Interview Series: Four Questions With … Jan Eliasen

We’ve gotten past the one-year hump of this interview series, so you know that I’m in it for the long haul.  I’m sure that by the end of the year I’ll be interviewing my dog, but for now, I still have a whole stable of participants on my wish list.  One of those was Jan Eliasen.  He’s a 3-time Microsoft MVP, great blogger, helpful BizTalk support forum guy, and the pride of Denmark.  Let’s see how he makes it through four questions with me.

Q: You’ve recently announced on your blog that you’ll be authoring a BizTalk book alongside some of the biggest names in the community.  What’s the angle of this book that differentiates it from other BizTalk books on the market?  What attracted you personally to the idea of writing a book?

A: Well, first of all, this will be my first book and I am really excited about it. What attracted me, then? Well, definitely not the money! 🙂  I am just really looking forward to seeing my name on a book. It is a goal that I didn’t even know I had before the publisher contacted me :). Our book will be written by 7 fantastic people (if everyone signs the contract 🙂 ), each with extremely good knowledge of BizTalk and naturally, we have divided the content amongst us to accommodate our particular expertise, meaning that each area of the book will be written by someone who really knows what he is talking about (Charles Young on BRE, Jon Flanders on WCF, Brian Loesgen on ESB and so on). We will be focusing on how to solve real and common problems, so we will not go into all the nitty gritty details, but stay tuned to what is needed by developers to develop their solutions.

Q: Messaging-based BizTalk solutions are a key aspect of any mature BizTalk environment and you’ve authored a couple of libraries for pipelines and mapping functoids to help out developers that build solutions that leverage BizTalk’s messaging layer.  Do you find that many of the solutions you build are “messaging only”?  How do you decide to put a capability into a map or pipeline instead of an orchestration?

A: My first priority is to solve problems using the architecture that BizTalk provides and wants us to use – unless I have some performance requirements that I can’t meet and that therefore forces me to “bend” the architecture a bit.

This means, that I use pipeline components to do what they are meant to – processing of a message before it is published. Take my “Promote” component for instance. It is used to promote the value given by an XPath expression (or a constant) into a promoted property. This enables you to promote the value of a reoccurring element, but the developer needs to guarantee that one and only one value is the result of this XPath. Since promoted properties are used for routing, it makes sense to do this in a pipeline (that all ready does most of the promoting anyway) because they need to be promoted before publishing in order to be useful.

But really, my point is, that unless forced to do so, I don’t compromise with the architecture. You will not find me writing a .NET assembly for inserting rows into SQL Server instead of using the SQL adapter or use custom XSLT instead of functoids if the functoids can do the job – or other such things unless I am really forced to do so. My thoughts are, that if I stay within the built in functionality, it will be easier for anyone to understand my solution and work on it after I am gone 🙂

Q: As the products and tools for building web service and integration solutions get better and better, it can shift the source of complexity from one area to another.  What is an example of something that is easier to do than people think, and an example of something that is actually harder than people think.

A: Well, one thing that is easier than people think is to program your own functoids and pipeline components. Functoids are actually quite easy – the difficult part is getting a reasonable icon done in 16×16 pixels 🙂 If you look at my functoids, you will see that I am not to be trusted with an imaging program. Pipeline components, also – much easier than people think… for the simple ones anyway – if performance gets an issue, you will need the streaming way of doing things, which will add some complexity, but still… most people get scared when you tell them that they should write their own pipeline component… People really shouldn’t 🙂

Thing that is harder than people think: Modeling your business processes. It is really hard to get business people to describe their processes – there are always lots of “then we might do this or we might do that, depending on how wet I got last week in the rain.” And error handling, especially – getting people to describe unambiguously what to be done in case of errors – which often to users involve “Then just undo what you did” without considering that this might not be possible to automate – I mean… if I call a service from an ERP system to create an order and I later on need to compensate for this, then two things must be in place: 1: I need an ID back from the “CreateOrder” service and 2: I need a service to call with that ID. Almost always; This ID and this service do not exist. And contrary to popular belief, neither BizTalk nor I can do magic 🙂

Q [stupid question]: I recently had a long plane flight and was once again confronted by the person in front of me pushing their seat all the way back and putting their head in my lap.  I usually get my revenge by redirecting my air vent to blow directly on the offender’s head so that if they don’t move their seat up, they at least get a cold.  It’s the little things that entertain me.  How do you deal with unruly travelers and keep yourself sane on plane/train trips?

A: So, for keeping sane, naturally, refer to – there are some good advice for everyone 🙂 Other than that, if you just dress in black, shave your head, have a couple of piercings and wear army boots (Yes, I was once one of “those”….) no one even thinks about putting their head in your lap 🙂

Great answers, Jan.  Hope you readers are still enjoying these monthly chats.


Author: Richard Seroter

Richard Seroter is Director of Developer Relations and Outbound Product Management at Google Cloud. He’s also an instructor at Pluralsight, a frequent public speaker, the author of multiple books on software design and development, and a former editor plus former 12-time Microsoft MVP for cloud. As Director of Developer Relations and Outbound Product Management, Richard leads an organization of Google Cloud developer advocates, engineers, platform builders, and outbound product managers that help customers find success in their cloud journey. Richard maintains a regularly updated blog on topics of architecture and solution design and can be found on Twitter as @rseroter.

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