Begineer to BizTalk Expert : Interview with Michael Stephenson

Welcome to tenth interview of the series, today's expert is Michael Stephenson.

Michael is an independent integration & cloud specialist based in the UK. He is primarily focused around integration technologies in the Microsoft integration platform such as BizTalk, Windows Azure, and a number of other open source offerings. 

Michael has many years of technical leadership and coaching experience and has worked with customers to deliver a number of complex real-world hybrid integration solutions connecting business partners and SAAS applications to an organisations on premise line of business systems.  Prior to freelancing Michael also held a technical evangelist role with Edenbrook who were a large UK consultancy.

Michael is also heavily involved in community activities such as the UK Connected Systems User Group and blogging.  Michael also recently pioneered the BizTalk Maturity Assessment ( which is designed to help customers ensure they are doing the right things to deliver successful projects with BizTalk. Recognized by Microsoft as an Integration MVP - 7 Years.

Lets begin the Interview....

Mahesh: Who are you and what you do?
I am Mike Stephenson, i am 38 years old and live in Newcastle in the North East of England.  I work as a freelance Consultant specializing in Integration and Cloud technologies on the Microsoft technology platform. I work with customers in the UK and abroad to help them create traditional integration solutions and also to understand how to leverage the cloud to create hybrid integration solutions.

Mahesh: When did you start working on BizTalk?
I started working on BizTalk in 2002 with a company who specialized in supply chain outsourcing and have worked on every version of BizTalk since then.

Mahesh: How did you mastered BizTalk (Learning path, amount of time)?
Personally I think BizTalk is a product where you always have something to learn.  There are so many different types of solution you can create whether it is integration patterns you have not used before or applications you have not integrated with.  Today technology is also changing very quickly so there are always new things to learn.
I also like to consider myself to be an Integration Specialist rather than just a BizTalk person.  I think its also very important to learn about the other integration technologies too and to understand where to use what.
For training I usually use Pluralsight and Technet wiki and peoples blogs to keep up to speed and also attend #IntegrationMonday web casts

Mahesh: Which are the major projects you handled so far?
I have handled a number of projects over the years, back when I used to work for consultancies I spent time spent time supporting projects at many different customers and I have also worked on a number of projects with healthcare companies but more recently i am working in the higher education sector

Mahesh: How do you see BizTalk compare to other integration platform?
If you compare BizTalk to other products within the microsoft integration technology suite then I consider BizTalk to be like the swiss army knife which has something for almost any integration problem.  This is why many customers use BizTalk at the heart of their integration solutions.
If you compare BizTalk (or microsoft integration) to other vendors then I think you will find it really depends upon what your use cases are.  I guess as a generalization there are two types of vendors those who provide the heavy weight tools which have been around for years and the newer breed of vendors who offer the lighter weight integration platforms where you can provide simpler ways to solve some of the newer world integration problems but often struggle to deal with the more complex integration solutions.
I think what is interesting about microsoft is it is moving quickly towards a good offering in both spaces. 

When it comes to comparing I think it is important to get past the marketing car sales man view of the products you will come across and to look into the real capabilities and how they are implemented.  This is why i contributed to the whitepaper by Kent Weare

Mahesh: What as per you is must to know to become an Integration(BizTalk) Expert?
I am not a great fan of the term integration expert because expert implies you know everything and in integration there is such a wide range of things to consider that you can never know everything about everything and the best skill is to try and be humble and meet new people with different ideas and be learning all of the time.

To excel at integration i think you need to combine knowledge about the integration products you use with knowledge about best practices for application life cycle management and then the non technical skills such as how to work well with other people and how to understand managing dependencies.

I think you need to have a well rounded skill set of the above things to do well in the integration space

Mahesh: What are your thoughts on forums,blogs and articles etc.?
I have always thought the biztalk community have an excellent set of blogs, forums etc.  I have my own preferences about how i like to interact but there is always opportunities to get involved and the community is very supportive of new contributors

Mahesh: Your suggestion to a newcomers? What should be approach to get sound knowledge in BizTalk?
I think the most important thing is hands on experience and the best way to get that is working with lots of different people to discover the practices they use to decide which you like best.  Books, videos etc are all great but to get to the next level its really about hands on experience and appreciating that no matter how much experience you have you should be learning every day

Mahesh: What are your thoughts around BizTalk certification?
I think BizTalk certifications have a value up to a point but over the years i have met people who had certifications who werent that great and i have met many people who have not considered certifications who were truly excellent.

If I was interviewing people a BizTalk certification would not be a factor which would make me choose on person over another for a role but is certainly a nice badge to have on the CV and I guess the best thing about certifications is that it can make you look at parts of BizTalk you may have never used before.

Mahesh: What is the future of BizTalk?
Right now I am more excited about the future of BizTalk and Microsoft Integration than I have been at anypoint for a long time.  I think combining BizTalk with the new azure technologies will let us build some great solutions.


Mahesh: Any thoughts on cloud?
I am a huge fan of cloud and like to work with customers who have a desire to consider where the cloud could benefit their organisation.

I would say to anyone now working commercially with cloud you absolutely must be learning about it in your own time or you will quickly fall behind which could affect your opportunities in the future.

Mahesh: What motivates you to do the community work?
: I think I like the challenge of doing interesting stuff and learning but also over the years i have developed some excellent friendships with the people in the integration community and its cool to work together on little projects and also to help and encourage each other

Mahesh: Being MVP, do you feel that responsibilities get added? What is your thought on MVP?
I dont think the mvp programme adds extra responsibilities.  It is an excellent way to bring together community influencers and to help encourage people to participate in the community.  I think ive been in the programme for 7 or 8 years now and as result ive developed friendships with people in many countries around the world.  It rocks!

Thanks a lot Mike for great insights, this will surely benefit many !!!

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

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