Careers: Interviews
.NET Expert: Chris Payne

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, ISP, has an exclusive interview with, Chris Payne, an international expert in the .NET framework. Two of his most recent books include the best selling “SAMS Teach Yourself ASP.NET in 21 Days” and the recently published “SAMS Teach Yourself .NET Windows Forms in 21 Days.” We caught up with Chris in Orlando Florida.

Q: First of all, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
A: Absolutely! I'm glad to be of service.

Q: Having established your expertise to an international audience through your writings, what does your wife Eva think about you being a noted expert?
A: She's very excited about it. In fact, I think she tells people about it more than I do, which is great.

Q: What led you into computing? Have you had an opportunity to use your biomedical engineering background?
A: I've been interested in computers for as long as I can remember. When I was young, I was mostly into video games, and as I got older, I wanted to start programming those video games (in fact, I still have some designs I created from middle school). That's how I started programming, though I never get very far into building games. Once I got my own computer to play with (my first year in university), which was near the beginnings of the "internet boom," I started trying to learn everything I could - that's just my nature. From there, I began to build Web sites, and the rest is history.

As for biomedical engineering, well, I came out of high school with a love for physics and biology, and biomedical engineering was the perfect blend. I realized, though, after a few years in college that it wasn't for me - too much time required in a lab, which just isn't my idea of fun.

Q: How did you get involved in writing? Looking back, would you do anything differently?
A: Writing has been another one of my hobbies for a long time; I used to write short stories throughout high school. As for technical writing, I (along with my business partner at the time) was presented with an opportunity to share my knowledge around the time we founded Enfused Media. This was a great way to gain exposure for our company, as well as make money. I guess my articles caught the eyes of some publishing companies, because after a few months I was approached to write a book (or two!).

I think I've been very lucky with the opportunities I've had in writing, and I don't believe I would do anything differently - it worked out perfectly thanks to many people I've met along the way.

Q: Can you share some insights from having co-founded Enfused Media, Inc., which designs and develops applications to automate business processes?
A: Business or technical? From a business standpoint, I learned that things don't always go the way you plan - always have a back up. That said, however, you don't ever want to be stuck in the planning stages trying to be prepared for every possible situation. Sometimes it pays to just jump out and put yourself at the mercy of the world. And that applies to more than just business.

Technically, I learned a lot. We developed automation and management applications for our own use that were typically only available for hundreds of thousands of dollars (though ours weren't, of course, as robust as those). A key point that I took from that was that anything can be done if you put your mind to it, and that there is never, never only one way to do something.

Q: What are some useful tips that you can share from your book on Windows Forms?
A: Well, rather than a specific tip, what I would like to say is explore. Explore the documentation. Explore the framework, and your applications. Almost all of the time, there are different ways to do any one thing - the .NET framework is very flexible. If you are constantly exploring alternatives - even when you think you know best - you'll only make yourself stronger, and sometimes even surprise yourself.

Q: Do you have some additional tips from your book on ASP.NET?
A: The previous tip applies to ASP.NET as well. I think the top tips listed in my ASP.NET book summarize specific tips very well, and many of them are similar to what classic ASP are already using. There's not much loss of skills there.

Q: How will .NET evolve in two years and in five years? What improvements do you see coming in Visual Studio.NET, the Common Language Runtime (CLR), Windows Forms, Web Forms, Web Services, C#, VB.NET, and ASP.NET?
A: That's a tough question! In the beginning I was very afraid for .NET - what if it didn't take off? Or what if Microsoft decided to scrap the whole thing? Not a good thing if you're writing a book on the technology.

I don't think .NET will supplant any of the technologies currently out there for quite a while, but it will slowly gain prominence, eventually replacing older Microsoft technologies.

As for improvements, that's another tough question. I think all of the .NET technologies have a very good base to start from. If anything, I see improvements being made to accommodate the constant change in the security world.

Q: Can you describe some of the projects that you have worked on and lessons you have learned from these projects?
A: An overriding concept I've learned from my projects is to listen to what is required. I've built search engines, content management systems, employee management systems, and a few others. I count very, very few unsuccessful projects because my goal in building the application is to solve someone's problem. Therefore, I have to have a thorough understanding of that problem before trying to begin a solution. With that in mind, you'll always end up with satisfied clients, and a stronger final product. This applies to everything from the smallest project to the largest.

Q: What are the hottest topics that all IT professionals must know to be successful in the short term and long term?
A: It's difficult to generalize a set of skills to all IT professionals - it really depends on what one is trying to do. In general, and these don't necessarily apply only to IT professionals:
  • Focus. Just because there are 20+ programming languages/databases/web servers/etc out there doesn't mean you need to know them all. The more you focus on one thing, the better you'll be, and the more in demand your skills will be - regardless of what you focus on.
  • That said, always be ready to learn. You can't spend a large amount of time on every new thing that comes out, but make decisions based on your interests, and at least follow the news on new technologies. Be a student.
A few other things in the Microsoft community you should know:
  • The .NET Framework. If you aren't familiar with it yet, you'd better start.
  • Security - you don't need to be a security expert, but at least learn strong coding techniques. It's nice to say, "Oh, I've already built a fix to that bug into the application" when a new vulnerability comes about.

Q: What would be your recommended top ten references for the serious software specialist?
A: This often surprises people, but I'm not really into computer books. I love to have them as references, but often find that the information contained within doesn't cover all aspects of whatever they are dealing with. For example, a book that focuses on a particular coding style misses the benefits obtained from other styles, by design. Many people, unfortunately, then take this limited view as dogma, thus holing themselves in. I obtain much more of my knowledge from the internet, or other more volatile areas. I'd say, in no particular order:
  • MSDN - for all Microsoft related technologies
  • - very good ASP site
  • - a lot of valuable SQL tips
  • Google - if you can't find it in one of the above sites, you'll probably find it here
  • - more great SQL tips
  • - very valuable resource for web development in general, including Javascript, HTML, ASP, and so on.
  • Any and all documentation - there is often tons of untapped material in any given technology's documentation - the more you know the docs, the better off you are
  • - another good ASP and COM site
  • For Dummies books - I love this series of books - anytime I need a quick primer on any technology, I look first if there is a dummy book that covers it. Perfect to get you going.
  • Friends - you'll almost always find someone who know a little more about something than you do. Other people are your greatest resource.

Q: If you were doing this interview, what four questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?
A: I'd first ask the same question the same question that you just asked me - what are your best resources?

Second, what do you see currently as the hottest new technology - that you would like to or have already "jumped on?" For me, that would be .NET and Java.

Third, how did you get started doing what you do? I've explained my answer previously.

Finally, what do you see yourself doing in the future? I would love to continue writing, eventually going full time there.

Q: It’s a blank slate, what added comments would you like to give to enterprise corporations and organizations?
A: Treat your people well! A happy employee will turn around and do more for your business than you asked for. And that doesn't necessarily mean more money (in fact, money does not equal happiness, as I'm sure many developers can attest to) - it can be as simple as a free vending machine day. Many companies have already discovered this policy, but there are many more out there that need to learn!

Q: What future books can we expect from you?
A: Well, currently the only technical book I have on the slate is the second edition of my first book, Teach Yourself ASP.NET in 21 Days. Other than that, I'm working on my first fiction novel - it's slow going, but something I've wanted to do for a long time.

Q: Thank you for sharing your valuable insights with us today and we look forward to reading your books, and articles.
A: It's been my pleasure, and I'm glad to hear that!


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