Architecture Takes Center Stage
A look ahead at Microsoft Tech-Ed 2006.
Microsoft's Tech-Ed 2006 takes place in Boston next week. Key subject tracks of interest to developers and software architects at this year's conference include architecture, developer tools, messaging and mobility, Web development, and the Windows client.
In keeping with the spirit of the recent release of Visual Studio Team System and Team Foundation Server, as well as Microsoft's efforts to shore up its place in the ALM space, this year's Tech-Ed puts a heavy emphasis on architecture-related issues. Microsoft lists an architecture-related track on its official Tech-Ed site. Microsoft is also sponsoring an Iron Architect competition: "Motivated groups of Tech-Ed attendees [will] work on a real-life scenario, [and] the team with the most interesting proposal, as judged by a panel of seasoned architects, will present its solution to the Tech-Ed audience in a dedicated session."
I'm not sure how interesting this will be in practice—or if it's even a good idea—but I'll be sure to check it out, if only to see how well or how badly it goes. It has the whiff of a gimmick, and architecture is too important for gimmicks, especially when you are Microsoft and long to be taken seriously in the enterprise space. Microsoft has been both earnest and aggressive in laying out its ALM vision over the last year, introducing a wide range of tools for the enterprise space, from SQL Server to Visual Studio Team System and its Team Foundation Server.
Microsoft has also been active in sharing what it considers to be solid patterns and practices, and Microsoft Learning unveiled a new architecture-training certification. All of these were significant steps in articulating Microsoft's vision for how software should be designed and built, as well as who should assemble the software.
Even if the Iron Architect competition falls too much into the gimmick category, a practical demonstration of effective architectural approaches can't hurt, especially if there's substance to the presentation. Yes, Microsoft must work with the winner it chooses, but it does oversee choosing the winner, and that itself can give you some insight into how Microsoft views the issues surrounding architecture.
Another session I will be checking out at Tech•Ed will be one given by Simon Guest: "Putting the User Back in SOA." Simon's talk promises to cover a player often overlooked in putting together application architectures: the user. Simon will cover the importance of user interaction for architects, discuss the role of patterns and anti-patterns when designing applications, and "introduce new methodologies [for making] people the most important part of any architecture."
I've known Simon for a few years now. I had dinner with him shortly after he joined Microsoft, at one of Microsoft's previous conferences. VSM excerpted a chapter from his book, Microsoft .NET and J2EE Interoperability Toolkit, in our April 2004 issue (Database Design, "Create a .NET-J2EE Shared Database").
His upcoming Tech•Ed talk caught my attention because it comes on the heels of Rockford Lhotka's recent Guest Opinion for VSM, "Software is Too Darn Hard." Rocky noted that developers often get caught up in the technologies they use, at the expense of the user. Implementing large-scale architectures that depend on the latest and greatest technological features can be quite exciting, but it's all for naught from a business standpoint if you neglect the needs of the people who will use your application.
The emphasis on architecture and building better apps through better design has been a healthy course correction for Microsoft. In some ways, the effort is still in its nascent stages. Visual Studio Team System was released in November 2005, and the Team Foundation Server earlier this year. It's simply too soon to say how well Microsoft's initiatives in the architecture and application design and maintenance space are paying off.
At FTP, we've been focused on architects for a few years, in both our magazines and our conferences. That should tell you how important we think this subject matter is. Be sure to watch for continued coverage of this important topic both online and in a special VSM issue targeted toward the enterprise, which will ship in the fall of this year.
What do you think of Microsoft's foray into ALM and architecture over the last year? Post a comment and let us know.
Patrick Meader is editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.