Datacom kicks off Microsoft’s Global Integration Bootcamp

By Tim Nelson

It started in Auckland on Saturday, then followed the sunrise across the globe.

Dawn on Saturday 25th saw Datacom stop the countdown clock on the Microsoft Global Integration Bootcamp website.

Starting at 210 Federal Street in Auckland and following the sunrise across 12 locations across around the world, the Global Bootcamp brought the Microsoft integration community together for an intensive day of interactive labs using the latest Azure technology.

With a dual opportunity to lead and learn alongside co-hosts Adaptiv and Theta the team added hospitality and plenty of coffee to create a warm collaborative atmosphere for everyone in attendance.
MicrosoftBootCamp.Presenter

Photo / Datacom’s Craig Haiden presenting at the weekend’s Microsoft Global Integration Bootcamp.

Independent consultants and integrators from both vendors and corporates turned the café into a hub of concentrated activity, augmented by a constant flow of online appreciation from around the globe as successive centres kicked off their day.

Plenty of knowledge was shared and new skills were learned. Hands-on labs covered the full Azure integration stack: enabling hybrid integration scenarios to surface data to the cloud; setting up Service Bus and Logic Apps to orchestrate data flows; configuring API Apps and API Management to present and secure data access; and working with IoT Hub, Stream Analytics and Power BI to provide both deep insight and responsive control of data and devices in real-time.

A big thank you to the dedicated team of organisers and presenters who made it happen: Craig Haiden, Mark Brimble, Mahindra Morar, Mike Howell, James Corbould, Morten Velling and Abhishek Kumar. Literally world-leading…

Check out more about the Global Integration Bootcamp here.

Cross-platform mobile app development with Xamarin

By Emily Wang

mobile innovation

There are many choices available for delivering a mobile solution across diverse platforms today. The right choice can depend on many factors: the required functionality, the target user, and the available budget.

Xamarin can be a good choice – this blog discusses why and when.

If you have not heard of it, Xamarin is a cross platform development tool for building native smartphone apps.

Why Xamarin?

There are many other alternatives, so why would we single out this technology?

I’m a member of Datacom’s Mobile Innovation team, so by nature I’m eager to learn things that would help us to provide optimal mobile solutions. I have a love and hate relationship with Xamarin, but let’s start with the happy journey.

“Native, native, native…”

1) Xamarin builds natives apps, 2) it gives native API access and 3) it leverages native performance. You may have notice that the keyword here is native. In an over-simplified way, it gives better user experience than other forms of cross platform approaches.

In my opinion though, where Xamarin really shines is beyond the build process, in its support for testing and monitoring, the ever-expanding ecosystem, and the business’ awesome team.

Farewell (kind of) to manual testing and costly device procurement

One of the obvious problems for any mobile app project is device procurement, especially for the Mobile Innovation team. We are all gadgets fans and would love to have all the devices on earth. However, it is also a double-edged sword as nobody wants to test manually on all devices. Plus, it’s costly given how quickly new devices come to the market.

Xamarin offers Xamarin Test Cloud, which allows automated app testing and run the tests on hundreds of real devices in the cloud. You could even save the screenshot or replay the testing video if you want. However there are still things that are not really suitable for automated testing, such as user experience. Additionally, one device can only run one test at a time, meaning that your test result may not be returned when you want it.

Why do my apps crash and who’s using them?

Once the apps are on the market, the next thing businesses care about is how to support and monitor the application’s performance. Xamarin offers Xamarin Insights which provides reporting and app usage details. There are similar, mature monitoring offerings on the market, but it is always nice to have a built-in feature.

Backers and Partners

One of the main reasons that we decided to attend the Xamarin Evolve event is their coverage of enterprise, Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS) and platform tracks.

It all sounds too good

Yes and no. It is good, but it is not a silver bullet. When deciding if you should use it, consider the following (this is not an exhaustive list):

Existing skill sets and technology stack

Our team has a strong native development background, which means we are very comfortable and efficient in building with the default, native development approach. However, if your team uses .NET most of the time, Xamarin would come much more naturally.

Community and support

It is always easier to find support and libraries with native development. This is one of the things we miss when we work with Xamarin. Xamarin has offerings to bind libraries but it is never that straightforward.

Limit on user interface (UI) Sharing

This is both a pro and con of using Xamarin. The fact that it respects each platform’s own design principle and allow separate implementation of UI is the right approach. However, it also constrains the extent of code reusability.

App features

It’s great that business logic can be reused on different apps. However, the app’s API should do all the heavy lifting, and therefore remove the unnecessary logic.

If your app requires a lot of logic computation when offline, then Xamarin would make much more sense. For example, if a client requires an app to be used on farms with limited signal, but needs to handle intensive logic on the fly.

Final note

I had the great opportunity to attend the Xamarin Evolve conference in Atlanta last month. There are lots of great sessions during the Xamarin Evolve event, if you are only going to watch one, make it the keynote. It is packed with fascinating technologies such as Xamarin Profiler, Sketches app and their own Android player.

Kids and code – encouraging young people to tinker

CodeCombat

CodeCombat helps people learn Javascript by playing a web-based game.

It’s not news that there’s a global IT skills shortage. Kids are growing up with computers, but they’re not being taught in schools how to tinker with them, how to code for them, or how to fix them. Often, kids don’t begin to learn these skills until they’re in university, if at all.

Thanks to the internet and some passionate IT professionals around the world, children with an interest in computers now have other options.

Last year, Code.org launched the ‘Hour of Code’, an initiative designed to show people of all age groups, genders and countries that they can learn how to create a program.

The programme was a huge success – seven days after its launch, 15 million people from 170 countries completed an hour of code, and one in five US students took part.

Then there are educational games that can teach kids these skills and help them have fun, too – not just solitary video games, but board games that can be played with parents and friends. Technology innovation website VentureBeat has a great list of them, along with commentary from IT and education experts.

Closer to home, Victoria University in Wellington sees the benefits of beginning to teach students IT skills before they get into tertiary education. The university is piloting an after-school programme for high school students – years 10 to 13 – to teach them about various technologies, with the intent of helping to produce more digitally literate adults.

Of course, providing avenues for kids to learn only tackles one of the two major problems with getting students into IT. There is still a lingering perception that only geeks work in IT – a topic for a future blog.