SP2010 – developer skills preparation

So either you went to the SharePoint Conference last week, or you didn’t go but have seen the blog articles/tweets about various pieces of new functionality in SharePoint 2010. But ya can’t get your hands on the bits until late November when the public beta is released – so what’s a poor developer supposed to do? Well, lots it turns out. Most SharePoint developers are going to need to learn some new skills if you want to hit the ground running on your first SharePoint 2010 project – this post highlights some “generic” (by which I mean non-SharePoint!) topics and techniques which will be useful. This list is primarily a list I made for myself so your priorities might be different, but it’s really what I’d want my first SP2010 project team-mates (whoever they may be!) to be looking at now.

Note that technically, all of these skills and techniques listed here are optional – if you prefer to do things the 2007 way, generally all those approaches will still work. However, if you’re interested in taking advantage of new platform features (and you should be), this list is for you.

LINQ

Call me a code monkey, but possibly *the* most exciting developer feature for me in SharePoint 2010 is LINQ. If you haven’t used LINQ before with other data sources (e.g. SQL, XML, objects), it basically provides a consistent, strongly-typed way of dealing with entities in your data. In SharePoint’s case, this means webs, lists and list items, so we have the option of moving away from code like this:

   1: using (SPSite site = new SPSite("http://cob.spfoundation.dev")
   2: {
   3:     using (SPWeb financeWeb = site.OpenWeb("/finance"))
   4:     {
   5:         SPList announcementsList = financeWeb.Lists["Announcements"];
   6:         foreach (SPListItem announcementItem in announcementsList.Items)
   7:         {
   8:             DateTime expires = DateTime.MinValue;
   9:             if (DateTime.TryParse(announcement["Expires"].ToString(), out expires))
  10:             {
  11:                 // we finally got the value..
  12:             }
  13:         }
  14:     }
  15: }


To something like this:

   1: using (FinanceWebDataContext financeWeb = new FinanceWebDataContext("http://cob.spfoundation.dev/finance"))
   2: {
   3:     EntityList<Announcement> announcements = financeWeb.Announcements;
   4:     foreach (Announcement announcement in announcements)
   5:     {
   6:         DateTime expires = announcement.Expires;
   7:     }
   8: }

In effect, LINQ provides your data access abstraction for free. In addition, other data access scenarios such as inserting/updating list items and querying lists (think SPSiteDataQuery or SPQuery) will also be simplified. If you don’t already, my advice would be to start to understand fundamental aspects of how LINQ works (e.g. deferred execution) now.

Recommended reading:


jQuery

Another innovation in SharePoint 2010 is the client object model, which allows us to work with SharePoint data on the client (e.g. in JavaScript or Silverlight) in much the same way as we’re used to in .Net code on the server. In the case of JavaScript, jQuery will be useful here (though certainly not mandatory) because of the script which will frequently surround your use of the client OM. Put simply, whatever kind of objects you’re using in JavaScript, if you’re interacting with page elements jQuery is likely to reduce and simplify the code required.

Recommended reading (a book I read in this case, though I’m sure great online guides exist too):


PowerShell 

I’d probably been avoided learning PowerShell to date, partly because there always seemed to be another way to do things which wasn’t too bad. However, it’s clear PowerShell will play a greater role in SharePoint than previously courtesy of the many cmdlets included in the product – certainly admins who are script-inclined are likely to be very happy. The draw here is the sheer power – PowerShell is known for being able call into the .Net framework (and your own custom code), but is also capable of dealing with the filesystem, registry etc. This means that PowerShell can be used for a variety of SharePoint related tasks – scripted installations, configuration scripts, site provisioning/updates and more.

Recommended reading:


Silverlight

Whilst it wouldn’t necessarily have been difficult for skilled developers to build a custom web part to render Silverlight movies, it’s an indication of Microsoft’s desire to make it easy to build rich sites that Silverlight web parts are included in the SharePoint 2010 box. Having struggled with Flash movies which read from XML from other teams in the past, having this kind of technology on the “Microsoft developer” side of the fence is pretty appealing. If you have the skills you’ll be able to build web parts with killer user interfaces, and assuming Silverlight is available to your audience the whole SharePoint world will be able to use them.

Recommended reading:


FAST search

You’ve probably heard that SharePoint Server 2010 has native integration with FAST search technology. If you’ve seen the capabilities of FAST and/or had conversations with clients about going beyond a ‘standard’ implementation of search, you’ll know how exciting this is. On my last project I worked with some guys from FAST on a proof-of-concept with extremely custom integration between SharePoint/FAST, so it’s great to see the barrier to entry being lowered here. For many, seeing the art of the possible in this space is a real eye-opener – often you don’t realise what you’ve been missing until you see it. On this one, my main recommendation at this stage is solely to introduce yourself to the concepts used by FAST such as the document processing and query pipelines, dictionaries, entity extraction and so on.

Recommended reading:


WCF

This one makes my list for two reasons – partly because many of SharePoint’s own web services are now WCF services, but also because if you ever want to build a service application in SharePoint 2010, you’ll need to do WCF work. In general terms, it’s good advice that all new .Net web services should be built using WCF (.svc) rather than as .asmx web services anyway.

Recommended reading:


Summary

Although there will clearly be many new things to learn, the good news is many of the techniques you became comfortable with in SharePoint 2007 will still be applicable. The list above focuses on technologies which can play a part with SharePoint 2010, and if you’re anything like me you may want to spend some time with them before you get your hands on SharePoint 2010.

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