Career Switchers Have the Power (Platform), w/ Microsoft’s April Dunnam - P3 Adaptive

Career Switchers Have the Power (Platform), w/ Microsoft’s April Dunnam

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Today we bring in the big guns, a Microsoft MVP and Power Platform advocacy team lead, and a true Power Platform aficionado: April Dunnam. In the realm of social media, April is known as the Woman who Codes, the SharePoint Siren, and the Karaoke Queen with a passion for all things Power: Power BI, Power Apps, Power Automate, Power Virtual Agents, and Power Pages. In this episode we get April’s origin story, starting with the moment she was the intern tossed into the deep end of the SharePoint pool, all the way to her personal discovery of the better way.

April shares her philosophy on bringing people to the dark side of app building: First, find someone who has a certain level of curiosity and knows there has to be a better way. Those are the future Power Apps Citizen Developers. Hook those people with the polished side by showing them a functional app, then reel them in through the backend drag and drop, no code, low code magic that is the Power Platform. April explains that people tend to have a short attention span; they need the finished product before you show them how simple the build process can be.

Later on, Rob and April discuss the biggest opportunity for improvement in the Power Platform, the lack of a consistent programming language. With the build-by-example function in Power Apps, the technology is growing and, April suggests that one day there may be a unified Power language. Until then, Rob will continue to hate M and use his phone-a-friend card for help in Power Query.

All this and more in this episode. And don’t forget, if you enjoyed this episode, be sure to leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform to help others find our people-centric data podcast.

Also in this Episode:

April Dunnam’s Youtube

Paul Giamatti Le Café de Balzac

The Evolution of SharePoint w Denise Traboona and Adam Harmetz

The Man of a Thousand Jobs w/ Kevin Overstreet

Lego Mindstorms


Into the Dataverse w/ James Oleinik

Power Virtual Agents

GitHub CoPilot and GPT-3

Power Users Microsoft Site

April O’Neil – TMNT

Rob Collie (00:00:00): Hello, friends. Today's guest, April Dunnam, leads the Power Platform advocacy team at Microsoft, and so naturally we talked quite a bit about the Power Platform. We talked about her SharePoint origin story. We talked about career switchers and how that relates to this citizen developer thing. To use one of the old syllogisms, I think I've come to the conclusion that all Power Platform professionals are career switchers, but not all career switchers are Power Platform professionals. With, of course, the asterisk on all indicating greater than 95%. We poked fun at the whole quiet quitting thing. But also as a side note, concluded that if it is real, we're going to need a lot of automation to replace that lost productivity now, aren't we? Might need a platform for that, a powerful one.

Rob Collie (00:00:46): I asked her what her killer Power Platform demo is, one quick demo to save the earth, and I absolutely loved her answer. It's different than my answer, still loved it. We talked about the design of mobile apps, the design of Power Apps, and how that's still a crucial thing even when it's in an internal only app. Don't sleep on design just because it's "just for us." And perhaps the most mind blowing thing we talked about was this thing called app by example, this Power Apps like macro recorder thing. You just describe to it in natural language what you want, and out the other end pops Uber. And we kicked it all off by talking about caffeine consumption, so what more could you want? Maybe you're listening to this in the morning, so it's time for coffee. Or maybe you can drink coffee any time of day, like April can. Either way, with or without coffee, let's get into it.

Announcer (00:01:38): Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please.

Announcer (00:01:42): This is the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive podcast with your host, Rob Collie, and your co-host, Thomas LaRock. Find out what the experts at P3 Adaptive can do for your business. Just go to Raw data by P3 Adaptive is data with the human element.

Rob Collie (00:02:07): Welcome to the show, April Dunnam. How are you today?

April Dunnam (00:02:11): I'm great. So happy to be here.

Rob Collie (00:02:13): We don't use video in this podcast, but, ah, you've got a heck of a background. I love it. What are those little big head dolls called? I used to have a bunch of those. I forget what they're called.

April Dunnam (00:02:23): Yeah, they're Funko Pops. I do collect those, kind of have an addiction to collecting them.

Rob Collie (00:02:27): Yeah, it does look like maybe things... Maybe not out of hand, but certainly in hand.

April Dunnam (00:02:34): Yeah. I mean, this is just what you can see. I have several throughout the room, so it's already out of hand, if I'm being honest.

Rob Collie (00:02:40): Is there a weekly rotation process where like, "Okay, take out this 20 and put the other 20 on the shelves?"

April Dunnam (00:02:46): Yeah. I mean, of course. As you get new ones, you got to rotate some of the old ones out and change what you can see in the background.

Rob Collie (00:02:52): Yeah. I also like the, "No coffee, no Workee." Completely agree. I struggle to cut my coffee intake off at a reasonable time of day. I'm now old enough that if I drink coffee late enough in the day, I actually struggle to sleep. This is so foreign to me, why can't I be drinking coffee at 4:00 PM?

April Dunnam (00:03:09): I have not run into that problem yet. Thankfully, I can drink it all the way up to bedtime, is what I pretty much do, like a just continuous stream of coffee.

Rob Collie (00:03:17): Those were the days. I'm not going to be that person that says, "Oh, it's coming for you." It might, I don't know. Maybe you're just blessed for a lifetime of coffee drinking. There's something I saw... Talk about random... some French philosopher or something would drink like 50 cups of coffee per day.

April Dunnam (00:03:34): Wow.

Rob Collie (00:03:34): Someone did almost like a drunk history sort of send up of this with Paul Giamatti playing the particular French philosopher and he's talking through like, "I drink the fourth cup of coffee and then I think..." He walks through his whole day as measured in cups of coffee.

Rob Collie (00:03:48): So how'd you go about designing your background, the background behind you? Is this what you also use on your YouTube channel?

April Dunnam (00:03:53): Yes. Yeah, so the same background on my YouTube. I spent so much time tweaking it. As time went on, it's evolved and morphed. I tried to capture most of my personality in it, so have some music aspects because I'm really into music. I play in a band. Some of my female heroes like April O'Neal from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in there. I mean, my name sake. I was named after April O'Neil. And I was-

Rob Collie (00:04:18): Really? I love it.

April Dunnam (00:04:20): My brother named me and he was super into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the time.

April Dunnam (00:04:24): So, yeah. And just try to capture all kinds of my personality there and just let it show in my background.

Rob Collie (00:04:30): Clearly, it's a death metal band that you play in, right? I mean-

April Dunnam (00:04:33): It is rock. Yeah, we do a lot of '90s' grunge cover, yes.

Rob Collie (00:04:36): Awesome. And what's your instrument?

April Dunnam (00:04:38): Well, I sing and I play harmonica.

Rob Collie (00:04:40): Sing and harmonic, all right. I wish I could do anything like that. Can't sing, can't play an instrument. Oh, well, next life.

Rob Collie (00:04:50): All right, so are you currently a Microsoft employee?

April Dunnam (00:04:52): I am, yep. I've been here about three years leading our Power Platform advocacy team.

Rob Collie (00:04:56): Excellent. Power Platform advocacy, that covers the whole thing, other than PowerPoint, if it's got the word power in front of it.

April Dunnam (00:05:03): Yeah. I mean... Well, and PowerShell too. Other than PowerPoint and PowerShell, anything other power, we cover it.

Rob Collie (00:05:09): Right, right. Okay, all right. Power BI, Power Apps, Power Automate, Power Virtual Agents. If there's another one, I don't remember.

April Dunnam (00:05:17): There is one more. You did great. The new one is Power Pages for website development.

Rob Collie (00:05:23): Power pages. So Power Pages, okay.

Rob Collie (00:05:24): What is the Power Platform advocacy group? What does a day in the life or a week in the life look like for you and your team?

April Dunnam (00:05:30): Yeah, it's all about advocating for and on behalf of the community. So anything and everything that we can do as a team to make sure that the people building solutions in the Power Platform have what they need to be successful in it. And then also speaking to new people that might have never heard of the Power Platform and showing them what it can do. So that's a lot of updating our documentation on Microsoft Learn and Docs. It's a lot of videos, tutorials, things like that. Interviewing other people in the community to share what they did with the Power Platform. So anything and everything just to make sure there's as much content and awareness about what the platform can do.

Rob Collie (00:06:06): Very cool. And demographics-wise, you mentioned for instance, describing what the Power Platform can do to people who haven't really become familiar with it yet. Your constituency, if you were a politician, what would be the demographics of your constituency? I'll throw you a softball, is it mostly CIOs?

April Dunnam (00:06:25): No, actually it's really broad. Trying to appeal to the masses in a way, I guess, here. So there's a whole concept of career switchers, so people that might be currently in a finance career or something. And showing them how low-code technology, like the Power Platform, can help their career. And even case studies of people switching from careers like that. Now they're in IT thanks to getting into the Power Platform. So there's one audience.

April Dunnam (00:06:49): Also, the IT pros and professional developers as well, because there's something in low-code for them. IT pros are going to have to be managing the Power Platform. So we need to make sure that they know what governance capabilities that we have. And then on the pro dev side, making sure that they're aware of the professional developer integrations that we have with being able to bring in your own APIs and connect to those and build customer controls and things like that to work together as one big team. So it's those three major groups I would say.

Rob Collie (00:07:18): So IT managers, professional developers and the career switchers... What do you call them?

April Dunnam (00:07:24): Yeah, business users in general, right?

Rob Collie (00:07:26): Yeah. AKA citizen developers.

April Dunnam (00:07:28): Yeah, that's kind of been the term coined, I guess, for that audience there.

Rob Collie (00:07:32): Yeah, it's terminology. Microsoft is good at that, sort of.

Rob Collie (00:07:35): So when I asked CIOs, I mean, I was tongue in cheek. I know that the Power Platform, it's not really for everyone, but it is for a very, very significant fraction of humanity. Even 5% is an enormous audience.

April Dunnam (00:07:50): Yeah, for sure. I mean, 90 plus percent of Fortune 500 companies are using this technology, low-code and Power Platforms. So I mean, it is for a significant portion of the audience for sure.

Rob Collie (00:08:03): For those of you in the Fortune 500 who aren't using it, are you sure you're going to stay in the Fortune 500? You could be falling out. Get with the program.

Rob Collie (00:08:10): So I spend a lot of emotional time anchored in that career changer, citizen developer. In my career, those are the people that I've always found the most compelling. I love their journeys.

Rob Collie (00:08:22): How did you get started? Is SharePoint your first love? What's the origin story for you?

April Dunnam (00:08:27): In a way, I'm a career switcher into the Power Platform. So, I kind of got my start with SharePoint in a roundabout way. I knew I wanted to do something computer-ish related. I always liked building computers since I was a kid. And that whole idea of things, didn't know quite what I wanted to do until an internship fell in my lap. And they needed help with SharePoint at the time, and that's what we're rolling out. Never heard of SharePoint up until that point. And I got thrown into the weeds, I guess, of it and it just kind of stuck. I realized this is a cool way I can develop on top of it. And I was interested in that whole side of things, learning C# in college at the time, so I could apply those skills into some of the SharePoint work I was doing, and stuck with it and went with that, and developing on top of it in that prod dev space.

April Dunnam (00:09:12): And it was an easy transition when you're using SharePoint, and it has its own low-code tools like InfoPath, and SharePoint Designer, and things like that to go into the Power Platform.

Rob Collie (00:09:21): Yeah, nice, smooth on-ramp.

Rob Collie (00:09:23): You mentioned in passing that you were studying C# in college at the time. What was your area of study? Were you computer science? Was C# an elective?

April Dunnam (00:09:30): Yeah, it was information systems basically. So, I could choose the path I wanted to go down. I gravitated towards the code aspect of things and chose C#.

Rob Collie (00:09:42): I'm sure that came in handy.

April Dunnam (00:09:44): Yeah, for sure.

Rob Collie (00:09:46): Couple of things happening lately really caught my attention. One was the number of people who share a similar story to you, SharePoint origin story, and are now up to their eyeballs in the Power Platform. And that surprised me. I don't think it should have, but it did in a pleasant way. And that also led to me going, "Oh, SharePoint. SharePoint must be much different than what I remember it." We had a recent podcast where we talked about SharePoint's amazing transformation over the past decade. And I knew a lot of SharePoint professionals in the early 2010s. I think a large percentage of them are no longer SharePoint professionals, career changed again, because a lot of what SharePoint professionals were back then was architecture people, "Here's how many servers, how much hardware you need, and how to allocate it." And that isn't a zero need in the world anymore. But with SharePoint online, it's dropped off quite a bit.

Rob Collie (00:10:42): Do you still think of yourself as a active SharePoint professional in some way? I know that you're working at Microsoft in an advocacy role, but how active versus dormant do you think of your SharePoint skills in your day-to-day life?

April Dunnam (00:10:55): That's a great question. I mean, I still keep up with it. I still consider myself a SharePoint person. People here at Microsoft know I am. So if there's a SharePoint question, or we need to set up a SharePoint site, or something for the team, will volunteer or get voluntold to help with that. So I definitely keep those skills updated there, especially with some of the new stuff, like list formatting and stuff, it's really applicable the relationship between SharePoint and the Power Platform. And like you were saying, so many people come from the SharePoint realm into the Power Platform. There was... I forgot who did that study or that quiz on LinkedIn, but they're asking, "How did you get into the Power Platform?" And overwhelmingly, most people said through SharePoint, that's how they got in.

Rob Collie (00:11:36): Wow.

April Dunnam (00:11:36): So, kind of an unofficial little quiz study there on how people gravitated to the platform. So I think most people probably keep those skills in their back pocket and consider themselves a SharePoint person. But it definitely has changed over the years, to your point as well. I know when I was first starting out in the SharePoint world, it was a lot of on-prem installs, and it was a lot of that backend side of things, and how to set up search and all these backend services. And now obviously, when 365 came along, that all went away. And it was more the custom branding on top of it and then a lot of the InfoPath, and the business processes, and stuff. So it's definitely changed a lot since back in the day, for sure.

Rob Collie (00:12:15): Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:12:16): A random question just occurred to me as you were telling that story, SharePoint in the early 2010s was also very, very, very often the architecture running public-facing websites. With 365, is that still true? Are there any public-facing websites that are running on 365?

April Dunnam (00:12:33): I'm not in that space, but I don't think so because actually that's what we did a lot of back in the... And like in 2010, we had several companies here where I live that we built public-facing websites for on SharePoint. But once 365 came along, that all shifted to other providers. I'd be surprised if there's any people actually using SharePoint for that because, well, A, we have things like Power Pages now. That's what it's for. It's for a public-facing website. So other tools that are more geared towards that.

Rob Collie (00:13:00): It's kind of a weird thing to think about that the shift to the cloud, that one corner of SharePoint's business might have migrated elsewhere as a result, but it doesn't seem like it necessarily had to be that way.

April Dunnam (00:13:11): I could be wrong, but I don't believe that was ever the intention for what SharePoint was to be though was a public-facing website platform. It was always meant to be a collaboration intranet tool. So I think that was a divergence and they wrangled it back into kind of focused in what it was supposed to be.

Rob Collie (00:13:28): After we moved across the country in 2009 for family reasons... My wife and I relocated from Seattle. We were both Microsoft people... In 2009, when you moved across the country, now there wasn't remote work for product managers, program managers at Microsoft at the time. So we had to change jobs. And she ended up working for a consulting firm that primarily built public-facing internet sites. Maybe not company homepages... Sometimes they were a company sites. But there were oftentimes a lot of marketing micro sites. And they've had a 50:50 or 60:40 split between using SharePoint and I think something called Sitecore. Does that sound right?

April Dunnam (00:14:05): Yep, I remember Sitecore.

Rob Collie (00:14:08): Yeah. And so they had two main platforms in their bag of tricks, and SharePoint was one of them. And that always pleasantly surprised me. But it would be weird for some reason... Anyway, we don't need to follow this particular tangent any further.

Rob Collie (00:14:19): What's your take on SharePoint's role with the Power Platform today? I think a lot of people who aren't paying attention, they might have the impression that there's zero overlap. And I've certainly been waking up to the fact that, "Oh, no. No. There's a lot of overlap." What's your take on all that?

April Dunnam (00:14:36): Yeah, I think it's definitely a symbiotic relationship and there can be overlap, especially when you're talking about when should I use a SharePoint list to track something, versus what makes sense to move to SQL and a Power app front end? So there is definitely some overlap there. But I mean, the experiences are embedded natively in SharePoint. So SharePoint can be and is often used as a backend for a lot of Power Platform solutions. So right there in our SharePoint list, we're able to customize a SharePoint form with a Power App so that we can extend the capability that's out of the box to be able to make our SharePoint forms themselves look better, in addition to being able to create a completely separate standalone app that runs with SharePoint data on the backend.

April Dunnam (00:15:21): And then of course, automation built into that through Power Automate so that we can take some of the stuff that we used to do in SharePoint Designer and be able to do automations for approvals and things with our document libraries in SharePoint. So, it's deeply embedded experience to be able to have the two technologies really working together depending on your needs. It's just a matter of really thinking ahead, I think. Where people get into trouble is like, "Well, what are my actual needs here?" And making sure you don't scale out of the solution of what you're needing here, or going to the opposite way, going too advance where a simple SharePoint list might meet your needs.

Rob Collie (00:15:56): Totally.

Rob Collie (00:15:57): So SharePoint workflows were a thing. Is that still around or has that been merged with or superseded by Power Automate?

April Dunnam (00:16:05): Yeah, definitely Superseded by Power Automate. So everything that we would do with a SharePoint workflow, we're going to be doing in Power Automate now with SharePoint online. So all the capabilities that we could do, plus more with Power Automate

Rob Collie (00:16:18): And you think about, a SharePoint list is sort of a single table end user created database. All of the verbs that go around that, update, entry approval flows, the verbs and the actions around that simple noun, the verbs can get very, very complicated and become much more sophisticated than the original table. So all of these technologies seem like they go very, very well with that. The custom forms, and the workflows, and approvals, and permissions, and all that kind of stuff. I've never been hands on with it but I know some people who have done...

Rob Collie (00:16:51): Like one of our very, very first podcast guests on this show two years ago, Kevin Overstreet, he learned Power Pivot from me. Went back to his job at Eli Lilly, and very quickly morphed into all the other parts of the Power Platform. He's a Power Apps, Power Automate, and SharePoint person. That's his main gig. That's what he likes the most. He doesn't write much DAX anymore. Even though we started out primarily as a Power BI company, we have multiple full-time Power Apps developers on staff now. We're seeing the broader platform for sure, and our clients are as well.

April Dunnam (00:17:27): I was just going to say it's not surprising to hear about your seeing an uptick in Power Apps. It's really taken off across the Power Platform the last few years especially, just seeing more and more businesses investing in the Power Apps side of things. Whereas, of course, Power BI being kind of the original where a lot of people, their intro into the Power Platform. And now Power Apps is kind of seeing its heyday and taking off.

Rob Collie (00:17:51): Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:17:52): A couple things I want to come back to, in the advocacy role, let's say you do that crazy post-COVID thing. And you get on an airplane and your seat mate, they ask what you do for a living, and you tell them. They actually stay interested as opposed to go, "Oh, no, computers", and tune out. They continue to lean forward and you get to the point where you say it's Power Apps. And they say, "What's Power Apps?" And you've got your laptop there, you figure you've got 10 minutes of attention span. What would you show them in 10 minutes to get them hooked?

Rob Collie (00:18:27): So I'll give an example, so if I'm placed in the same situation and I'm talking about Power BI specifically. And the person sitting next to me is like, "Never seen it." But they're kind of an Excel person. I'm going to show them Power Query because I know that's going to blow their minds, explain to them the value of the data model and DAX, and all that. I think that stuff is actually, on net, probably more valuable long term. But Power Query is like, that's the one I can get them with 10 times out of 10. Do you have any similar, 0 to 60, sort of hook people and get them excited demonstrations?

April Dunnam (00:19:01): Yeah. I mean, I think it's so easy to do with Power Apps because I could simply pull up my phone, I can show, "Look, I have this event management application. But also look on my laptop, I have the same application working on my laptop with a backend where I can filter my data and have a management screen to that and a model-driven app. And then I have this nice canvas app on the front end." And then I usually like to open the editor and like, "How do you think I built this?" Like, "Do you think I had to spend months of code and all that? Nope, I just drag and drop controls on the screen, put in some of the Excel formula." I mean, it's a really easy story to tell. There's no shortage of applications out there too that can hook them in and especially once you show the behind the scenes and just how easy it is to build something like that.

Rob Collie (00:19:45): I really like that demo flow. You show them the polished finished thing, and you've got a certain amount of attention span that you can burn on that. They're going to stick with you for a few minutes tops, because they've seen apps like this a million times. But then you show them behind the scenes. The traditional Microsoft demo path that we would do 20 years ago was, we would start behind the scenes with a blank canvas and start building something up. Maybe at the end, there'd be a reveal of the final product. Even with Power Pivot, I learned eventually to do it the reverse way. I would show them a SharePoint site but they wouldn't know it was SharePoint because the Chrome was all customized and suppressed with an Excel services dashboard in it with slicers. But the Excel dashboard itself was formatted to no longer look like Excel. And so everyone in the room would naturally assume they were looking at just this interactive web app that was coded 100%, written in C#, or whatever. Like every last little pixel they're seeing was developed from scratch. That's their intuitive subconscious impression.

Rob Collie (00:20:50): And then I'd tab over to Excel, they'd see the same report. And then I'd turn the grid lines back on and then turn the A, B, C, 1, 2, 3 row headers back on and say, "Look, it's Excel." And everyone's mind would just explode. I like that path. Finished result and then redirect them when they expected it to be heavy. That would get me.

April Dunnam (00:21:10): I think so. And I think it's really important too today just, again, with attention spans just being shorter and shorter and apps like TikTok taking off, that's how you have to hook it in. I've been doing a lot with TikTok lately and showing technical videos. And if you start just with the behind the scenes, people aren't going to know what Power Apps is, to your point. And the question is, how do you explain that to someone who has no idea what it is? Well, you got to start with the finished product, show them and then reveal what's behind the curtain, the magic there of how easy it is to get started.

Rob Collie (00:21:41): Yeah, like people want daiquiris. Don't show them the blender, show them the daiquiri first. This is delicious. But look, Instagram worthy daiquiris, and here's the machine that makes them.

April Dunnam (00:21:55): I mean, I would go with margaritas, but daiquiris are good too.

Rob Collie (00:21:59): Hey, I'm not here to judge. Actually, margaritas are probably more my thing as well, to be perfectly honest.

Rob Collie (00:22:03): I had a vice president I reported to for a while at Microsoft who would talk about ovens and steaks. And I was so blue collar, it just threw me off from the beginning that like, "Who cooks steak in an oven? It's always on a grill."

April Dunnam (00:22:16): I was taking the same thing. I didn't know that was a thing.

Rob Collie (00:22:20): So I took his metaphor and I converted it into daiquiris and blenders to bring it down to my level.

April Dunnam (00:22:27): Much more relatable, for sure.

Rob Collie (00:22:30): This is just the cheesiest of interview questions of all time, how far do you think the Power Platform can go? How much of humanity can we bring on side for the creation of essentially computer code as opposed to being simply consumers of it? Are we 10% into recruiting the ultimate audience size? Are we 80% done? I've watched the low-code thing as an obsession. It was the cool thing to do to bring Lego Mindstorms to work and show it off and say, "Look, can't we do this?" For people who were creating the SharePoint web part framework, Lego Mindstorms was their big example. And then we had this thing called the Script Wizard. This is like a graveyard of ideas that never delivered on that promise. There were a lot of disappointments. I almost, cynically, gave up on it. And then I wake up years later, like Rip Van Winkle, and it's like we're up to our eyeballs in very successful low-code platforms. I wonder if we're early or late in that journey. I have no idea.

April Dunnam (00:23:33): I mean, I don't know. We're probably a bit late just because I think out of necessity it's going to have to keep ramping up, and improving, and be innovating in the area because of the sheer lack of developers that we have and the amount of apps that need to be built. I mean, where we kind of hit that plateau, I guess, where we don't have enough developers to build and meet the app demand. And literally the only way to solve that is going to be through low-code technology because we just don't have the time to train up or the resources to train up that many pro developers to be able to custom code these solutions that need to be built. So I think it's crap or get off the pot type scenario for this to trying to make the low-code solutions work and be able to meet this demand.

Rob Collie (00:24:17): Yeah, it's like the great resource shortage, the great resignation, all the quietly quitting. Have you seen this?

April Dunnam (00:24:24): Oh, yeah. Don't get me started on that. It's just like you just want normal work-life balance, and that's quiet quitting.

Rob Collie (00:24:30): I read recently and I think this is incredibly believable that this notion of quiet quitting is a complete invention of some sort of PR think tank working on behalf of big business. It's just like you mean doing the job description is quiet quitting.

April Dunnam (00:24:49): Yeah, I believe it

Rob Collie (00:24:50): Anyway. So because of all these quiet quitters, we're going to need more automation, pick up the slack of the things that they're not supposed to do that they're not doing.

Rob Collie (00:24:59): Let's talk about InfoPath for a moment. In the name of low-code ghosts of the past, was InfoPath ever an important part of your SharePoint career pre-Microsoft?

April Dunnam (00:25:11): Yeah, it did play a pretty big part. So even though I was trying to do more of the custom development side of things just like that, that's what businesses wanted. They wanted InfoPath. It was easy. They could maintain it themselves. It was quick. It was more affordable to build something in InfoPath most of the time, unless you wanted the extreme and wanting code behind an InfoPath, which was the bane of my existence at the time. I was in InfoPath land for quite a while there. It was a big part of what I was doing.

Rob Collie (00:25:40): And would you say that the thing that most replaces InfoPath today is Power Apps?

April Dunnam (00:25:45): For sure. I think the idea of lists themselves have changed a lot to where some of the stuff that you were doing in InfoPath, a straight SharePoint list as it comes can help. I mean, being able to conditionally show, or hide, or feel, that was something where you couldn't do out of the box in SharePoint form. You had to use InfoPath. So really simple situations like that. And even add a header and a footer into your form and your SharePoint list, there's things where list themselves have come a long way to be a replacement for that as well.

Rob Collie (00:26:13): So if we have Power Apps, why do we need Power Pages? This is a legitimate question. I don't actually know the answer to this yet.

April Dunnam (00:26:19): No, that's a great one. So Power Apps, when we're talking about that, we're talking, we have two flavors of that really. We have canvas applications, which are kind of the blank canvas that you design a pixel perfect user interface that can work on your mobile device and your desktop. Then we have model-driven apps which are tightly coupled with Dataverse and more that kind of backend aspect almost. You start with your data model and it builds an application based on the standard look and feel for you.

April Dunnam (00:26:45): Now those two types of Power Apps were always intended to be used within a given tenant for company wide use. It was never really intended to something that you would build and use for outside of your company use, for your line of business type applications. But that's where Power Pages comes in. So if you need a customer, whether it's authenticated or unauthenticated and a customer open facing website, then that's where Power Pages comes in. It gets around that use case. So lots of uses of that we've seen with vaccine management applications, like portals. So if you've heard of Power Apps portals, that's pretty much Power Pages. It's like that, but plus much easier to use interface for building these websites.

Rob Collie (00:27:30): And Power Apps has this duality of mobile app and webpage, you build once and you get both form factors. Does Power Pages have any applicability to mobile apps or is it a 100% for websites and web browsers?

April Dunnam (00:27:46): It's for websites and web browsers. So obviously, just web development, you can make these responsive so that they'll work fine in your mobile device, and the browser, and the desktop as well. But it's not something like your canvas applications where you have the Power Apps client that these run in. It's like a web browser type application.

Rob Collie (00:28:04): It seems like mobile apps that I would develop for use outside my company, does Microsoft have a low-code answer for that scenario or has that been explicitly left for the future?

April Dunnam (00:28:18): There's no really scenario for that. It's all some kind of authenticated. Now, there have been some strides as far as something called Microsoft wrap that was released where you can wrap a Power Apps application and be able to deploy that through a mobile device management so it's not bound to that Power Apps application. So it can be in internal app store basically. So I mean, that's one way. But a true public-facing in the iOS or Android store type scenario, no. That's not the intention, I would say, of the tools at the moment.

Rob Collie (00:28:54): I guess, that makes sense, right? Because there's a lot of overlap between situations where you would build such a thing, and when you have the high end developers at your disposal, and that you would bring them to the story. But in a podcast that we recorded recently, but hasn't gone live yet, me and a former colleague from many years ago were laughing about how many features or even products at Microsoft back in the day would get started with the sentence, "Wouldn't it be cool if..." This is terrible market research. You don't want this to be your methodology. Now, with that aside, wouldn't it be cool if I could sit down and use these low-code things from Microsoft to produce an App Store app? I just don't know if it would be commercially the right place to invest resource, but I would like it.

April Dunnam (00:29:39): Yeah, it would be really cool. I do agree.

Rob Collie (00:29:42): I'm pretty far removed from the line of business of creating low-code applications anymore. The company certainly is in that business. But over time, we've just found so many people who are way better at that than I am. I like to think that I'm useful elsewhere. But if I wanted to pick up a hobby, like a Power Apps hobby or a Power Pages hobby, there's something really, really, really compelling about, "See, that's my app in the App Store, and I built that." Whereas, I am never going to learn how to code one of those the real way. It's just not happening in this life. So imagine that as an airplane demo. Maybe that's the reason to do it, is the recruitment as opposed to the actual commercial viability. But maybe someday.

April Dunnam (00:30:23): Who knows?

Rob Collie (00:30:24): Really abstract question, it's a theory of mine, my theory basically goes like this, every company in the world randomly chooses based on its history, and its industry, and who's working their at given points in time, they end up with their own unique set of line of business systems that they use to run their company. And it's kind of like you play the lottery. There's only 50 numbers to choose from, but you pick your own six, and everyone's combination of six is unique. You wouldn't think that there's billions of these combinations, but there are. And it's the same thing in line of business systems. Everyone, even if they're in exactly the same industry, exactly the same size, they're going to have a tremendous difference in their set of line of business apps that run their company. And so into this world steps the Power Platform. I think of the Power Platform as not entirely but primarily, greater than 50%, is its ability to serve as the middleware glue between everyone's unique set of line of business systems.

Rob Collie (00:31:25): Even Power BI is a form of read-only, primarily read-only, middleware. The ability to pull from different systems and build a data model, like a star schema based data model, that splices across your accounting system, your HR system, and one of your production systems for instance, is just amazing, just like lightning in a bottle. But then the more read write scenarios like a workflow, like hiring a new employee, onboarding a new employee, how many systems need to be touched? It's not just the HR system. You need to provision them over here. You need to set them up over there. You need to add them to the rotation over on this system. So read, write, middleware is to me... Again, it's not the only use because for example a SharePoint list is pretty clearly single system, at least in its original form. To what extent are you seeing that as a theme, whether explicitly or implicitly, in your exposure to what's going on in the world? Because you're seeing a lot of companies working with this stuff, I'm very interested in what your take is.

April Dunnam (00:32:27): I would totally agree on that, that's a huge part of the gap that the Power Platform fills. I mean, that [inaudible 00:32:34] whole situation where, sure, we have a bunch of out of the box SaaS applications, but they don't always do a 100% of what you need. So you need something, you need to tweak it slightly. And a lot of these things are really rigid, so what do you do? Well, that's where the Power Platform really shines because, to your point about onboarding, if you need to be able to touch some data and maybe it's in Dynamics, or it's also in SharePoint, or an Azure SQL store, or insert your system here, we have 700 plus connectors that you just plug and play. Whereas, if you're trying to do this with custom code, having to figure out how to authenticate and all these different systems, and coordinate, and make all that work is really time consuming and a big pain.

April Dunnam (00:33:13): But with Power Platform, you just add in the connector to whatever service and even be able to extend it with custom ones if you need to if you have an internal application. And it's just really seamless to solve those middleware type needs that you have to be able to have these integrations and orchestrations with other services. I mean, that's where it really shines and I think where we got a lot of really early adoption of the platform. And now we're seeing even more maturity where net new system enterprise critical applications are even being built in it too beyond that.

Rob Collie (00:33:46): There is definitely a theme here of complexity grows geometrically as investments grow linearly. Really funny example is that there used to be sort of a three-headed committee that ran our company and we didn't always agree on everything. That's to be expected. But eventually, one of the three of us... There was a robust disagreement that just wasn't going to go away. And so that person left and now we're down to me and Kellan that were running the company at that point, and still very much to this day. That's the executive function of our companies, me and Kellan. We expected the amount of agreement to go up because the person who had opposed a lot of the things we were trying to do was no longer around. That was an obvious benefit that we expected. What we didn't expect though was just how much simpler it was to stay on the same page. There was one pairwise relationship between people, whereas before we had three. There were three sides to the triangle before and now there was just one edge. Combinatorics just explodes so quickly.

Rob Collie (00:34:45): Keeping up with all of these emerging needs for workflows, if your company gets 10% larger, the number of new workflows it's going to need isn't 10%, right? It might even be double. Having a rapid reaction way to build new logic to keep up with that, it's almost like you could never have enough professional developers to do this. If you gave me access to an infinite supply of them, I could hire them whenever I wanted, it still might not be a scalable way to approach things, especially once you consider that these citizen developer types that we're talking about tend to be embedded in the business. They sort of intrinsically understand the spec, they know what the app is supposed to do. They don't need to sit down and brain dump for weeks and weeks into someone else's head and try to Vulcan mind meld to teach some other developer how to do it. They already know what it should look like.

April Dunnam (00:35:37): For sure. I think you touched on an important piece of what makes it so efficient and such a great platform is being able to tap into those business users that are intimately familiar with the processes. Because I mean, a lot of times we don't even know what could be improved. If we're sitting on the outside of some of the processes and IT as developers, and by bringing the business users into the fold, they know they're able to... You don't have to go through months of process requirements gathering. They can get straight to the point and automate these things. So there is really an infinite number of things that can be automated when you tap into those users that are doing the processes.

Rob Collie (00:36:18): So when someone talks about something like data fabric, is Dataverse an example of that? Do you have any idea what the data fabric term means? I'm making fun of it in a particular scene of this thing I'm working on. We're laughing about data cashmere.

April Dunnam (00:36:32): I'm going to be honest, I have not heard of this data fabric. You'll have to elaborate on that for me.

Rob Collie (00:36:38): So you and me both, right? I mean, I've heard it enough to go, "Oh, no, what is this new buzzword that I'm sure is just dumb?" I think one of the tenants of being... It's not the only kind of influencer you can be in the tech space, but it is a very popular kind of influencer to be is one where you're constantly keeping your audience uncomfortable. You keep talking in ways that are almost just a little bit mysterious. You're staying a little bit ahead of them and almost deliberately not dumbing it down so that people feel an insecurity and a need to keep listening to you. And I hate that style. I mean, I just hate it. I want to kill it with fire. Things like data fabric I think are very much in that tradition. Let's take something that would probably be easily understandable if you just described it in plain language. So I think I've heard that Dataverse might be an example of data fabric, but we're at the fabric store.

April Dunnam (00:37:31): Maybe, if I knew what this data fabric was, very well could be.

Rob Collie (00:37:34): It's everywhere. If you buy a Power BI t-shirt, that's data fabric.

Rob Collie (00:37:41): What about Power Virtual Agents, how widespread in production do you think those are today? What are the chances, when I'm interacting with some website or even a mobile app, what are the chances that there's a Power Virtual Agent behind it? To put it tongue in cheek, what are the chances that it's a Power Virtual Agent that I'm not getting what I want from as opposed to some custom coded virtual agent that's not answering my question?

April Dunnam (00:38:05): I mean, I think pretty good chances. I mean, it is one of the newer pieces of the platform so it doesn't have quite the maturity and growth of some of the other ones. But we're seeing, we have several case studies of different businesses using that to power their bots on the sites for customer support and things like that, engagements. And there's lots of investment being made for being able to do things like voice stuff, like interaction with the bots and everything. So it is definitely taking off. And especially with internal use as well within Dataverse or Teams being able to use that for internal bots to be used within Teams is really taken off as well. So, this is pretty good chances that you've probably interacted at some point on some website with the Power Virtual Agent bot.

Rob Collie (00:38:48): The other day I had my first super satisfying interaction with a bot. It was so good that I don't even know at what point it might have gone from bot to real person. You didn't even really notice. It's when I used the Chipotle app and I ordered from the wrong store. Upstream from this was a terrible UI decision on their part, which is to remember your last store you ordered from, wherever it is, it's in Florida, right? I'm not there anymore. But how quickly I was able to get that addressed, I'm positive that at some point in the app I was interacting with a bot. And maybe at some point later in the process there was a real human. But it was very, very, very fast and very effective. And it's like, "Okay, so maybe there is hope for this stuff." Like so many other things, like your first N forays into it aren't going to be the final form we arrive at.

Rob Collie (00:39:35): I mean, even voice recognition itself was terrible. It was terrible years ago. And now we take it for granted. Voice recognition is way better than the swipe keyboard on my phone. You drag across letters to write words. I send more complete word typos now than I've ever done in my life because of that swipe keyboard. I need to break my habit of using that thing. I tried to send the word before the other day, and I got the word neuter.

April Dunnam (00:40:01): We'll see how that works out, but... Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:40:02): It's a hard typo to explain.

Rob Collie (00:40:06): So what do you look for in someone that might take to the Power Platform? What are some of the personality traits? Back to that airplane conversation scenario again, if you're asking them about them, you probably have an internal flow chart in your head. Imagine there's three different ways you could come out of this conversation. One of them being like there's no point in telling this person anything more. They're just not going to be interested at all. Another possible way out is they might not want to build anything with the Power Platform but their team, they can probably see the business value. They might be a buyer even though they're not one of the doers. The third one is, of course, they might actually become a low-code developer. If we were having a conversation, what would be the triggers that would lead you down one of those three paths?

April Dunnam (00:40:50): That has to start off with a certain level of curiosity leading into, I guess, critical thinking. So like, "Have you ever wished or thought there was a better way to do X?" So someone has to have that natural curiosity to really want to even venture or learn more about this. And then also the critical thinking, can you think through the process and what could make it better so that you can bring that value and figure out how to automate in the Power Platform? And then of course, especially when you're thinking about, "Can this person be a maker in the Power Platform?", what other systems are they already using? Like, "Hey, are you a pro at Excel formulas already? Do you love building really nice looking PowerPoint decks? Are you a Vizio king or queen, you can just architect or process diagram?" So those are really good indicators that you're going to be really good at the Power Platform right off the bat. So that's the path that I go on, especially when I identify people that could potentially be makers.

Rob Collie (00:41:48): Yeah, if someone wants to show me their Vizio architecture diagram, I know we've got a live one. But I can't believe actually how closely our flow charts overlap. I thought they were going to be similar. I didn't know they were going to be basically identical. The very first words you used that wasn't a connector word, curiosity. Oh my gosh. And then the people who say, "Oh, there has got to be a better way", if that sentence comes out of your mouth, you're in. Whether you're going to do it or not, that exasperated, "Oh, come on, there has got to be a better way than this", if someone's having that kind of emotional response to something. Curiosity and that better way, those are emotional motivators. And then it's almost like you were just pandering to the podcast host when you went straight for Excel formulas next. I was like, "Oh, come on. Who's briefed you?"

April Dunnam (00:42:37): Great minds think alike, I guess, they say.

Rob Collie (00:42:39): Excel formulas are a programming language. They pass every test of what constitutes a programming language. And so spreadsheets are like the OG low code application. So yeah, Excel is very often the sweet spot for finding future career switchers. And SharePoint has obviously been another one of the big breeding grounds for that. But it's weird, the Excel community in terms of low code developers is much, much, much larger than the SharePoint audience, and yet they're harder to reach.

April Dunnam (00:43:12): Yeah, it is very interesting that proportionately you see far more SharePoint people that got into the Power Platform than Excel people.

Rob Collie (00:43:20): And when you think about it in terms of raw original numbers, even talking about people who are really good at Excel, the upper 5% of the people who touch Excel... Like everyone touches Excel. You can open a spreadsheet someone else has produced. So now you're an Excel user, but we're just going to say the upper 5% to 6% of the Excel audience, the ones who write lookup functions, formulas, the ones who create pivot tables... We had this joke on a previous episode, the coefficient of coalescence for the Excel community is quite a bit lower than for the SharePoint community. There are conferences devoted to SharePoint where all of the SharePoint MVPs or significant percentage of them are going to be there. There are very few parallels to that in the Excel world. If the Excel crowd was more coalesced, it was a harder target, you're easier to reach through center points of broadcasting. We could get, I think, a tremendous acceleration and uptake.

Rob Collie (00:44:13): I've been following the story now for 12 years. It's all very incrementally reaching more and more people. There's been no step change in the rate at which it reaches the Excel crowd.

April Dunnam (00:44:23): Super interesting. I mean, I think a big part of it is, to your point of, really the community, I guess, basically of the different platforms, and SharePoint having that close knit community with their own conferences. And then I mean, also where you're coming from, there's a lot of SharePoint people that went into Power Platform out of necessity alone. We were doing InfoPath, SharePoint Designer, we need to move to it. We're not going that way with Excel. I think we need to do a better job at showing that... Because I mean Excel, A, is just so widely used. Everybody is going to have to use Excel at some point in their career, if you're on a computer basically. I mean, it's that widely used.

April Dunnam (00:44:57): So I think we probably need to do a better job of showing, "Hey, if you already know this, do you know can write the same formula in an app and have a mobile application frontend that you can even pull in your Excel data?" I mean, I think probably it's a natural move from Excel to Power BI. But we don't make as good of a case as we could, I guess, or reaching that audience on, "We can translate that same thing into a power app", for example.

Rob Collie (00:45:22): I've just recently, within the last six months, switched most of my usage of the Office apps to be the desktop Office apps running against a OneDrive file location. It's so beautiful working that way. It almost seems too good to be true. And this is why I haven't moved all of my usage is because I'm not sure I trust... And there's no reason for me to distrust it. It's just this really irrational like, "This is so different. Would I trust my incredibly intricate PowerPoint that has 450 animations in it? Am I going to work with that in that mode?" I don't see why I wouldn't. It's still a file in a way. But an Excel spreadsheet on OneDrive starts to become closer, and closer, and closer to the notion of a SharePoint list. It's data storage is now cloud-based and it's inherently got some multi-user tracking and protection that a file just sitting on a hard drive doesn't have.

Rob Collie (00:46:24): Are there potentially Power app integration scenarios that grow straight out of Excel? I almost feel like I either was told that there are some things like this or I dreamed that there were. Even Excel has things like data validation, what's allowed in this cell. I don't even know if data validation can respect a formula. I've never got that deep into Excel validation to really care, because I just don't believe in it as a technology. It's not going to create a form for me.

April Dunnam (00:46:48): No. I mean, that's a good question. I mean, Excel, yeah, it can get really complicated. Especially when I was doing my consulting business, I can't tell you how many companies are running big systems off of Excel and connected with VLOOKUPs, and pulling data from multiple workbooks, and all that craziness. And I actually did quite a bit of taking Excel processes like that and converting them into Power apps. So there's definitely a play for, if you have something like that when you have these really complex applications, is really what they are built in Excel, redoing that in a power app that's arguably a better fit for something like that. Whereas, maybe even keeping some of the tabular data in Excel, although that's not even the best either.

Rob Collie (00:47:30): No.

April Dunnam (00:47:30): Probably better to move to a better actual data repository there. But yeah, I mean there's quite a bit of that stuff out there, I've noticed.

Rob Collie (00:47:37): It's interesting that you said a lot of the on-ramps for SharePoint people to get into this stuff is that Microsoft had the courage and the necessity to sunset certain technologies and replace them with better ones. And that has a way of driving people further upstream because the thing that I've been doing for a living, I'm now being told, "I better change or I'm not going to be doing that for a living anymore." That's a big deal. Whereas, it's not appropriate for that to ever happen with Excel. No one's ever going to come to you and say, "Excel person..." And say, "XLOOKUP is so much better than VLOOKUP." That we're not even let you write VLOOKUPs anymore. That same sort of thing can't fly in Excel. And so it's much harder, you don't get to drive people upstream. You can maybe tantalize them, incent them, advertise to them that these things are possible. We just don't have that lever, do we?

April Dunnam (00:48:30): No, there's still the whole thing too, a lot of people, it was like, "Is X product going to last?" It's been like for any software. It's like, "How do I know this is sticking?" So I think that's a lot of the problem with the Excel people too. Excel has been around for ages. They feel safe with Excel. How do we know this Power Platform thing's going to stick around, that I should actually move some stuff over that? So there's that whole aspect of it as well.

Rob Collie (00:48:52): Were you around the SharePoint campfire back in the day when Excel had a feature where a table in Excel could be like a mirror of a SharePoint list, and you could edit the SharePoint list in Excel and it would update the list accordingly? Were you around when that feature existed? And were you around when it stopped working?

April Dunnam (00:49:15): I think so, because I want to say that was around the 2010 timeframe and that's when I was in that internship where [inaudible 00:49:22] in 2010. So yeah, I do recall that.

Rob Collie (00:49:25): I'm a villain in the SharePoint world for being the person who killed that feature.

April Dunnam (00:49:34): Oh, wow.

Rob Collie (00:49:35): So I'm either a known villain, like a handful of people know it was me. Most people are still to this day walking around bitterly saying, "I can't believe they did that. If I ever find the person who's responsible for that, I'm going to give them a piece of my mind." Well, here I am.

April Dunnam (00:49:50): You're just putting it out there all on the table right now, just like prepare for some hate mail.

Rob Collie (00:49:56): Yeah, it was-

April Dunnam (00:49:56): Probably still some resentment.

Rob Collie (00:49:56): Hey, in my... Oh, there is. There absolutely is. I'll take a fresh round of abuse on Twitter for this confession. It won't be the first time.

Rob Collie (00:50:03): Today's Microsoft would never be put in the situation to make the decision that I had to make at that point. Back in the long release cycle, you really had to pick one thing and go do it because you only had like two years to get it right, and it better be done. And with SharePoint constantly innovating and adding more and more data types that were legal in a SharePoint list, every time a data type got added, that inflicted more work on us in Excel just to keep up. So we had a tax we had to pay in Excel to keep up with this. And there were new data types being added in that release by SharePoint and there were potentially more on the horizon that were still going to be added in that same release. And we were doing the BI focused, business intelligence focused, release of Excel, I had to make a tough call. Now, my management chain above me supported it. I think it made it all the way to Kurt Domeen, having this explained to him why this feature went away.

April Dunnam (00:51:02): Wow.

Rob Collie (00:51:03): Multiple times I've run into people at SharePoint conferences and when this comes out, they just look at me like, "Up until this point, Rob, I liked you. Not so much anymore." So it doesn't sound like you had a particularly villainous feeling about this going away.

April Dunnam (00:51:17): No, I never honestly used that much in the day, so I don't hold a grudge.

Rob Collie (00:51:22): Yeah. Well, from now on when someone gets angry at me, I'll say, "Well, April thinks it's okay."

Rob Collie (00:51:29): So what are some things that we should talk about that you expected to talk about? What questions were you hoping I was going to ask you?

April Dunnam (00:51:36): I think we briefly alluded to program by example type stuff.

Rob Collie (00:51:40): Let's talk about program by example. I'm used to column by example in Power Query where I just start typing in what the value for that column should be. And then it starts guessing as to what the logic should be for that column. Honestly, I even use it for cases where I want to add a column to this table where every row has exactly the same value. I so hate the M syntax that I don't want to go in there and write a calculated column in M. So I'll go into column by example and just start typing A, and type A again for the second row. I think by the third row, it gets the hint.

Rob Collie (00:52:14): What is programming by example?

April Dunnam (00:52:16): So it's really useful in Power Apps. So it's using the same technology that GitHub Copilot uses. So it's called Power Apps Ideas. And I think it's really interesting because when we talk about Power Apps, one of the big hangups, I guess, was if you aren't an Excel guru, if you don't know the Excel formulas like the back of your hand, the hardest part of getting started with Power Apps was trying to figure out how to do that logic layer, how to write those complex formulas to be able to make your app function.

April Dunnam (00:52:44): So what this Power Apps Ideas and program by example is doing is using that GPT-3 technology to suggest what formulas you'll need. So I can start typing, like what you were saying that you use in Power Query there, like, "I want to filter my list by using natural language. Show me all items that are assigned to me." Or, "Show me all items sorted by created date." And it will produce with the Power Fx formula, which is the programming language that Power Apps uses, and you don't have to do anything. It just sends you a bunch of suggestions, "I think this is what you want." You click, it applies the formula, and you're good to go. So it's really taking it beyond maybe being more of a low-code tool, because you did have to know the formula language to truly a no-code tool because you don't have to know the ins and outs of the formula language and some of these bits filtering your galleries because it can actually produce the formula for you. So I think it's really cool.

April Dunnam (00:53:38): It's fairly new, limited right now to really creating formulas for their galleries. But obviously, we'll be continuing to expand and just democratizing that entry point into building Power Apps and not having to right off the bat know the complexities of this formula language.

Rob Collie (00:53:54): There's so many parallels to this. Even normal usage of Power Query works like this. It's got the graphical interface for specifying things, and then it spits out the code. VBA famously had the macro recorder and now Office Scripts have the macro recorder that's coming online. And I always found the macro recorder to be, in many cases, the single best documentation on the Excel object model. I don't know what color red is, or what object I use to set conditional formatting, or whatever. So go use the macro recorder to spit things out. But the thing that both of those have in common is that I'm already kind of in the application and I'm manipulating the application Excel or Power Query, and it's spitting out the code. But for Power Apps, thing is I'm trying to build the app, right? I'm really struggling to visualize what the macro recorder looks like. Is it natural language? You sort of tell it what I want it to do?

April Dunnam (00:54:53): Yes, it's exactly that. It's natural language. So you're in the editor, the maker experience of your app. It's helping you build your application, just like GitHub Copilot does and suggesting the code that it just spit out based on what you're trying to do. So you just type in the natural thing of what you're wanting to see, like filtering, sorting your data, whatever it might be. And it spits out the code to apply in your application. And then now you have the backend code behind-the-scenes logic layer built for you.

Rob Collie (00:55:21): That's amazing. I've been out of the software development game actually working for someone like Microsoft for a long time now, 13 years. And I'm starting to get this old man take. We didn't have that fancy stuff when I used to work on... There's a thought exercise that comes around on Reddit periodically which is, if you could take all of human knowledge from today back to 400 years ago or 500 years ago, could you just kickstart the world, dominate everything, you team up with some head of state, that country just races ahead of everybody else? And it turns out the answer is really no, because you lack the supply chain and the infrastructure. You couldn't even go back to 400 years ago and make a pencil. The lead and graphite refineries aren't there. No one knows how to make that kind of rubber yet. To make it would require international trade and like, "Oh, you want the steel band around the eraser?" There's so many things about it. Even if you know how to make, it's not going to happen.

Rob Collie (00:56:21): And when you're talking about stuff like natural language, almost like as a macro recorder, we could have had that idea in the early 2000s or in 2008, but the base technology to make that work was just not around yet. The possibilities as the core capabilities in computer science are rising. It makes so many things emerge from the water. We knew we're down there or thought might be, like Atlantis. That's really, really cool. It's related to GitHub Copilot, and I also heard GPT-3.

April Dunnam (00:56:58): Yeah, from OpenAI. Yeah, that whole initiative. I mean, that's just one of the things too. I think that's where the biggest advancement, I guess, in the Power Platform is in the maturity is with the AI integration. Because the other cool thing is the Figma and the image integration, so it's being able to use object detection models where you can upload an image of a process, and it will create the app for you. And same thing with the integration with Figma, you can have a Figma design file, it can recognize that. And then pixel perfect build the power app. So all you have to do is that backend piece of configuring this button does X, and all that. And you have your frontend built. So a designer can build in Figma, you can import it. You have your frontend built, you fill in the pieces.

Rob Collie (00:57:44): Interesting.

Rob Collie (00:57:45): I'm wondering the same sort of natural language for writing procedural code, I wonder rather than saying, "Will it work?", which is a yes, no question, must instead say, "When?" How long before that comes for DAX in Power BI? How long before that comes for M in Power BI? If it's just a matter of getting these projects going, let's get them going. Can we start with M? Start with M please, because I'm pretty good at writing DAX, but Power Query, I always need to phone a friend. Let's do Power Query first. Let's do it for Rob.

April Dunnam (00:58:17): Well, I think one thing too, so with the Power Platform, we don't really have a consistent programming language across everything.

Rob Collie (00:58:24): No.

April Dunnam (00:58:25): That's the first hurdle. So for Power Apps, canvas apps, we have Power Fx. What we write in expression in a Power Automate is completely different. And then same thing with Power BI and virtual agents. So I think the first piece of the puzzle is trying to unify that language, which we're taking steps too. So with Power Fx, for example, which started in canvas apps, we can now apply and have Power Fx formulas in our model-driven apps, with our custom columns and our command bar properties, and things like that. So as that gets spread out and used in Power Automate and model-driven apps and more, then we can use that natural language program by design in more places, which makes it even easier. That's what I'm really looking forward to is seeing that get pushed off more across the entire Power Platform step.

Rob Collie (00:59:11): There's an upper bound to how unified things can get in terms of the languages because I think one of the things that has been discovered/proven is that different kinds of tasks, they need a different language. But then it's a matter of building experiences around those languages that are humane. Again, I'll get flamed for this, but I do not find M to be humane at all. Some people love it. I find it to be just the most off putting prickly... I'd rather go back to VBA than right M by hand. But I just can't imagine a world in which natural language could be spitting out Power Fx scripts and couldn't do M.

April Dunnam (00:59:49): Yeah, for sure.

Rob Collie (00:59:50): I suppose, to use the natural language interface, you still have to have that kind of brain that we're talking about, critical thinking.

April Dunnam (00:59:56): Exactly, like the critical thinking, debugging mindset in a way too. So even if you're not a developer, just being able to critically think, if Fx, then Y, type logic.

Rob Collie (01:00:06): There's a parallel too, when you use a search engine, there's a knack to it. I think a larger percentage of the population gets good at search engines than what we'll get good at natural language coding. There's a spectrum there. You're not just talking to the computer. You are manipulating it when you're using the search engine and you're like, "Oh, no, no, no. Not that."

April Dunnam (01:00:30): Yeah. Heck, I mean developers we're the best at that. We're used to using that to get what we need there.

Rob Collie (01:00:37): That has all kinds of long-term implications for the industry as a whole.

April Dunnam (01:00:41): Yeah kind of an indicator of where things are going just to make it easier to breaking down those barriers to building applications.

Rob Collie (01:00:48): All right. So what's your personal favorite thing?

April Dunnam (01:00:50): I just love building Power Apps. I mean, I use obviously the whole Power Platform. And Power Automate is great. It's kind of the glue that binds everything together. But I just get a lot of joy of building Power Apps and particularly the UI/UX side of things. A lot of people build Power Apps, but they're not sure how to get over the hurdle of, "How do I go beyond what the wizard produces for me, and make it look maybe a true native mobile application?" So that scenario, I'm really passionate about is guiding people to how to build Power Apps that follow traditional mobile design standards and providing them with resources to have pre-built components and things that help them plug in place some of these UI/UX concepts into their application to take it to the next level, because that's often a big sticking point.

Rob Collie (01:01:37): What are some of the principles there? The first three things that you need to talk to someone about if they're interested in learning that kind of stuff, what are the first principles?

April Dunnam (01:01:47): Well, the KISS method, Keep It Simple, right? I mean, with anything in design, you don't want to overwhelm your user. That's one thing that I always mention. I think just trying to treat the applications you build in low-code tools like Power Apps, the same as you would your public-facing website. You put a lot of effort into figuring out like, "Okay, does this match our brand? What does the visual look like?" If you put that and hold it up to the same standard, I think a lot of the design will come along naturally. That's usually the first thing that I say. And I think a big part of that is maybe bringing in some graphic designers just to give you some ideas of how the app could look, if you don't have that background. So there's just lots we can do. That's my favorite topic area, to do sessions about at conferences and everything, and I go through a lot of it. And I think accessibility is another big key part of that, that you have to consider that sometimes gets forgotten in the whole design process.

Rob Collie (01:02:44): And I have never product managed, program managed the creation of a mobile app. The end of my Microsoft career predates the iPhone. I mean, well, actually no. The iPhone had just come out, but it hadn't swamped everything yet. And we didn't have Android.

Rob Collie (01:02:59): That first thing you said, hold it to the same standard, there's such a tendency even in the citizen developer crowd to focus on the functionality. In the abstract, this is what it does, how cool is that? And then neglect, even ignore usability and accessibility for a moment. Those are hard scientific facts. Just for a moment, focus on aesthetics. If you view aesthetics as the mouth of the funnel of uptake on your app, people want to use things that look good. People are drawn to things that seem polished. You're going to have lower uptake and lower enthusiasm in the ultimate user base for this battleship gray like from the '80s with a big fat courier font or a system font. People are going to think it's ugly and people don't want to be associated with ugly. They don't want to use ugly. They want to feel good when they're using it.

Rob Collie (01:03:54): Even something just like aesthetics of it, just how good it looks, ignoring its functional design for a moment, which is even more important probably, you've got to get people to engage with it before they can even have those problems. That's also true in the world of BI reports.

April Dunnam (01:04:10): Oh, for sure.

Rob Collie (01:04:11): It might be the most informative thing, most useful thing on the planet. If it looks bad, right off the bat you're not going to get that emotional lean in, to win the right to keep their attention. You got to catch it and then keep it.

April Dunnam (01:04:22): Another big thing is, well, it's just a little internal app, why treat it to the same standard? Not like a lot of people are going to use it, but I mean I think you got to be careful with that mindset, because a lot of the things that you'll build in Power [inaudible 01:04:34] code, it can take off and it's just something that started with maybe only five people in your org using. Now the whole organization is using. And now that becomes even more important. Maybe you could get by with that for just a handful of people just to solve a need, but you got to think long term as well. And again, we need to get people engaged from the start.

Rob Collie (01:04:55): And then there's also even just the selfish ambitious reason, people are going to weigh the quality of your work not by the functional capabilities, but from whether it looks cool. Probably don't want to live in that world, but that's the world we live in. Don't hate the player, hate the game. I recently saw a podcast where someone said, "No, love the game because you're in it." You don't have a choice.

Rob Collie (01:05:22): I just see such a wide variety of screen sizes, and devices floating around, and tablets versus phones, and everything, I remember when we were building web apps that were meant to render in different web browsers back in the day. Like, "Oh God, IE3 versus IE4, versus Netscape 5." And it was almost like you had to recode for everything. And Power Apps hides a lot of that cross platform difficulty from us. But on a design front, there's just no getting around the fact that the screen's a different size. How much do you have to think about those different form factors in the design phase?

April Dunnam (01:06:05): Power Apps is good at you can build a single application and it will physically work on a tablet, or a desktop, or phone. But it's all about probably wanting to take it at the step further and truly optimize it for this. So it'll work, like get into the design point. Will it be the most appealing if you optimize it for a desktop and then try to use it on your mobile device? No, you probably need to do some extra work. So we do have the capability to do that responsive design inside of the Power App so that we can't customize and have maybe a full length menu that's already popped out on the desktop, but then have it collapsed with like a hamburger menu in a mobile device. Typical things you would expect from any modern application, so we can go the extra step and build that as part of our design if we know we need to accommodate for those different form factors.

Rob Collie (01:06:57): That's such a dramatic difference between those three. Do you find that there's any differences amongst different models of phone that make a difference? Or is it relatively safe that phone is a phone, is a phone?

April Dunnam (01:07:10): From what I've noticed with a lot of the stuff that I did in Power Apps, it's relatively safe if it's a phone is a phone. You can target different screen sizes. So just once it's over X layout, truly in a portrait mode, then you can just standardize on a set layout, and you're pretty safe.

Rob Collie (01:07:28): Okay. All right. Well, that's encouraging because I mean, seriously, web browsers with different monitor sizes, it was a mess.

April Dunnam (01:07:36): Yeah, that's a whole other story. Monitors get bigger and bigger and ultra wise. Yeah, that's a whole other story.

Rob Collie (01:07:43): Yeah. Someone was defending another product decision of mine the other day in Excel saying, "Yeah. Well, back then monitors were four by three, the width of the screen was even more precious. Of course, you needed to do this." And I'm like, "Oh boy, this isn't going to go well." And I will just say, "Well, now with the new monitors, Rob, your decision's even worse."

Rob Collie (01:08:01): Anyone listening to this knows about the Power Platform. They're at least aware of it, but they're probably into one aspect of it. They're into Power BI, or Power Apps, or whatever. Where would you recommend people go for more information about the other parts of the platform? Where do you recommend we point them to get them started?

April Dunnam (01:08:21): Yeah. Well, I think, first, just to get a general awareness, understanding, we have so much great content on Microsoft Learn for each of the different products. So whether you want to dive into Power Automate, and even specific areas of Power Automate, like Power Automate desktop for robotic process automation, we have great Learn pass and stuff to go down there. I would say if you want to take it a step further than that, and maybe you're starting to dabble in the tech and you want to get an idea of what other people in the community are doing or maybe even ask questions if you're getting stuck, our community for each of the different products that we have is a really great resource, because a lot of community members that are doing YouTube like myself, they share their content on there. They share app samples or flow samples, whatever it might be, and then they help answer questions as well. We have super users on there, so if you get stuck when you're trying to ramp up and learn some of these new products, it's super helpful.

Rob Collie (01:09:12):

April Dunnam (01:09:15): Yes.

Rob Collie (01:09:16): Neat. That's an easy one. I can remember that.

April Dunnam (01:09:21): That's our community site. And we also have user groups on there. That's another a good way too at the local level, especially now that things are opening back up a little bit more and we're having some in-person events again, just finding if there's a local use group in your area just to engage with people at that level also.

Rob Collie (01:09:37): And that's where I would find whether I have a local group that's available or not.

April Dunnam (01:09:40): Yep.

April Dunnam (01:09:41): On that same site, there's a user group section where you can see if there's one in your area. And there's, of course, virtual user group so you can participate in as well.

Rob Collie (01:09:47): Awesome. Awesome.

Rob Collie (01:09:49): Well, April, is there anything else that you would want the community to know?

April Dunnam (01:09:54): I mean, I could selfishly plug my YouTube channel as well as a resource.

Rob Collie (01:09:57): Sure.

April Dunnam (01:09:57): Search for April Dunnam. It's just, and that's my channel. I have all things Power Platform and still SharePoint as some of these [inaudible 01:10:07] a lot of SharePoint.

Rob Collie (01:10:06): A little SharePoint, yeah.

April Dunnam (01:10:08): Still got to throw that into the mix there. And I try to cover the whole platform. My latest series that I'm passionate about is trying to help upskill citizen developers on more traditional development concepts. So I had a video on HTML, one on CSS and how to apply those concepts into Power Apps and different pieces of the Power Platform.

Rob Collie (01:10:28): Very cool.

Rob Collie (01:10:29): April, thank you so much for making the time to talk with us.

April Dunnam (01:10:32): Yeah, thanks.

Rob Collie (01:10:32): Just so many cool things going on, it's very difficult to keep up. I'm not even trying to pretend like, "Oh, this question's on behalf of our audience." No, it's me. I want to know.

Rob Collie (01:10:42): Really nice to meet you.

April Dunnam (01:10:43): Cool.

Rob Collie (01:10:43): Really appreciate you taking the time.

Speaker 3 (01:10:44): Thanks for listening to the Raw Data By P3 Adaptive podcast. Let the experts at P3 Adaptive help your business. Just go to Have a data day.

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