World Renowned Top-Ranked Development Expert on ASP.NET and Microsoft Technologies
This week, Stephen
Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Stephen Walther.
Stephen Walther is the author of ASP.NET
Unleashed, the best-selling book on ASP.NET. He was also the lead developer of
the ASP.NET Community Starter Kit, an application published by Microsoft which
demonstrates best-practices for building ASP.NET applications. His company (www.AspWorkshops.com) has provided
ASP.NET training to companies across the United States including NASA, the National Science Foundation, Boeing, the U.S.
House of Representatives, and Microsoft. He is an ASP.NET MVP, a member of the
INETA Speaker's Bureau, and a Microsoft Software Legend. Stephen got his start
building Web applications by developing two large commercial Web sites. He
created the Collegescape Web site, a Web site used by over 200 colleges --
including Harvard and MIT -- for online college applications. He also created
the CityAuction Web site, the auction Web site used by CitySearch and CNET. He
was completing his Ph.D. in philosophy at MIT when he became involved in the
World Wide Web.
Q: Stephen, you are the acknowledged by
many as the world’s foremost authority in ASP.NET and Web development. Thank
you for doing this interview and sharing your many insights.
A: You are very welcome.
Q: Describe your journey into computers and
the lessons learned along the way?
A: I got involved in computers while I was
a graduate student teaching an introductory philosophy class at Harvard. I was
teaching the class with a good friend and fellow philosophy graduate student
who had a plan to build an online college application Web site.
At the time, I had absolutely no formal
background in computers or the Internet. Nevertheless, I decided to drop out of
my graduate program and build the Web site. The Web site eventually provided
online college applications for MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and more than 200 other
colleges (The company was finally bought by the Educational Testing Services).
The lesson that I learned from this process
is the best method of becoming a good programmer for the World Wide Web is to
get practical experience building actual Web sites. All of my programming
knowledge grew from facing real-world programming challenges on a daily basis
and attempting to overcome them.
Q: Can you detail your time at MIT?
A: I was a graduate student in the
Linguistics and Philosophy Ph.D. program at MIT. My main focus was cognitive
science and metaphysics.
Q: What is your most surprising experience?
A: The birth of my daughter. I'm a new
father. It still seems very strange that there is a new person that will be
sharing the rest of my life.
Q: How did you get involved with the
CityAuction Web site and what valuable experiences/tips can you share?
A: The CityAuction Web site was one of
EBay's largest competitors before EBay went public. The Web site was used behind
the scenes by both CitySearch and CNET (CityAuction was eventually bought by
CitySearch for more than 50 million dollars).
The challenge behind building the
CityAuction Web site was creating a highly scalable and reliable Web site with
almost no money. Auction Web sites are very resource intensive (imagine the
stress on a database server when everybody is bidding on an auction item the
moment before the auction expires). The lesson learned from the CityAuction
experience was how to maximize performance with limited resources.
Q: Please share your most important best
practices from your work with the ASP.NET Community Starter Kit?
A: I've created two Starter Kits for the
Microsoft ASP.NET team: the Community Starter Kit and the Issue Tracker Starter
Kit. These Starter Kits are distributed by Microsoft to illustrate
"best-practices" when building ASP.NET applications (You can download
both Starter Kits at the www.ASP.net Web site).
I wrote the Starter Kits to illustrate some
of the cool things that the ASP.NET team was doing. They have since
incorporated these features into the next version of ASP.NET. Some examples of
features that were first demonstrated in the Starter Kits are skins, themes and
the provider model.
All of the ASP.NET Starter Kits include all
source code written in both C# and VB.NET. There is a forum located at the
www.ASP.net site devoted to each Starter Kit. All of the Starter Kit forums
contain active discussion about the source code.
There is no question that having thousands
of people examine your source code improves the way the source code is written.
I've personally become a much better programmer by having the code that I have
written for the Starter Kits examined in such detail.
Q: Please share your experiences from your
speaking engagements. Can you provide advice to prospective speakers?
A: I am a member of the INETA Speaker's
Bureau. This membership has provided me with the opportunity to speak at user
groups across the country (I spoke at more than 15 user groups last year). I've
also spoken at Microsoft DevDays, ASP.NET Connections, and TechEd.
My wife, Ruth Walther, started the first
.NET user group in the country (www.DotNetUsers.org). User groups are an
invaluable resource for developers. If you are interested in becoming a Microsoft
speaker, my advice is to get involved in your local user group.
Q: Describe your work with www.AspWorkshops.com. Could you provide your
top tips for effective teaching?
company, www.ASPWorkshops.com, provides training on building Web sites using
ASP.NET. We’ve provided training to companies across the United States including Boeing, the U.S. House of Representatives, the National
Science Foundation, NASA, and Microsoft.
Our workshops are very hands-on. My goal
while teaching a class is to have students spend as much time as possible
Q: What future books, columns, and articles
can we expect from you?
A: I'm currently at work on the next
edition of ASP.NET Unleashed. The next edition of this book is focused on the
new features of ASP.NET 2.0. Covering the new features of ASP.NET 2.0 will
require an entire rewrite of the book. There are so many exciting new features
included with this release including a new development environment, new data
controls, support for page templates, and a new portal framework.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
A: For the past eight years, I've been
writing books, training companies, and building software based on Microsoft Web
technologies. If the future has any resemblance to the past, then Microsoft
will introduce a disruptive but significantly better technology for building
Web sites within the next couple of years. Whatever form the new technology
takes, I'll be building Web sites with it.
Q: As a widely respected ASP development
expert and conference speaker, we need your advice. If IT professionals could
only choose to attend two conferences, which ones would be your pick for the
top two and why?
A: Conferences like TechEd and the PDC are
great for getting insight into the future of Microsoft technologies as
represented by Microsoft. However, the best talks on ASP.NET that I have
attended have happened at local user groups. A great talk usually results
directly out of a problem that a programmer has faced and solved. If you want
to find a user group in your area, visit the INETA (International .NET
Association) Web site at www.INETA.org.
Q: Stephen, thank you again for your time,
and consideration in doing this interview.
A: Thanks, no problem!