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MVP Thoughts: What Should SharePoint Developers Focus on

A developer's world evolves constantly, and at blistering speeds, which is why staying ahead of the curve and adapting to the ever-changing playing field is absolutely crucial. In order to provide clients with customized solutions that respond to their unique demands, developers need to consistently search outside the box to find new ways of delivering results, or risk being left behind in the dust.

I invited my fellow MVPs to discuss "What Should SharePoint Developers Focus On?". Here are their valuable opinions.

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Benjamin: Great! So we've been talking about Office 365, changes in the industry, business users trying to go rogue in some ways, that they're going to get their own software out there now. So I'm going to ask the question, what do you guys think of - you know, we're talking about developers, right, they have to build these apps or, in everything that's going on, everything that's changing with 2016 coming, with Office 365 portals, office graph, fabric UI, I can't even follow anymore, because obviously I'm not a developer; but what should developers focus on right now?

They've got all of this on the table, and we've got so many hours in the day. What should developers focus on, in the foreseeable future, to stay ahead of the curve? And not necessarily just developers - power users, and people in SharePoint, people building solutions, right? What should they focus on?

Jennifer: Oh goodness! I love this one. Everyone knows here that I'm allergic to syntax and semicolons, so I don't really have a great answer for this, except I expect the developers here to go build what I want, when I want it, and I want it to work exactly the way I want it, so you guys just need to go build me what I want, right?

Marc: Right, and I think that's part of the point I was trying to make before the break, was the fact that we, as developers, we need to be looking at the outside world, and seeing what works for people. What are people keying on? What are they interested in? What do they see solving their problems? What visual metaphors, and UI metaphors, can we bring into our software so that it doesn't suck? And we're able to do that on top of SharePoint, actually much better now than we were with the traditional SharePoint development model. So whether you like the Add-In or App model or not, the things that you need to learn as a developer, I think, are what's going on out there in the world.

Instead of being a SharePoint developer, you need to be a web developer, and a UI developer, and a designer to some degree. You have be able to think about these things, and balance them, so that you can build stuff on top of SharePoint, that's better than SharePoint is, because SharePoint itself doesn't wow anybody. Maybe it wows somebody who's never seen it before, but I think that there has always been user interface or UX problems with SharePoint. We need to rise above those, not just feel like we're stuck with them. We would need to look out and find the best stuff to emulate.

Fabian: I think the biggest benefit, which has us come full circle right now, is that everything is, well, almost everything, is a RESTful Endpoint, and it's not only an opportunity to find this On-Premises. It's in all of their products and services, authentication. When I say authentication, identity is being managed at a better level. The integration of your own active directory On-Premises, using ADFS to federate the identity that ties to the cloud that uses ADAL.

You have a singular identity of the individual no matter where they are, and I think it ties back, as you said, to the user. The user could be at work in an office behind the desk. The user could be like me - I hardly go to the office. I'm usually at my home or the client's side. That becomes an easier task for me to perform and do my work, now, because identity's being managed better. Now, when you couple that into the RESTful API, now we can access data on top of that, and then we can be doing this in an Angular single page application. We can be doing this in Add-In's, inside Outlook itself, in the ribbon control, it's an oyster now. Everyone can plug and go as they please.

Corey: It's changing so much right now, right?

Fabian: I don't think we've settled down to what a proper standard is yet. I think we have entry points in terms of identity and data, but I don't think - because if you look at it now - I'll bring up his name, Andrew Connell. Andrew Connell now is doing many client side stuff, right? All of us are moving away from our managed code into that environment. I am trying. It's a sharp learning curve for me to learn JavaScript. While I'm here today, or in the last two days, I grabbed Marc because Marc has been leading the way with JavaScript client side development, and I need to start learning this and wrapping my head around things like promises inside JavaScript, very hard for people that doesn't manage code.

Corey: Yeah I think, just like, you hit on it, it doesn't really matter what your tool set is anymore. Once you understand identity and authentication and all that, which goes for lots of stuff with Office 365, right? Lots of stuff for using OAuth and technologies based on that. A lot of people are using REST, so if you understand those as the developer, you can use whatever language or framework you want to use, and you can get into SharePoint, or Office 365, or SalesForce, or whatever, and that's the nice thing. So if you want to build native apps, build native apps. That's what you're good at, right?

Marc: I do think that any developer who is not learning JavaScript now, though, is really making a mistake, because every piece of functionality that people go "wow" about has JavaScript in it somewhere, because it's happening right behind the glass for that user, right? That doesn't mean the whole thing's built in JavaScript, but you're calling those REST Endpoints, you want to get that data as close to the user as you can. So I think that anybody who's thinking JavaScript is a baby language and it's not really sophisticated enough or whatever - whatever it is, get over it. I've been saying this for years, and it's not that I'm right or wrong. . .

Corey: But up until the last few years, it probably was accurate, right?

Marc: The frameworks that are out there. . .

Marc: It's changed a lot.

Marc: Yeah, the frameworks and tools sets that are out there are incredible, and if you really want to get right in front of your user and build them stuff they're going to get jazzed up about, it's going to be part of the mix. So the rest of the world has been doing this for a long time now and we, as SharePoint people - some, well I won't say. . .

Corey: Well, we've always been catching up to our development.

Marc: We have some catching up to do.

Corey: And we always have, right?

Fabian: So I'm going to chime into something you said before. You mentioned Mobile First, Cloud First - I'm a big proponent of that and, to Marc's point about getting the data to as close to the user as possible, they're related, right? Because when you think of people using mobile devices, one must be mindful of battery power, data calls - whether they're on Wi-Fi, or they're on cellular, because all of that matters now as people start to stretch that to their environment.

So not only do you want to get the data to them closer, but you have to have consideration about that too, so the RESTful Endpoints, the JavaScript - that pulls it down right in the DOM and you can start to play with it using Ajax - so I'm learning all of this. I have a better appreciation now because before, yeah, I was a C# snob, still am to some extent. But I understand that you need different tools in the tool chest in order to make the customer happy, and solve the customer's problem.

Marc: Yeah, I was a Cobalt snob for a while. A lot of languages have been really great at various times, and that changes over time, and I think SharePoint people were cushioned from that. 10 years using the same language? That's insane!

Corey: True.

Marc: That's insane!

Corey: And not that C# going away, there's still things that you're going to build with it.

Fabian: In order to build a RESTful Endpoint, you need to have a C# there, right?

Benjamin: And it's interesting because I was at a conference recently, I forget which one to be honest, and we were at a panel just like this and there was a question, and this is why I wanted to talk about developers. A developer got up and he asked the panel, "Should I be worried about my job? I've been a SharePoint developer for whatever number of years, since SharePoint 2007". He's been working on this, and is all he knows, that's what he was saying. And I could feel him and his pain, right?

Fabian: Absolutely not.

Benjamin: Yeah, that's what we answered, but I could feel it in his bones, and I'm sure there's many other people out there. "Should I be scared? I'm a SharePoint.. "

Corey: Absolutely! I know your feeling, and I can even relate to it, right? I still like to pretend I'm a developer, even though I don't do much code hardly at all anymore. But certainly there was a point where I realized MVC came out and we never touched it, because we were dealing with SharePoint, right? So multiple versions of MVC - JavaScript advanced hugely between 2007 to 2010, and 2013, and we started catching up and using it. Marc was a little more proactive than a lot of us were, Rackley as another example. But a lot of were still like, "eh, whatever. We still got our managed code, we're going to keep doing that". So definitely, I could see his point as a SharePoint developer. "Holy crap! I didn't learn all this crap. I've got to go catch up."

Fabian: Right, so you bring up an interesting point, when it comes to hiring strategy, as well. I often tell people, when you look at people who say they're developers in this community or in this space, you either were a .Net developer that does SharePoint, or you're a SharePoint developer that's trying to do .Net. Now we all need to become web developers, right? Like to what Marc said... Right now on my laptop, you were talking about developers, so my laptop - first, I run a Mac, right? I dropped the PC and I run a Mac.

One, because the Mobile First, Cloud First introduced iOS. iOS used to be built on a Mac. I don't have to have a Mac, but it's just easier for me to do it that way. But not only that, so I have as my IDE, Visual Studio. You still need that, but I also have - I know. . . I have code, people still do code. I have Sublime, I have WebStorm, and I spend a lot of time in WebStorm because I love the intelligence inside that, and I can do a lot of my lighter stuff there than inside VisualStudio, so my eyes are opened up and I'm planning things that I've never touched before, and I really like it.

Jennifer: Some of this, though, is it's every aspect of SharePoint all the time. Administrators are having to do things different. End users are having to do things different, and consume things different. Developers are, as well, and I think we chose a career in IT, like we chose change, right? Like it's going to be changing constantly. It's not always going to be the same, but that's what we should be thriving on, and always looking and paying attention.

Benjamin: Maybe we got comfortable with SharePoint for a while.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Marc: Well, and my answer to this poor developer of yours, would have been very different. Everybody should be concerned about their jobs, all the time. SharePoint's been great. It's been a good gravy train for all of us, but it could go down the drain any minute, and if you're not learning new things all the time, which is something I thrive on. I know some people just would rather sit still, but if you're not learning new things all the time, not only I think is your life sort of boring but you're. . .

Jennifer: So you would have told him "You should be worried, your life is boring, and SharePoint's going down the drain"?

Marc: To me, that's dull, but if you're not learning new things all the time, and watching where technology is going, it's going to go without you, right? So whether you're a SharePoint developer, or a person in Marceting, or whatever. If you're not watching what's going on in your industry, you're going to be left behind, so be worried. Keep looking for things to learn that you think you might be interested in, might be useful. Find some stretch goals, so that you're not a one trick pony, so that you're not somebody who can't do anything else because, sooner or later, the world's going to change on you.

Benjamin: Yeah, that makes sense. To close off a little bit, unless you have other things to add, but I've just seen, we were thinking about - a lot of people are in SharePoint with Office 365 now, so even we've been looking at, how do we build an intranet now, which has been one of the most popular demands, and now it's just literally SharePoint is used to store and list the data and, instead of using cross-site publishing like we would do on premises, we have built an MVC application that's an app, that has the ribbon, that has the app launcher, but it's a complete application that's an intranet, that leverages the content that's stored there. So there's a lot. I think, I wish I was a developer almost, because I feel like it's very exciting right now.

Marc: We can work with you on that.

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