Begineer to BizTalk Expert : Interview with Stephen W Thomas

Welcome to sixth interview of the series, today's expert is Stephen W Thomas.

Stephen W Thomas is a Dedicated, detail-oriented IT Professional with 17 years experience analyzing, designing and developing integration solutions. Over 14 years of consulting experience including positions with Accenture and Avanade. Over 12 years of working knowledge with Microsoft BizTalk Server. An ten-year Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in BizTalk Server from 2004 through 2014. 

Hands-on experience with the latest Microsoft Technologies including Azure Service Bus, Azure IaaS, Windows Communication Foundation, and Windows Workflow. 

Proven initiator, published author, conference presenter, problem solver, and troubleshooter with a flair for identifying, taking ownership of, and solving complex problems. Always ready for a challenge!

Mahesh: Who are you and what you do? 
Stephen: I’m Stephen W. Thomas and I’m an Independent Consultant who specializes in Microsoft Integration products, mostly Microsoft BizTalk Server.

Mahesh: When did you start working on BizTalk? 
Stephen: Feb 27, 2001 on a project in Seattle. I remember the exact date I started working with BizTalk because it was one day before the big 6.8 earthquake in Seattle.

Mahesh: How did you mastered BizTalk (Learning path, amount of time)? 
Stephen: I mastered BizTalk 2004+ with lots and lots of trial and error. In the early days of BizTalk 2004 the documentation was lacking. In addition, blogs were just becoming main stream. This allowed people to work with BizTalk and share what they learned instantly via a blog post. This is how I learned much of what I know today. 

Mahesh: Which are the major projects you handled so far? 
Stephen: I have done large projects for a few well known electronic and consumer products companies. We would use BizTalk to bridge the front end website with the backend systems. Over the past 5 years most of the focus has been on Health Care related BizTalk projects. 

Mahesh: How do you see BizTalk compare to other integration platform? 
Stephen: I haven’t work with any other integration platforms so I can’t comment on this.

Mahesh: What as per you is must to know to become an Integration(BizTalk) Expert? 
Stephen: You need to understand that just being technical isn’t enough. You need to understand that as the middle layer everyone will always blame you for all the problems, no matter what. Being able to understand how to navigate the political nightmares that arise from this is really the key to being an Integration Expert. Building a solution that allows visibility at all levers into the end to end process helps with this.

Mahesh: What are your thoughts on forums,blogs and articles etc.? 
Stephen: In the early years blogs and forums with the main source of information on BizTalk. Now the documentation is much better and TechWiki articles are strong. I haven’t looked at a BizTalk related forum in a long time. I find it hard to read a blog post or article and get much value from it unless I’m currently facing that issue or problem.

Mahesh: Your suggestion to a newcomers? What should be approach to get sound knowledge in Biztalk? 
Stephen: Like I tell everyone who I work with that is new to BizTalk, “Don’t try to make sense of it”. Meaning, BizTalk does things a specific way and trying to understand why it is done that way or find a different way to do it is general not a good use of time. A great example of this is using a correlation set to promote context properties for routing when sending a message out of an Orchestration. Doesn’t make sense, but it works

Mahesh: What are your thoughts around BizTalk certification? 
Stephen: I think BizTalk certification is a nice-to-have but real world experience is more important. I have interviewed a lot of resources with BizTalk Certification that couldn’t explain what Publish and Subscribe was.

Mahesh: What is the future of BizTalk? 
Stephen: I think the on premise BizTalk Server will continue to be an important part of any integration solution for the next few years. At some point, I think clients will find a natural progression to a cloud-based / alternative solution. 

Mahesh: Any thoughts on cloud? 
Stephen: I am excited about what the cloud has to offer but at the same time I know many clients want to maintain a tight grip on their data. I for one no longer need to run a separate server in my house to host all my Virtual Machines. I can create as many as I need in the cloud for pennies an hour. For how simples this is to do, I haven’t seen many of my clients going down this path. 

Mahesh: What motivates you to do the community work?
Stephen: It helped keep me motivated to play around with new technologies knowing I can share my results with others. I have horrible spelling and grammar but I don’t let that stop me from blogging J. 

Thanks a lot Stephen, great insights, this will surely benefit many.

Feel Free to ask questions to Stephen in the comments!!!!!!!!

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