The Arctic SharePoint Challenge: A Hackathon for Office 365 Enthusiasts

This is an expanded version of the article I wrote for BZ Media‘s SPTechReport – the folks who bring you SPTechCon – last week. (Use my code ANDERSON when you register for SPTechCon Austin and save an additional $200!)

Last week I had the honor of being a judge at the Arctic SharePoint Challenge in Oslo, Norway. This is an annual challenge put on by a group of SharePoint-focused consulting companies in and around Oslo, though occasionally teams come from further afield.

Each year, there is a different theme. Two years ago when I was a judge the first time, the theme was Star Wars (apt, given the Hoth-like landscape outside the hotel where ASPC is held), last year was Marvel, and this year was The Matrix.

The Mission: #ASPC2017 aims to stimulate collaborative learning, networking and stimulation of ideas for participants through hands-on, time-limited challenges. We are fiercely competitive, yet vastly helpful and extremely sharing (also across teams), realizing that collective learning is more important than personal gain!

More informally, I see several great outcomes of the challenge.

  • Demonstrate, use, and learn about the latest developments in the SharePoint ecosystem
  • Work together in teams that – though generally from the same company – may rarely get to work together. (On site client work keeps them separated much of the time.)
  • Step outside a normal comfort zone, outside a client context, and try some crazy stuff.
  • Meet and work with teams from other consulting companies in the region.
  • Have a truly great time.

The challenge is held at a beautiful hotel in the mountains outside Oslo. When it’s raining in the city, it’s usually snowing near the hotel. It’s a great facility with fantastic food – no cold pizza for this hackathon.

View from the bridge of the Nebuchadnezzar – courtesy David Parker – Tap or click to see the 3D version at Theta

So, we had all the ingredients for a great event:

  • Smart, motivated people
  • Fantastic facilities
  • Judges from far away (we get the best deal, I think!). Joining me for the judging were: Benjamin Niaulin (Sharegate), Fabian Williams (K2), Yina Arenas (Microsoft), Scott Durow (Develop1), and David Walker (BVisual).

Each team decides what to build, with some connection (sometimes rather obscure) to the theme. The theme makes the event a lot more fun, and provides many opportunities for movie line quotes and strange scenarios.

We had a predefined list of categories upon which to judge each team’s work.

  1. Awesome Code–  Best practice around different technologies; What type of framework; BP on Platform chosen; Having a GitHub Repo; Nice Code / Commit / Issues // Commented
  2. Go with the Flow– Workflow automation; Webhooks; Forms and process automation; Event receivers; CRM workflows
  3. User Experience– User friendly, Usability, User interaction, Accessibility; Mobile; Responsive design
  4. Geeky Bastards– Use iOT and other tech outside of O365 area; Mention Azure ML; Python or R; Bot Framework; Hololens; Tesla; AI, Cortana, Alexa, etc
  5. Power User Love– Your solution can easily be extended or used by “Power Users” to do more with it.
  6. Mile High Club– Cloud services; Azure functions; Microsoft Graph; AWS, Lambda; Cloud APIs
  7. Team Spirit– Open your code so others can use it; Be a good team; Happy camper; Help others; Blogs sharing what you have learned
  8. Dynamics Dynamite– Use of Dynamics 365 in the solution. This was a new area for many of the teams, but a few found some CRM experts to bring along with them.

Bonus Challenge – Visio – Develop custom shapes, connect them to data, and embed them in SharePoint. Hint: There’s some great new stuff coming here very soon, so keep an eye out for an announcement! We got a bit of a preview as part of the challenge, and it’s not your grandfather’s Visio anymore. (Did you know Visio first came out in 1991?)

Scott Durow did a yeoman’s job of keeping score during the event using Dynamics 365 to capture the data as we went along, and Power BI to display it. If you click on the image below, you can see the final, live scoreboard.

As you can see, the PuzzlePart Appsters took the competition this year. I believe that makes it 3 / 7 for them. If you’d like to see some of what they were able to build, take a look at the Team Blogs on the ASPC site. The Appsters’ intro video for the final presentation is over on YouTube:

I’d love to see this hackathon / challenge idea reproduced elsewhere. I’ve been to several other hackathons as a judge, and this one has something special going for it. The combination of factors: great location, company-based teams, entertaining theme, and admirable goals truly makes for something special that people return to year after year.

It’s very interesting and important to have events like these, made me realize how little I know. A perfect time to step out of the comfort zone and the work routine to explore ideas with like-minded folks in the industry. Seeing Bots interact with the Microsoft Graph, Hololens recognizing faces and storing the information in SharePoint, integrating Flows and PowerApps to CRM and our beloved platform…very exciting and more importantly, a great learning experience – Benjamin Niaulin

Reports from afield tell us that SharePoint user group participation has flagged (at least in the US). Perhaps events like these are the next evolution of the “user group” concept?

If you’d like to know more about ASPC so you could try to run a similar event, feel free to ping me and I can put you in touch with the appropriate person. Also, it would be great to see a few new teams at ASPC 2018!

Additional Information

David Parker’s posts

Some particularly tricky problems solved:

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New Version of SPDisposeCheck and SharePoint Visio Stencils

I spotted a couple of things out in the InterWebs yesterday that I thought would be of general interest.

First, there’s a new version of SPDisposeCheck. The announcement of this over on Roger Lamb’s SharePoint Developer Blog gives a good overview of the changes. Specifically:

SPDisposeCheck is a tool that helps developers and administrators check custom SharePoint solutions that use the SharePoint Object Model helping measure against known Microsoft dispose best practices. This tool may not show all memory leaks in your code and may produce false positives which need further review by subject matter experts.

The SPDisposeCheck updated tool remains a standalone command line utility and we’ve added a Visual Studio 2008/2010 IDE Add-In which calls out to the SPDisposeCheck.  This Add-In was originally presented at the SPC 2009 and is now available publically.  In addition this version has been tested with both WSS 3.0 + MOSS 2007 and SharePoint 2010 (Foundation and Server) environments.

Finally, we have added several checks on when “NOT” to Dispose objects instantiated by SharePoint internally.  These newly reported “DO NO DISPOSE” (DND) rules were unreported by SPDisposeCheck v1.3.* .  We would encourage you to run the updated SPDisposeCheck tool on all customized SharePoint projects to help identify areas in code which may lead to memory pressure and server stability issues.  As a best practice you should consider adding this tool to your SharePoint software development life cycle build process and review its output with a subject matter expert on a regular interval.

Everyone and their brother was tweeting this yesterday, but it still seemed worth pointing it out, especially since SPDisposeCheck is now available as a Visual Studio add-in. In my experience, not cleaning up after themselves seems to be one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen in custom Web Part development.

Second, there’s a new set of Visio stencils for SharePoint available from Microsoft.

Download this zip file of Microsoft Visio stencils to create your own diagrams for models of server deployments. For examples of how the IT pro content publishing team for Microsoft Office 2010, Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, Microsoft Project Server 2010, Microsoft Search Server 2010, and Microsoft SharePoint Foundation used these shapes, see these pages:

Tip ‘o the toque to Dan Usher (@usher) for pointing this one out.