Interview Series: Four Questions With … Aaron Skonnard

Welcome to the 20th interview in my series of discussions with “connected technology” thought leaders.  This month we have the distinct pleasure of harassing Aaron Skonnard who is a Microsoft MVP, blogger, co-founder of leading .NET training organization Pluralsight, MSDN magazine author and target of probably 12 other accolades that I’m not aware of.

Q: What is the most popular training category within Pluralsight on Demand?  Would you expect your answer to be the same a year from now?  If not, what topics do you expect to increase in popularity?

A: Currently our most popular courses are ASP.NET, MVC, and LINQ. These courses are rock-solid, nicely presented, and right up the alley of most Web developers today. A year from now I expect things to shift a little more towards today’s emerging topics like SharePoint 2010, Visual Studio 2010 (.NET 4), and Windows Azure. We’re building a bunch of courses in each of these areas right now, and now that they’re finally shipping, I’m expecting the training demand to continue to grow all year long. The nice thing about using our On-Demand library to ramp up on these is you get coverage of all topics for the price of a single subscription.

Q: We’ve now seen all aspects of the Windows Azure platform get released for commercial use.  What’s missing from the first release of the Windows Azure AppFabric offering (e.g. application features, management, tooling)?  What do you think the highest priorities should be for the next releases?

A: The biggest thing missing in V1 is tooling. The way things work today, it’s very difficult to manage a Windows Azure solution without building your own set of tools, which is harder to justify when the cloud is supposed to save you time/money. However, this presents an interesting opportunity for 3rd party tool vendors to fill the gap, and there are several already making a nice run for it today. One of my favorites is Cerebrata, the authors of Cloud Storage Studio and Azure Diagnostics Manager.

The other thing I really wish they had made available in V1 was a “custom VM role”, similar to what’s offered by Amazon EC2. I believe they would get more adoption by including that model because it simplifies migration of existing apps by giving devs/admins complete control over the VM configuration via remote desktop. Since today’s roles don’t allow you to install your own software into the image, many solutions simply can’t move without major overhauls.

For the next release, I hope they provide better tooling out of the box, better support for custom VM’s, and support for auto-scaling instances both up and down.

Q: A number of years back, you were well known as an “XML guy.”  What’s your current thinking on XML as a transmission format, database storage medium and service configuration structure?  Has it been replaced in some respects as a format de-jour in favor of lighter, less verbose structures, or is XML still a critical part of a developer’s toolbox?

A: : Back then, XML was a new opportunity. Today, it’s a fact. It’s the status-quo on most .NET applications, starting with the .NET configuration file itself. We’ve found more compact ways to represent information on the wire, like JSON in Ajax apps, but XML is still the default choice for most communication today. It’s definitely realized the vision of becoming the lingua franca of distribution applications through today’s SOAP and REST frameworks, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. And the world is a much better place now. 😉

Q [stupid question]: You have a world-class set of trainers for .NET material.  However, I’d like to see what sort of non-technical training your staff might offer up.  I could see “Late night jogging and poetry with Aaron Skonnard” or “Whittling weapons out of soap by Matt Milner.”  What are some non-technical classes that you think your staff would be well qualified to deliver?

A: Yes, we’re definitely an eccentric bunch. I used to despise running, but now I love it in my older age. My goal is to run one marathon a year for the rest of my life, but we’ll see how long it actually lasts, before it kills me. Keith Brown is our resident Yo-Yo Master. He’s already been running some Yo-Yo workshops internally, and David Starr is the up-and-comer. They both have some mad-skillz, which you can often find them flaunting at conferences. Fritz Onion is studying Classical Guitar and actually performed the 10sec intro clip that you’ll find at the beginning of our downloadable training videos. He’s so committed to his daily practice routine that he carries a travel guitar with him on all of his engagements despite the hassle. We also have a group of instructors who are learning to fly F-16’s and helicopters together through a weekly online simulation group, which I think they find therapeutic. And if that doesn’t impress you, we actually have one instructor who flies REAL helicopters for a special force that will remain unnamed, but that seems less impressive to our guys internally. In addition to this bunch, we have some avid musicians, photographers, competition sailors, auto enthusiasts (think race track), soccer refs, cyclists, roller-bladers, skiers & snowboarders, foodies … you name, we’ve got it. We could certainly author a wide range of On-Demand courses but I’m not sure our customers would pay for some of these titles. 😉

Great stuf, Aaron.  Here’s to 20 more interviews in this series!


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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