Microsoft's new 'deep tech' team hopes to lure developers

As part of its devices and services makeover, Microsoft has a new plan for reaching out to top-tier developers of all sizes to get them to take a look at the new and expanded Microsoft toolbox.

Microsoft's Surface tablet.
Microsoft wants devs to build next-generation applications on top of the Microsoft platform. Microsoft

Just because a company builds a bunch of new frameworks and services doesn't guarantee developers will immediately flock to them. The current-day Microsoft -- in the midst of trying to win over brand-new non-Microsoft developers while keeping loyal ones in the fold -- knows this well.

Rather than simply sit back and wait for devs to (hopefully) embrace its growing set of new technologies, the Redmondians have decided to go proactive. On May 13 -- just over a month ahead of Microsoft's Build 2013 developer conference -- Microsoft is launching a new "deep tech" team inside its Developer and Platform Evangelism (DPE) unit. The new team is charged with working with top developers outside the company to build next-generation applications on top of the Microsoft platform.

When Microsoft initially launched DPE in 2001, the team was charged with coordinating and evangelizing the "Microsoft platform." At that time, the platform meant, primarily, Windows, the .Net Framework and associated tools.

These days, as Microsoft works to morph from a software vendor to a devices and services one, what constitutes the "Microsoft platform" is something much broader.

"'The platform' is now a collection of capabilities across all of our products," said John Shewchuk, the head of the recently formed technical evangelism and dev team. Our job is "helping devs stitch together solutions with these technologies."

"Devs" also is a much broader target audience for Microsoft than it once was. Back in the early DPE days, devs meant professional, full-time programmers. The target audience for Microsoft's new deep-tech team includes anyone who writes a consumer, business or hybrid application. That means startups, enterprise customers and top consumer and business independent software vendors (ISVs).

The Microsoft toolbox from which devs can choose to mix and match includes many technologies that didn't exist a decade, or even just a few years, ago. They include everything from Windows Azure technologies, to Bing programming interfaces and datasets, to the WinRT framework underlying Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012. Microsoft's next Xbox, Kinect, Windows Phones, Surfaces, Perceptive Pixel multitouch displays are among the targets for these technologies.

"This is a playground. We get to work with stuff from all the different Microsoft business groups," said Shewchuk. "It's like geek heaven."

Meet the deep-tech geeks

John Shewchuk
John Shewchuk Microsoft

The idea of creating this kind of deep-tech team has been percolating since October 2012, when Microsoft veteran Steve Guggenheimer returned to Microsoft to head up DPE, according to Microsoft execs. Guggenheimer, in conjunction with Server and Tools Business chief Satya Nadella and with the blessing of CEO Steve Ballmer, set out to recruit some deeply technical evangelists with far-flung specializations.

Shewchuk, a 20-year Microsoft veteran and one of the company's Technical Fellows, agreed to spearhead the team. (Microsoft isn't saying how large the new team is, but I've heard it could be over 100 people in size and growing.) Shewchuk, who is now the Chief Technology Officer for the Microsoft Developer Platform, was working for the last several years on Windows Azure, where he helped the company build Windows Azure Active Directory, Service Bus and SQL services. Shewchuk also was a key contributor to a number of other Microsoft dev technologies, including .Net, Visual Studio, Windows Communication Foundation and the WIndows Identity Foundation.

"The idea is to bridge our inside developers to outside developers," Shewchuk said. "We want to get the top developers to adopt our platform."

Shewchuk described the new deep-tech team as a place where Microsoft pulls together its own "world-class" developers to exchange ideas among themselves and with the outside world. Because Microsoft's new stack of technologies are all at different places, in terms of their maturity cycle, the Microsoft tech team will do everything from build new frameworks; develop code to tie together disparate products; and make available code and templates for external use using services like GitHub or CodePlex. In some cases, the "developers" who take advantage of these pieces may be Microsoft's own product teams who may want to incorporate code (and even the developers who wrote it) directly into their units.

Shewchuck's not the only heavy hitter on the new deep-tech team.

A brand-new-to-Microsoft member is Patrick Chanezon, who joined Microsoft from VMware just over a week ago. His new job is to lead the enterprise evangelism efforts in Microsoft's DPE unit from San Francisco. At VMware, from 2011 to 2012, Chanezon helped build out the developer relations team for Spring and Cloud Foundry. Before that, he worked at Google from 2005 to 2011, where he managed the Cloud Developer Relations team. He helped with efforts around HTML5, OpenSocial, Google Checkout and the AdWords API. And before that, Chanezon spent five years at Sun Microsystems as a software architect working on Sun Portal Server, blogs and syndication feeds.

"We're at a deep architectural inflection point right now in the enterprise," said Chanezon. "Devs need new ways of working, new apps and new frameworks. There's the whole dev-ops movement, plus the move to become more agile."

Chanezon said he joined Microsoft because he felt the company's new devices plus services strategy really embraces these changes. He said while Google had devices and services, too, it didn't have the private/hybrid cloud component which Microsoft also brings to the enterprise-dev table. As a big believer in the power and potential contribution of open source, he said he was encouraged to see that Azure has become a very open-source-friendly platform.

Another member of the deep-tech team is James Whittaker -- who is known by many because of a much-publicized blog post he wrote in 2012 about why he left Google and rejoined Microsoft. At Google, which he joined in 2009, he was an engineering director, leading teams working on Chrome, Maps and Google+. During his first stint at Microsoft, he worked on the Trustworthy Computing and Visual Studio teams.

Whittaker's most recent gig at Microsoft was development manager for the Microsoft knowledge platform as part of the Bing team. 

"When Microsoft talks about devices and services, that's a two-legged stool," said Whittaker. The third leg is knowledge. We're embedding knowledge into everything from Xbox, to Office, to third-party products."

Whittaker said "dev platform" is no longer simply the operating system and related application programming interfaces (APIs). It's the whole ecosystem, he said, including information that Bing extracts from the Web, like catalogs, weather, and maps. The goal is to make this available inside applications built by both Microsoft and third-party developers. 

"Actions can be performed on these entities. We have hundreds of millions of things we can provide that go beyond the blue links (in search engines)," Whittaker said.

Bringing yet another skill set to the deep-tech team is Eric Schmidt. (No, not that Eric Schmidt.)

Schmidt, a 15-year Microsoft veteran, is a Senior Director on a team focused on adoption of Microsoft's devices and services in "consumer lifestyle" applications. He has worked with Microsoft customers and partners, including NBC Sports, the NCAA, Victoria's Secret Fashion Show and Major League soccer, as well as with Hulu, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Comcast, around building apps and services that leverage the cloud. He also was lead architect of Microsoft's open-source media software development kits, including the Microsoft Media Player Framework and Audience Insight.

Schmidt joined DPE six years ago, bringing his media specialization to the media and entertainment, social and gaming verticals. These are "where people are thinking about attaching devices to a lifestyle," he said. 

A big target for Schmidt is mobile developers, specifically those writing for iOS and Android who may not know how their skills can be transferred to Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. "We're showing them how what they already know is correlated," he said, while playing up the message that the iOS and Android gold mines are drying up.

As the walls break down as to what constitutes a dev, vs. a partner, vs. a customer, DPE's new deep-tech team has an interesting charter ahead of it.

This story originally appeared as "Microsoft builds a deep-tech team to attract next-gen developers" on ZDNet.

 

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