterprise-scale, multi-tenet applications, there’s a huge market for that skillset.

Let’s say you want to build consumer apps for kids (of all ages) on mobile devices? Well, there is a huge market for that too. If you have the practical coding skills under your belt (and that’s where InnerWorkings can help), there is nothing holding you back.

To the frustration of some software industry veterans in Silicon Valley, start-ups with little more than a half-baked idea and wire-frames of their alpha product are getting acquired by Yahoo, Google or other technology giants for enormous sums of money.

It’s like an insatiable recruitment engine plucking entrepreneurial developers from their grungy startup digs and dropping them into the well-fed comforts of the Googleplex or elsewhere. The pace of acqui-hiring in Silicon Valley is so great that it has now become a legitimate exit strategy for a growing number of young companies. No sales, no customers, no strategic plan – no problem, apparently!

Binary Programming BallWe’ve never seen more avenues for success and career options for developers, at any rate. You can choose heavyweight enterprise platforms like J2EE or .NET as your core programming framework, safe in the knowledge that the healthcare, financial services, and manufacturing industries are crying out for developers with advanced skills in these areas.

Alternatively, you can go for lighter and more nimble programming options with less legacy baggage. I’m thinking about Ruby-on-Rails, Perl, Python, or a wide range of other flexible scripting languages. These can be fine specialties but they will most likely place you in a fluid start-up environment or growth-phase company.

Stepping back for a moment, I think it’s fair to say that this really is a golden age for programmers. Choices reflect opportunities and both are abundant in the field of programming today. Now where are all those eager computer science graduates?

iStock_Pencils_XSmallI read an article recently that described Bill Gates’ thinking about the future of education, a subject close to his heart over the years.

While he is speaking off-the-cuff about a number of subjects, Gates examines how the global education system is being transformed by the influence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC).

The Khan Academy is a great example — who would have guessed that a simple home-made mathematics tutorial built to help Salman Khan’s niece pass her exams would mushroom into a free education powerhouse that is lauded around the world?

The explosive growth of other MOOC providers, like Coursera and Udemy to name a few, affirms that the staid, stodgy old world of education is ripe for disruption and innovation.

It’s somewhat similar to the revolution in professional training 15 years ago, when e-learning providers like SkillSoft and NETg battled hard for ownership of the market. Back in the 1990s, I worked for SkillSoft (then SmartForce) and witnessed the eminent demise of the old classroom training model that was so expensive and difficult to scale.

Gradually, enterprise customers began to see the inherent benefits of online learning over the restrictive classroom model, and the decline of traditional instructor-led training began in earnest.

In many ways, MOOC providers are revolutionizing the education industry much like e-learning transformed the business of professional training, but we shouldn’t forget that there will be teething problems with such massive growth.

A number of college professors have criticized the lack of real adoption behind the impressive course registration numbers, and the lack of meaningful user engagement continues to dog MOOC providers despite mind-boggling registration numbers.

Some journalists and researchers are just starting to raise legitimate questions about the completion rate of MOOC providers. For example, one study by PhD researcher Katy Jordan puts the average MOOC completion rate at seven percent, which isn’t going to set anyone’s academic pulse racing.

To my mind, Bill Gates captures the essential feeling about MOOC providers today in the following quote:

“We’re at the beginning of something really quite profound,” Gates said, “even though the temptation to oversimplify it is really quite great.”

Gates is absolutely right here — the potential of MOOC providers is enormous.  Who could argue with the goal of making education more available in a free format for users? But the richness and quality of the learning experience needs to be there if such efforts are to succeed.

Simply making the experience free and scalable, but so dramatically simplified that the learning experience is lifeless is not the kind of transformation the industry needs. To quote Bill Gates once again:

“Just sticking a camera in front of someone … who has a captive audience [won't cut it].”

So it’s clear that any serious attempt to transform the education industry must have all the components of a rich learning experience alongside the impressive scale that’s so evident in today’s MOOC companies.

I don’t think anyone has all the answers for what comprises a truly rich and scalable learning experience, but some in the industry are starting to ask the right questions about what it will take to get there.

I’ve been thinking about writing a post about Windows 8 for quite some time, but I decided to let the much-anticipated tide of mockery and schadenfreude wash over the technology landscape first.

Windows 8 LogoSure enough, Windows 8 has been lambasted in the technology press, mainstream press, analyst community, stock market, and elsewhere.

Although I think it’s a red herring, who would have predicted the backlash over people losing their Start button? The reaction is symptomatic of a release that simply pushes users too far beyond their comfort zone without offering enough reward in usability terms. Everywhere you look, cutting analysis explores all the ways that Microsoft’s latest “bet-the-farm” gamble on Windows 8 has failed.

Some argue that software developers, in particular, are bitterly disappointed with the direction taken by Windows 8 — their reluctance to ditch all their “hard-won .NET, Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) expertise to work natively on Windows 8″ is well documented in this scathing ZDNet article titled Five reasons why Windows 8 has failed.

At InnerWorkings, we too have noticed a much slower adoption of Windows 8 developer training than would be expected for such a massive shift in the software development landscape. But it’s fair to say that all major shifts are slow to work their way through the enterprise software food chain, and we’ve seen this technology adoption movie many times before.

Nobody needs to be reminded of the Windows Vista debacle, swiftly followed by the much more impressive Windows 7 OS. In fact, therein lies one of the main problems for Windows 8 (aside from the serious design over usability flaws exposed by Jacob Nielsen) — Windows 7 is such a robust and powerful desktop operating system and many users simply don’t see the need to switch yet.

Windows 8 also represents an extremely ambitious attempt to break free from the past and move all users, kicking and screaming, into a touch-enabled environment across multiple devices. I’ve heard many people comment that Windows 8 works well in smaller devices like smart phones and tablets, but its sparse tile-driven UI induces usability headaches in desktop environments and larger screens.

So how does Microsoft deal with some of these harsh realities surrounding Windows 8? Let us not forget that this company doesn’t give up without a fight, particularly when the future of its market share and influence is at stake. If we’ve learned anything from Microsoft in the past 2 decades, it’s that the company is adept at recovering from limp product launches and early adoption bombs to build a more credible presence in the market. I expect no less from Microsoft on this occasion.

So the emerging question now is how will Microsoft recover from the damage inflicted upon business users, software developers, and consumers by the first release of Windows 8? The drumbeat has already started for Windows Blue, a substantial update that will address many of the pain points associated with Windows 8. Many people feel that Microsoft cannot turn back, while others say the company must retreat and regroup.

It’s tempting to spend a lot of energy wondering what Microsoft was thinking when building Windows 8 and there is no shortage of theories. Did they really want to kill the desktop? Did they overlook the learning curve, as indicated recently by Tammy Reller, head of marketing and finance for the Windows business. Journalists are tripping over themselves to decide which Steve is to blame for the current situation, Ballmer or Sinofsky.

It seems likely that Windows 8 will be acknowledged as a bitter disappointment for Microsoft, notwithstanding the news that over 100 million Windows 8 licenses have been sold since launch. Given Microsoft’s enormous ecosystem of partners and resellers, those numbers don’t surprise me although they do point to some contradictions between the public reception of Windows 8 and its actual reach as a new operating system.

The expectation is that a public preview of Windows Blue will be available by late June 2013, so we can expect some significant roll-backs on particularly annoying features and areas where the envelope was pushed too hard or in the wrong direction. As Mary Jo Foley points out in this excellent article titled With Windows Blue, Microsoft may (finally) do the right thing, listening to your customers is not a sign of weakness.

My intuition tells me that Windows Blue will go a long way towards addressing the ill will that Windows 8 has created in the marketplace, and Microsoft will use its massive reach and global install base of 1.4B users to perform another “Houdini act”. To kill an education metaphor, Windows 8 presents Microsoft with hard lessons but I have little doubt that they are being learned.

What are you doing on April 27th, 2013? If you’re a professional developer, you should consider clearing your calendar on that date because you won’t want to miss the upcoming Global Windows Azure Bootcamp.

Global Azure Bootcamp - April 27, 2013

Too many events throw around the term “global” to make them seem, well, bigger. But this event will span the continents and you can check out the list of global locations — including my own hometown in Dublin, Ireland — to see if there is an Azure bootcamp scheduled in your neck of the woods.

Each bootcamp is a one-day class to get you up to speed on building applications for Windows Azure. It’s not exactly for beginners, but don’t let that hold you back — the event is free and it’s being organized at the local level by some of the top Azure experts available. Why not run a quick check to make sure that you can meet the event prerequisites?

Before signing off, I would be remiss not to mention the growing list of friendly bootcamp sponsors — look closely and you’ll see that InnerWorkings is supporting Azure developers around the globe with free access to our hands-on, practice-based Azure training.

innerworkingslogo_bw

You can test your Azure coding skills against our rules-based code judging engine, fully integrated with Visual Studio. You’ll learn to code Azure web sites, virtual machines, cloud services, storage service, caching, Windows 8 apps, and more. Even better, you won’t pay a penny for this training and it’s valid for 90 days.

There is no shame in showing up to the event fully prepared! If you’re the type to get up early and put your towel on the sun lounger by the pool, why not jump onto our website and register now for your free Azure training from InnerWorkings. Enjoy!

Many professional developers have been waiting on the sidelines wondering when to jump into Windows 8. At InnerWorkings, we think now is the right time to seriously consider upgrading your coding skills to include Win8.Windows 8 Technologies

To that end, we’ve released a full suite of hands-on developer training for Windows 8 using our practice-based methodology of coding exercises that integrate directly with Visual Studio 2012.

In addition, our coding challenges are bundled with several top-notch ebooks, including the excellent Wrox title Beginning Windows 8 Application Development.

Check out our .NET training catalog to see these latest releases for .NET developers looking to gain Windows 8 coding skills. Regardless of whether you want to build your Win8 apps in C# and XAML or JavaScript and HTML5, we’ve got you covered:

To complete our Windows 8 training, you’ll need the Windows 8 Runtime and Visual Studio 2012.

Have you ever worked in a development team that didn’t have access to the proper equipment such as dual screen setups, high resolution monitors, or comfortable chairs? What about shoddy internet access, noisy customer-facing employees, or bad incentive programs?

Developer WorkingIf you believe that poor working conditions can have a substantial impact on developer performance, check out this post titled What Programmers Want. The author, Kevin, recommends everything from the trivial (action figures) to the essential (code reviews) in making a developer-friendly work environment.

Kevin’s post contains a well-reasoned list of 17 things that are truly important to professional developers, and outlines his decision to leave a position that failed to provide adequate monitors for developers.

Similarly, Michael O. Church has written very thoughtful post on What Programmers Want, including flow, feedback and career development. Clearly, Michael sees the payoff in retaining top programming talent as well worth the effort in making the work environment as developer-friendly as possible.

I’m not aware of any research data that correlates good working conditions with developer productivity, but Joel Spolsky does have an excellent old post titled Hitting the High Notes that talks about creating a company where developers really want to work and all the benefits that can bring. Let’s face it, that’s not such a bad starting point for success.

Where do you stand on what programmers really want? Comments welcome.

Windows 8 TechnologiesSan Francisco, CA — February 20, 2013 – InnerWorkings today announced the Beginning Windows ® 8 Application Development Coding Skills Kit (Wiley, 978-1-1186-1991-9, February 2013, US $189.99), a new book-and-training software kit for developing Windows 8 applications.

Created by InnerWorkings and Wrox, an imprint of Wiley, this powerful new training product integrates with Visual Studio 2012 to provide programmers with an effective hands-on learning environment for developing Windows 8 applications.

The practice-based coding challenges, powered by InnerWorkings, indicate which chapters in the Wrox book complement each lesson. As programmers write code in Visual Studio 2012 to solve each challenge, the InnerWorkings patented code-judging engine evaluates the code submitted and provides a score with real-time feedback on each code solution.

The Beginning Windows ® 8 Application Development Coding Skills Kit offers developers:

  • A Wrox book on beginning Windows 8 application development (840 pages)
  • In-depth and step-by-step tutorials for building outstanding Windows 8 applications
  • Practice-based coding challenges with real-time feedback on code solutions
  • The InnerWorkings coding sandbox that runs in Visual Studio
  • Access to expert Personal Tutors for guidance and support
  • Personal certificates of coding achievement in Windows 8 application development

Using this complete coding skills kit, developers will learn how to build stunning Windows 8 apps from start to finish. The Beginning Windows ® 8 Application Development Coding Skills Kit is now available for purchase online and at retailers nationwide. For a list of retailers or more information about the product, visit http://www.wrox.com/WileyCDA/WroxTitle/Beginning-Windows-8-Application-Development-Skills-Challenge-Set-includes-Book-and-Wrox-Skills-Challenge-powered-by-Innerworkings.productCd-1118619919.html?cid=0214NewTitle1.

About InnerWorkings

InnerWorkings offers a truly “hands-on” learning environment that gives software developers real experience writing code and building applications on new technologies like Windows 8, HTML5, and JavaScript. Our rules-based code judging engine scores each code solution and delivers corrective feedback inside Visual Studio. Expert mentoring and technical guidance is available through our dedicated Personal Tutor service. The InnerWorkings learning platform has delivered validated coding skills to over 200,000 developers and many Fortune 500 corporations worldwide. For more information, visit www.innerworkings.com.

About Wrox

Written by actual programmers, Wrox books offer the benefits of real-world experience and road-tested examples that really work. From “Beginning” books that provide a working knowledge of the subject through hands-on lessons that make learning easier than you think to “Professional” and “Expert” books that are loaded with practical, focused information from experts to help developers meet every-day needs and deliver successful projects, Wrox has the resources required at every level. Backed by a global community of developers through the Wrox p2p Forums, programmers gain suggestions and support from authors and fellow programmers. Through innovative and practical resources, Wrox helps programmers get the job done and then do the job better. For more information, visit www.wrox.com. Wrox is an imprint of Wiley.

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” — Albert Einstein

istock_brain_xsmall.jpgHave your developers got smarts?
Professional software developers make a living solving problems with code. Do your developers have the training and discipline to stick with tough problems and see them through to resolution?

Learning by solving problems
We’re quietly confident that you will like our hands-on approach to learning, where developers solve real coding problems in Visual Studio. To prove it, we’re offering 3 free licenses to your software team with no strings attached.

Want to get 3 free licenses?
Contact us
if you’d like to claim three complimentary developer training licenses for your .NET team from InnerWorkings. This offer will expire on February 28, 2013.

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