MVP Insider: Q&A with Erik Renaud

Erik Renaud is an agile coach and co-founder of nVentive, a new concept where software development teams leverage coaching and guidance packages to build better software. His current mandates concentrate on large financial institutions creating new teams that directly support their primary activities. Erik has over 10 years of software development experience, coaching teams to architect, model and analyze software solutions. He ultimately helps them develop the solution using cutting edge .net technologies and offers guidance packages that accelerate the development phase. He is a certified ScrumMaster, which helps him lead teams to success, and often offers training in object oriented technologies. He can be contacted at erik.renaud@nVentive.net or seen anywhere kendo is practiced.

1. If you could ask Steve Ballmer one question about Microsoft, what would it be?

As the owner of a small company, I would ask Steve the following question: how do you balance long term strategy with business agility. For example, competitors like Apple’s IPhone are rapid to market in a closed ecosystem; while Microsoft’s equivalent Windows Mobile has a richer history, and maybe a planned future with milestones that allow for correct OEM integration. In the process of building a company, it’s hard to balance both elements in order to make short terms wins while thinking ahead, and I would like to hear his thoughts on the subject.

2. What do you think the best software ever written was?

I would have to say it’s our own Umbrella available on Codeplex. Fixing the gaps in the current technologies to reduce friction using a more declarative approach allows us to build software that are more maintainable, because we try to focus on intent and what we are really trying to build: extra value for our customers.

3. If you were the manager of Visual Studio, what would you change?

If I were managing Visual Studio, I would focus on smaller, timelier increments of the software. This said, the problem I am trying to fix is the gradual addition of new technologies (at every level), versus a relatively large release. This would promote earlier feedback, and MVPs would be able to help orient development as to which scenarios need to work end-to-end for adoption in the industry.

4. What are the best features/improvements of Visual Studio 2008?

The fact that the SP1 was used to push new technologies into the wild. There is great potential for these new technologies, especially ADO.NET Data Services, which we use to expose data in a controlled manner within most of our projects.

5. What was the last book you read?

The last book that I read (again) was “Domain-Driven Design”, from Eric Evans. I was working on a project where I was supporting a team that was “designing” the informational view of their enterprise architecture and needed some inspiration. As software developers, we are very good at abstracting things; but from an enterprise point-of-view, the abstractions are different, because they are consumed by a much wider audience.

6. What music CD do you recommend?

The latest CD from Shiny Toy Guns is really awesome; I discovered the group while listening to one of the new Knight Riders show. It’s a perfect mix of rock and electronica.

7. What makes you a great MVP?

I believe that my clients love the fact that I am very broad and easily able to help them build a high-level architecture and offer a vision, while knowing where the pitfalls are going to be so that we can do better risk management. That kind of knowledge is hard to find by reading books.

8. What is in your computer bag?

It’s a small bag, but the essentials are there: A Dell Studio 1537; a 2nd battery for those long flights; good noise cancelling earphones; a few USB keys; a USB tv adapter and antenna; and finally, a few magazines to find where that next vacation will be.

9. What is the best thing that has happened since you have become an MVP?

The best thing would be to be encouraged (by Microsoft) to entertain better relationships with the product groups. This has given me a really nice opportunity to provide feedback on where the problems are at my clients, and maybe offer better scenarios and stories for the upcoming versions. The second point is definitely the chance to network with other MVPs, and know I can depend on them whenever I hit a problem in another discipline that I am unfamiliar with.

10. What is your motto?

“Inspect & Adapt”: it comes from the agile world and recognizes that things change. People, teams, technologies, customers and priorities are just a few of the things that can change on a software development project. As humans, we need to learn techniques to embrace change, and not fear it. This one motto has made the difference between successful projects and failures.

11. Who is your hero?

Batman. Is there another? Jokes aside, I find the work that Pablo Castro’s team is doing on the ADO.NET Data Services API really awesome. I think it’s one of the best technologies having come out in a long time. Secondly, it perfectly supports the “Command Query Separation” pattern that we are starting to use more and more with our clients.

12. What does success mean to you?

I used to think that success was tied to finishing a software’s code development phase. Now, I tend to think something was successful when I receive feedback from my clients, years after a project is finished, where the users are happy that the project ever took place.