Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Scott Lock talks about .Net, the Red Cross, Excella, Caparea.net and user groups

Scott Lock is a Managing Consultant with Excella Consulting and President of the Caparea.net users group. He was kind enough to give this blog an interview.

How did you get interested in software development?

This will sound so typical, but I actually became interested in Software Development very young. I copied a program by hand into my older brothers Texas Instruments TI-99A computer. It took a few times to get right either because I would copy something wrong or the power cable came out killing my project. I always like working with computers whether it was games or just writing papers. I always wanted to learn as much as I could about how it all worked.

How did you get interested in .Net?

I started professionally programming in Visual Basic and C out of college. I worked through VS 3.0 through VB 6, attending conferences and learning as much as I could about how to develop software using Microsoft's tools. In 1998 I met Hal Hayes at a VBITS conference (Visual Basic Insiders Technical Summit) and joined him in establishing a VB users group in Northern Virginia. It was through this community that I began to really learn about the future of development tools. Through great speakers and solid topics I learned about Visual Studio and .Net. I became an instant fan.

Tell us about your work for the Red Cross, what are the particular challenges facing software developers working for a high profile non-profit involved in disaster response?

I loved working for the American Red Cross. I had 5 1/2 incredible years there with some truly amazing people. During my time there I was responsible for a few different projects and people, however my greatest responsibility was as the Technical Lead for the Online Donation Site hosted on www.redcross.org. It was originally built by IBM professional service consultants back in 1998 in traditional ASP. I made some core changes to the application on that platform including incorporating a new payment gateway. After .Net was released, we began the push to re-architect the system in .Net and other service oriented platform technologies. September 11th tested our systems and pushed things to the limit. We overcame and thought that it was unlikely that we would see anything near the challenges during that time. We had consultants like Cisco driving all night pulling hardware out of enterprise clients and bringing it to the Red Cross data center. We rebuilt the entire infrastructure over night. It was in 2004 when 4 hurricanes hit Florida, that the real challenges began. That kicked off 2 years of what seemed to be non-stop disasters. The tsunami and Katrina really pushed the envelope in both scalability and disaster recovery. We had to make sure that sites like the online donation system was available full time. We were processing 1500 transactions per minute at one point so any time down meant the potential for lost donations. It was really, really difficult during those time - but we made it through. It was upsetting to read articles and blogs slamming Red Cross IT after Katrina. Unless you went through it, you have no idea how dedicated the men and woman of the American Red Cross and its partners in IT were during those difficult times. They were always there for one thing - the mission - to simply be first to go in and the last leave.

Tell us about your work for Excella.

I joined Excella in 2006, after things slowed down at the Red Cross. It was a difficult choice, but it was time for me to move on. I know lead the Microsoft Center of Excellence for Excella. Through the MS CoE we support accounts and clients, our people, and the community - specializing in Microsoft technologies. I really enjoy my job. I get a chance to work with many different clients, discussing the ways that Microsoft technology can help improve their business. I also get to work with our consultants on becoming the best Microsoft technology firm in the D.C. area. A lofty goal, but I believe we are on our way.

Excella is a diverse, IT services firm. We have a strong portfolio of commercial and government clients. We are a full service IT Services firm. We are also a Microsoft Gold Partner.

What is a MVP? a MCPD?

MVP stands for Microsoft Most Valuable Professional. It's an award given to people that Microsoft believes is a leader and influencer in the community, focused usually in a specific product area. I am a C# MVP, awarded based on my contributions to the C# community through Capare.net and other vehicles.

MCPD stands for Microsoft Certified Professional Developer. I passed the certification tests last year to become a MCPD - Web Developer. I would like to complete the track and end up with an MCPD - Enterprise certification.

How did you get involved in Capital Area .Net Users Group?

I met Hal Hayes in 1999 at a VBITS conference in Florida. I joined him in running the Capital Area .net Visual Basic Users Group. Since then we have grown along with Microsoft's development tools and platforms. We became the Capital Area .Net Users Group in 2001, after the release of .Net. We will be celebrating our 10 year anniversary this year in July. We estimate that this is our 125 meeting. We will be having a big blast during our July meeting!

What makes a good user group?

A good user group is one that truly serves its members. I believe that if you can bring strong speakers and great topics to your members month to month, you are making a difference in the community. Our members give up 2 hours of their family life every month to come out and here someone talk about .Net development. We owe it to our members and our sponsors to make that meeting worth their valuable time.

How would you characterized Caparea.net audiences?

Our members are smart, diversified, and engaged people. They typically get involved in the presentations, making them often conversations rather than sit and listen events. I love our members. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't appreciate the effort and time they put into improving their skills and knowledge.

How are speakers selected?

Speakers are typically first come first scheduled.  We are lucky to live in an area rich with Microsoft development talent.  We have been able to schedule top speakers not only in the D.C. area, but often well known worldwide.  A big reason for this success has been a larger support group for user groups called Ineta (Ineta.org).  INETA empowers user groups by making it possible for non-local speakers to speak at local meetings.  They cover the cost of flying these well-known speakers into these meetings.  INETA has been very important to Caparea.net getting great speakers over the years.

Our second secret weapon is our Speaker Coordinator and sitting board member Brian Noyes.  Brian is a Microsoft Regional Director, MVP, and INETA speaker.  I am proud to say he is my friend and fellow user group leader.  Brian is a big reason we get such strong speakers.

What makes a good presentation?

Good presentations are ones that are a nice mix of theory and code. I personally like to have the ground work explained before diving into code, but often developers like to just see the code. Speakers who are engaging and relaxed tend to really hit the mark with our members. Of course, we do not have any speakers that are not rock stars!

Are there presenters who particularly stand out?

All of our speakers are strong. Choosing a few that stand out is not an easy task. If I had to pick a few, I would name Brian Noyes, Vishwas Lele, and Sahil Malik as some of our stand out speakers. Brian and Vishwas are veteran conference speakers who set the bar for speakers at our meetings. Sahil is special to Caparea.net because he gave his first presentation at one of our meetings. He has since risen in the community to a very well known and respected speaker.

Where do you see the .Net going? What do you see as the important

I think that few will argue that .Net is moving become THE way to
develop service oriented applications. The tools and ease of development for building rich, highly available service based applications is really second to none. The user experience is also seeing a transformation in the .Net space. Silverlight, WPF, and other new user interface technologies are redefining the way in which we build front end applications. I can only ask Microsoft to slow down so our members get a chance to absorb and learn all of the new things in .Net. If you want to learn more about the future of .Net, just come out to our anniversary meeting in July where we will have a panel of experts talk about where .Net is going.

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