This is something I spend a lot of time thinking of. And this post is full of opinions, so be warned.
Remember when blogs were cool, and there was no twitter? Visual Studio 2005 (Whidbey) was the rage, and the teams at Microsoft were polishing every method and property in .NET 2.0 for release. Documentation was great, product quality was great. On-premises is all that mattered.
Fast forward a bit.
Faster release cadence: Every product has moved to a faster release cadence, or is hell bent upon doing so. The downside this is creating, is lower product quality, and a greater degree of change. Customers hate change. Change costs them a lot of money. Business users hate change even more, because it requires them to relearn how to shut down a damn computer every few months. The lower product quality is reflected in changing API (how many times will the service bus or azure cache api change? customers bet real money on this y’know). And don’t even get me started on the lack of documentation on the stuff they release. Look at the documentation for Workflow Manager, it’s a bunch of tutorials, monkey see monkey do, no depth in understanding. It’s the new trend, get used to it.
Hell bent on cloud; I see every tea leaf reading that Microsoft is not just hell bent on cloud, it is going to force it down your throats. From completely integrating, literally forcing you, to use SkyDrive in Windows 8.1, or splittering out SkyDrive Pro in the UI of SharePoint 2013. The fact that it is called SkyDrive in the UI is confusing to users, on iOS, the icons are the same – but I digress. I see a number of very important on-premises products that are not getting any or very little attention. Biztalk, SQL server, and even SharePoint – cloud first, on prem .. maybe! Some products such as SCOM, and intune have fully moved to the cloud.
Cloud on Microsoft’s terms: Only Microsoft has the capability to offer a smooth transition from on-premises to the cloud. Or they are the best positioned to do so. The move from SharePoint to Office 365 is a whole lot easier than Office to Google Apps. The move from HyperV to Azure VM is much smoother than say amazon. And even though, as of today Amazon’s EC2 offering is superior in feature set, the simplicity and ease and strength of better tools , addressing the mass market needs, I’m seeing Azure catch up and overtake amazon. Lets not forget, Azure’s overall offering is quite sweet, VM is not the only thing it offers. The main issue here however, is whether you like it or not, the lack of support and innovation for on-prem, will force customers to consider cloud. And the false sense of security of keeping data within the confines of your walls or VPN, will be proven, well, false. Laws and thought processes will take time to change, but the flood of cost savings will overrun those voices. Money talks, and what makes sense – eventually prevails. As much as Microsoft says “cloud on your terms”, or “where it makes sense” – it’s the only thing that is going to make sense in the future. Better get onboard. The nightmare this causes for CIOs around the world, is of course grappling with increasing costs of retooling existing investments for the cloud. Large ERP systems won’t move to the cloud overnight, but the ones who embrace mobile and cloud will survive. Others, will perish.
So, where does this leave us? The conventional Microsoft developer and IT pro?
The one thing I have learnt in my career so far – in our line of work, you are always a beginner.
Don’t get me wrong, .NET will continue to be used, but it doesn’t make sense for Microsoft to pour dollars into a framework that runs only on Windows and arguably hard to support in a distributed fashion when BYOD is going to be the norm. And when the pace of innovation in PHP, Node.js is essentially free, why pour your own dollars into polishing .NET? I am on the fence on this, I feel .NET is the reason Microsoft is still in business. But as Microsoft transitions into devices and services, they need to cater to the device you have. As much as Microsoft’s fond hope is that, that device be windows, the reality is – it is not. And even if it is a windows device, it is a whole lot easier to support development on those with a thin app (such as a WinRT app), and the complexity lies on the services side. So much for WCF being dead huh? WCF and SOA is anything but dead.
So, the conventional IT Pro, be very worried – your skills are going out the door. In the short term, as Microsoft ditches on-prem, customers will rely on you even more, to support their archaic systems. You have 2-3 years of that honeymoon and gradually such jobs will get marginalized to dowdy boring hard to change organizations where you are a cog in the wheel with no excitement in your life. For some that fits, but that is a dead end. But, it would be in your interest to retool yourself and get on board with the cloud – even if your employer is not. Don’t get comfortable in the cocoon of your employer, get onboard with the program. Embrace the cloud, even if your employer isn’t. And do your employer a favor, show them the arguments in this blog post, it is in their interest to get onboard too or be run over by this freight train.
Finally, keep on top of the changing trends in the IT market. I strongly feel now that Apple has lots it’s mojo. As much as Tim Cook promised their crazy pace of innovation in 2013, and doubling down in secrecy, it is clear to me that their pipeline is empty and devoid of ideas. iPhone5S is basically iPhone4 – which was released YEARS AGO. Yeah a little thinner, tuti-fruti colors, higher rez. screen, those are not innovations, those are blah! Android, and Windows Phone have on the other hand grown by leaps and bounds. I see a brighter future for Windows Phone, and don’t forget about the patent royalty Microsoft makes on every android device sold too. But all this could change by a surprise announcement tomorrow. Keep on top of it.
In short, the future bodes a multi-platform cloud-ready world. It is going to be a big change for us techies to swallow, and an even bigger change for customers to swallow. But those who are able to will thrive. And those who are not, will become managers (joke!). I’m pretty clear about where I want to be, I intend to be a techie, with the best possible skills that I can humanly muster. It is not going to be easy, but I hope I can do it.