09 Feb 2010

Rangers Sabbatical, part 3 - MCDC

For more in this series, please visit the series index.

The MCDC (Microsoft Canadian Development Centre) was where I spent most of the day during my trip sitting and focusing on code, drinking Dr Pepper (yet another drink no longer available in South Africa) and bugging Microsoft staff for assistance. I sat next to Willy-Peter in the unofficial VSTS section of the building and as is my luck the other person next to me was yet another South African working for Microsoft, named Adrian (who works on the data warehouse in TFS).

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One of the cool Lego based art works inside the MCDC.

The MCDC was just like any development company I’ve seen in South Africa, but what really struck me was seeing how much time is spent on conference calls and see what dedication these people put in to shipping quality products. Weekends and evenings are not time to relax but time to continue pushing.

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An evening with Willy-Peter (far left), his two sons and myself in typical Microsoft delivery mode – evenings are for getting more done.

Not only is the work ethic amazing, but the amount of non-coding activities required to deliver a high quality product that they must do is equally amazing. Two aspects really stood out for me, first was the amount of work the SDL (Security Development Lifecycle) adds to the project and how all aspects of a project is checked and re-checked for security issues. The second is that is understood that VSTS release has been delayed because performance and watching how much focus is put into solving the performance issues was really amazing. Listening to the performance improvements that are being made I have no doubt that they will solve it.

However not everything to do with the trip to the MCDC was easy. On a number of days I had to take the trip to and from the MCDC by myself (instead of following Willy-Peter) which started some interesting impromptu tours of Vancouver from the side of the bus (anyone says I got lost, is just a liar). However the public transport system is amazing, there are plenty of busses and trains which are all well sign posted and only once was I unsure how to get back, so a quick SMS to Willy-Peter, who checked the amazing online system.

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The view of an oncoming sky train out of the front of a sky train.

The three parts of the public transport that blew me away were the sky trains, which are completely automated, the sea bus (which is a huge boat that ferries people across the river) and the online system. I used the online system for one trip I made, which I will post about in part 4, and you put in the time you want to leave, start and end locations and it figures out a number of routes that include busses, trains and sea busses to get you there.

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The sea bus (in the middle of the shot) is coming in to port with Vancouver city in the background.

08 Feb 2010

Rangers Sabbatical, part 2 - Pants on the floor, and shoes in the basket

For more in this series, please visit the series index.

I write to you today from the back of a bus in Vancouver, Canada! It’s 7h20 in the morning here, although my clock and body are telling it is 17h26. This is the first of two busses and a train I am currently using to get to the Microsoft offices. This is a far cry from my usual sitting in Johannesburg, South Africa traffic! What is going on?

Last year I joined the Rangers projects and as part of that (an unexpected and enjoyable part) is a three week trip to Vancouver, Canada and Redmond, USA. The purpose of this trip was to finish, polish and deliver the TFS Integration Platform adapters I have been working on. At the same time this gave me the opportunity to see what life is like at Microsoft and more broadly in North America!

I had never heard of the shoe bomber before this trip, but this ass has ruined flying to America for the rest of the world. That is my belief after going through airport security. While at OR Tambo Airport (or Johannesburg International), I have never had to take my shoes or belt off for any flights to the countries in Africa I have been. However being an American inbound flight there was an additional check before the flight which was the first of the very many times I would take my shoes off.

The trip itself was from Jo’burg to Atlanta, USA (red line below) then a connecting flight from their to Seattle, USA (blue line) and then finally a bus to Vancouver, Canada (yellow line).

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Map from http://www.oera.net/How2/TextureMaps2.htm and pins and lines added by me (not accurately)

The first flight was interesting mostly for the in-flight entertainment which was brilliant where I was able to watch a bunch of classic movies on the flight! Post the Christmas bomb scare there has been a heightened security which meant I missed my connecting flight to Seattle. This gave me the first chance I got to experience the service driven culture that many people leave South Africa for. Delta Airlines were great and got me on the next flight!

This flight to Seattle was interesting as it was the first time I could try American style Coke, aka Coke with corn syrup in place of sugar, that the cast of Major Nelson’s Podcast have spoken about before. I completely understand now why they are sneaking Coke over the borders because it really is just too sweet.

Later, at SeaTac airport, I was able grab a Cherry Coke which we do not get in South Africa, and that was much better!

However the most interesting part for me was the bus ride from Seattle to Vancouver. During this ride I got to see the Space Needle which thought would be bigger and also saw the huge harbour that is Seattle. For some reason I had never thought of Seattle as harbour town because it is inland a bit, but the fjords and rivers that run in this part of the world allow it to be a very impressive one. This was also the first chance I got to check my email in over a day as the bus had free WiFi!

Oddly enough crossing into Canada didn’t require my shoes to come off, so I guess it’s only America that is at war with the people who conceal bombs in shoes and underwear. Finally after 28 hours of travelling (16 hr, Flight to Atlanta; 3 hr, Getting through customs and waiting for flight; 5 hr, Flight to Seattle; 4 hr, Bus to Vancouver) I finally met Willy-Peter at the bus stop in a very rainy Vancouver!

05 Feb 2010

Rangers Sabbatical, part 1 - Prologue

For more in this series, please visit the series index.

Welcome to the first part of a series of posts which I wrote during and after my Rangers sabbatical. In future posts I will talk about the trip in detail, but this post will just cover the history of the trip and what all these odd terms I may use mean.

The Rangers

The rangers are NOT related to any of the following:

A football team
A TV show
A military group
An ice hockey team

The Rangers are group of individuals which is made up of internal Microsoft staff, mostly from MCS (Microsoft Consulting Services); MVP’s (external people awarded the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional award) and key community leads.

The Rangers are linked to a specific Microsoft product, in my case it is VSTS (Visual Studio Team System), and not all products have a Rangers team.

The goal of Rangers is to fill in the gaps in products with custom solutions and guidance – so that may include information on how to run TFS (Team Foundation Server) on a virtual machine, quick reference posters for the product, or additional tools.

This is different from the MVP program, where you are awarded a MVP for work you have done because you become a Ranger for the work you will do and there are specific goals, projects and guidelines for the work.

A more in depth view of the Rangers team and the structure can be found at in the post on VSTS Rangers Positioning Rangers and Projects.

Normal Process

The normal process for all Rangers work, even those who work for Microsoft, is that this is an extra effort team. Meaning that you have your day-to-day job and this is done in evenings, weekends or on bus rides. This really becomes a labour of love for the product.

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Me working on a bus during the sabbatical. Picture from Willy-Peter Schaub

Sabbatical

The sabbatical is a new idea to the Rangers, where an external person (MVP or community member) takes leave from their day-to-day and spends time working directly with the product teams. For VSTS this means that you would need to be in one or more locations, since the VSTS/VS/Rangers team is spread out between Vancouver, Canada; Seattle, Washington, USA; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Hyderabad, India and China.

Map from http://www.oera.net/How2/TextureMaps2.htm and pins added by me (not accurately)

This idea is so new to the Rangers that I am the first person to take part in it and me this meant I would spend two weeks in Vancouver and a week in Seattle.

NDA

While this trip was not a business trip for me, it was business for Microsoft and I got access to a lot of info, people, places and experiences which I cannot talk about because of the NDA I have with Microsoft. So if you ask yourself why this seems so little for the amount of time, part of it is that the NDA doesn’t let me and the second part is that the technical aspects of the work will be covered in a separate series.

15 Jan 2010

We can rebuild him, we have the technology - Rangers Factory Ships!

I am very excited that at midnight we shipped the latest Rangers solution the VM Factory!

What is the Visual Studio 2010 and Team Foundation Server 2010 VM Factory?
The purpose of this project is to build prescriptive guidance around the virtualization of the Visual Studio 2010 and guidance for full automation of the creation of virtual machines. The goal is to help users with the installation and configuration of virtualized environments with least effort and maximum automation.

You can download it from Codeplex

What is in the package?

The download package consists of two ZIP package downloads:
  • Rangers Virtualization Guidance
    • Focused guidance on creating a Rangers base image manually and introduction of PowerShell scripts to automate many of the configuration tasks.
    • Virtualization guidance looking at the “why” and “how” to use virtualization for Team Foundation Server and Visual Studio, including planning, pre-requisite software, use of non-Microsoft virtualization technologies and introducing use case scenarios.
  • Rangers Factory Package and Guidance
    • Reference walk-through documentation on how to install, configure and support a Microsoft internal or an external factory to automate the installation of Team Foundation Server and Visual Studio environments.
    • Microsoft Deployment Toolkit metadata and PowerShell scripts used to create a Rangers factory.

The two little secrets of this is that the guidance, while targeting specific products on VM’s can actually be used as a base for non-VM scenarios and as since products like TFS use a lot of core services, for example SQL, there is a lot that can be used to build on for working with other products. The other secret is that a lot of the PowerShell scripts here are my own work, so I am very excited to see them get used and get some feedback on them!

14 Jan 2010

Holy download fever Batman

Seems that in the last week, and just in time for me to be in Canada where they have bandwidth, that a bunch of things have become available for download which deserve your attention:

VS 2010 Quick Reference Guidance is now out!

Plus hotfix 1 for it

Visual Studio Team Foundation Server 2010 Upgrade Guidance is now out!

The new Nokia 5800 firmware (40.0.0.5) is out – which brings it up to the level of the X6 in features now!

Lastly, and sneakily at the end of this post, my latest open source tool is out. Now I am not going to tell you what it is, but it is for presenters (mostly) and requires .NET 4.0 Beta 2 and Windows 7. Hopefully the name will entice you to check out Rule 18!

04 Jan 2010

Most Valuable Indian

ee358786_ZaydKara(en-us,MSDN_10)So yesterday I posted about myself getting the MVP award, well today it got better as my friend, co-worker, fellow VSTS Ranger and S.A. Architect lead: Zayd Kara has also been awarded a MVP for his work with Team System! Congratulations Zayd!

03 Jan 2010

And the award goes to...

MVP

With the count down clock at T-10 days to my sabbatical trip an email popped into my mail box… it was an email from Microsoft congratulating me on getting the MVP (Most Valuable Professional) award for my work with Team System!

What is this MVP Award?

The Microsoft MVP Award is an annual award that recognizes exceptional technology community leaders worldwide who actively share their high quality, real world expertise with users and Microsoft… With fewer than 5,000 awardees worldwide, Microsoft MVPs represent a highly select group of experts. MVPs share a deep commitment to community and a willingness to help others. They represent the diversity of today’s technical communities. MVPs are present in over 90 countries, spanning more than 30 languages, and over 90 Microsoft technologies. MVPs share a passion for technology, a willingness to help others, and a commitment to community. These are the qualities that make MVPs exceptional community leaders. MVPs’ efforts enhance people’s lives and contribute to our industry’s success in many ways. By sharing their knowledge and experiences, and providing objective feedback, they help people solve problems and discover new capabilities every day. MVPs are technology’s best and brightest…

Richard Kaplin, Microsoft Corporate Vice President

So this is a great honour for me to be welcomed into a group of people who I look up to and respect :)  You can see my new MVP profile up at https://mvp.support.microsoft.com/profile/Robert.MacLean

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