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Wine, Cheese, Technology and Jobs in Seattle

The Eastside Networking Event last night, organized by Andrew Vest, included an interesting mix of wines, cheeses and Seattle area technology companies looking to hire people - primarily, but not exclusively, engineers. At one point, one of the speakers asked how many people in the room were engineers, and only about one quarter or so of the 400+ people in the audience raised their hands, so I'm not sure how well expectations were met among the sponsors and attendees of the event, but I enjoyed meeting interesting people, learning more about the companies and trying some new wines.

image from www.freshconsulting.com Mike Whitmore, of Fresh Consulting, talked about the increasing ways that technology is permeating our lives. The company, which integrates business, technology and design, makes extensive use of Amazon's Mechanical Turk and oDesk for outsourcing its work, using 3,000 people for micro-tasks and mini-tasks from these two services ... most of whom, I imagine, do not work in the greater Seattle area. One of the sites the company has created is web2review.com, which allows users to rate web apps, and then provides capabilities to compare, rank and filter those reviews. Mike mentioned some kind of prize(s) associated with using the site, but I wasn't clear on the details and has kindly clarified the Kindle Contest in a comment below:

  1. Go to www.web2review.com and click on the Community tab.
  2. Click the green Quick Signup button.
  3. Follow the process to Create your Account by August 31st.

All who join the CloudSurfer Community by August 31st are eligible for a drawing for a Kindle 3G.

image from cache.gawkerassets.com My favorite example of new technologies from Mike's talk was Kickbee, a device that can be attached to the belly of a pregnant woman that tweets every time the fetus kicks. There were several articles (including the Gizmodo article I link to above) about this device in December 2008, but the official Kickbee site, and the project page in the portfolio of the device's creator, Corey Menscher (when he was a student at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program), are both currently marked by "This site may harm your computer" warnings in Google. @kickbee reminds me of @PiMPY3WASH, a device connected to a Maytag washing machine that tweets when its load is done [video] ... which seems somewhat less risky than attaching sensors and transmitters to the belly of a pregnant woman. In any case, I agree with Mike that there are many interesting developments in the increasing array of activity streams that are connected to the web, and many exciting opportunities to create useful new services based on the greater awareness and interaction capabilities these offer.

image from awsmedia.s3.amazonaws.com Next up was Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon, who was touting Amazon Web Services. Werner spoke of how AWS has drastically reduced the time and costs of developing enterprise software - from 2 years down to 3-6 months - and increases agility by enabling scaling up and down based on actual (vs. anticipated) demand. Werner claimed that 7 of the top 10 Facebook apps are games (I'm not sure how "top" is measured), all of which run on AWS, and mentioned several non-game web services that I know (and love), and included one that I hadn't heard of before, but will definitely use next time I plan air travel: hipmunk. One of my favorite phrases from the event was Werner's reference to the way AWS helps during that one exponential moment when your web site gets a large spike of visitors (I've always thought of this as getting Boing-Boinged, but "exponential moment" is perhaps more general).

WindowsPhone7 Charlie Kindel, general manager for user experience with the Microsoft Windows Phone 7 team emphasized the game-changing approach that Microsoft is taking to this new platform, i.e., how they are changing their game as they seek to compete more effectively in the smart phone market. The Windows Phone 7 is designed to offer integrated experiences, combining elements of the personal and the professional dimensions of our lives through the incorporation of productivity tools as well as photos, videos, music and games (at various points, Charlie talked about "the Zune phone" and "the Xbox phone"). The live demo - using an app that replicated the phone screen on a laptop screen - was pretty impressive, highlighting the "live tiles" interface and the integration with mail, maps and the calendar. My favorite feature was the button on the calendar app that allows a user to automatically generate an "I'll be late" email to the organizer or all attendees of an event. In addition to the user experience, Charlie emphasized the Windows Phone developer experience, claiming at one point that for someone with any software development experience [presumably with Microsoft tools and languages], it can take as little as 2-3 minutes to get a Windows Phone 7 app up and running (!).

image from sacrebleuwine.com Barbara Evans, aka Seattle Wine Gal, and Community Manager of Thinkspace, promotes social media for and about wine and wineries, and talked about how she started out with no qualifications, but lots of passion & drive to learn about the social online space. I first met Barbara at the afterparty for a daylong conference in Seattle this past winter, for which she had assembled one of the best selections of wineries to pour at a tasting I've encountered in Seattle. I don't know about her claim of "no qualifications": she has a degree in social anthropology, great taste in wines (and wineries), and I suspect that the Boopsie Effect - wherein attractive women suffer disadvantages due to their appearance in certain professions - does not apply to social media (in fact, I imagine it is more the opposite). She attempted to show a video of how to drink wine in the shower during the presentation, but it did not work; having watched it today, despite the images that might come to mind regarding a shower scene, I can say that it is not NSFW.

image from www.cozi.com Bill Baxter, CTO of Cozi, which offers a set of applications to keep busy families organized, offered a blend of "prognosticating and bitching" about the state of web and mobile apps. Citing an "unstoppable juggernaut named Apple", he warned that the current rate of platform proliferation - iOS, Facebook, Windows Mobile 7, WIndows 7/8 (desktop), Android, Safari, Chrome, Internet Explorer 9, HTML5, Blackberry OS, Yahoo Connected TV, Google TV - was unsustainable. He predicted that HTML5/CSS3/JavaScript will be the likely winner, but meanwhile, developers will be forced to create native clients for many plaforms, and so skills in many languages and tools - Objective-C, Java, HTML/CSS/JavaScript, as well as backend skills in database and web services - will continue to be invaluable for the forseeable future. Interestingly (to me), Bill's Twitter account has the fewest followers (3), followees (7) and tweets (2) of any of the speakers, and I can't find a LinkedIn profile either - though @CoziFamily has plenty of followers, followees and tweets - leading me to wonder if social media restraint is a strategy intended to promote the simplification and organization of his [family] life.

Windows_azure_logo Bharat Shyam, General Manager of Microsoft Windows Azure, has no Twitter account (that I can find), which is consistent with his opening statement about how little he typically tends to enjoy networking. Just as Windows Phone 7 is a relative latecomer to the smart phone game, Windows Azure is a relative latecomer to the cloud computing game, having been unveiled in January of this year (although in describing Amazon Web Services, which was an early pioneer in this area 4 years ago, Werner Vogels described the field as still feeling like "day 1"). Bharat emphasized the powerful and popular tools available to support developers on the Azure platform, e.g., Visual Studio for Windows Azure, and said there were already 10,000 Windows Azure developers, and 10,000 Windows Azure customers, a number which is "growing at a rapid clip".

EVenues_logo Nic Peterson, CEO of eVenues, whose Twitter account also exhibits restraint, gave a demo of their "marketplace for underutilized space", showing how a user can search for and reserve an unused conference room - or desk, classroom or event space - owned by another organization based on hourly or daily rates. Nic claimed that the "under 50" [person] meeting space market is a $2.5B business, and noted that hotels charge more than 10 times the eVenue rates (and having organized numerous events, I can attest to high rates in hotels). He said they soon plan to release a backend tool for space owners to more easily manage the availability of their spaces on eVenues, and I found myself wondering about potential partnerships with catering and transportation companies.

Facebook_logo Ari Steinberg, manager of the new Facebook office in Seattle, showed a bunch of photos of the new office (in Pioneer Square), and told us about another networking event / party they are holding at their office next week ... which, unfortunately, is already full. In their quest to ensure that the party is populated primarily by clever engineers, they presented a puzzle as a gatekeeper to the event. Engineers who are late to the party (and/or puzzle), may increase their chances for being invited to future Facebook parties - or perhaps even employment - by doing clever things with the Facebook Graph API, which provides access to 20 types of Facebook objects, including people, events, groups, friends, photos, videos, likes, notes, links and - after yesterday's announcement - places.

Gist_logo T.A. McCann, CEO of Gist ("know more about who you know"), was up last, and started off with the contextually appropriate insight that "the key to social networking is wine". Gist was created to deal with the information overload some of us experience with too many inboxes, social networking connections. Gist combines Outlook, Gmail, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, news, blogs, photos, RSS feeds and contact info into a single stream (for each person), making it easier to learn what's new on a person-by-person basis, regardless of the preferred platform(s) through which that person prefers to express him- or herself. According to T.A., Gist already has more profiles than LinkedIn (!), and before ending his talk - and with it, the presentation portion of the event - he noted the company has 20 employees in Pioneer Square, and "we are always hiring".

Last, but not least, I wanted to say a few words about the wine. Tasting tables were setup during the first speaker session, and the wine was flowing by the time of the first break. There was also a table for Maker's Mark Kentucky Bourbon (on the rocks or in a punch made with Reed's Ginger Beer). The wineries represented - and the wines poured - were

  • Bartholomew Winery poured a 2007 Orsa (69% Syrah, 18% Mourvedre, 13% Grenache), 2007 Reciprocity (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Carmenere) - my favorite of the night - and 2007 Cuvee Rouge (a Cabernet / Merlot blend)
  • Celaeno Winery poured a Gewurtzraminer - the most interesting wine of the night (a prominent smokey flavor, almost like drinking bacon) - a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Mount Baker Vineyards poured a Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc blend, a Cabernet Franc and a Syrah (I did not make careful notes of the origins or vintages)
  • 509 Wines poured a Viognier - my second favorite wine - a Cabernet and a Syrah
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