In the Community with Brian Lagunas

Jessica Skarzynski / Thursday, September 25, 2014

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Infragistics Product Manager, Brian Lagunas, to pick his brain about the tech community, his favorite events, and what the next best thing is going to be. Read on!

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I actually started my development career as a 3D animator.  I used to be really big into 3D modeling and animation.  I was going to make animated movies like “Finding Nemo” and “Shrek”.  I actually got a degree in multimedia application development to pursue this career, but not long after I graduated, I discovered writing code.  First was HTML/JavaScript/CSS with PHP. Then a little bit of Classic ASP, Coldfusion, and Flash.  I even wrote plugins for the Dreamweaver IDE way before Adobe owned it.  I decided to get another degree in software engineering where I got down and dirty with C++, Java, VB.NET, and then I finally found C#. Then I moved on to thick client apps with WinForms.  I mainly worked in the construction/engineering and manufacturing industry where I eventually became a software solutions architect for a large enterprise.  When WPF was created, I was hooked!  Then Silverlight was released and made my dev life complete; both thick client and web with one technology. 

XAML became my life.  It unlocked a passion in me that I had to share with my community.  I started speaking at local dev events.  I became a leader of my local Boise .NET Developers User Group (NETDUG).  I became involved in my local Boise Code Camp and eventually became a board member.  I went on to create the most popular WPF open source project on CodePlex called the Extended WPF Toolkit.  I soon became a Pluralsight author, creating courses on XAML, as well as the Microsoft Patterns & Practices Prism library.  Now, I am a Microsoft MVP, and a Microsoft Patterns & Practices Champion.  I am always speaking at some event, somewhere, talking about XAML, Prism, or game development.

A little known fact; before my days as a developer, I was an Infantryman in the United States Army.  Unfortunately, after 3 ½ years, I was injured in the line of duty and was medically discharged.  After my military days I was a Police Office for Canyon County in Caldwell Idaho.  That only lasted a year before I found code.

So what do you do now with Infragistics?

I have worked at Infragistics as the Product Manager for everything XAML for nearly 3 years.  I cover all the WPF, Silverlight, Windows Phone, and Windows 8 controls.  For those not familiar with what a Product Manager is or does; a Product Manager is just a fancy word for “customer’s voice”.  My job is to be my customer’s voice into the product.  If a customer needs a new control or feature in a product, they just let me know, and I make it happen.  So, if you have a feature request for one of our XAML products, I need to know about it.  Of course, there is much more to what I do, but that sums up the most important part of my job.

As a Product Manager, you get out to a lot of events in the developer community. What’s your favorite part about that?

What’s interesting, is that most Product Managers do not attend or speak at events, but rather stay in the office behind closed doors.  I’m not that kind of guy.  So, if I had to choose a favorite part, it would have to be the people.  I have to be involved in my community, interacting with my peers, sharing my knowledge and learning from others.  I get to meet people from all over the world, and get different perspectives on various technical topics, that not only helps me with my job as a Product Manager, but also helps me grow as a person.  Some of my best and closest friends were made at a developer event.

You’re presenting at a lot of events this fall. Tell us about that.

The week of October 6th I’ll be in Washington, DC speaking at VS Live – if you plan on attending, make sure to stop by and see me! While there, I’ll be presenting two talks that I’m really excited about. The first one, “Creating Cross-Platform Games with Unity”, is an introduction to game development.  This session is meant for those people who are new to game development and would like to know how to get started quickly.  In this session I cover all the basics of using the Unity game engine to get started writing cross-platform games. We look at how to navigate the Unity IDE, as well as how to create scenes, add objects to scenes, add sound effects and music, as well as add animated first person characters, and how to add scripting using your current C# or JavaScript skills.

In my second talk, I focus on Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). My “WPF for the Real World” session is aimed at giving you the knowledge required to get started writing line of business WPF applications so that you can become a more important asset to your employer. There will be no spinning buttons, no rotating cubes, and no silly or impractical tricks.  The session will concentrate on the basic building blocks required to be a successful WPF developer. By the end of this session you will know what XAML is, how to manage layout in your application, define controls in your views, style and template your views, handle events, and manage data with data binding and the MVVM (Model-View-ViewModel) design pattern. This will be an interactive and fun learning experience where the attendees control the direction of the talk and emphasize what they are most interested in.

In addition to larger events like VS Live, you also work with smaller code camps and user groups. What do you like best about them?

There are a ton of great user groups and code camps around the nation.  I like these events because they are all about the local community; run by developers for developers.  At no cost to the attendees, these events are all supported by volunteers, and the sessions at these events are submitted by the local community.  These events aren’t influenced by corporate agendas or propaganda.  You don’t have to be an MVP, or a “rock star” speaker, or have some other nomenclature after your name to speak.  The people are there because they want to be.  They want to learn, and teach, and share their knowledge with their peers.  There are no egos, no elitism, no pressure, or sense of social status.  Sessions are informal, and they have a great sense of community.  These are by far my favorite events.  I actually prefer user groups and code camps over larger events any day!

Since you started coding, how has the developer community shifted in terms of popular technologies?

I can only speak about the .NET community, but I look at this from two different angles: what people are using versus what’s being presented to the community in the media.

In terms of what people are using, this really depends on a developer’s job.  Some of the most popular technologies being used to create new apps are ASP.NET Web Forms and MVC, Windows Forms, WPF, and for the people that didn’t get the memo, Silverlight.  Companies using Silverlight better start creating a transition plan to one of the other technologies sooner rather than later.  Now, these technologies have been around a while, and they are very mature.  A developer will rely on these technologies to maintain current apps, or create new apps at their place of work depending on the application’s needs.  The biggest shift in this space is around the web technologies; from ASP.NET Web Forms to MCV, and most recently HTML5/JavaScript/CSS3.  For public facing sites responsive is becoming a very big deal, and every web app has to have some form of it to be relevant in today’s market.  Unfortunately, most large enterprises are not even close to having browsers that support all the new HTML5/CSS3 features, so they are stuck using older technologies such as Web Forms, or MVC which is becoming the preferred web tech for enterprise devs.  As far as thick client, WinForms still has a slight edge on WPF, but WPF is quickly becoming the main player in the enterprise for desktop development.

But that’s different from what’s popular at events and in the media.  Lately everything out of Microsoft has been about Windows Store apps, and more recently Windows Universal apps (which share a common code base, and be built against both Windows Phone and Windows Store).  Unfortunately, currently the adoption here is dismal, but Microsoft isn’t backing down.  Now, the web has the biggest shift here.  Everything is about HTML5, JavaScript, CSS3, and all the different frameworks that can be used with these technologies.  Frameworks such as jQuery, AngularJS, Bootstrap, NodeJS, KnockOut, Backbone, Derby, Ember, and much more are headlining at just about every event today.  Of course, Azure is also on Microsoft’s list of things they are pushing heavily.  Lastly, you have a huge push, and interest, for building native cross platform apps using Xamarin, and building cross platform games with Unity.

The tech space is moving fast, and it can be overwhelming for anyone to try to keep up.  If you are in the enterprise, you are somewhat sheltered from this fast paced tech movement.