It's MVP time again

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Tue, 01/04/2011 - 08:52


Exactly a year and a day ago, I blogged about being awarded a MVP from Microsoft and I am proud to announce that I have been awarded a MVP for a second time!

Thank you to all that were part of making this happen, I am very honoured by all of you.

What is an MVP? In short it is a thank you for helping Microsoft communities. The long version can be found here.

My planning for MVP Summit in Feb/Mar has already been done so I am looking forward to seeing the other MVP’s and product team!

I would also like to congratulate my fellow January MVP’s in particular the South African ones: Zayd Kara (ALM for the second time) and new to the MVP’s Veronique Palmer (SharePoint).

What is an ALM MVP?

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Wed, 12/01/2010 - 15:23

If you asked me 12 months ago what an ALM MVP was I would likely have told you something – unfortunately that something would have been completely wrong. One of the most important things I learnt this year from being an ALM MVP, is what an ALM MVP actually is.

What is an MVP?

First it is an award, this means you get it as recognition for doing something which benefits the community of people who use a Microsoft product (or products). It is also very important to note that the reason it is awarded to one person is seldom it is awarded to another person – no two people are alike, neither are their community contributions and so the awarding is unique per person.

I think it is safe to assume that if you going to so something which benefits many people using a specific product, you need to know something about that product Winking smile However being a MVP is not meant to indicate that this person is an expert in a certain product/s and they know everything about the product.

This doesn’t mean that a lot of MVP’s aren’t brilliant, many are scary smart, first two that jump to mind are Ed Blankenship ALM MVP and Jon Skeet C# MVP, but at the end of that day – all MVPs are people, like you, with limits and gaps in knowledge.

The ALM Stadium


ALM MVP’s have an additional level of complexity since the community that they helped revolves around not one single product, like Zune MVP’s for instance, but is actually made up of many products and components. Above is the “stadium” picture which shows a lot of (most of?) the components which make up ALM.

A ALM MVP may know and work in one product/component and never see the other ones. An example of this is Zayd Kara ALM MVP, who is deeply IT Pro focused – so he understands installing the systems, build in TFS etc.. but he seldom opens or works in the Visual Studio IDE so he may not know as much about it as a other ALM MVPs.

As I stated above the reasons someone is awarded differ and so the area and skills in the ALM MVPs differ from person to person. 


In the form of a Q&A:

  • Q: As an ALM MVP you must be a TFS expert?
  • A: While TFS is a major part of ALM, that simply is not true. I look at myself and while I know TFS, can do an install, understand the API and how to integrate – ask me to edit a process template and I have no idea where to start. However ask me about Visual Studio and I can talk your ear off!
  • Q: As an ALM MVP you must be a Microsoft fan boy and only promote their tools?
  • A: Not at all! MVP’s are not a Microsoft fan club.

    Yes, I am a fan of Microsoft tools but I am also critical of them. You want to see some of the most critical people of Microsoft is MVP’s – they care and fight on behalf the community. As most (all?) MVP’s we are matured to realise that these are just tools and you need to pick the right tool for the job, and that sometimes isn’t what Microsoft currently offers.

  • Q: Microsoft uses the MVP system as a way to find and hire staff?
  • A: While some MVP’s have moved to Microsoft, Willy-Peter Schaub previously a VSTS MVP and now working for Microsoft comes to mind, the hiring of MVPs is not common practise.

    Also worth thinking about, is that Microsoft wants the best of the best (which company doesn’t?), MVP’s are awarded for their community work – not being the best of the best C# programmer (for example) so sometimes that means that MVP’s are not the best fit and the final thing weighing against you (as told to me by a Microsoft employee) Most of the Microsoft employees do not even know of or understand the MVPs so there is not a lot of help in their.

    However being a MVP means you are likely following key people so when exciting jobs are announced ,like the way I knew about these cool jobs, you are first in with your CV. 

  • Q: You must blog/write a book/tweet/present at x or something else to be a MVP?
  • A: No, there is no formula to become a MVP. If you want to be a MVP, work hard for the community in any and as many ways as possible and the MVP maybe will follow.
  • Q: Becoming a community lead is the way to be a MVP?
  • A: This one has come up recently in the Information Worker user group where people have wanted to become leads so that they become MVP’s.

    First there is no single way to becoming a MVP – the IW user group leads are a good example of that we have a few MVP’s but we have more non-MVP’s as leads. Second if your motivation of helping the community is to become a MVP, then I doubt you will become a MVP because your motives are wrong. MVP’s do what they do for the community not because they want to be a MVP, but because they love the community.


To make sure I wasn’t still wrong, I did ask for some feedback from fellow MVP’s and Microsoft staff and I thank you all for your contributions in particular Willy-Peter Schaub, Ruari Plint and Zayd Kara.

Visual Studio ALM Ranger Champions for 2010!

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Fri, 05/14/2010 - 09:48

Group of Blue Men Tossing Another Into the Air Clipart Illustration I am a proud contributor to the Microsoft Visual Studio ALM Rangers (see this post for who they are) and each year, the Rangers have a vote for who they believe are helping the Rangers initiatives the most. The top four from the votes are honoured with the title of Champion! I was honoured in 2009 to be included in the list of the four champions and even more honoured that I have again been listed in the top 4!

Congrats to the other three champions and especially to Mathias Olausson, who was also re-awarded!

For more details on the latest Rangers champions see:

Article in the BB&D Newsletter

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Mon, 04/12/2010 - 08:44

After being at BB&D for almost two years, I finally managed to get an article in the BB&D newsletter! The article is about my trip in January to Canada and US for the ALM Rangers work! This was a different experience than writing for my blog, because this had to go through an editor and a copywriter before it was included. They made enough changes to the article that reading it myself, it felt strange because it sounds like me, just a different me. This article will now be shipped off to the BB&D offices around the world so that should be very exciting!


Click the image for a bigger view of it.

Thanks to Martin for spotting that the clicking of the image didn't give a bigger view, which is now fixed up.

MVP Summit 2010, Sightseeing - Part 3 (Warning Photo Heavy)

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Tue, 03/02/2010 - 08:47

[The series index can be found here.]

Considering Zayd Kara, Rudi Grobler, and I were in Seattle we took a few days extra to sightsee around the town and so here is some of the highlights from the camera:


First thing we did was find the Needle – since it was the only thing Rudi wanted to see.


The entrance to the Microsoft Visitors Centre – worth a look at the cool tech. Not enough Visual Studio in there though ;)


A entire store devoted to Lego was almost too much for me! You could even buy individual bricks based on type and colour for specific products.


At the Sci-Fi Museum and Hall of Fame (SFM), I geeked out A LOT (ask Rudi about my running tour of the place). R2-D2 was cool.


Still at SFM the flying cop car from Blade Runner!


Right next to SFM was EMP – Experience Music Project. This is the HUGE concert screen in the lobby.


The Yes time capsule at EMP.


Rudi Grobler, Zayd Kara, and myself in our “band” at EPM!


The Eagle artwork at the SAM (Seattle Art Museum) Olympic Park.

Rangers Sabbatical, part 6 - What's Next?

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Fri, 02/12/2010 - 15:57

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!

Rangers Sabbatical, part 5 - Microsoft City

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Thu, 02/11/2010 - 10:48

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!

Rangers Sabbatical, part 4 - Sights of Vancouver

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Wed, 02/10/2010 - 09:31

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!

Rangers Sabbatical, part 3 - MCDC

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Tue, 02/09/2010 - 11:23

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.

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

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Mon, 02/08/2010 - 08:43

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 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!