It is that time of year where I like to reflect back on what the previous year has brought and also set my bearings for the road ahead. If you are interested in reading my 2015 recap, you can find it here.
2016 was a milestone birthdate for myself and my twin brother. In order to celebrate, and try to deny getting old for another year, we decided to run a marathon in New York City. The NYC Marathon is one of the 6 major marathons in the world so it acted as a fantastic backdrop for our celebration. Never one to turn down an adventure, my good friend Steef-Jan Wiggers joined us for this event. As you may recall, Steef-Jan and I ran the Berlin Marathon (another major) back in 2013.
The course was pretty tough. The long arching bridges created some challenges for me, but I fought through it and completed the race. We all finished within about 10 minutes of each and had a great experience touring the city.
Kurt, Kent and Steef-Jan in the TCS tent before the race
At the finish line with the hardware.
Celebrating our victory at Tavern on the Green in Central Park.
Traveling and speaking is something I really like to do and the MVP program has given me many opportunities to scratch this itch. I also need to thank my previous boss and mentor Nipa Chakravarti for all of the support that she has provided which made all of this possible.
In Q2, I once again had a chance to head to Europe to speak at BizTalk360’s Integrate Event with the Microsoft Product Group. My topic was on Industrial IoT and some of the project work that we had been working on. You can find a recording of this talk here.
I really like this photo as it reminds me of the conversation I was having with Sandro. He was trying to sell me a copy of his book, and I was trying to convince him that if he gave me a free copy, that I could help him sell more. Sandro has to be one of the hardest working MVPs I know who is recognized as one of the top Microsoft Integration Gurus. If you have ever having a problem in BizTalk, there is a good chance he has already solved it. You can find his book here in both digital and physical versions.
BizTalk360 continues to be an integral part of the Microsoft Integration community. Their 2016 event had record attendance from more than 20 countries. Thank-you BizTalk360 for another great event and for building a great product. We use BizTalk360 everyday to monitor our BizTalk and Azure services.
On a bit of a different note, this past year we had a new set of auditors come in for SOX compliance. For the first time, that I have experienced, the auditors were really interested in how we were monitoring our interfaces and what our governance model was. We passed the audit with flying colours, but that was really related to having BizTalk360. Without it, our results would not have been what they were.
Things really started to heat up in Q3. My first, of many trips, was out to Toronto to speak at Microsoft Canada’s Annual General meeting. I shared the stage with Microsoft Canada VP Chris Barry as we chatted about Digital Transformation and discuss our experiences with moving workloads to the cloud.
Next up was heading to the south east United States to participate in the BizTalk Bootcamp. This is my third time presenting at the event. I really enjoy speaking at this event as it is very well run and is in a very intimate setting. I have had the chance to meet some really passionate integration folks at this meetup so it was great to catch up once again. Thank-you Mandi Ohlinger and the Microsoft Pro Integration team for having me out in Charlotte once again.
At the Bootcamp talking about Azure Stream Analytics Windowing.
The following week, I was off to Atlanta to speak at Microsoft Ignite. Speaking at a Microsoft premier conference like Ignite (formerly TechEd) has been a bucket list item so this was a really great opportunity for me. At Ignite, I was lucky enough to participate in two sessions. The first session that I was involved in was a customer segment as part of the PowerApps session with Frank Weigel and Kees Hertogh. During this session I had the opportunity to show off one of the apps my team has built using PowerApps. This app was also featured as part of a case study here.
On stage with PowerApps team.
Next up, was a presentation with John Taubensee of the Azure Messaging team. Once again my presentation focused on some Cloud Messaging work that we had completed earlier in the year. Working with the Service Bus team has been fantastic this year. The team has been very open to our feedback and has helped validate different use cases that we have. In addition to this presentation, I also had the opportunity to work on a customer case study with them. You can find that document here. Thanks Dan Rosanova, John Taubensee, Clemens Vasters and Joe Sherman for all the support over the past year.
Lastly, at the MVP Summit in November, I had the opportunity to record a segment in the Channel 9 studio. Having watched countless videos on Channel 9, this is always a neat experience. The segment is not public yet, but I will be sure to post when it is. Once again, I had the opportunity to hang out with Sandro Pereira before our recordings.
In the booth, recording.
Prepping in the Channel 9 studio
I continue to write for InfoQ on Richard Seroter’s Cloud Editorial team. It has been a great experience writing as part of this team. Not only do I get exposed to some really smart people, I get exposed to a lot of interesting topics that only fuels my career growth. In total, I wrote 46 articles but here are my top 5 that I either really enjoyed writing or learned a tremendous amount about.
- Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) Virtual Panel In this article, I had the opportunity to interview some thought leaders in the iPaaS space from some industry leading organizations. Thank-you Jim Harrer (Microsoft), Dan Diephouse (MuleSoft) and Darren Cunningham (SnapLogic) for taking the time to contribute to this feature. I hope to run another panel in 2017 to gauge how far iPaaS has come.
- Building Conversational and Text Interfaces Using Amazon Lex – After researching this topic, I immediately became interested in Bots and Deep Learning. It was really this article that acted as a catalyst for spending more time in this space and writing about Google and Microsoft’s offerings.
- Azure Functions Reach General Availability – Something that I like to do, when possible, is to get a few sound bytes from people involved in the piece of news that I am covering. I met Chris Anderson at the Integrate event earlier in the year, so it was great to get more of his perspective when writing this article.
- Microsoft PowerApps Reaches General Availability – Another opportunity to interview someone directly involved in the news itself. This time it was Kees Hertogh, a Senior Director of Product Marketing at Microsoft.
- Netflix Cloud Migration Complete – Everyone in the industry knows that Netflix is a very innovative company and has disrupted and captured markets from large incumbents. I found it interesting to get more insight into how they have accomplished this. Many people probably thought the journey was very short, but what I found was that it wasn’t the case. It was a very methodical approach that actually took around 8 years to complete.
Another article that I enjoyed writing was for the Microsoft MVP blog called Technical Tuesday. My topic focused on Extending Azure Logic Apps using Azure Functions. The article was well received and I will have another Technical Tuesday article published early in the new year.
Back to School
I left this topic off of the top 5 deliberately as I will talk about it here, but it absolutely belongs up there. Back in June, I covered a topic for InfoQ called Microsoft Introduces Project Bletchley: A Modular Blockchain Fabric. I really picked up this topic out of our Cloud queue as my boss at the time had asked me about Blockchain and I didn’t really have a good answer. After researching and writing about the topic, I had the opportunity to attend a Microsoft presentation in Toronto for Financial organizations looking to understand Blockchain. At the Microsoft event (you can find similar talk here), Alex Tapscott gave a presentation about Blockchain and where he saw it heading. ConsenSys, a Microsoft partner and Blockchain thought leader was also there talking about the Brooklyn Microgrid. I remember walking out the venue that day thinking everything was about to change. And it did. I needed to better understand blockchain.
For those that are not familiar with blockchain, simply put, it is a paradigm that focuses on using a distributed ledger for recording transactions and providing the ability to execute smart contracts against these transactions. An underlying principle of blockchain is to address the transfer of trust amongst different parties. Historically, this has been achieved through intermediaries that act as a “middleman” between trading partners. In return, the intermediary takes a cut on the transaction, but doesn’t really add a lot of value beyond collecting and dispersing funds. Trading parties are then left to deal with the terms that the intermediary sets. Using this model typically does not provide incentives for innovation, in fact it typically does the opposite and stifles it due to complacency and entitlement by large incumbent organizations.
What you will quickly discover with blockchain is that it is more about business than technology. While technology plays a very significant role in blockchain, if your conversation starts off with technology, you are headed in the wrong direction. With this in mind, I read Blockchain Revolution by Alex and Don Tapscott which really focuses on the art of the possible and identifying some modern-day scenarios that can benefit from blockchain. While some of the content is very aspirational, it does set the tone for what blockchain could become.
Having completed the book, I decided to continue down the learning path. I wanted to now focus on the technical path. I am a firm believer that in order for me to truly understand something, I need to touch it. By taking the Blockchain Developer course from B9Lab I was able to get some hands on experience with the technology. As a person that spends a lot of time in the Microsoft ecosystem, this was a good learning opportunity to get back into Linux and more of the open source community as blockchain tools and platforms are pretty much all open source. Another technical course that I took was the following course on Udemy. The price point for this course is much lower, so it may be a good place to start without making a more significant financial investment in a longer course.
Next, I wanted to be able to apply some of my learnings. I found the Future Commerce certificate course from MIT. It was a three month course, all delivered online. There were about 1000 students, worldwide, in the course and it was very structured and based upon a lot of group work. I had a great group that I worked with on an Energy-based blockchain startup. We had to come up with a business plan, pitch deck, solution architecture and go to market strategy, Having never been involved in a start-up at this level (I did work for MuleSoft, but they were at more than 300 people at the time), it was a great experience to work through this under the tutelage of MIT instructors.
If you are interested in the future of finance, aka FinTech, I highly recommend this course. There is a great mix of Finance, Technology, Entrepreneurs, Risk and Legal folks in this class you will learn a lot.
While some people feel that Twitter is losing its relevancy, I still get tremendous value out of the platform. The following is just an example. Someone I follow on Twitter is Dona Sarkar, from Microsoft, I had the opportunity to see her speak at the Microsoft World Partner Conference and quickly became a fan. Back in October, she put out the following tweet, which required further investigation on my part.
Dona’s talks, from the ones that I have seen, are very engaging and also entertaining at the same time. If she is talking about “Gary Vee” in this manner, I am thinking there is something here. So I start to digest some of his content. I was very quickly impressed. What I like about Gary is he has a bias for action. Unfortunately, I don’t see this too often in Enterprise IT shops; we try to boil the ocean and watch initiatives fail because people have added so much baggage that the solution is unachievable or people have become disenfranchised. I have also seen people being rewarded for building “strategies” without a clue how to actual implement them. I find this really prevalent in Enterprise Architecture where some take pride in not getting into the details. While you may not need to stay in the details for long, without understanding the mechanics, a strategy is just a document. And a strategy that has not/cannot be executed is useless.
If you have not spent time listening to Gary, here are some of his quotes that really resonated with me.
- Bet on your strengths and don’t give a f&%# about what you are not good at.
- Educate…then Execute
- You didn’t grow up driving, but somehow you figured it out.
- Results are results are results
- I am just not built, to have it dictate my one at-bat at life.
- Document, Don’t Create.
- We will have people who are romantic and hold onto the old world who die and we will have people that execute and story tell on the new platform who emerge as leaders in the new world.
- I am built to get punched in the mouth, I am going spit my front tooth out and look right back at you and be like now what bitch.
If this sounds interesting to you, check out a few of his content clips that I have really enjoyed:
- Gary Vaynerchuk’s Top 10 Rules For Success
- Technology Doesn’t Care About You or Your Business
- My 2017 Manifesto
I find it is harder and harder to do this. The world is changing so fast, why would anyone want to tie themselves down to an arbitrary list? Looking back on my recap from last year, you won’t find blockchain or bots anywhere in that post, yet those are two of the transformative topics that really interested me in 2016. But, there are some constants that I don’t see changing. I will continue to be involved in the Microsoft Integration community, developing content, really focused on iPaaS and API Management. IoT continues to be really important for us at work so I am sure I will continue to watch that space closely. In fact, I will be speaking about IoT at the next Azure Meetup in Calgary on January 10th. More details here.
I will also be focusing on blockchain and bots/artificial intelligence as I see a lot of potential in these spaces. One thing you can bet on is that I will be watching the markets closely and looking for opportunities where I see a technology disrupting or transforming incumbent business models.
Also, it looks like I will be running a marathon again in 2017. My training has begun and am just awaiting confirmation into the race.