what would you do if you were a Microsoft Evangelist?


I’ve been a Microsoft Evangelist for a few years now. From an inside-out perspective, it seems like things are going well. We spend a lot of time before a fiscal year begins laying out our goals. And typically, we do the best job we can to execute. But the thing about this job is that you don’t really know what you are missing. Is meeting the goals we set out for ourselves good enough? As Microsoft ambassadors, are we doing what we are supposed to be doing?

So, help me help you. What would you do if you were a Microsoft evangelist? I understand that I haven’t defined either what an evangelist is, what we do, or what our typical goals tend to be. But if you had the opportunity to set your own goals, and be an evangelist at Microsoft, what would you do?

Why would you want to do this?

  • Help influence change, internally and externally
  • Maybe you want to be an Evangelist someday? (Two years ago, I met someone at an MSDN Event who told me he wanted to be an Evangelist. He started working with me on a lot of events I was doing here in the Valley. We recently made him an offer to join our team as an Evangelist. I had no idea how good he was till he started working with me, and I referred him for the job)
  • For the experience, perhaps?

I really appreciate your feedback. Really.

ai

Comments (19)

  1. JonD says:

    For one, I’d convince SteveB (your supposed god) to leave Flickr and Y! alone.

  2. Garry Trinder says:

    Hi Anand,

    I’ve been the #1 Microsoft fan for a very long time, given the chance to officially Evangelize for Microsoft would be a dream come true.

    My preferred role would be bringing a new community orientated Microsoft to developers and businesses.

    Microsoft is all too often painted as an evil empire and that’s another area I currently wear a Super Hero’s cape; Pushing back the negative and sharing the positive. 😉

     Salute,

       Mark Wisecarver

  3. I would hit every user group I could around the country, offering to do demos and talk about technology (in my cast VSTS).  I would have it written in my job description to post daily blog posts, and create weekly screencasts.  My goal would be to get the word out on whatever I was focused on, to make sure people have heard about it, know where to find the latest and greatest resources, and now how to do things with it, both simple and complex.  I’d be presenting somewhere at least once a week.

  4. Juan G says:

    My 2 cents are about the .NET framework, from an architect/developer standpoint —and the MSDN events you speak at (which I frequently attend):

    • We, as .NET architects/developers/etc. feel very compelled about the framework (and its tools) because of the productivity impact it has on your projects. Yet many of the coolest and more effective features/paradigms/patterns go unnoticed until you bump into them at a later time. I am aware of the breadth and amplitude of the .NET framework and the difficulty this implies in transferring this knowledge in a relative short time.  

    I believe it is better to focus the talks to well-defined concepts that are easier to handle—rather than flying all over the technologies Microsoft is pursuing. I have seen you get near this objective in some MSDN events I have attended. It was more evident in the old days (Windows Forms for example) than it is today with the current ever broad range of technologies. I felt I took a lot away from those meetings and the level of interest was high as you could see how you would benefit from the technology.

    • I would cater to separate audiences (web domain, desktop domain, a mixed, etc) more effectively. Most companies develop products for one or the other. Still a large chunk does a mix of web and desktop. It is very unlikely that some folks are looking for a mix of solutions in one shot. So MSDN events sometimes seem to overdo its own goals by covering too much in a short time. You may get lost in topics you are not interested in making you lose the focus. I never felt more excited after leaving an MSDN event then after a concise practical rundown of a set of features/products that help you get your job done better and faster.

    *** I have many more suggestions but then Microsoft would also have to hire me as an Evangelist 

  5. Brad Ledford says:

    Anand,

    Enjoyed your presentation at the recent Chico Code Trip.  I was the annoying guy with the enterprisey and Silverlight caching questions.

    Regarding your questions:

    "Are we [MSFT ambassadors] doing what we are supposed to be doing?"

    -Based on my perception, which is limited, I would say no.  You’re close to getting it right, but there’s a little too much marketing going on to feel that MSFT evangelists are in it for the true customer—the end users of our software.  The face of enterprise (sorry) development is changing, wherein service-oriented architectures are the norm.  

    Developers and designers are faced with creating solutions that cross platform boundaries, with little influence on the ability to, say, force a client to use SharePoint as opposed to some other BI solution. So, evangelists need to become more cognizant of this SOA landscape as it relates to non-Microsoft integrations as well as an all Microsoft scenario.

    "If I were an evangelist, what would I do?"

    -Focus. Focus more on productivity/business applications in the Web application domain.  Silverlight, MVC, et al. are indeed relevant in these scenarios, but these technologies are more often given treatment in context of entertainment or retail Web sites.  Much of what developers do these days (I think) is a) migrate traditionally thick client-server applications to web applications and b) present database-driven applications to a large, secure user base within a closed enterprise.  Public-facing web sites are, of course, a big part of the movement toward Rich, Ajax-ey applications, but Microsoft does not spend enough time talking about internal business domains.

    -Illumination.  An evangelists job, it seems to me, is to provide additional meaning and value to materials already available on the Web, not repeat them in person.  Giving context and breathing life into the MS frameworks, beyond the traditional Pet Store-type scenarios, would help to empower more advanced use cases to take advantage of Microsoft technologies.

    -Simplification. Were I an evangelist, I would seek to simplify development for people even further than Microsoft has traditionally done (though, I feel MS does an extremely good job at this).  I think Einstein said, if you can’t explain it to your Grandmother, you don’t understand it well enough to be explaining anything (or something similar).  Web Services, RIA, Interop, data binding, n-tiered architectures, etc. don’t really matter.  What matters is saving people time and money using computers to do things that would otherwise be impossible or manual to the point of exhaustion.  Development for developments sake (which is where I think Silverlight 1.0, for example, falls at the moment, though 2.0 has potential) needs to die.

  6. Thanks for asking…

    I second the comments posted here, however I would add something which is very near to my passions…developing community. I have built, mostly by myself over the past 5 years, a thriving .NET user group. When I started I didn’t know where to begin, but now I do. I know there are others out there who are in the same boat I was in, and it would be great if there was a special type of evangelist who’s job it was, was to help get UG’s off the ground.

    I’ve talked at length with Woody, Lynn and Jason about this. Ask them what their thoughts are as well. And, I’d love the chance to talk with you more in depth about it as well.

    Thanks again for asking.

    James

  7. ai says:

    @JonD,

    I can’t openly comment on the Y! acquisition. On a personal note, my personal opinion and aspiration is that Flickr and all the other Y! products be left alone.

    My (personal, non-MSFT) $0.02,

    ai

  8. ai says:

    @Mark,

    Love the enthusiasm, and the passion. My question for you though is, how? How do you plan on negating the evil empire image? How do you plan on pushing back? How do you share the positive?

    ai

  9. ai says:

    @Mickey,

    Awesome! Do you think we can do things that are more bi-directional in nature *and* scale well? Webcasts scale well, but do not provide a great interaction channel. Offline events provide decent interaction, but do not scale. On the other hand, this is something we do pretty well today (webcasts & offline events).

    Thanks,

    ai

  10. ai says:

    @ Juan,

    > I believe it is better to focus the talks to

    > well-defined concepts that are easier to handle

    Agreed. This is something a colleague of mine, Rob Bagby talks about as well. As evangelists, we focus on really exciting people about newer technologies, and we don’t tend to talk about general practices. But maybe this is something we should focus on.

    > So MSDN events sometimes seem to overdo its

    > own goals by covering too much in a short

    >time. You may get lost in topics you are not

    > interested in making you lose the focus. I

    > never felt more excited after leaving an

    > MSDN event then after a concise practical

    > rundown of a set of features/products that

    > help you get your job done better and faster.

    Love this comment. I’ll personally take this feedback and see how we can work the content to reflect this.

    Thanks!

    ai

  11. Brady "Fuzz" Johnson says:

    Anand,

    I think you do a good job of dealing with the non-Microsoft crowd, which is a crowd I consider myself to be a part of. I like you, as a human. I think you get it. However, I dont think you as an evangelist are empowered to change the way the entire organization thinks. Your job as an evangelist is to try and convert me, sell me on Microsoft. I don’t want to be sold to. I don’t need to convert. I’m happy where I am, with the tools I have, and the work I do.

    I understand that there is a whole world out there that needs to be preached to, but I, personally am not one of them.

    To answer your question, if I had your job, I would quit. In fact if I was wishing for things (or not), I would never wish for your job.

    Good luck.

  12. Garry Trinder says:

    Hi Anand,

    I’ve already been doing it for years. . .

    Positive Reinforcement.

    People are all too often led down the wrong paths, left hungry for the truth and don’t need any more exposure to counterfeits.

    If they indeed have been told untruths about Microsoft it only takes a few minutes to show them Microsoft embracing Technology, Scholastics, Small Business, Hobbyists and much more!

    2008 is an exciting year for Microsoft…New technologies, improved security, more extensive education; It’s time for the future!

     Salute,

       Mark

  13. Murilo says:

    Hello Anand,

    I believed in "showing is the best way to tell", using blog posts, MSDN events, screencasts and videos you can show how Microsoft products/technologies can help you in your day-to-day life as developer, there’s lot of things that you can say, not only the new ones.

    Show how to get things done – this thing helped me a lot last year, when I was trying to show how to use silverlight with php, the first thing I did was build an application using these two technologies, when people saw the application they said "this is great, we can integrate these two things, let’s use it".

    Always ask for feedback – people like to talk about their experiences.

  14. ASPInsiders says:

    Anand asks a great question , and one I’d love to hear feedback on as well: I’ve been a Microsoft Evangelist

  15. Y says:

    If I could provide some feedback about what you shouldn’t do…

    Please stop asuming that we want to come to your events for free stuff. I know a lot of people come to your events fro the free stuff. I’m not one of them. I know a lot of people who dont care for tie-dyed Microsoft t-shirts. If you have people coming in for free stuff, cut them off at the door. Those are not people you want to talking to anyway.

  16. Steve A says:

    Edutcate, educate, Educate.  I would get out there amougst the hords and teach.  I hate the term Evangelist it really does sound like you guys preach and have only a 1 track company directed mind which I think that a mojority of you guys don’t but that title is just terrible and sounds like you walk the streets of a weekend with umbrellas knocking at my door telling me that if I don’t use MS products everything I do will be a failure.  But seriously you guys would sell so many more products if the developers could get up to speed on new products quickly and efficiently.  More importantly though if we can learn your products easily and cheaper than anyone else we will use them we will convince those that make the decisions that MS is the way to go.  We don’t want to pay $5k to do a course to get certified we want if for $0 then we will use the products.  Sure there is a whole world of training out there making a fortune from you guys but I would think that the sums would not add up if more of us were certified cheaply.  

  17. Joe says:

    The best thing you can do is preach internally.  Microsoft doesn’t use enough of its own next gen platform.

    Why didn’t the Zune team use WPF?  Why is there still so much flash?  Where are the early adoption Silverlight pages?  Where are the .NET apps?

    The best evangalism is to show what can be done – and that’s Microsoft’s biggest failure.  At the moment it’s do as I say and not do as I do.

    Joe

  18. Brian says:

    In my experiences working with teams who have marketing/PR and evangelists there is quite often an inconsistent and criss-crossing stream of communication back to the R&D team(s) for what partners and developers actually want to be able to do with (or within) a product and what end-users want to do with a product. Sometimes information or requests enter the stream in the wrong location (i.e. a developer mentions something to a marketing rep or an end-user mentions something to a dev evangelist) and these things can get over-looked.

    As a person with a large range of experience in MS – testing, leading releases, content editing, program management, product/experience ownership, etc – I’ve been in the stream in many locations and found that often there isn’t a person who is tasked with, or can do a good job at, consolidating information from the stream. This may/may not be the role of a developer evangelist, but I do find that as a developer evangelist (I’m not one) you are a spokesperson for a product to your audience (and any else who are listening/reading) and need to make sure you are getting those requests back to the R&D team(s).

    R&D teams rely on developer evangelists and marketing/PR as a source (or sometimes ‘the’ source) for information from partners and external developers. The R&D team works with both groups to push information up-stream and down-stream. As a result of the inconsistent and criss-crossing stream of communication the R&D teams feel (or are) they are often not consulted with much, if at all, before features are promised (or construed as promised by a partner or external developer). Or at other times the R&D team will rely on the evangelist(s) to find out what a partner or external developers needs, thinks, desires, and they get back the wrong information or nothing at all. This can lead to a poor relationship between these teams and R&D team.

    As a result – in a developer evangelist I’d like to see someone who is passionate for fighting through and/or crossing that stream to bring the message from the external developers and partners to the R&D teams and is driven to celebrate/evangelise/cheerlead the work of the R&D team out to the partners and external developers. A person who can do that should easily be able to use those skills to build the community and excitement around a feature(s), tool(s), product(s), experience(s), etc….

    There is more to an evangelist than just fighting through and crossing the stream. Developer evangelists need to be passionate about the feature(s), tool(s), product(s), experience(s), etc that they are supporting and that needs to be visible to external developers and users. People can smell a fraud and if you aren’t genuinely excited about what you are evangelising the community will doubt you and adoption won’t happen. In addition to being excited you have to be able to convey that excitement in a way that people can ‘absorb’ – be that public speaking, setting up great webcasts, participating in forums (online and/or in-person), site visits, demos, or even good e-mail writing or PPT presenting. If your external partners and developers can’t get the information out of you in a fashion they can ‘absorb’ then it’ll make your role extremely tough.

    A second level of providing ‘absorbable’ communication to grow understanding and excitement is by leveraging a technical background or technical understanding to help you to understand customer pain-points, experiences, suggestions and maybe even help setup/build prototype experiences, SDKs, sample code snippets, etc… for external developers and partners. By having something you can share, touch, play with, examine and enjoy an evangelist will be able to help further the growth of the community and potential feature, tool(s), product, experience, etc… adoption. This also helps educate the external partners and developers and prepare them for what they can expect and begin to develop plans, proposals and samples ahead of getting access to the final feature(s), tool(s), product(s), experience(s).

    This may all sound like a glorified PM role combined with a dash of technical background, a dash of passion, and the ability to share your excitement and gather community(ies) around feature(s), tool(s), product(s), and/or experience(s).   In the role it is important to show how you have driven others to get things done that aren’t under your direct control, since most likely as an evangelist you are working ‘with’ the R&D team and working ‘with’ marketing/PR. You don’t own the decisions but you need to influence them and by being driven and sharing your energy you can succeed….

    Caveat – I’m not actually a developer evangelist, so this is only what I perceive can ‘make for a good evangelist.’ I do want to learn more and possibly in future move into the evangelism space and I’m trying to learn from other evangelists if my ideas are on the right track. So please share your experience(s) as I’m eager to learn.

  19. Anon says:

    Hey there,

    I got redirected here from another blog.

    So, I’ve heard of you, Scott Barnes, Dare Obsanjo and some other evangelists. My perception is that every evangelist seems to have their own little area of expertise that they stay committed to or focused on. To me, a Microsoft Evangelist is a Microsoft Ambassador. I want to have one person I go to. I can see you doing this, but I live in the MidWest, and I have no idea who my evangelist is.

    I’m not a hands-on technical guy (I used to be), but if I were a Microsoft Evangelist, my goal would be to try and be the best advocate for Microsoft, period. It shouldn’t matter to me how you are broken up internally.

    That’s my two cents.