The trip started on 10:00 Tuesday the 28th of March when the entire group of 61 people (including the Microsoft hosts) met at Schiphol Airport. Since I didn't want to leave my car on the airport for the remainder of the week, I decided to take the train instead. But apparently, NS (the Dutch railroad agency) finds it very difficult to follow their schedule, so I missed the transfer in Leiden. After waiting for three hours at the airport, including answering a personal questionnaire and undergoing a thorough strip-search at the gate, flight NW33 finally took of at 13:05.
The 10-hour flight in an Airbus A330-200 was operated by Northwest Airlines. Although the flight attendants weren’t all that friendly, the service was good, in particular the amount of snacks and beverages. Moreover, each seat was equipped with a personal entertainment system, so I tried to kill the time by watching the movies Derailed and Aeon Flux, talking with the lady next to me (who happened to work for Amazon), and reading the magazines I brought along. But still, 10 hours is a heck of lot of time...
We arrived at Seattle/Tacoma airport at 13:30 local time, which is rather weird since at that time, I would normally be asleep. A bus brought us to the Hyatt hotel in Bellevue, but to make sure we didn't fell asleep, we immediately left for a visit to the local shopping mall. One thing I noticed is that the amount of typical American cars is actually rather low. Apart from the SUVs, you find the same Volvos, BMWs, Hondas, Toyotas and Volkswagens as we have in the Netherlands. Apparently, gas prices do have some impact. After having seen enough of the stores and getting fed up with the overacting girls working there, we finally found a nice spot at one of Starbucks' lounges. Incredible how tasty that Frappacino Caramel is! Having stayed there for a few hours, we then tried to find a nice place for enjoying our diner. Obviously, the 10-hour time difference started to take its toll. Unfortunately, the trendy Chinese restaurant in the shopping mall was fully booked, so we had to find some other place. For a few minutes we considered the Italian restaurant Little Italy, but somehow, the place looked like the headquarters of the local Mob..... So we decided to enjoy a nice big steak at Ruth's Chris Steak House. I was impressed on how easy a 400 grams steak stuffs you up, but I was even more impressed that some of us still found some space for a desert. Of course, I could not stay behind and concluded my diner with a nice Warm Apple Crumb Tart. Around that time, the exhaustion finally started to kick in and we all went to bed.
On the next day, our bus to Redmond was supposed to leave at 7:45, so we got up early to enjoy some breakfast and coffee. In contrast to an ordinary Dutch breakfast, the one we got consisted of brownies, muffins, sweetened bread and fruit.
The trip to the Microsoft Campus in Redmond took us about 30 minutes, and we didn't actually notice the campus until we saw the building numbers. In fact, the campus is completely open for public. You simply take the proper exit of the freeway and there you are. No gates, no fence, no security, no nothing (although you do need a badge to actually get in to the buildings). Also noticeable were the amount of white Toyota Priuses driving around the campus. We now understand why they call it a campus. It really looks like a university campus. Lots and lots of green, mostly one or two-story buildings, plenty of parking spaces, and even fields for exercising various sports.
To give us a sense of how typical Microsoft employees work, instead of going to the Conference Center, we had our presentations at building 40 (which hosts several of the Visual Studio teams). They even have their own Starbucks coffee corner. Most noticeable were the families sitting there during the lunch. Since typical Americans have long working days, I suppose they invite their family to have lunch with them at work.
The sessions where introduced by Dik Bijl en Simon Guest, after which John deVadoss explained how SOA architectures and the Web 2.0 will meet. Since I’m not sure which parts are public, and which not (we signed an NDA), I’m not going into any depth here. John’s session was followed by a (rather out-of-context) session involving a procedure for identifying organizational issues using a pragmatic approach. It was presented by Ric Merrifield. But more interesting and presented with more enthusiasm was the Software as a Service session by Gianpaolo Carraro, a member of Microsoft’s Architecture Strategy Team. This dealt with an architecture for software that is designed to be deployed as a hosted service (e.g. Hotmail). The visit to building 40 was concluded with a really interesting session by Kim Cameron about the efforts of Microsoft and other companies to provide a unified abstraction layer to the various internet security protocols. Make sure you check out his article Laws of Identities and the accompanying Microsoft whitepaper.
After leaving the campus, we had a short visit at the Executive Briefing Center, after which we continued to a nearby Golf club where we had diner. I don’t recall the menu anywhere, but I do remember the impressive view on Seattle from the hill the restaurant was located at. The rest of the evening consisted of drinking wine (I think, I don’t recall either), and sleeping in the bus back to the hotel…
The next day we started with a great presentation by Brenton Webster. It dealt with a huge project that Microsoft did for the Australian Commonwealth Bank. They basically created a distributed CRM application that fully complies with the architectural guidelines that you find on MSDN’s Patterns & Practices, including a Smart Client Windows Forms front-end, Web Service interfaces, agents and connections to legacy systems. In fact, the new Composite User Interface application block has its origins in this project. I especially liked the way they handle asynchronous execution of web service calls. Brenton told me that Microsoft will soon release a technical paper to the public explaining the major design choices they made. I’m sure going to read that one.
The next session was given by Dave Green, the founder of Windows Workflow Foundation. However, most of his topics were already presented at the Microsoft DevDays 2006 in Amsterdam and various articles on MSDN, so I was a bit disappointed by the lack of depth.
The session thereafter covered Software Factories and was presented by Jack Greenfield, which may sound familiar. And you’re right; he is the co-author of the famous book Software Factories. Although still worthy of note, the session was primarily an introduction to software factories. We had one final session, but since it fell under our NDA, I can’t tell anything about it. After that one, we had a short stop at the company store for buying some Microsoft goodies, and then we finally left the campus.
After we arrived back at the hotel, we took our last chance for visiting the shopping mall and purchased some commodities for our family. We then went to the 21st floor of the building next to the hotel to have diner at Daniels’ Broiler, another steakhouse. Since I’m afraid of heights, I used the first 15 minutes for adapting to the feeling of being at the 21st floor, but having done that, we discovered the Oyster Bar next to the restaurant. After having finished with the appetizer and the steak, my colleague Octavie and I decided to skip dessert and to get us a drink at the bar and inspect the ‘audience’. After about an hour several members of the group joined us, but at that time most of people in the bar had already left, so we inquired the bartender for another place to go to. Nico Copier, one of the Microsoft hosts remembered a restaurant/pub called Rock Bottom a few blocks further, so the five of us left the bar to check out this place. At first, the place looked abandoned outside some teenagers outside, and apparently the restaurant was closing. But at the top floor it had a small pub where a rock band was playing, and they did that rather well. In fact, our request for Radar Love was honored with an astonishing piece of rock music (that said by somebody who prefers dance/trance).
The next morning, a bus brought us back to the airport were the waiting started. Even worse, the usage of e-tickets caused our 60-man group to get spread all over the plane. I was confined to a window seat next to some other Dutch guy unknown to me. How annoying is it to have to ask your neighbor to step-up every time you want to stretch your legs... Consequently I tried to keep myself busy as long as possible, but failed to get some sleep. The flight back took exactly 9 hours so we arrived at Amsterdam at 7:05 in the morning with still a full day ahead….