Working with one of your idols is one once-in-a-lifetime privilege; getting to be friends, even rarer.
Kim Cameron does not need introductions, no sirs, especially if you are reading this from an Internet-connected device. His contribution to how we think about identity cannot be overestimated; as I often say in my talks, claims (which are largely his doing) are the identity & access equivalent of moving from Roman numbers to Arabic digits. His famous Laws of Identity have the hallmark of the true breakthrough, that special once-seen-it-cannot-be-unseen quality: the novel perspective about something that was in front of the nose of everybody the whole time but that only now suddenly makes sense.
But his greater contribution, IMO, is how he brought together the industry and showed us that we can collaborate; that if we work together, large or small, computer scientists or end users, commercial software or open source, we can truly make things better for everybody. I am not sure if all the people that are today enjoying this wonderful sense of community in the identity space (exhibit A: the latest IIW) remember the climate of distrust that dampened everything in the industry just few years ago (I won’t bring any exhibit B for this, it would be bad taste).
Kim emerged as a force to reckon with, in the blogosphere and at conferences, a sharp and incredibly driven intellect never afraid to call bull when he saw it. What made him the exception++ among the elite of exceptional people in the industry was his most accessible and welcoming personality, in oh-so-stark contrast with the arrogant stance which so often comes with the package for A-type personalities and super-achievers.
Kim listens to everybody, and I mean everybody, and considers the merits of an idea regardless of where it is coming from (see his vitriol review of The Cult of the Amateur to get a feeling of how strongly he feels about it). If you ever had a chance to discuss with him, I am sure you’ll recognize that nice feeling of talking with somebody who truly listens before agreeing or disagreeing, with no other agenda than to make things better, and the sense you get afterwards of actually having achieved something.
I remember chatting with him one night in front of the W hotel in S.Francisco, it was during the RSA conference few years ago. I was telling him about one idea I heard from one guy, which seemed totally bogus to me, and also happened to violate a couple of the Laws; Kim listened intently, as always, then he calmly invited me to reconsider about both the idea and the guy, pointed out merits I was very quick to dismiss, and I am sure he later spoke to the guy as well because his attitude the morning after was totally different. My attitude was different too, and for the better. In fact, I was a tad ashamed: here there’s a man who’s time is real precious and whose opportunity costs are so much higher than mine, and yet took the time to “triage” properly and even mentor me in the process where I was ready to dismiss without a second thought. That was a lesson I needed.
In fact, that’s a great segue for the rest of the post. Kim’s contributions to the industry are enormous, and I am sure that many will take the chance offered by his retirement from Microsoft to write about him and do a much better job than I can ever hope to do (thinking of people with a better grasp of the English language than mine, my good friend Dave Kearns comes to mind ). This one is my personal blog, so if now you’ll excuse me I’ll go ahead and briefly talk about my relationship with Kim in the last ~6 years. If you landed here because you were searching for news about Kim’s retirement, this is the point where you can consider yourself satisfied and move to the next item in your search results.
When I moved from Microsoft Italy to the Redmond headquarters, back in October 2005, I was already eating and breathing web services, especially ws-security and ws-trust. I had a good grasp of how to obtain and use tokens, the crypto behind it, and how to use those protocols for setting up distributed architectures. Users were in the picture, but barely registered (an X509 will do its RSA non-repudiable magic regardless of if its subject points to a user or one machine).
That’s why they summoned me: we were about to launch the .NET Framework 3.0, and my job was to work with enterprise customers on the server-side technologies of the then-called WinFx, i.e. WCF, WF and CardSpace (long time readers read this story many times already, even very recently. Sorry for being repetitive, I’m getting old).
Wait, what was that? I had to evangelize card-what? I had a very good idea of what WCF and WF were, but CardSpace was a very strange animal that simply resisted the labeling efforts of my Linnaeus coprocessor. First I focused on the mechanics: a built-in generic proxy for STS, with dynamic metadata support, generic credential gathering process for securing RSTs, cached fragments of ws-policy documents called cards, and a UI to surface those functions to the user; ah, and some trick for making attributes visible on the client without having to pry open the token itself. Oooook, so what?
Then I read the Laws paper. And all of a sudden everything made sense. Not just CardSpace, but all the protocols and primitives I’ve been using in the years before. The user was back in the picture, and all the protocols clockwork was just a way of making the right things happen. That was a true Radon Transform moment for me. I could not stop thinking about it, and the rest is history.
I mainly met Kim during some of the team meetings and at conferences; it was always refreshing to talk to him, as he never lost sight of the big picture whereas I would occasionally get caught in the mechanics of the process. In 2007 I wrote the theoretical chapters of the CardSpace book, and Kim made us the huge honor of writing the foreword. That was a nice chance to work with him, but it was dwarfed by the amount of hours we later put in preparing for PDC08.
At PDC08 we introduced for the first time our company-wide identity strategy, all based on claims, and pulled the wraps from the Geneva efforts. The main delivery vehicle were a session from Kim himself (where I had the honor of presenting the Big Demo) and one slide summarizing all identity products, services and their relationships. As you can imagine putting together that slide has been A LOT of work, work would have probably been impossible without the contribution of Kim’s clarity of vision and human qualities. The work on that one slide and the demo gave me the chance to work even more closely with Kim, at a level which was never matched afterwards.
After that big push, my work got increasingly tied to evangelizing the products and the chances to work together more and more rare. The main occasions were during conferences (I fondly remember some dinners and very interesting discussions during some taxi rides the last two EICs (which I’ll have to skip this year, but you guys please go, it’s a very nice conference)) or via blog (like at the u-prove launch and the incredibly nice review Kim made for the WIF book).
…and fast forward to last week, when we raised glasses for celebrating Kim’s retirement from Microsoft: the picture above is from that occasion, although the original is in fact 3D .
Remember, on this blog you read my personal opinions, and I am not a spokesperson for this matter: I am just sharing my personal perspective. That said: I am sorry for the various conspiracy theorists, apophenia victims or just generic Microsoft bashers: but as far as I saw everything happened in the best of terms, everybody here is deeply grateful for his work and wishes him the best of luck for the future.
I, for one, could not be more grateful to Kim. During his tenure at Microsoft I had the privilege of enjoying both the architect and the man. His influence quite literally changed my career, hence my life, and for the better.
I know I’ll look forward to reading his new posts on www.identityblog.com, as – I’m sure – will all the other good citizens of the community he did so much to create.
Grazie Kim, buona fortuna per tutto!!!