Microsoft Evangelism: Ilya Bukshteyn
Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., recently held an exclusive
interview with Ilya Bukshteyn, Group Program Manager,
Developer Platform and Evangelism Division at Microsoft
Ilya manages a team responsible for enterprise early
adoption of Microsoft developer technologies, as well as
products generally available, and specifically all of the
technologies around the .NET Framework and Visual Studio
.NET. He works with corporate customers around the world,
assisting them in their efforts at using pre-release
versions of Microsoft’s developer technologies to meet their
Q: Welcome Ilya and thank you for being here. And thank you
for agreeing to this interview and sharing your experiences,
wisdom, and vast skills with our audience.
You are widely regarded as a star within Microsoft—a highly
talented senior manager. What are your three top tips for
A: Great question; I believe leadership falls into a few
- People leadership:
At Microsoft we have really focused on managerial skills
as a core competency over the last 4 years. In the past,
at many companies, being a great individual contributor
automatically moved you into being a manager, which may
be an area you had no particular background for.
We have very much focused on fostering and developing
managerial skills as a specific skill set separate from
other areas. We are really determined to have great
managers at Microsoft, who foster a great working
To that end, I believe people leadership is all about
executing the "basics" (my term, and probably an
over-simplification) of management very, very well that
includes keeping the lines of communication completely
open. For example: do regular one-on-ones with your
team, keep your office door open, make sure everyone on
the team feels free to communicate with you at all
times, by email, in person, whatever it takes.
This also includes clear goal setting. Everyone on the
team should understand your goals as the team leader,
your manager’s goals, and how they, the team members,
contribute to these goals.
I like to think of a good team leader as the Indy pace
car—you point the direction, lead the way, remove any
obstacles, but otherwise you allow the team members to
figure out the strategy and tactics as needed to do
Of course this is a high level view, and you need to
tailor your management approach to each individual
differently, based on their style, experience level,
etc. But I think if you focus on the basics of
communication, goal setting, removing roadblocks, and
otherwise allowing people to excel, you can be
successful as a manager.
- Thought leadership:
As far as thought leadership, I believe everyone at
Microsoft is focused on creating intellectual property.
As a leader, managers need to not only harness the
efforts of the team, but also provide leadership in
terms of the strategic and creative thinking focused on
the most difficult challenges facing Microsoft.
So, as a manager, I believe that it is important for me
to regularly dedicate time to think about the challenges
our customers are facing, and how our technologies and
my team is helping to address those challenges.
It's a different mindset from the day-to-day activities
of management, and it's a difficult shift in perspective
sometimes, but I strongly believe that every leader
should take the time to think about the big picture on a
- Customer focus:
As leaders in the company, I believe every manager
should set the standard for customer focus and customer
We need to constantly think about the issues our
customers are facing, how we can solve these problems,
and how we can then move beyond that and help our
customers realize new business value, and grow their
businesses even in these tough economic conditions.
It's very easy to get focused on feature sets, or the
regular tasks of producing a product or managing a team,
but as leaders we need to ensure that everyone on the
team is constantly putting themselves into the
customers’ shoes, so to speak. I think it's especially
key for those of us who work with customers on a regular
basis, as I am privileged to do in my current job, to be
the customer’s champion in the organization, and to
regularly bring the customer perspective into the
product development cycle—to be the voice of the
customer so to speak. I truly believe that this is
another key aspect of leadership.
Q: What are your one, three and five year goals?
A: For the next year, my goals are really all around
fostering the broad adoption of .NET developer technologies
in the marketplace.
I am lucky enough to see first hand the benefits customers
can get, by adopting the .NET Framework and Visual Studio
.NET. For example, building XML Web services to connect
their internal systems as well as their business partners
and customers, and leverage our new technologies to start
building new smart client applications, which utilize the
power of the desktop, both in Windows and Office, to provide
a dramatically better user experience than what can be had
today with web applications.
The customers we work with are improving their developer
productivity by 50% or more, accelerating their time to
market by years in some cases, reducing their cost of doing
business by a third or more, and expanding their business
even in today's economy.
Seeing all this first hand, I get very passionate about
wanting to help all of our customers experience our .NET
technologies and these benefits.
So my next year is all about working to document the
benefits our customers are seeing, and working with our
field technical sales organization to showcase this to the
rest of the world.
We are very excited about our upcoming products,
specifically Windows .NET Server 2003, which will be the
best environment for hosting and operating Windows, web, and
.NET application and XML Web services, and the next release
of Visual Studio .NET, which will deliver a fantastic
experience for mobile device developers as well as other
We are going to be launching those products in CY03, so
we're busy today working with early adopters of those
products and documenting their experiences.
As for 3-5 years, that is a very interesting picture...
You may have heard that we are working on 2 major waves of
The first wave is focused on the next release of our SQL
Server technology code-named "Yukon." This will be a very
significant release of SQL Server, and a foundation for the
next versions of many of our other servers and products.
We are working on a release of Visual Studio timed to
coincide with the release of Yukon. This version will
deliver some fantastic new RAD capabilities, as well as
supporting a truly revolutionary way of doing database
development since SQL Server Yukon will host the .NET
Framework. Developers will be able to do database
development from inside Visual Studio .NET, in any .NET
language, including Visual Basic .NET, Visual C# .NET, etc.
Beyond that, we are working on a major new version of
Windows, code named "Longhorn". Longhorn will deliver
significant new functionality to pretty much every type of
user, including developers. We are of course working on a
version of Visual Studio for Longhorn, and that work, looks
to be incredibly exciting.
Q: What are you finding in your early adopters program are
the three top traps or pitfalls that developers should be
wary of and avoid?
A: First I'd say that developers’ need to closely examine
their architectural decisions for doing Web applications. In
many instances, we found that developers decided to build
something as a Web app simply because they thought a Windows
application would be too difficult to deploy, manage, etc.
However, they found that trying to do their app as a Web app
was like trying to force a square peg into a round hole,
especially if they were using Java.
With Java most developers have found that client side
development is just too difficult, and doing great Web UI
involves a horrendous amount of work with controls, JSP,
With .NET, we've addressed this problem in two ways: with
ASP.NET, the developer can now do great Web apps much easier
than they could in the past, but perhaps even more
importantly, with Windows Forms, the developer can get the
best of the Web and Windows. They can build smart client
applications with rich user interface feel and logic, and
they can deploy and manage those apps with the ease of web
apps with our ‘No Touch’ deployment system.
So, that's one issue—developers should re-visit their
decisions around web or windows apps.
Another is around design for XML Web services. Many times
developers today are thinking of XML and XML Web services as
an afterthought. I'll build my application first and then
figure out how to get it to talk XML and/or SOAP.
I would recommend that the idea of XML Web services as an
integration fabric be at the forefront of the design. The
great thing about Visual Studio .NET is that every
application can essentially be exposed as an XML Web service
with little or no additional code. So if you do a good job
of loosely coupled design on your application components,
you can use Visual Studio .NET to then allow you to
integrate these components to other systems, potentially
other platforms, for "free"! So, I guess the message is use
XML Web services today!
Last, but certainly not least, I would urge developers to
think about extending their applications to support mobile
devices. We found that many developers also thought of this
as an afterthought or a "Nice to have."
I would recommend that developers take a look at what we
offer for mobile development with the ASP.NET mobile
controls, for mobile Web apps where the code is on the
server, and the .NET Compact Framework for mobile smart
client applications, where the code is on the device.
The advantage in these technologies comes from the fact that
they offer the exact same programming model as the .NET
Framework on the full-size client and/or server, so you can
take the exact same developer skills and knowledge, and
often the same server and client code, and apply that
directly to mobile device development.
We've seen several customers who have finished their project
early, due to the productivity increases they saw with
Visual Studio .NET, and then decided to extend their
applications to mobile devices with the time they had left
over. These customers find that they can create amazing
mobile device applications with very little effort, by
leveraging the code they had already built on the .NET
Framework and the skills and environment their developers
were already accustomed to.
So, I would urge developers to consider more than just the
regular PC client, and think about the power and opportunity
of devices like the Pocket PC, Pocket PC Phone Edition, our
new SmartPhone, etc....
It's often by leveraging the .NET Compact Framework on
devices such as these that businesses can find new revenue
streams, and grow their business.
Q: If you were doing this interview, what ‘one’ question
would you ask of someone in your position and what would be
A: I would say "What do you see as the next major wave, the
next major 'disruptive technology' or killer app, to come
out of our industry?"
And for the answer here, I really want to say that this is
my personal opinion rather than Microsoft’s direction. But I
think that the PC at the center of the "connected home" is
really going to have tremendous implications for the average
In my house, I have multiple PC's, several personal digital
video recorders for my TV's, a wired and wireless network,
and lots of other devices that really cry out to be
connected together. So, I believe that we will shortly, in
the next 3-5 years, get to a point where we will routinely
have home servers act as hubs, with audio, video,
networking, and other capabilities go through those servers
and then be projected out to connected devices such as TV's,
stereos, picture frames, phones, etc.
I think we are seeing the infancy of this today, but the
potential is really huge—the potential to change the way
people watch TV, interact over the phone, look at their
picture albums, communicate with friends and family, that's
really some remarkable potential for change in society. And
I believe the PC and software will be at the heart of
realizing that potential.
Q: Can you spend some time detailing your history that
eventually took you into computing, and finally to Redmond
and your current position at Microsoft?
A: I've been fascinated with computers from a pretty early
age, probably due to both my parents having technology
I became the 3rd employee of this startup, then known as
TransGas Management Inc., which later changed to TransEnergy
At TransGas, I was the lead developer on our first
commercial offering, a PowerBuilder- based client-server
energy management application for the newly deregulated
energy market. I quickly moved from pure development into
sales and marketing as the President of the company and I
hit the road to try to sell our product. I became the
"technical sales guy" to his "business sales guy" persona.
I was at TransGas, and I was running our partner efforts as
well as customer implementations. As part of that, I ended
up working quite closely with the local Microsoft office as
TransGas joined the new Microsoft Solution Provider program.
After ~2 years with TransGas, we had grown to about 50
I approached the local Microsoft office, specifically the
partner manager at the time whom I had gotten to know quite
well, and asked him about opportunities. Microsoft's office
in Vancouver had about 7 sales people.
The time frame was Sept. '94 and after several days of
interviewing, in Vancouver and Mississauga, Ontario, I was
hired to be the first MCS person in the Vancouver office,
focused on a "Traffic System" project—traffic is the
industry term for the system which does everything around
advertising such as sales, scheduling, tracking, etc.
After approximately 3 years in MCS, we hit a period of 6
months when my manager, the Managing Consultant for
Vancouver, ended up moving to a different office. I ended up
functioning as an acting lead for MCS in Vancouver for
almost 6 months as we went without a managing consultant,
and I focused very much on business development—evangelizing
customers on our technologies to help form a funnel for our
After focusing on business development for a few months, I
decided that I was enjoying the pre-sales activities more
than the post-sales execution. So, I made the move to
technical sales and became what we, at the time, called a
Senior Systems Engineer (SE), later renamed to Senior
Technology Specialist (TS). I was responsible for our
Enterprise accounts in BC, specifically the BC Government
and BC Tel (now Telus).
I was then hired to move to Redmond and create what would
become the MSDN Field Content Team. Since this was a new
team, I focused on working with our customers to figure out
the specific technical content they were most interested in
hearing, working with our world-wide field technical sales
people to understand what content they wanted to see
delivered to them, and working with our Redmond product
groups to understand what information they wanted to get out
to our customers.
Over the next 2 years I built a team of 6 people to address
these needs, and form a process whereby we were delivering a
set of content every quarter, and enabling our field
technical sales folks to deliver at least 10 unique sessions
of MSDN developer content to their local customers every
After the process of establishing the team was complete,
approximately 2 years ago, I moved on to the role I hold
today, driving the enterprise early adoption of our .NET