Today's Monday Interview with a Wiki Ninja is with... Artem Pronichkin, from Russia.

What a long blog post title. Hmm.

Artem's Profile

Artem's Website (it's in Russian)

 

 

Who are you, where are you, and what do you do? What are your specialty technologies?

 

My name is Artem Pronichkin (Артём Проничкин) and I’m from Moscow, Russia. I work for Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS)—and that’s probably not something you typically expect when you see a Microsoft person for the first time. I don’t make (i.e. design, develop, test or even sell) software. That’s why I don’t have much insight into product groups, their decisions and pre-release software. In fact, when I was and MVP I used to get more Mysterious Knowledge™ (Тайное знание) then I do today.

On the flip side, I work with customers and Microsoft products day to day. That’s why I likely know more about our products than an average customer or partner and have broader knowledge than a typical member of any product group. My areas of interest include Virtualization, Availability technologies, Backup and recovery (including Disaster Recovery), File services, Networking, Security and so on. Speaking on products it includes most of Windows Server and some of System Center. That’s officially called “Core Infrastructure” if it makes any sense to you.

But please don’t make any assumptions based on that list. Each customer and project is unique and I personally hate to do the same thing more than once. I also used to work with SQL Server, Exchange, SharePoint, and nearly every other Microsoft product at least once in some point of time in the past. (And I’ve been in the business for about a decade). That was usually in collaboration with other consultants, partners or just friends who are specialized on those technologies. I like to say that I maintain a “level 200” knowledge of the entire Microsoft product stack—maybe except Office for Mac and Xbox.

I also used to be a moderator at one of largests Russian online IT forums and did a highly popular TechNet blog (also in Russian). So I probably know a little about sharing stuff.

 

 

How did you become an MVP and then begin working as a Microsoft Consultant? Do you have any suggestions for other community members who hope to eventually become MVPs?

 

For becoming an MVP, the very first suggestion is to give up—at least if you’re not passionate to the tech. No, seriously. You won’t ever have a notable success if you don’t like what you’re doing. And being an MVP means not only to gain notable success yourself but also to help others do the same.

But if you are truly passionate it means that you are constantly challenged with complex problems and edge cases. Even if you don’t have them quite often on your daily job—you find them by yourself. (I mean in a lab or whatever you use for experiments—even if someone else mistakenly call it “mission-critical production environment”). So all you need to do is not to keep it for yourself. No, I don’t mean grant everyone access to your lab (especially if it is not quite a lab). Share just your findings.

If you just spent couple of hours solving some problem, take half an hour more to save time for the others. Go write your solution down somewhere. (And if you don’t have a blog, go to TechNet Wiki! More about it in a minute). Even if you think no one in the world is crazy enough to face the same issue once more in foreseeable future. Trust me, we all tend to overestimate our normality. And sometimes your solution could be helpful for other problems as well—even if not 100% relevant. (And this depends on how verbose you are. More details, including error message text and log file excerpts, improve your chances). You never know in advance.

That’s one way that I found comfortable for me personally since I prefer to be more by my own than actively interacting with other people. But if you feel more like helping others, just go do it. There’s a ton of opportunities on forums, discussion lists, offline community meetings and other options. You’re limited only by your free time. Over time, you could take more serious challenges and eventually be noticed. Sometimes it takes couple of years, sometimes more. Remember, the key here is to like what you’re doing. Not
to treat it as a project with finite goal and resources. (Though I heard some stories of people who took the latter approach and also succeeded).

…And the story of becoming a consultant (not just a Microsoft consultant) is quite similar. Well, even if you do what you like you still need some money to live, right? (After doing some very serious research on this subject I found I’m not an exception here). So why not earn by still doing what you like, okay? Well, if you really like it then probably I’m already late. You have likely found it out yourself so I won’t spend much time trying to play Captain Obvious.

If in doubt, go read some excellent posts here and here. (And also worth reading even though not directly related—but just to warn you against going too far). Those posts happen to speak about sister divisions in Microsoft Services organization. But be assured they are totally relevant for Consulting as well.

 

What are your big projects right now?

 

(Note: Write about any certifications you're working on, what they are, what you're learning, any events you're planning, any blogs or books you're working, any client projects you want to talk about, any MS projects, any wiki articles you're planning, etc.)

Oh, that’s a tough question and not only because most of the projects are with customers who consider them confidential (or I assume they do). But I spend a lot of time on stuff that doesn’t make any sense for the general public—even if I tried to explain in detail. (No, I’m not really going to). Well, there is still couple of really interesting things.

The first one is called Windows Server “8” RDP. This is an early deployment program that allows select customers to deploy Windows Server Beta (I believe it’s actually called “Consumer Preview”) in production while getting official support and full assistance from us. (As a side note, please be aware that unfortunately you cannot deploy any pre-release code into production unless you are in one of such programs. Our Beta and RC EULAs explicitly prevent you from doing that. And if you deploy into test today and decide to
move into production later—an upgrade from pre-release to RTM is likely not supported. Even if it might technically work or seem to). You can learn more about the program at Directions on Microsoft. (Note that it’s a 3rd party agency that expresses their own point of view. So I cannot guarantee it’s 100% accurate. But it looks like the most comprehensive description I found externally).

The second project is with Russian government (well, technically with government-owned telecom operator) on building a “national cloud platform”. While sounding incredibly cool, there’s no magic or spaceship technology in the “cloud”. Underneath all the buzzwords there are still the same Microsoft products and technologies you all know about. The actual work for us is building some datacenter automation and expose stuff like Exchange and SharePoint to end users, who in this case happen to be government agencies. Since the foundation for any today’s datacenter is virtualization, and I’m a virtualization dude after all, you know what I’m doing there. You can read more about the project in the news.

Last but not least I do a lot of work trying to collect the expertise we build across different projects and roll it into more formal and predictable form called a “service offering”. There’s a solution developed by Microsoft Consulting Services specifically for large customers interested in bringing their existing or new datacenters to another level of technology and automation. You can read about the first version of the offering at Microsoft.com and currently I work with other guys from all other the world on the second version of the solution which should come our really soon (read: System Center 2012).

 

What is TechNet Wiki for? Who is it for?

 

Heck I can’t believe you ask me this question. It should be obvious that TechNet Wiki is for everybody. Specifically, it is for folks who want to share something. Remember last time you was reading some documentation or even a blog post and found it, um, “incomplete”? Maybe you wish they covered some specific scenario or maybe it was not clear enough on how to perform some particular task. Or maybe something just became outdated and no longer true or not the very right way to do things.

So, Wiki is as simple as documentation you can contribute to. Just go ahead and start a new page about stuff you care. Or edit someone’s existing article by appending what matters for you or fixing what is imperfect.

Did you notice I said nothing about content consumption? It’s not because there’s not much content in Wiki yet. Well, it’s couple of years old already and there’s a ton of useful information. But if you seek for something, do you really care about where you find it?

There’s a Russian joke about a drunk person who lost his keychain somewhere and was searching for it only under the street light because it was lighter there. Yes, Wiki is cool but please just go to your favorite search engine and search from there. Hopefully you’ll find the solution. I personally wish it was on the Wiki. But it’s perfectly okay if you found it somewhere else. Just be aware that Wiki pages are probably (but not necessarily) more up-to-date than personal blogs and more trustworthy than forums.

 

What do you do with TechNet Wiki, and how does that fit into the rest of your job?

 

I wish I could say I follow my own advice and share my solutions on the Wiki. But it’s not often the case. Not only because I’m lazy but also because most of the work I do today is already covered by product documentation. (Remember the “Don’t be unique” link?). And what I do on the Wiki today is trying to fill the gap that (for shame) still exists in our online properties.

Today there’s a ton of useful information in Microsoft Support Knowledge Base. Some of the articles there speak on latest break-fix cases and provide solutions for recent issues found by our customers and assisted by various support organizations. Some of them otherwise clarify our support story. Other describe product updates (both security-related or not).

The problem here is what if you don’t just look for a particular article?

Generally we discourage customers from looking for something like “all recent hotfixes” since it usually means one misunderstands the purpose of a hotfix per se—or doesn’t recognize what one’s particular issue really is. That’s why there’s no easy way to answer questions like this—other than some cumbersome RSS feeds that are both hard to find and not always up-to-date and complete.

But what if you really need this information?

You might be a partner assisting customers. Or you might watch after a mission-critical system—so that you just want to be aware of as many potential issues as possible in order to be able to quickly identify the particular case whenever it actually strikes.

There are multiple initiatives by product support (and other) teams on how to provide this information to those who really need it. They differ case by case—and, frankly, it is not where diversity is a good thing. Mostly it means publishing blog posts or special “index” KB articles with more or less frequency. Some even privately email spreadsheets to their customers, partners and MVPs…

But as I like to say, Wiki is your next blog engine. It is better in nearly all dimensions and it certainly suits better for publishing impersonal information like this. (More on this below).

So to make long story short, I pioneered publishing lists of KB articles to the Wiki. Since I’m not in any product group or support team, my information is not always up-to-date or exhausting. But at least it’s predictable and well-structured. And it’s always there—so you don’t need to look for it again and again.

Of course I cannot drink an ocean alone—and I’m not a robot. (I know some of my friends would like to challenge the last statement. But anyway I have at least to try to convince you—just in case). I picked only a small number of technologies that I work with most. So that this job is more or less relevant for what I’m actually paid for.

I also understand that there might be multiple intents to consume my data. So what I did is piloted not one but two different ways to publish it. The first one is just a plain list of articles like those for Virtualization or Clustering.

The second one is a table of most recent versions of particular packages. (Think of a package as of a collection of files that make a small OS function and always get updated altogether). Here are examples, again for Hyper-V and Clustering. And if the latter format confuses you, please read About Lists of Windows Server Packages Updated After the Release of Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 (SP1).

I still try to write normal troubleshooting articles from time to time. Again, it’s not a good idea to look for something specifically in the Wiki, but if you’re interested you could find them in my profile.

 

What is it about TechNet Wiki that interests you?

 

In short, Wiki is better than blogs because everyone can edit. It also could be bad if you keep your blog highly personalized (as rock star Ned Pyle does) or highly authoritative (as Steven Sinofsky has to do). But in most cases, if the primary focus of your blog is technology, not your personality—and if you’re unlikely to be sued for what you write, Wiki is a way better publishing vehicle. Especially if you expect your content to evolve over time or if you know yourself for losing interest for stuff that mattered once.

And remember I said you always better write your solutions down? Guess what. With Wiki you can even save time comparing to blogging.

Here’s the trick. Your Wiki article doesn’t necessarily have to be as verbose and nicely packaged as if you were writing a blog post—on your own from beginning up to the end. It is because you can fully legitimately expect someone other to fix things for you some time later. (E.g. add a screenshot or color your code).

Even if it never happened, you already did your part. Your knowledge is no longer locked somewhere on the backyard of your memory or buried in the mountain of sticky notes on your desk. Hopefully it can help others even in its current state. And if not, they are free to ask for details.

What we just discussed looks quite similar to forums that are also multi-authored by definition. But an important difference here is that a forum thread normally starts by a question or a problem that other folks try to solve. Once it is solved, the thread is no longer active, even if it is not lost and can be found by someone else. In contrast, the Wiki article is a solution by itself, the question does no need to be asked by someone in advance. That’s why forums and Wiki do not directly compete to each other.

But I easily foresee Wiki articles as forum digests or FAQs. Frankly, when folks try to make something permanent on Forums using “announcement” feature it looks like reinventing the wheel. Especially if there’s enough “announcements” to fill the good half of the first screen. Even worse, those “announcements” are mostly useless for frequent forum visitors.

To me, Wiki seems as a natural piece of Microsoft’s social media strategy—that complements blogs and forums but was missing for a long time. (And still overlooked by many).

 

You’ve worked on TechNet Wiki’s governing council for your second year now? What is that, and what do they do?

 

Correct, I’m still a member of the Council. It started as a governing board to determine the rules or principles on what to do (and not to do) on the Wiki. First there were lots of uncertainties so we used to meet every other week. Now things are more or less stable so we meet every month.

Most of the issues are solved more effectively by Wiki moderators and decided case by case. What we discuss is if some issue is repetitive enough to seem like a new tendency. In this case it probably requires a structured governance regulation, especially if it’s something bad what wasn’t expected previously.

Frankly, it seems that Wiki could happily live with the Council never put together. But it makes some governance decisions more balanced and thoughtful. This pays back as TechNet Wiki matures.

It’s important to understand that one thing we certainly don’t decide on is platform development. It’s done by an external firm—from which we just license their product “as is”. We do some very limited customizations—mainly to seamlessly integrate Wiki into the broad family of TechNet-branded online properties. A small number of other customizations is also driven by internal or end-user feedback collected through the Wiki forum, not something decided by the Council.

 

On what articles have you collaborated with other community members on #TNWiki? What was that experience like?

 

I’m personally very impressed when someone contributes to my lists of KB articles. There also was a couple of awesome examples of someone to pick their favorite product and start a new list similar to mine. An example is the List of Public KB Articles and Hotfixes for Configuration Manager 2007 SP2. Another very similar (yet different) initiative is Exchange Server and Update Rollups Builds Numbers.

After all, it is only the community who can decide on whether those lists are useful or not. And I am happy if someone demonstrates positive feedback not only by comments (online or offline) but actual contribution. You can find the full list of such articles at List of Publically Available Updates for Various Microsoft Products and Technologies. (Hint: if your favorite product or technology is still not there—go ahead and start a new page today! And don’t forget to add it to the table).

 

What are your favorite articles you’ve contributed?

 

I think the answer is clear from the above. But let me tell you something slightly different.  

Some time ago I started a series of articles that were quite different from what I mostly see on the Wiki. They were high-level decision-making articles like Choice of Virtualization Strategy: General and Choice of Virtualization Strategy: Backup and Restore. Those articles look like written by Captain Obvious—I mean even more than what I typically write about.

I’m still not sure if it was a good idea to write that down. But I did it just to arrange things inside my head while preparing to some talk (which actually never happened).

So here’s a bottom line. There are numerous styles to write and numerous ways to participate. There are even more of what I didn’t mention. Like commenting or fixing typos (might look seamless but still very important). Wiki would swallow just about everything. (Especially if you don’t swear). It never hurts to poke and try!

 

Who has impressed you in the Wiki community, and why?

 

Folks who routinely do the same things day to day—like insisting consistency through title format or tags. Wiki actually depend on them more than on everybody else.

There are also folks who try to make wiki “their own” by using customized fonts or inserting signatures inside the articles. Not like they impress me. I would better say “surprise”. Can’t they read? Come on! It is Wiki, not your cozy bloggie™ (Уютненький бложик)!

Everyone can edit. It belongs to everyone in general and nobody in particular. (Who just said “Communism”? Go read the next question).

 

What does success look like for TechNet Wiki?

 

For the platform, success is to have lot of content and users who make value of participating. For a user success is to take more than you give. It can be not something directly convertible to money (like a solution for your today homework). It might be reputation, fulfilling your commitments or approaching your goals (like becoming an MVP).  

It can even be just fun. (But remember: I said you better do not swear). Who said that everything in the world should have a purpose? (Remember they said I am a robot? Here’s the contradiction. Kind of).

 

Do you have any comments for product groups about TechNet Wiki?

 

First of all, it’s important to understand that product groups have nothing to do with documentation. So, probably I have no comments right for them. Just build more stuff!

The documentation is written by some very special folks. And yes, I have something to say to them. Please pay attention to what the community writes and how. Probably you could learn from it. Not about how to write, obviously. But what to write. If there’s some scenario that is popular enough for folks to take time and write (and comment) about—probably it’s worth considering for official documentation next cycle. And no, it doesn’t apply exclusively to Wiki.

And finally for Microsoft.com folks (even though you didn’t actually ask). Please, please invest into something to build all those ridiculous lists of Knowledge Base articles and hotfixes automatically. Not how you do it today (and you don’t). But with filters, logical operators, full-text search and customizable output. So that I could finally focus on something more creative (like giving interviews).

 

Thanks Artem!

Got a question for Artem? Leave it in the comments! I already started asking more questions!

Jump on in! The Wiki is warm!

   - Ninja Ed (Blog, Twitter, Wiki, Profile)