Interview Series: Four Questions With … Thiago Almeida

Welcome to the 17th interview in my thrilling and mind-bending series of chats with thought leaders in the “connected technology” space.  With the 2010 Microsoft MVP Summit around the corner, I thought it’d be useful to get some perspectives from a virginal MVP who is about to attend their first Summit.  So, we’re talking to Thiago Almeida who is a BIzTalk Server MVP, interesting blogger, solutions architect at Datacom New Zealand, and the leader of the Auckland Connected Systems User Group

While I’m not surprised that I’ve been able to find 17 victims of my interviewing style, I AM a bit surprised that my “stupid question” is always a bit easier to come up with that the 3 “real” questions.  I guess that tells you all you need to know about me.  On with the show.

Q: In a few weeks, you’ll be attending your first MVP Summit.  What sessions or experiences are you most looking forward to?

A: The sessions are all very interesting – the ones I’m most excited about are those where we give input on and learn more about future product versions. When the product beta is released and not under NDA anymore we are then ready to spread the word and help the community.

For the MVPs that can’t make it this year most of the sessions can be downloaded later – I watched the BizTalk sessions from last year’s Summit after becoming an MVP.  With that in mind what I am really most looking forward to is putting faces to and forming a closer bond with the product team and other attending BizTalk and CSD MVPs like yourself and previous ‘Four Questions’ Interviewees. To me that will be the most invaluable part of the summit.

Q: I’ve come to appreciate how integration developers/architects need to understand so many peripheral technologies and concepts in order to do their job well.  For instance, a BizTalk person has to be comfortable with databases, web servers, core operating system features, line-of-business systems, communication channel technologies, file formats, as well as advanced design patterns.  These are things that a front-end web developer, SharePoint developer or DBA may never need exposure to.  Of all the technologies/principles that an “integration guy” has to embrace, which do you think are the two most crucial to have a great depth in?

A: As you have said an integrations professional touches on several different technologies even after a short number of projects, especially if you are an independent contractor or work for a services company. On one project you might be developing BizTalk solutions that coordinate the interaction between a couple of hundred clients sending messages to BizTalk via multiple methods (FTP, HTTP, email, WCF), a SQL Server database and a website. The next project you would have to implement several WCF services hosted in Windows Activation Services (or even better, on Windows Server AppFabric) that expose data from an SAP system by using the SAP adapter in the BizTalk Adapter Pack 2.0. Just between these two projects, besides basic BizTalk and .NET development skills, you would have to know about FTP and HTTP connectivity and configuration, POP3 and SMTP, creating and hosting WCF services, SQL Server development, calling SAP BAPIs… In reality there isn’t a way to prepare for everything that all integration projects will throw at you, most of it you gather with experience (and some late nights). To me that is the beauty and the challenge of this field, you are always being exposed to new technologies, besides having to keep up to date with advancements in technologies you’re already familiar with.

The answer to your question would have to be divided it into levels of BizTalk experience:

  • Junior Integrations Developer – The two most crucial technologies on top of basic BizTalk development knowledge would be good .NET and XML skills as well as SQL Server database development.
  • Intermediate Developer – On top of what the junior developer knows the intermediate developer needs understanding of networking and advanced BizTalk adapters – TCP/IP, HTTP, FTP, SMTP, firewalls, proxy servers, network issue resolution, etc., as well as being able to decide and recommend when BizTalk is or isn’t the best tool for the job.
  • Senior Developer/Solutions Architect – It is crucial at this level to have in depth knowledge of integration and SOA solutions design options, patterns and best practices, as well as infrastructure knowledge (servers, virtualization, networking). Other important skills at this level are the ability to manage, lead and mentor teams of developers and take ownership of large and complex integrations projects.

Q: Part of the reason we technologists get paid so much money is because we can make hard decisions.  And because we’re uncommonly good looking.  Describe for us a recent case when you were faced with two (or more) reasonable design choices to solve a particular problem, and how you decided upon one.

A: In almost every integrations project we are faced with several options to solve the same problem. Do we use BizTalk Server or is SSIS more fitting? Do we code directly with ADO.NET or do we use the SQL Adapter? Do we build it from scratch in .NET or will the advantages in BizTalk overcome licensing costs?

On my most recent project our company will build a website that needs to interact with an Oracle database back-end. The customer also wants visibility and tracking of what is going on between the website and the database. The simplest solution would be to have a data layer on the website code that uses ODP.NET to directly connect to Oracle, and use a logging framework like log4net or the one in the Enterprise Library for .NET Framework.

The client has a new BizTalk Server 2009 environment so what I proposed was that we build a service layer hosted on the BizTalk environment composed of both BizTalk and WCF services. BizTalk would be used for long running processes that need orchestrating between several calls , generate flat files, or connect to other back-end systems; and the WCF services would run on the same BizTalk servers, but be used for synchronous high performing calls to Oracle (simple select, insert, delete statements for example).

For logging and monitoring of the whole process BAM activities and views will be created, and be populated both from the BizTalk solutions and the WCF services. The Oracle adapter in the BizTalk Adapter Pack 2.0 will also be taken advantage of since it can be called both from BizTalk Server projects and directly from WCF services or other .NET code. With this solution future projects can take advantage of the services created here.

Now I have to review the proposal with other architects on my team and then with the client – must refer to this post. Also, this is where good looking BizTalk architects might get the advantage, we’ll see how I go.

Q [stupid question]: As a new MVP, you’ll probably be subjected to some sort of hazing or abuse ritual by the BizTalk product team.  This could include being forced to wear a sundress on Friday, getting a “Real architects BAM” tattoo in a visible location, or being forced to build a BizTalk 2002 solution while sitting in a tub of grouchy scorpions.  What type of hazing would you absolutely refuse to participate in, and why?

A: There isn’t much I wouldn’t at least try going through, although I’m not too fond of Fear Factor style food. I can think of a couple of challenges that would be very difficult though: 1. Eat a ‘Quadruple Bypass Burger’ from the Heart Attack Grill in Arizona while having to work out the licensing costs for dev/systest/UAT/Prod/DR load balanced highly available, SQL clustered and Hyper-V virtualized BizTalk environments in New Zealand dollars. I could even try facing the burger but the licensing is just beyond me. 2. Ski jumping at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, happening at the same time as the MVP Summit, and having to get my head around some of Charles Young or Paolo Salvatori’s blog posts before I hit the ground. With the ski jump I would still stand a chance.

Well done, Thiago.  Looking forward to hanging out with you and the rest of the MVPs during the Summit.  Just remember, if anything goes wrong, we always blame Yossi or Badran (depends who’s available).

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Categories: BizTalk, Four Questions, General Architecture

5 replies

  1. Great job guys! Loved the “Real architects BAM” tattoo comment. With Mick MIA this year I guess we will have to blame Yossi🙂

  2. heh.

    don’t think even the guys on the Microsoft sales team would be able to conquer the licensing issue, so good luck there! and as for the ski jump; have you seen Paolo’s latest post? As Richard said, some of his book chapters are shorter than this one.😀

    u’re doomed Thiago.

  3. Yes… this post is very useful in terms of the developer transitioning to an Architect. Can u please post some of these .. or is there any site where they discuss problem and solutions.

Trackbacks

  1. Four Questions interview and other bits « Connected Thoughts – Thiago Almeida
  2. 2010 Year in Review « Richard Seroter's Architecture Musings

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