Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sitecore Symposium 2016 (New Orleans)

Sitecore Symposium 2016 : a developer view

New Orleans: city of lively music, amusing drinks, po-boy beignets and the 2016 Sitecore Symposium. 

In this post I will share some of my thoughts on attended sessions from a developers point of view. A bit more in-depth information on some topics will follow: blogged and presented on SUG Belux.

Starting the event with a brass band immediately set the tone: this was going to be an experience! Where did we here that word before... and again. In the keynote, between the announcements of the Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA), serious updates to Path Analyzer and EXM, or the new Commerce vNext. Not to forget Sitecore on Azure.

Day 1

The developer keynote was a good news show for developers with the "best practices" called Helix (Habitat is the example), a view on the open standards being used, .net core being embraced, a Sitecore nuget, and a move to more open source projects (Rocks, PathFinder, SIM, ...). But the main focus was community. Cool!
The community website should be known to all. The Slack channels get more and more users and usually someone is always there to answer your Sitecore question (in between the small talk). We should not forget Twitter, the many blogs out there and the user groups all over the world - including the amazing SugCon in Copenhagen this year. And recently a dedicated StackExchange site went in to beta. Proud to be part of all this!


My first session was about xConnect. A promising new framework that should give us an (easy) API to work with analytics data. Sitecore will be using the framework itself in several modules. We will be able to use it to integrate all kinds of external data into xDB (write) or get all sorts of combined data out of xDB (read) to be used in code or external tools (e.g. Power BI). xConnext is not yet available, but will be shortly.

Commerce vNext

"Sitecore Commerce vNext is a brand new, state of the art commerce engine, designed from the ground up as an integral part of the Sitecore Experience Platform, built on ASP.NET Core." That's what they say. Sounds good though, and in just a few more months  we should be able to test if it. The demo showed a nicely integrated platform with lots of options in the box, but also an architecture that should provide lots of integration points where custom development - 'Plugins" -  can be hooked into the processes.

Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA)

Mentioned in two keynotes, so this SXA must be the new hype in Sitecore land. As it all looks nice with lots of "buts", I can't make up my mind on this one. It's something to look at and investigate further, that's for sure. It has some great features to rapidly create new sites and/or pages without the need for a developer. Front-end developers will be pleased to hear that in a future version we should be able to choose the grid system. It's a module with great opportunities but also with some challenges for implementation partners. Update-1 should be available in the very near future...

We finished our day with a warm-up in the partner pavillion, getting ready for the party in the House of Blues. This turned out to be quite an experience (didn't use that word enough so far). But this is a developers view so nor drinks nor a stage filled with Sitecore-women sounds interesting, right?

Day 2

The keynote of day 2 can be captured in: "Play hard. Work hard.". Sounds like a plan! 


I started the sessions with a view on how to conquer languages in Sitecore. We got an interesting round-up of what the current language fallback can do and how to use it. Unfortunately I got the feeling that the audience (including myself) hoped for some more real-life solutions to multi-lingual (sometimes combined with multi-site) issues. I hope I could help some people by pointing them to our EasyLingo module on the marketplace, and would be pleased to get feedback.


After missing Bas Lijten's session at SugCon Copenhagen this year, I had to attend this time. Although his demo got pwned the session still provided some good information on presumably basic security settings that are unfortunately still not always tackled. I would like to point to Bas' project on GitHub on security in Sitecore projects. I must admit I didn't find the time to really check it out but it is definitely on my radar and should be on yours too.


Next in line was Dan Solovay - a fully seated session on unit testing in a Sitecore project.  Based on Sitecore 8.2, which made the session very interesting. The majority of the audience was already aware of FakeDB and unit testing principles, but Dan managed to point out some tips and tricks not everyone knew. And the new capabilities in Sitecore caused by the move towards interfaces and virtual functions are very promising for test-driven developers. If you are interested in unit-testing, make sure to check the information on Dan's blog.


They saved the best for last... the new publishing service presented by Stephen Pope looks very good. It's a complete new way of handling the publishing, making it a separate service that handles it's stuff in bulk operations making it very fast and robust.

It's a very lightweight process on .net core. An interface was created in the Sitecore admin to see what is going on in the publish service, and developers will be pleased to know that there is also a debug mode allowing you to follow all the steps in a console window. The service is a first version now in Sitecore 8.2 and will evolve as some topics are still in the backlog, but it's already a huge change in a part of the framework that hadn't truly changed since..  well, a long time. Sites that need to handle large publishes will surely benefit and it will become easier for content editors as they don't need to know about different publishes nor need to wait for a counter that goes up to..  And as icing on the cake: "publish site" is gone! (except for admins who know where they have hidden the button).


The final keynote gave us a sneak of the future, but if you want to know about that: start saving for Las Vegas 2017!


It was a great event. An experience (did I use it enough now?). It truly was. A symposium is a place to meet people. Which I did. A chance to say hi to guys you only see online the rest of the year because they reside in Sri Lanka (Chaturanga) or in the far away Netherlands (Bas, Robbert, ...) and to meet new people - and I surely still missed some guys.

A symposium is also a place to catch up on new stuff, get some insights, tips and tricks to create even better Sitecore solutions. And I did.

Although it might look quite impossible to make the next symposium even better, I would like to give one remark for the organizing team. Based upon feedback that I heard from several people after different sessions I would suggest to give session some sort of "level" indication. Now the sessions are divided between developers, marketers and business people which is good but in quite a few cases attendants came out of a session disappointed because they learned (almost) nothing. Sessions at a lower level are very useful and needed for a part of the audience, but there are quite a few experts as well - so it would be nice to know upfront what the target of the session is. It's probably more difficult then it sounds but I'm quite sure it would make the experience even better.


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