MVP Insider – Q & A with Eli Robillard

Eli Robillard is the founder of the Toronto SharePoint Users Group. He is a past writer for the MSDN Developer Center, a member of the MSDN Canada Speakers Bureau, a member and founding board member of the ASPInsiders, and an author and technical editor of SharePoint books. His latest is Professional SharePoint 2007 Development (Wrox Press). Eli is a Principal Architect in the Technical Architecture Group at Infusion Development Corporation, where he architects and shepherds all things SharePoint. Eli previously received the MVP award for "Visual Tools - ASP.Net" in Oct 2004.

Back in the 90’s, Eli moved from Saskatchewan to Toronto. He, his daughter and his girlfriend like to ride bikes, swim, and listen to music.

1. What does being an MVP mean to you?
It’s great peer recognition. It’s recognition for time spent building the developer community, and the best benefit is the opportunity to influence the future of the platform.

2. If you could ask Steve Ballmer one question about Microsoft, what would it be?
Two questions: What does Ray Ozzie bring to the table that you didn’t have already? And where’s the MSFT equivalent of Garage Band?

3. What do you think the best software ever written was?
It depends on the criteria. I appreciate efficiency, so I’ll pick the best process and the best team.

After hearing Jim McCarthy speak and then having a few chances to exchange ideas with him, how he led the MSFT C++ 1.0 team is a great example of how to build software right. That results in great software. The massive success of that release had everything to do with the team and the balance they enjoyed between process and freedom.

But the best current product is .NET: the CTS, the CLR, the Framework, and the Visual Studio IDE. None could be as good as they are without the others, and all were built by strong teams with clear vision and processes that worked. Not coincidentally, those processes can be traced back to Jim McCarthy’s team. The credit for that leadership goes to everyone from Jim Allchin, to Soma, to Anders Hejlsberg and Scott Guthrie, right down to their PMs.

4. If you were the manager of SharePoint Server, what would you change?
As a data store, SharePoint should be at least as accessible, malleable and reliable as Access was as far back as 2.0. As a web application, SharePoint should be as easy to use and work with as ASP.NET itself. To reach those goals I’d start with two big rocks: I’d make sure there’s a way to define and enforce relationships among lists and with external data, and I would change the developer experience.

During development and deployment, the pieces fit together well, but need far too much manual intervention when it’s possible to automate a lot of it. It’s great that the plumbing is there and that the developer community is coming through with great add-ons. But the ability to build and properly deploy SharePoint features should be baked into Visual Studio as deeply as ASP.NET or workflow. The Visual Studio 2005 extensions for SharePoint were awful, and the new SharePoint projects in 2008 are (from what I’ve seen) worse. On the bright side, there is no direction to go but up.

And the “Blank Team Site” would be a blank team site. No logo.

5. What are the best features/improvements of SharePoint Server?
They got the plumbing right. ASP.NET now controls most of the presentation layer and SharePoint structures are in place to effectively manage documents, records, and web content. SharePoint is finally a great enterprise application platform.

6. What was the last book you read?
I’m almost done the new Chuck Klosterman book which is an annotated collection of his articles from Esquire and Spin. Before that, Rock & Roll Archaeologist. It’s the story of the lead curator of Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project. I picked it up at the Company Store in Redmond last year and just happened to finish it last month. Good books, light reading. I keep a stack of recent technical books too, but for reference and review, not reading.

7. What music CD do you recommend?
Vietnam (self-titled). They’re from Brooklyn and the best new band I’ve heard in years. If Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and the Allman Brothers cut an album in Memphis it might sound like this.

8. What makes you a great MVP?
I’m a pretty good MVP because I’ve found ways to align my personal goals with “professional community service.”  There still aren’t enough great SharePoint developers out there, and I want better people to work with. So I do what I can to turn ASP.NET developers into SharePoint developers. Some happen to be great. It’s working; the talent pool is exponentially larger than what it was two years ago. I think I’ve been able to contribute to that. But I’m still just “pretty good;” to be great I’d have to write and share more code.

9. What is in your computer bag?
That’s a blog entry of its own: 

10. What is the best thing that has happened since you have become an MVP?
After several months of writing and editing, the first copies of Professional SharePoint 2007 arrived. That was a good day. Seeing everyone come together to make the first SharePoint CodeCamp a stunning success was another.

11. What is your motto?
If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.

12. Who is your hero?
Bruce Lee.

13. What does success mean to you?
Balance.  And to be able to shout out “Happy New Year” from here to friends and colleagues across the country and around the world. Have a great year everybody!

Comments (3)

  1. The long arm of TechNet Canada reached out to me to do a Q&A on their Developer blog : MVP Insider

  2. Weddings says:

    Eli Robillard is the founder of the Toronto SharePoint Users Group. He is a past writer for the MSDN Developer Center, a member of the MSDN Canada Speakers Bureau, a member and founding board member of the ASPInsiders, and an author and technical edito

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