Life as a User Group Leader

Microsoft MVPs are recognised for their voluntary contributions to the technical community. There are many types of eligible contributions, but one of my more notable ones was serving as a user group leader. This is a significant undertaking, and in this post I hope to outline some of the aspects of the commitment and also some lessons I’ve learned over my 14 years of fulfilling this duty.

My Experience

In 2005, I was asked by Microsoft to start the Brisbane BizTalk User Group. The motivation came through working for one of several organisations that adopted BizTalk Server to handle critical enterprise integration processes. As a newbie to the product, I was heavily reliant on the help I received from the very few experts around Australia and the world, including Bill Chesnut, Mick Badran, and several other MVPs who blogged about their experience. With so little available knowledge and experience in Brisbane, Microsoft’s Geoff Clarke decided it would be a great idea to start a user group. It was a daunting challenge and Geoff had to twist my arm a little… but I was encouraged when over 30 people turned up at the first meetup, proving that I wasn’t alone in my struggles. I also had lots of support from Microsoft and my colleagues, and the group met monthly for years to follow.

Then in 2014, I was asked to take the reigns for the Brisbane Azure User Group, which had been established by Paul Bouwer about a year or two earlier. When Paul earned his “blue card” and became a Microsoft employee that year, he felt it was inappropriate for him to continue leading the group and that a community member would be more appropriate for the role. Again, I reluctantly agreed on the condition that I had at least two co-organisers to help. One of these gentlemen (Damien Berry) remains a co-organiser to this day.

I’ve also ran the Global Azure Bootcamp in Brisbane for four years, and the Global Integration Bootcamp for a couple of years as well.

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2nd Annual Global Integration Bootcamp a Success!

DZLx-R1UQAEhxvOLast Saturday I had the great privilege of organising and hosting the 2nd annual Global Integration Bootcamp in Brisbane. This was a free event hosted by 15 communities around the globe, including four in Australia and one in New Zealand!

It’s a lot of work to put on these events, but it’s worth it when you see a whole bunch of dedicated professionals give up part of their weekend because they are enthusiastic to learn about Microsoft’s awesome integration capabilities.

The day’s agenda concentrated on Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) offerings in Microsoft Azure. It was a packed schedule with both presentations and hands-on labs:

Time Slot Topic Speaker
08:30 – 08:45 Arrival & Check-In  
08:45 – 09:00 Introduction & Welcome Dan Toomey
09:00 – 09:45 Serverless Computing with Logic Apps, Functions & Event Grid Dan Toomey
09:45 – 10:45 Building a Smart Solution with Azure Storage, Event Grid, Functions, Logic Apps & the Computer Vision API (Hands-On Lab)
10:45  – 11:30 Microsoft Flow, LUIS and Bots Susie Moore, Dan Toomey
11:30 – 13:00 Creating a Smart Expense Claims Bot using Flow & Bizzy (Hands-On Lab)
13:00 – 13:30 Cognitive Services Adam Finster
13:30 – 15:00 Recognising People  with Cognitive Services Face API (Hands-On Lab)
15:00 – 15:30 Azure API Management Dan Toomey
15:30 – 16:30 API Management Tutorials (Hands-On Lab)
16:30 – 17:00 Integration Design Lee Simpson

It wasn’t all work… we had some delicious morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea catered by Artisan’s Café & Catering, and there was a bit of swag to give away as well thanks to Microsoft and also Mexia (who generously sponsored the event).

0a4f5bc5-e350-401a-b98d-a26c7cd6a502-originalOverall, feedback was good and most attendees were appreciative of what they learned. The slide decks for most of the presentations are available online and linked above, and the labs are available here if you would like to have a go.

I’d like to thank my colleagues Susie, Lee and Adam for stepping up into the speaker slots and giving me a couple of much needed breaks! I’d also like to thank Joern Staby for helping out with the lab proctoring and also writing an excellent post-event article

Finally, I be remiss in not mentioning the global sponsors who were responsible for getting this world-wide event off of the ground and providing the lab materials:

  • Martin Abbott
  • Glenn Colpaert
  • Steef-Jan Wiggers
  • Tomasso Groenendijk
  • Eldert Grootenboer
  • Sven Van den brande
  • Gijs in ‘t Veld
  • Rob Fox

Really looking forward to next year’s event!

Integration Down Under… is UP & RUNNING!

For years now Integration Monday has been faithfully giving us webinars almost every week. There have been some outstanding sessions from international leaders in the integration space including MVPs, members of the Microsoft product team, and other community members. For the Asia Pacific community, however, it has always been a challenge to participate in the live sessions due to the unfriendly time zone.  (I certainly know what a struggle it was to present my own session last October at 4:30am!)  Even from the listener’s perspective, it is usually nicer to be able to join a live webinar and ask questions rather than to consume the recordings afterwards.

Thanks to the initiative of veteran MVP Bill Chesnut (aka “BizTalk Bill”) and the sponsorship of his employer SixPivot, we now have a brand new webinar series starting up in a friendlier time slot for our APAC community! Integration Down Under is launching its inaugural webinar session on Thursday, 8th February at 7:00pm AEST. You can register for this free event here.

This initial session will introduce the leaders and allow each of us to present as very short talk on a chosen topic:

    There are already more than twenty registrations even though the link has been live for only a few days. I hope that this is a good sign of the interest within the community!

Feeling really fortunate to be part of this initiative, and looking forward to delivering my intro to Event Grid talk! It will be a slightly scaled down version of what I presented at the Sydney Tech Summit back in November. Hope to see you there!

Azure Exam Talk at User Group

The other night I had the privilege of presenting to the Brisbane Azure User Group at our last meeting of the year. My topic was about certification exams in Microsoft Azure, and aimed to address two relatively new changes in the certification program:

  • New Certification Path – Microsoft recently announced changes in their certification program designed to streamline the certification path. Although they are retiring the Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD): Azure Solutions Architect as of 31st March 2017, the three exams mentioned below that made up this certification are still relevant and will now earn the title of Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Cloud Platform and Infrastructure.
  • Refreshed Exams – All three exams have been refreshed as of 23 November 2016, now including new content specifically around the PaaS capabilities in Azure (App Service, Logic Apps, Azure Functions, API Management, Service Fabric, etc), Azure Resource Manager (ARM), and extended identity management capabilities (e.g. Azure Active Directory B2B and B2C). They have also removed Cloud Services from the syllabus.

The three exams that all this relates to are:

The recording of this talk (which also discussed preparation tips & techniques) can be found here, whilst the slides are available here.

User Group Presentation on Microsoft Flow

Last week I had the privilege of presenting a short session on Microsoft Flow to the Brisbane Azure User Group. The group meets every month, and at this particular event we decided to have an “Unconvention Night” where instead of one or two main presentations, we had several (four in this case) shorter sessions to introduce various topics. This has been a popular format with the group and one that we will keep repeating from time to time.

Wrapping up the evening was my session, called Easy Desktop Integration with Microsoft Flow.  Flow is a new integration tool built into Office365; it allows business users (yes, I really mean “business users” – no code required) to build automated workflows using 35+ connectors to popular SaaS systems like DropBox, Slack, SharePoint, Twitter, Yammer, MailChimp, etc.  The full list of connectors can be found here.

Even better is that Flow comes with over 100 pre-built templates out of the box, so you don’t even need to construct your own workflows unless you want to do something very customised! All you need to do is select a template, configure the connectors, publish the workflow – and off it goes!  In fact, it is so simple that I built my first Flow during Charles Lamanna’s presentation at the Integrate 2016 conference in London; I decided to capture all tweets with the #Integration2016 hashtag to a CSV file in DropBox.

Flow is built upon Azure Logic Apps, and it uses the same connectors as PowerApps – so you can leverage both of these great utilities to create simple but powerful applications:

image

Because it is built on Logic Apps, this means you can easily migrate a Flow workflow to an Azure Logic App when it becomes mission critical, requires scalability, or begins to use more sensitive data that requires greater security and auditing.

Feel free to view the recording of my session at https://youtu.be/sd1AhZpPsBw:

Microsoft Flow presentation to the Brisbane Azure User Group

 

You can also download the slides (which came mostly from Charles Lamanna’s deck– used with permission of course). But most importantly, get started using Flow! I’m sure you’ll find plenty of uses for it.

User Group Presentation on Integration Roadmap

Dan PresentingLast night at our Brisbane Azure User Group meetup, I had the privilege of delivering a short presentation on the Microsoft Integration Roadmap that was revealed on Christmas Eve last year, and which I previously blogged about. I couldn’t find any “official” slide deck from Microsoft yet, so I put together a rough deck of my own incorporating some screenshots from the roadmap PDF, a few slides from previous Microsoft decks, and a couple of handmade ones of my own. Feel free to download this from SlideShare and use it if you like.

My presentation was preceded by an excellent session on Azure Application Insights given by Microsoft Solution Architect Todd Whitehead. Amazing to see how easy it is to get so much telemetry from Azure! Looking forward to using this feature more & more.

More photos and details of the Meetup can be found here.

Busy Days!

If you’re wondering why my blogging frequency has dropped off over the last couple of months, it’s because I’ve been busy with some other projects. Here are just a few of them:

Brisbane Azure Bootcamp

BAB2015_Dan_OrientationAlthough originally intended to be the Brisbane chapter of the Global Azure Bootcamp, we had to change the date to a week later since the global event coincided with ANZAC Day in Australia. This year marking the 100th anniversary of the event at Gallipoli, it seemed irreverent (and also impractical) to hold the event on that day. So we joined Perth in organising our own version of the all-day event. Alessandro Cardoso from Readify and myself were the main organisers, while Damien Berry set up the event website.

 

BAB2015_Dan_HCWhat a success! With over 50 registrations, we had a full house at Microsoft headquarters, with the event stretching from 8:30am to 5:30pm. Presenters included Readify’s Alessandro Cardoso and Andrew Harcourt, myself on Hybrid Connections, and Microsoft’s Steve van Bodegraven with a session on Azure ML and lean start-ups.

Lots of prizes were given out thanks to sponsors Mexia, Pluralsight, and the Global Azure Bootcamp. Also a big thanks to Readify for funding the catering.

Brisbane Azure User Group

For the next Brisbane Azure User Group event, I’ll be presenting with Mexia’s Lee Simpson on Logic Apps – so preparation for that is keeping me occupied as well.

Pluralsight

And if that was not enough, I’m also authoring my second Pluralsight course. While I’m not allowed to say too much about the content until it’s published, I can reveal that it is based on an exciting Azure technology directly related to hybrid integration. Only one more module to go! Expect an announcement in a few weeks. 🙂

Of course there are other things stealing my time (and sleep) away as well, including heavier than usual workloads at our current client and preparation for a looming deadline for lodging my income tax return. But I hope to be back to more regular blogging next month! There are plenty of exciting things to write about…

WEBCAST: Introduction to Hybrid Connections

Last week I uploaded our fifth webcast to the Brisbane BizTalk User Group YouTube channel, this one based on a presentation I recently gave to the Brisbane Azure User Group. It is an Introduction to Hybrid Connections, a new BizTalk Services technology that’s currently in Preview. In this 22 minute webcast you’ll learn how Hybrid Connections makes it easy to connect your Azure Web Sites and Mobile Services to your on-premises LOB systems – all with no changes to your corporate network.

mqdefault[1]Introduction to Hybrid Connections [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEgNE_-KC90]

You can also download the slide deck from SlideShare. Most of these slides are borrowed from Santosh Chandwani, a Microsoft Azure Senior Program Manager who gave the initial presentation at Tech-Ed USA the day this went live.

Enjoy!!

User Group Presentation on Hybrid Connections

Last week I had the privilege to present on Hybrid Connections at the Brisbane Azure User Group meeting. It was well attended and the community responded very enthusiastically to the ease at which this technology enables you to connect Azure Web Sites and Mobile Services to on-premises resources behind your corporate firewall. One attendee was so excited by the feature that he stayed back after the meeting with his laptop and proceeded to deploy his web site application to Azure right there on the spot, hooking it up in minutes to his on-premises database!

highres_399395482 I’d like to express my gratitude to Santosh Chandwani, a Microsoft Azure Sr. Program Manager who shared his slide deck with me and gave some very helpful tips in preparing my demo. The slides are available on SlideShare if you wish to view the presentation as I presented it, or you can download the original version that Santosh presented at Tech Ed USA.

Santosh also promptly answered some questions raised by the community which I posted on the Azure Advisors Yammer group:

Q: Seems expensive to get more than 5 HC connections?
A: “If there are specific Dev-Test scenarios where the 5 Free HC don’t suffice, please let us know.”

Q: What are the performance/load specifications? Any guidance on where potential bottlenecks may be, and/or best practice guidelines?
A: “In general, the throughput you can achieve with HC is constrained by the internet connectivity between the on-prem network and Azure. Since this is part of the user’s network infrastructure, it is hard for us to provide a specific throughput baseline.
We recommend users assess the throughput that each instance of the on-prem Hybrid Connection Manager provides on their network. Adding more instances may provide higher throughput (again depending on the network infrastructure). Also, for production scenarios, at least 2 instances are recommended for resiliency. ”

Stay tuned for an upcoming webcast about this on the BrizTalk YouTube Channel!

UPDATE: Webcast published!! View it here.

BizTalk360 Presentation to Brisbane User Group

Tonight I set out to present a 45-minute discussion and demonstration of BizTalk360 to the Brisbane BizTalk User Group. An hour and a half later, I was still answering questions and displaying in-depth features of the product! We’re a pretty small & intimate group, so there was plenty of opportunity for discussion and catering for specific requests (“Can I see how … works?”), which for me as a presenter is awesome. I love interaction because you know you are really reaching your audience (small or large) and addressing their interests & concerns.

BTS360The truth is, they were truly impressed with the power and flexibility of the product, despite the limited scenarios that I was able to present to them. Saravana and his team have really hit the mark with this release, addressing a critical void in the BizTalk operational support area. Looking forward to Version 7.0!

Only downside was that I barely had time left to present my second session for the night, new features of BizTalk 2013! Oh well, I don’t think Microsoft needs too much help in selling that product anyway! Winking smile

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