Microsoft builds a deep-tech team to attract next-gen developers

Microsoft builds a deep-tech team to attract next-gen developers

Summary: As part of its devices and services makeover, Microsoft has a new plan for reaching out to top-tier developers of all sizes to get them to take a look at the new and expanded Microsoft toolbox.


Just because a company builds a bunch of new frameworks and services doesn't guarantee developers will immediately flock to them. The current-day Microsoft -- in the midst of trying to win over brand-new non-Microsoft developers while keeping loyal ones in the fold -- knows this well.

Rather than simply sit back and wait for devs to (hopefully) embrace its growing set of new technologies, the Redmondians have decided to go proactive. On May 13 -- just over a month ahead of Microsoft's Build 2013 developer conference -- Microsoft is launching a new "deep tech" team inside its Developer and Platform Evangelism (DPE) unit. The new team is charged with working with top developers outside the company to build next-generation applications on top of the Microsoft platform.

When Microsoft initially launched DPE in 2001, the team was charged with coordinating and evangelizing the "Microsoft platform." At that time, the platform meant, primarily, Windows, the .Net Framework and associated tools.

These days, as Microsoft works to morph from a software vendor to a devices and services one, what constitutes the "Microsoft platform" is something much broader.

"'The platform' is now a collection of capabilities across all of our products," said John Shewchuk, the head of the recently formed technical evangelism and dev team. Our job is "helping devs stitch together solutions with these technologies."

John Shewchuk

"Devs" also is a much broader target audience for Microsoft than it once was. Back in the early DPE days, devs meant professional, full-time programmers. The target audience for Microsoft's new deep-tech team includes anyone who writes a consumer, business or hybrid application. That means startups, enterprise customers and top consumer and business independent software vendors (ISVs).

The Microsoft toolbox from which devs can choose to mix and match includes many technologies that didn't exist a decade, or even just a few years, ago. They include everything from Windows Azure technologies, to Bing programming interfaces and datasets, to the WinRT framework underlying Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012. Microsoft's next Xbox, Kinect, Windows Phones, Surfaces, Perceptive Pixel multitouch displays are among the targets for these technologies.

"This is a playground. We get to work with stuff from all the different Microsoft business groups," said Shewchuk. "It's like geek heaven."

Meet the deep-tech geeks

The idea of creating this kind of deep-tech team has been percolating since October 2012, when Microsoft veteran Steve Guggenheimer returned to Microsoft to head up DPE, according to Microsoft execs. Guggenheimer, in conjunction with Server and Tools Business chief Satya Nadella and with the blessing of CEO Steve Ballmer, set out to recruit some deeply technical evangelists with far-flung specializations.

Shewchuk, a 20-year Microsoft veteran and one of the company's Technical Fellows, agreed to spearhead the team. (Microsoft isn't saying how large the new team is, but I've heard it could be over 100 people in size and growing.) Shewchuk, who is now the Chief Technology Officer for the Microsoft Developer Platform, was working for the last several years on Windows Azure, where he helped the company build Windows Azure Active Directory, Service Bus and SQL services. Shewchuk also was a key contributor to a number of other Microsoft dev technologies, including .Net, Visual Studio, Windows Communication Foundation and the WIndows Identity Foundation.

"The idea is to bridge our inside developers to outside developers," Shewchuk said. "We want to get the top developers to adopt our platform."

Shewchuk described the new deep-tech team as a place where Microsoft pulls together its own "world-class" developers to exchange ideas among themselves and with the outside world. Because Microsoft's new stack of technologies are all at different places, in terms of their maturity cycle, the Microsoft tech team will do everything from build new frameworks; develop code to tie together disparate products; and make available code and templates for external use using services like GitHub or CodePlex. In some cases, the "developers" who take advantage of these pieces may be Microsoft's own product teams who may want to incorporate code (and even the developers who wrote it) directly into their units.

Shewchuck's not the only heavy hitter on the new deep-tech team.


A brand-new-to-Microsoft member is Patrick Chanezon, who joined Microsoft from VMware just over a week ago. His new job is to lead the enterprise evangelism efforts in Microsoft’s DPE unit from San Francisco. At VMware, from 2011 to 2012, Chanezon helped build out the developer relations team for Spring and Cloud Foundry. Before that, he worked at Google from 2005 to 2011, where he managed the Cloud Developer Relations team. He helped with efforts around HTML5, OpenSocial, Google Checkout and the AdWords API. And before that, Chanezon spent five years at Sun Microsystems as a software architect working on Sun Portal Server, blogs and syndication feeds.

"We're at a deep architectural inflection point right now in the enterprise," said Chanezon. "Devs need new ways of working, new apps and new frameworks. There's the whole dev-ops movement, plus the move to become more agile."

Chanezon said he joined Microsoft because he felt the company's new devices plus services strategy really embraces these changes. He said while Google had devices and services, too, it didn't have the private/hybrid cloud component which Microsoft also brings to the enterprise-dev table. As a big believer in the power and potential contribution of open source, he said he was encouraged to see that Azure has become a very open-source-friendly platform.


Another member of the deep-tech team is James Whittaker -- who is known by many because of a much-publicized blog post he wrote in 2012 about why he left Google and rejoined Microsoft. At Google, which he joined in 2009, he was an engineering director, leading teams working on Chrome, Maps and Google+. During his first stint at Microsoft, he worked on the Trustworthy Computing and Visual Studio teams.

Whittaker's most recent gig at Microsoft was development manager for the Microsoft knowledge platform as part of the Bing team. 

"When Microsoft talks about devices and services, that's a two-legged stool," said Whittaker. The third leg is knowledge. We're embedding knowledge into everything from Xbox, to Office, to third-party products."

Whittaker said "dev platform" is no longer simply the operating system and related application programming interfaces (APIs). It's the whole ecosystem, he said, including information that Bing extracts from the Web, like catalogs, weather, and maps. The goal is to make this available inside applications built by both Microsoft and third-party developers. 

"Actions can be performed on these entities. We have hundreds of millions of things we can provide that go beyond the blue links (in search engines)," Whittaker said.


Bringing yet another skill set to the deep-tech team is Eric Schmidt. (No, not that Eric Schmidt.)

Schmidt, a 15-year Microsoft veteran, is a Senior Director on a team focused on adoption of Microsoft's devices and services in "consumer lifestyle" applications. He has worked with Microsoft customers and partners, including NBC Sports, the NCAA, Victoria's Secret Fashion Show and Major League soccer, as well as with Hulu, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Comcast, around building apps and services that leverage the cloud. He also was lead architect of Microsoft's open-source media software development kits, including the Microsoft Media Player Framework and Audience Insight.

Schmidt joined DPE six years ago, bringing his media specialization to the media and entertainment, social and gaming verticals. These are "where people are thinking about attaching devices to a lifestyle," he said. 

A big target for Schmidt is mobile developers, specifically those writing for iOS and Android who may not know how their skills can be transferred to Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. "We're showing them how what they already know is correlated," he said, while playing up the message that the iOS and Android gold mines are drying up.

As the walls break down as to what constitutes a dev, vs. a partner, vs. a customer, DPE's new deep-tech team has an interesting charter ahead of it.

Topics: Software Development, Cloud, Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Web development


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • another M$ FLOP

    The 'devs' are solidly in FOSS column.
    LlNUX Geek
  • nice try

    .net is free falling and i don't think anything can be done anymore. The world now is much more open source than closed source. Even if Microsoft will do magic with it's deep-tech team (which i really doubt) developers won't forget Internet Explorer 6 and Microsoft disinterest in web standards, some other part of devs will remember scroogled campaigns and last but not least i don't think anyone working on LAMP stack will ever consider Microsoft's enviroment (not to mention Microsoft community which would at least pale in front of any large Open Source community on the web).

    So... let's be real - this is nothing more than a big waste of time and cash!!! (Microsoft is already experienced on this one)
    Andrew Starlike
    • nice try nice try

      In my experience most medium sized businesses don't feel this way.
    • 2003 called...

      ..and wants it's IE6 relevance back. Seriously, using that as an argument is woefully dated.
    • Let me guess, you aren't an enterprise developer?

      Sorry, man, it's not that I disagree with you, it's that the world does. Your sentiment isn't a reflection of large and medium enterprises in the slightest. If you think an IT Director with a $50M budget cares about open source, you are sorely mistaken. They care about up-time. They care about response-time. They care about interoperability. They care about track record. They could care less about how large the open source community is. They have a fortress to build and money to make. Are there some? Perhaps. But in general, you're talking about baby-size, not real world.
    • nice try to make a nice try

      .net is not free falling unless your talking about Java. You reference a 7 year old browser and besides FF and IE are faster than chrome with HTML 5. Yeah, i sure google will fix it eventually, but aren't that was cut and pasted from a php sites lacks a thought. Sorry, but .NET is huge in the medium sized business world.

      Open source is fine for hobbyist, but there are few projects worth of a professional app. Nor does MS care about PHP developers, because only linux does.
  • Open source = scam

    The world has grown way past believing in all the "open" hypes.
    • How is life .....

      under the rock?
      • How is life in the basement?

        Get out more often.
    • a cancer for software people

      Free and open source software has caused most software engineers to suffer. People think software should be cheap and even free , no mater how much time the poor programmers have put on it.

      We could be as rich as medical doctors and lawyers but we started to give away for free.

      Who else in the society does that (at least as much as we do)?
  • The DevDiv guys have had a lot of success

    when they've been allowed to lead. Azure is solidly built and well supported. NET got impossibly powerful when LINQ and Entity framework came along.

    They're run into challenges with nu Windows however... the Windows 8 team kind of ran roughshod over how they do things, and blew up all their useful tools. Hopefully ScottGu can take some of that back.
  • Here's the problem with the state of the current MS development platform

    First, forget all the usual arguments from ABMers. They are even more worthless concerning developing on the MS stack than they are about MS products in general.


    There are two issues with the MS development stack currently that have thrust a wedge between MS and it's most loyal base of support - LOB developers.

    The first was MS' abandonment of Silverlight. Silverlight was/is a technology that filled/fills a gaping hole in what developers need today. It is a rich cross platform UI development model that is so much better than the HTML/JavaScript alternative that it's not even close. It has all the zero footprint deployment benefits of web apps plus the benefits of being able to run in both connected and disconnected modes that traditional desktop apps have. And it integrates seamlessly with the rest of the MS stack of databases and other services. Just as Silverlight was reaching maturity, which in itself was a very rapid evolution, MS pulled the rug out from under everyone who was looking forward to using it to solve real development problems. The solution MS now pushes in place of Silverlight, HTML/JavaScript, is very poor substitute in terms of capability and ease of development. The problems with HTML/JavaScript development are the reasons why Silverlight was developed in the first place.

    The second issue concerns the adoption of "Metro" or whatever they're officially calling it now as a development platform. On the one hand, you can develop UIs in Metro like you do in Silverlight. But it's what is missing from Metro that is the problem. Instead of being cross platform like Silverlight, Metro is limited to Windows. Even worse, it's limited to Windows 8. How is that helpful to LOB developers? Additionally, there is the issue of missing functionality in Metro that is available in real .NET. Database access is a hole big enough to drive a fleet of Zil limousines into. MS developed a truly great ORM package called Entity Framework that makes database work a snap compared to raw SQL. It evolved rapidly and now they have made it open source. It's completely absent in Metro. The only way to use it is to build some type of web service and hook a consuming Metro app to it. You had to do something similar in Silverlight, but WCF RIA services allowed you to do it mostly transparently so that you could write EF-like code in the client app. Again, absent in Metro.

    It used to be that independent developers could count on MS to support the technologies they used and to occasionally come out with real game changers, like .NET, that vastly advanced the tools we had to work with. In the last couple of years MS hasn't done that, and has, in fact, gone backwards. In so doing, it has severely eroded the relationship it once enjoyed with its developers.
    Sir Name
    • MS also canned VFP

      Microsoft also canned Visual FoxPro which was a great database development tool for SMB's. It was a shame.
      • Visual FoxPro???

        Seriously? A fox in duck clothing like Paradox it was open season after Access was released and Microsoft kept supporting Fox well past it's use-by date IMO.
    • Developers were screwed over

      You make some good points Sir. The reality finally dawned on Microsoft that too many devices would not support a Silverlight Presentation Layer. I think the new goal is to get the rest of the stack behind HTML5 and support OS Frameworks so that developers can at least get something that runs in Safari, Chrome and hopefully Android Browsers etc. as well as IE using as many standards as possible. The development of Typescript will, I believe, give developers, in times to come, the ability to write in a common language through all tiers when they write LoB apps. Love it or hate it HTML5/JavaScript/CSS skills can be used for Windows Store Apps and web-apps. Silverlight . . . not so much.
      • MS still supports Silverlight alright

        and will be for another 8 years or so. A lot of companies still use it and not only in the enterprise. Amazon just started using for its video streaming.

        While SL is still way ahead of HTML5 in many ways the later is catching up fast. At the current pace HTML5 will catch up in a couple of years. Then it might take another couple years for the new browsers to get widely adopted in the enterprise. until then you are free to use SL and it would be cheaper to develop UI now in SL and redo it in HTML5 in 5 years than trying to do it in HTML5 in its present form right away.
      • re: Developers were screwed over

        I have a different take on why MS torpedoed Silverlight. If I remember correctly, there was some meeting at MS with Bill Gates in attendance where a number of their initiatives were being discussed. When it came time for Silverlight to be at bat, Gates said something like "Silverlight? You mean the Windows killer?". I think that MS was afraid that they had come up with a development platform that would level the playing field for client OSes if it was successful. Guess we'll never know now. Everyone (Windows, iOS, OS X, Android, Linux) is pretty well siloed in their own development environments at this point. HTML/JavaScript is a lowest common denominator platform that can at least run in all browsers (with lots of compatibility issues) when connected to the Internet. So long as there are services behind it running on real computers to do the real work.
        Sir Name
    • You are overstating the importance of Silverlight

      As an AS3 developer I didn't saw nothing compelling in SL. Most SL products looked to me kind of rough in the edges.

      Please enumerate what are those "problems with HTML/JavaScript development" that SL solved. Fact is, HTML5 displaced Flash, and the newcomer, SL. You can whine all you want all the way to your couch, fact is SL is dead. Flash, at least, is still widely used at many stages of web development. In our case we almost not have use for Flash (SL development was ceased 2 years ago), Jquery/Moo Tools mostly handles all behavioral / navigation / animations we need.

      In short, HTML5 is very strong. If you are doing web development there is not other road. Keep whinning; others are moving fast. Behind HTML5 there is a huge community, and let tell you, development is fenomenal. Is just happening, under your eyes.
    • You're right, you're right. Almost.

      Silverlight is not abandoned. The current build is not just rich and capable, but fully supported for the next decade. Silverlight developers still have real projects and real work until nascent HTML5 catches up. But when HTML5 catches up (in theory) why would you go any other way? MSFT would be foolish to write a proprietary HTML5. The fact that no future version of Silverlight is on the horizon doesn't preclude that it remains the best choice for certain solutions, many solutions. And HTML5 certainly makes Silverlight less relevant.

      It's Windows Store Apps, if you weren't just being snarky. The "limitations" in WinRT are built for the user. They protect the user's experience, their performance, and their battery life. What you call a limitation is really an "about time" feature of the runtime. Having said that, LOB (line of business) developers have plenty of options and can bypass many of the limitations by simply side-loading through their enterprise using Microsoft Intune (in the cloud) or System Center (on prem). So you might be overacting a bit.

      There's also a cool design pattern called Service Oriented Architecture. It's been pretty freaking popular for the past ten years and has redefined how apps are built. I notice you didn't complain that JavaScript doesn't have ADO.Net built into it. That's because it's service based. Your .Net LOB apps should be the same way. Build with good patterns. And, suddenly, most of your complaints vaporize.

      Having said that, every developer should know that a Windows Store App or an internal Modern App is not always the correct choice. Sort of like every app does not belong on a phone, every app does not belong in the Windows Runtime. But some do. And when you have determined what in your enterprise belongs, you will find a good environment with good tooling, that is more secure and configurable than any other in the universe.

      But has Microsoft lost some of the sweet relationship it had with developers in the past. I think on that point you are onto something. Microsoft developers are as smart as any developers, and naturally try new technologies - open or anything else. New technologies are fun and intoxicating and eventually show up in our solutions. That's natural curiosity. But what about the relationship between Microsoft and Developers do you see as DIFFERENT? Is it time spent or something else?
    • No one cares about Silverlight

      Silverlight and flash are done. HTML5 does anything faster and better and in hi def. MS left silverlight because it was a dieing breed that runs on a dll. Why is a dll bad, well simply put it's not really mobile.

      Sorry but HTML5 killed Silverlight and Flash for a reason and MS ducked out before they spent millions on a dieing breed. Sorry you can do HTML5, 3D, and business clients in HTML5/jQuery faster and better without Silverlight or Flash.

      Why why would you want database calls in your UI? Use SOA or a web service. It's lightweight for a reason.