Careers: Interviews
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 Corp.

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 business needs.

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 effective leadership?

A: Great question; I believe leadership falls into a few different categories:


  1. 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 environment.

    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 their jobs.

    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.

  2. 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 regular basis.

  3. Customer focus:
    As leaders in the company, I believe every manager should set the standard for customer focus and customer empathy.

    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 enhancements.

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 software innovation.

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, etc.

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 your answer?

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 consumer.

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 related careers.

I became the 3rd employee of this startup, then known as TransGas Management Inc., which later changed to TransEnergy Software.

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 people

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 services business.

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 quarter.

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 developer technologies.


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