12 Feb 2010

Rangers Sabbatical, part 6 - What's Next?

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

j0432558 Three weeks away from my family, 32900km in distance travelled, thousands of lines of code written, and hundreds of pictures taken what is the outcome of all of this and what do I do next?


One of the activities I took part in during my time in Seattle was a code review session of the work I had done. The outcome of that was a list of cleanup and fixes so I need to get that done, which means my weekends and evenings are not free. I also have documentation to do, part of that will be a blog series on the adapters and and another aspect will be a more formal lab guide so people can set it up.

Moving further from the integration project, the Rangers projects do not stop, in fact this is my forth one to date (and the biggest one I have done)! So I am sure when this moves from active development to a more maintenance cycle I will get involved in some other aspect of the Rangers work. I’m hoping that future projects involve testing TFS from the beaches in Hawaii ;)

image_2 MVP Summit

I mentioned in my last post that I will be fixing the lack of sightseeing in Seattle soon – well that will be happening from the 15th Feb! I will be back in Seattle for MVP Summit. This is a private Microsoft conference for people who have won the MVP award and is going to be packed with information, up close and personal time with the product team, and plenty of parties!

I am not going alone, this time I take with me Zayd Kara and Rudi Grobler (both of whom are MVP’s and both work with me at BB&D), so we will spend a few days there after MVP summit to have a look around Seattle! Seattle, you’ve been warning – The South Africans are coming!

For an insight into what summit will be like see the summit teams blog which is filled with info on places to go, sessions to see, what to eat and so on!


A final thanks is needed to the people that made this trip happen:

  • Willy-Peter – the force behind getting me there, organising everything, taking me snow shoeing, listening to me speaking endlessly on the busses, and opening his family and house up.
  • Carola – the force behind Willy-Peter and an amazing hostess. I was treated like royalty while I stayed with them and I loved our chats in the evenings.
  • Terry Y. – the unsung hero of these adapters. He works for Microsoft and spent a lot of time debugging issues in the adapters and integration platform with me.
  • Charles Sterling – opening up your home, feeding me better than I have ever been fed, and showing me life at Microsoft and America.
  • Bill E. – for taking the time out of your schedule to give me guidance!
  • Everyone who I met at Microsoft, who most I can’t remember your names because there were so many people, that made me feel very much at home!
11 Feb 2010

Rangers Sabbatical, part 5 - Microsoft City

800px-Microsoft_sign_closeup For more in this series, please visit the series index.

The second part of my trip, was a short stay in the city of Redmond (near Seattle, Washington, USA) which is where the worldwide headquarters of Microsoft are located. I knew it was big, but I suspected it would be more a big office park… I very quickly stopped thinking of it like an office park but rather like it’s own city, a Microsoft City because it is MASSIVE!

Let me take a step back here, I got off the bus from Vancouver and caught a cab to Microsoft. I expected to have to tell the driver where the Microsoft Campus was, but he knew – in fact he knew it so well, he even asked which building I wanted too (which did not help, since he still got lost looking for the building). Coming off the highway to Redmond all you see is the Microsoft Connector busses and shuttles (they have almost 60 busses alone) which are used to help the staff get around the massive place. A good review of all the transport, which is not just the busses and shuttles, is on the Microsoft Alternative Commuting page

I didn’t think to take a photo of the busses so here is one I found.

Once inside the buildings, for me that was building 41 (.NET Framework) & 25 (Team Foundation Server) you suddenly feel like you have stepped through the looking glass. Outside Microsoft looks very corporate, even sitting in reception in building 41 looks corporate (except the the people in shorts that walk past every so often); but inside the individuality of people and the passion of the teams shine. Everyone’s office there is different and reflects a lot of personality, be it covered with Australia themed items (like boomerangs) or Star Wars or cats there is plenty of variety.


Looking out of my temp office in Redmond, that is building 42 where ASP.NET finds their home.

The team passion also shines through when you walk around. There are monitors on the passage walls showing burn down charts, information on the number of outstanding bugs for releases and inspirational items. An example of the inspirational items I saw, was with the reporting section for TFS. This team have a section of the passage wall with a dozen or so different looking reports up there. I can imagine a developer standing there looking at them and getting inspired on how to improve their reports, or getting an idea on a different way to show data. For security and NDA reasons there are no photos of this, but if you looking for what it is like you should watch the a Channel 9 video where they tour the SQL Reporting Services team – it is EXACTLY like that.

In Vancouver I stayed with Willy-Peter and his family, which meant I needed a new family for Redmond and Charles Sterling agreed to open his family and house to me which was brilliant! Charles gave me deep insights into Microsoft life and the history at Microsoft which you would expect from someone with his depth of knowledge. However I did not know that Charles is also an AMAZING cook – the dinners at his house are some of the memories which I will remember for a long time. He also showed me what the life in America is like, things like shops being open at 10 at night, Netflix (which is a pipe dream in South Africa), self checkout (that is a dream for many criminals in South Africa) and played a lot of Halo 3 with me! It was a very enlightening experience and has really helped me normalise my views of America, which until then were very based off South African media and American movies and TV shows (oddly there is not nature disasters everywhere as shown in movies) so I owe Charles a huge thanks for all of that!

Unfortunately the time there was too short and too busy for me to do sightseeing, but I will fix that soon!

10 Feb 2010

Rangers Sabbatical, part 4 - Sights of Vancouver

DSC03214For more in this series, please visit the series index.

Vancouver, BC, Canada:

  • Host of the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympics games
  • Where the X-Files was shot for the first five seasons
  • Home of the Canucks ice hockey team
  • And where I stayed for two weeks!

While there I took a few hundred photo’s (thanks to my sister for lending me her camera) which I thought I would share. Not all of them, but some of the highlights that will stay in my memory long after my code is no longer used.



My laptop felt a little threatened by the two 24” monitors my desk came with.


If you ever wondered how Willy-Peter keeps pushing out content all the time…


After 5 days of no sun, when it finally came out, I went outside and took a picture (just in case it went away again) – South African’s are powered by the sun.

Dry Africa

While travelling I took a chance to drink all the drinks you no longer get in South Africa

DSC03107 DSC03108  DSC03049DSC03016



The floating Olympic sign with Stanley Park behind it – taken from the Sea Bus.


This Harry Potter like house is actually a house boat. I had never expected for them to look so much like houses.


FOOD! This was taken in Granville island, where you need loads more stomachs just to get through it.


As someone who had never seen snow before, one of my big highlights was when Willy-Peter and his family took me up Grouse Mountain to go snow shoeing!


At the base of Grouse Mountain – no surprises that they shot some of the X-Files here, it is just so spooky from below. Once up there is is beautiful.


Modern snow shoes aren’t like tennis rackets anymore.


Carola and one of our snow shoe guides on the top of the mountain!

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).


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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


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.


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.

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!