Marine Biology Leads to Power Platforming, w/ Chuck Sterling - P3 Adaptive

Marine Biology Leads to Power Platforming, w/ Chuck Sterling

Senior Program Manager, Microsoft

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Chuck Sterling’s journey is another example of the uniqueness of the people in the data field. The short version is that he’s a Marine Biologist turned Senior Program Manager at Microsoft. He has intimate knowledge of the entire Power Platform and he shares that knowledge and insight.

References made on the show:

Episode Timeline:

  • 3:45 – The remote workplace, it’s not going anywhere
  • 15:00 – The Microsoft Power Platform explained
  • 32:00 – The future of Microsoft
  • 40:30 – Microsoft licensing, specifically Power Apps licensing, explained
  • 56:00 – Chuck’s data journey was a long and winding road
  • 1:12:00 – The Dawn of the Citizen Developer

Rob Collie (00:00:00): Welcome, friends. Today's guest is Chuck Sterling, a long time Microsoftie. And he's another one of these people with these really interesting backstories, not one of those deliberate paths where you set out to become something in particular over the course of 10 years and get there, a very jagged, lots of twists and turns, the kind of story we like here at Raw Data. Most recently, Chuck is part of the Power CAT team. And the funny thing about Chuck is that I think he simultaneously manages to be two things that are difficult to be at the same time. He is both a public figure and low profile. How do you do that?

Rob Collie (00:00:35): For a long time, Chuck ran the MVP program for Power BI. And during that era, he also worked closely with a lot of Microsoft's largest customers in terms of their Power BI adoption. But on the Power CAT team, Chuck is now focused on the other members of the Power platform family, so Power Apps, Power Automate, and the new Power Virtual Agents. We spent quite a bit of time actually focused on that last one because it's new and it's pretty interesting, but all of those fit nicely into theme that we've been talking about for a while on this show, which is that BI is really about ultimately taking action.

Rob Collie (00:01:11): And it's neat that Chuck has moved from the Power BI side, the more of the taking action side of that equation. That's what this Power platform is turning into. It's a very exciting thing, a very exciting time, and he's right in the middle of all of it. When we finished recording this one, I was convinced that we're going to need to add him to our list of recurring regulars. I hope you find it as stimulating as I did. Let's get into it.

Announcer (00:01:35): Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please?

Announcer (00:01:39): This is the Raw Data, by P3 Adaptive Podcast, with your host, Rob Collie, and your cohost, Thomas Larock. Find out what the experts at P3 Adaptive can do for your business, go to Raw Data by P3 Adaptive is data with the human element.

Rob Collie (00:01:57): Welcome to the show, Charles "Chuck" Sterling. How are you, man?

Chuck Sterling (00:02:03): I'm doing good, Rob. Thank you for actually having me. I'm really honored when you actually reached out. It's been way too long. This pandemic is not being great for going out and visiting friends.

Rob Collie (00:02:11): No, no, it hasn't been so great. I didn't plan to go here, but one of my favorite memories of you is you visiting Indy and not knowing anything about Indy, and asking, "Hey, what should we go to eat?" And you're running down this list of all these nice restaurants. And then right in the middle of this list of nice restaurants, you throw in Steak 'n Shake. You had no idea that was like McDonald's, essentially, right?

Chuck Sterling (00:02:33): Exactly. From the name, it sounded okay, and it has like a bazillion five out of five thumbs ups. But I am in Indy, so of course.

Rob Collie (00:02:43): So then we just decided to slum it with the steakhouse and the porterhouse steaks and everything.

Chuck Sterling (00:02:48): That was not slumming it. The fact that I got to choose my knife. They have the knife drawers, like, "How would you like to cut the meat that you're going to eat?" I'm like, "Oh, I want that one." So yeah, it was fun. And Indy was a lot of fun too. If people haven't been to Indy, I highly recommend it. It's a beautiful city. And if you are a car guy, oh, the airport. I didn't know this going in there, the airport is just full of all this memorabilia. It's actually a really neat city.

Rob Collie (00:03:15): Yeah. They even rotate those cars. Those Indy cars in the airport are not the permanent installation, that is a revolving collection. It's really fascinating. I haven't been in an airport. Last year was the first year of my adult life that I was never on a plane. I wonder if the cars are even there, I have no idea. Crazy.

Chuck Sterling (00:03:35): Yeah, me too. Actually, I climbed at an airport coming back from New Zealand and visiting my friends, [inaudible 00:03:41] at their conference, and I also have not been in an airport. I don't think I've told you this, but I am now residing in Florida.

Rob Collie (00:03:46): What?

Chuck Sterling (00:03:48): Yeah. I took the pandemic actually as an excuse to go out and live quite remotely, everybody is, and I wanted to pick a warmer climate for the winter. So get this, Rob, I drove 63 hours from Seattle to not be in an airport.

Rob Collie (00:04:03): Wow. That's dedication. I like it.

Chuck Sterling (00:04:05): Well, I have two puppies, I have two dogs, so I wasn't going to put them in boxes.

Rob Collie (00:04:09): So where in Florida?

Chuck Sterling (00:04:11): Near Key West. We looked all over. Like Donna Saker has been living in Barbados, and I looked at places like Costa Rica and Guatemala. And it turns out if I want fiber optic to the house, if I need to get out of here, I wanted to actually have a continental highway and large airports. This was actually a tropical location that fit all those check boxes. The only downside, of course, is it's not cheap here, they don't give away houses here.

Rob Collie (00:04:36): Okay. Yeah. I love the Keys. I grew up in Florida.

Chuck Sterling (00:04:40): I did not know that.

Rob Collie (00:04:41): And Luke, the silent producer here, he's in Florida right now. That's where he and I met years ago.

Thomas LaRock (00:04:47): Isn't Luke in Miami, Fort Lauderdale?

Rob Collie (00:04:50): West Palm. West side.

Chuck Sterling (00:04:51): West Palm, just up the street. He gets to visit our former president on a regular basis.

Rob Collie (00:04:56): He does.

Chuck Sterling (00:04:56): They're tight?

Rob Collie (00:04:57): They're so tight. Yeah.

Chuck Sterling (00:05:02): I love the facial expression of Silent Bob, our producer.

Rob Collie (00:05:05): So tight. Yeah. Like many people in the software and data industry, your start is a marine biologist, right?

Chuck Sterling (00:05:14): Of course. That's where everybody starts. Without a doubt. Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:05:16): Microsoft is just kind of like finishing school at that point.

Chuck Sterling (00:05:19): With a life science degree in Seattle, you were either going to get a job at Boeing or Microsoft, and I'm still hoping for that phone call from Boeing. Any day, it's going to happen.

Rob Collie (00:05:33): And they're going to say you can't live in Florida anymore. Are you planning to stay in Florida?

Chuck Sterling (00:05:38): No, we're going to be... Yeah. I'll be snowboarding from here on end. Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:05:42): Oh, that's fantastic. What a great idea. Someone should think of that, snowboarding in Florida?

Chuck Sterling (00:05:47): I think lots and lots and lots of people have. Matter of fact, the inventory outside of big cities is just disappearing for real estate. Its mass exodus. And when I came in, my realtor was like, "You'll be like the fifth house I've sold this week, and I don't think there's any other houses for sale on water, etc." So yeah, the inventory in places that people want to go is dried up. Crazy, who would have guessed that this economy was going to happen as a result.

Rob Collie (00:06:14): Yeah. It's really, really interesting. There's a lot of people collectively holding their breath about downtown real estate in various cities. Now, I have some friends who dabble a little bit in the real estate hedge fund space, and they keep saying, "Oh, this is great news. We're going to be able to gobble stuff up at cut rates." But is it good news? Are you buying low or is commercial real estate going to suffer like a 30% occupancy hit that's relatively permanent? We don't know.

Chuck Sterling (00:06:46): What is it? Twitter said that they're never going back to their offices. We are now into a July timeframe, and yeah, it's crazy to think of those buildings sitting empty.

Rob Collie (00:06:56): It's one of those things where it's a debatable thing whether it's better or worse for companies. You could imagine it being one or the other, worse in terms of productivity. There's something about in-person. I think we can all probably agree that productivity is probably a little higher, especially for like software firms, when you can have those face-to-face conversations. There's something inherent about collaboration in that job. At the same time though, your talent base is potentially infinite if you're not geocentric. And then there's the competitive aspect of it as well. Like now, Chuck has tasted the half the year in Florida lifestyle. If they tried to take it back, like, "Hmm." It's one of those genies that can't be put back in the bottle, I think."

Chuck Sterling (00:07:47): I'm going to hypothesize, some of the productivity hit that we're seeing right now, Rob, is actually based on the fact that the infrastructure that supports people is missing. Let me explain. Like right now I've got a lot of my coworkers who can't take their children to daycare, therefore they are actually minding their children and the infrastructure of having services like mowing their lawns means that they are now their own gardener, etc. So I think if we can get those infrastructure back and we reclaim the time from the commute... You used to live up here, the Pacific Northwest, if you can get that time back into people's portfolios, yes, there's still going to be productivity hit because you're not in-person, granted.

Chuck Sterling (00:08:29): I think it actually might level itself all out to where it's a similar, really, really close productivity net sum game but a much happier employee because they get to live in Indie and they get to live in West Palm, they get to live in Key West, etc. But that's a hypothesis. I'm guessing [SATI 00:08:49] has actually done some of the numbers like that. I haven't actually done a whole lot of research myself.

Thomas LaRock (00:08:54): I have strong opinions on working from home.

Chuck Sterling (00:08:57): Well, do tell.

Thomas LaRock (00:08:58): After having done it now for 10 years, and even before then, I was at a company where... I'm sorry, I should never shame where I used to work. I knew of a company that-

Chuck Sterling (00:09:10): I had a friend at a company.

Thomas LaRock (00:09:11): ... that had a policy back in the day, it was you could work at home two days a month. And I thought that was the stupidest thing ever because where I was physically located, I was still supporting offices globally. What did it matter if I was in the office or not? And I didn't need to have access to the data center. If something is wrong with the server, I was still not physically doing anything with it. Anyway, I transitioned when I went to work for Confio. I asked if I had to relocate to Boulder, and they're like, "No, because you're going to be on an airplane most of the time. So it doesn't really matter where you live." I'm like, "Oh, this is great." And when SolarWinds came in, it was the same thing-

Chuck Sterling (00:09:55): You've realize that's a silver lining in a cloud, right? I don't know if you pick up on that.

Thomas LaRock (00:10:00): And then when SolarWinds came, I said, "Are you going to make me relocate?" And they're like, "Nah, you should be fine where you are." So the strong feeling I have is, I think there's a lot to do with the individual and their work style. You've hit a lot of good points about the infrastructure things and the stuff that maybe we're doing for ourselves these days. And so it's an adjustment there for everybody. But some people have that style that they need to be able to get up and walk into some of these office or cube and have a face-to-face discussion. That's just how they operate. And sometimes, that's a CEO, which means everybody below him acts like that person because that's the culture, that's a social thing. You can imitate what the boss is doing.

Thomas LaRock (00:10:48): I'm not that person, I don't need to physically... I prefer the solitude, and I've gotten used to being able to work on my own, set my own schedule. You know what? I promise I'll get you that thing today. I will. It might not happen. What that really means is you'll have it before tomorrow, so you might get at nine o'clock tonight because that's when I'm going to actually have the time to do it. So I think it really comes down to the individual, their work styles, how they feel productive, and are they in a position of influence? And the higher up that person is that says, "Oh, everybody's got to be in the office," then that's what that company ends up doing.

Chuck Sterling (00:11:26): I'm going to add to that. A piece you didn't mention, that Intel did studies on, it's the team dynamics. So if you have a team that can actually effectively work remotely... I work on a team right now, the Power CAT team, they were remote, and they spend a lot of time going out and doing.... Right now, I'm missing one of their happy hours, right this minute. They really do actually focus on making sure that that communication, that connection is there. And I work on other teams that while they were geo located, they had to have the interaction or they just couldn't work. They're falling apart. They're not doing as well in this world as the other team. The other team was like, "Yeah, this is almost business as usual. Not quite, but almost." So team dynamics.

Chuck Sterling (00:12:09): When I was in Australia, we all lived in a different state, and still that's a big country. And I know that we were more effective on that team and much, much closer. When we went into that state, we actually stayed at those people's houses and we knew what their wives and their children were doing, and their cats and their dogs, in case of Rob Collie. Yeah, we had that personal connection and we had that sinew between us. And that is actually a big point on these new teams, this new dynamic and this new brave world. So I'm agreeing with you. Yes.

Rob Collie (00:12:39): The nature of the organization matters a lot and what the kind of work is. For example, our company has been remote since its inception. It has always worked very well for us as a company. To be fair, though, large amount of our work, a disproportionate amount of our work is done on an individual basis. We do collaborate with one another, but each consultants working on their own projects, and sometimes there's a couple of consultants collaborating. But the amount of coordination that's required across consultants is relatively low, it's the low order bit in the equation.

Chuck Sterling (00:13:15): And it's almost an unblocking, right? It's like, "Hey, I'm just up to this." They don't need to know that the meta around the problem to just say, "Hey, I need to grab an IP address out of this data stream. Hey, do that." And then somebody would be like, "Oh, I've done it."

Rob Collie (00:13:27): Yeah. We have a whole channel on our Slack for exactly those sorts of like, "Hey, has anybody seen this problem before?" That kind of thing. And so we have a very social culture remotely, but the end of the trenches work. When I was at Microsoft, a couple of the teams that I was on, the developers declared that there were this thing called no-meeting Wednesdays, which was to give them the solitude to execute their jobs without being interrupted and without having to do the context switching, and that made sense. But my job at Microsoft was always coordination. There's nothing I could do on those software teams if my developers were unavailable. So they called it no meeting Wednesdays, I sort of snakily called them no-decision Wednesdays. It was no-progress Wednesdays.

Rob Collie (00:14:18): At least for me, collaborative meetings are inherently more exhausting remotely than in-person. But something about the in-person version of the collaborative meeting with the physical whiteboard, being in the same space, it at least for me, sustains me energetically and I don't get that over remote. It feels more draining. At our company, I run more of the marketing and growth side of the company as opposed to the operations of the consulting team. And now that we've been building a team recently, we've hired people like Luke, we have a copywriter, we have a designer, we have a full-time web dev.

Rob Collie (00:14:56): Now I'm back in that spot where like, "Oh, this is a collaborative, build-something-together team. And it's over remote." And I'm feeling that pain again for really the first time in 10 years. Now I'm like, "Okay, now I need to figure out how to operate like this remotely," really for the first time ever.

Thomas LaRock (00:15:14): I assume Power CAT is the customer team for Power BI.

Chuck Sterling (00:15:20): When you talk about the Power platform, it's four products, Power BI has their own CAT team, it's the Power BI CAT team. And they actually were created before the Power platform existed. So there is a Power BI CAT team, and it's got some of the best people in the world. It's got Adam Sexton and Patrick Leblanc and Casper and Phil Seamark. If you guys have not had Phil Seamark on there, the guy's just wicked smart. Ted Patterson, actually living in Florida, is on that team. On the other side of the house, which includes the Power Apps, the Power Automate and the Power Virtual Agents, is my team, the Power CAT team.

Thomas LaRock (00:15:54): So, and just to be clear, because Power is such an overused term, that means you have nothing to do with PowerShell?

Chuck Sterling (00:16:04): My background is with Excel like Rob, and PowerShell is still my go-to.

Thomas LaRock (00:16:13): Power is everywhere. So Power CAT, so it's the Power platform. Got it.

Chuck Sterling (00:16:18): It's the Power platform. It has nothing to do with PowerShell. Exactly right.

Rob Collie (00:16:20): We are, I think pretty closely associated with the Power platform on this podcast. But we have people listening that don't really know the Microsoft platform, all that well, so let's give them a tour.

Chuck Sterling (00:16:30): Yeah. And let's give you guys a nod yourself. Before we talk about the technology, let's talk about the motivation or why Microsoft walked down this path, is that we went out and identified a need where there were these people who weren't developers and yet they were maybe more technical than an information worker. I don't know if of any of these people, Rob, you may have worked with a couple of these.

Rob Collie (00:16:52): Just a few.

Chuck Sterling (00:16:53): A couple here or there. And we identified a need where they needed the tools to make themselves more successful. And the first of those tools was in, Rob's space. Actually, how do you make a data analyst out of an Excel practitioner? How do you give them access to big, big data? So the first one of these was before Power platform got created, and that was Power BI. And we're like, "Hey, this not just works, this is taking the world by storm. Who else needs this sort of metaphor?" And I don't know if you guys know my background between the marine biology and where I'm at now, I actually worked on a little product called Visual Studio and the .Net Framework.

Chuck Sterling (00:17:32): And James Phillips went out and said, "If it works for data analysts, we can do this for developers." We've taken a couple of runs at it before, we had light switch, the info path. And again, I don't mean any grimaces here, but we've taken some runs out, and James has that a track record of getting done and actually delivering the goods. He says, "We can do it. This is the time." So he went out and actually said, "Let's take everything that Visual Studio has got and give that to "our makers" or our citizen developers, if you will.

Chuck Sterling (00:18:02): But the Excel users, Rob's family, if you will, so Power Apps and Power Automate or the second two, and actually for a while, Power platform was just three products. And if you haven't played with Power Apps, Power Apps is a way of actually doing UIs in interaction of an application. Power Automate is, how do you automate tasks and drive a lot of that UI. Again, a lot of my Power Apps are nothing more than calling those flows from Power Automate. A canonical example I give is that when I'm driving home, I would actually want the garage door opener to go out and turn on my stove, turn on my thermostat, and maybe turn on my TV.

Chuck Sterling (00:18:48): And that's actually something all you can do with the SDKs, the garage door openers and the Samsung stoves and whatnot. I can also create an application in Power Apps on my phone to have hit a button to actually do that maybe three or four miles out. That's actually three of the technologies. Any guesses as to what the last one is? You guys have been tracking us at all? That's an interesting world. I'm excited about that last fourth piece of the Power platform.

Rob Collie (00:19:13): You mentioned it earlier, Power Virtual Agents. Is that what we're talking about?

Chuck Sterling (00:19:17): Yeah, that's exactly it. I hadn't realized that I had mentioned it.

Rob Collie (00:19:20): You gave us the answer and then asked us the question. That's very kind of you.

Chuck Sterling (00:19:25): I'm nice that way. But yeah, the way of actually creating chatbots. So if you've ever gone in and said, "What's your problem today?" "It's my flight's delayed or my airplane's missing," or whatever the case is, and you get an automated response, this is a way of... Literally, when we can talk about no code, by far, it is the closest that we've got to delivering on that Power platform promise, if you will. In Power BI, there's M an DAX that you sometimes have to devolve into the UI just doesn't have everything. In my world, there's a Power Apps script language that you actually go out and automate your buttons with.

Chuck Sterling (00:20:03): Like if you want to say, hello world, you actually have to go out and set the property to say hello world. Power Automate has its own expression language that you will generally get into. No, that's not true with Power Virtual Agents, you go out and create these topics that have interaction and it's really, really well done. Hats off to the team. If you have a play with it, I'm going to give myself a little bit of shout or the team a shout out, it's

Rob Collie (00:20:27): Try PBA?

Chuck Sterling (00:20:29): PVA, Power Virtually.

Rob Collie (00:20:32): PVA. Okay.

Thomas LaRock (00:20:33): Chuck, just hear me out. You're inside Microsoft, you have some influence, if you need some product ideas... Yeah, yeah, you do, shaking his head. Just hear me out, few thoughts for you, Power Kubernetes, just think of it.

Chuck Sterling (00:20:49): You have containers?

Thomas LaRock (00:20:50): Yup. Power blockchain. These are ideas that would make billions of dollars and offer nothing of value to the world.

Rob Collie (00:20:59): Power stocks, just chew on that.

Thomas LaRock (00:21:03): Just put power in front of anything and print money.

Chuck Sterling (00:21:07): Making blockchains easier to use, you promise that it won't actually solve any problems or give the world value? I'm going to question that, but power containers and making those easier, maybe, I don't know. It seems like with the cloud, that's actually something that will just get solved just by nature of how you're using it. I'd like to say that when you go out and hit the run in any of our products, we can take care of if we have to do containerization for you.

Thomas LaRock (00:21:37): Or things like power no SQL, or how about just power agile?

Rob Collie (00:21:41): That covers a lot of ground there.

Chuck Sterling (00:21:42): I worked on the dot-net world where everything got dot-net in front of it for a little while.

Thomas LaRock (00:21:46): Yeah. So you had told me that story how you were the initial release for dot-net, right?

Chuck Sterling (00:21:52): Yeah.

Thomas LaRock (00:21:53): You were the program manager or?

Chuck Sterling (00:21:54): Product manager.

Thomas LaRock (00:21:56): Product manager.

Chuck Sterling (00:21:56): So Rob, I was on the dark side of the house for that one. So there's program managers who own features and schedules and product managers generally own a business stream or a cost center, if you will. And so I actually was on the business side, I got to play on the technical community side of that house. Literally, I was in the marketing side of the world at that point. A brief way, it was interesting, I learned a lot, got to pick up a lot of airplane miles. So if that's good, then it was.

Rob Collie (00:22:28): I don't want to lose the thread about Power Virtual Agents. Can we go back for a moment?

Thomas LaRock (00:22:32): Of course.

Rob Collie (00:22:33): I would like you to object. So what will they do for me? What gap does that fill in the world's needs?

Chuck Sterling (00:22:40): Power Apps enables you to have a metaphor if you know what the application looks like and you know what your customers or your constituents or your coworkers need. You've sat down even if it's in a bar napkin over dinner like me and you did and withdrew some things out and it has buttons and drop downs and whatnot. What about the case where I want to answer the questions and I'm not positive what it needs to look like, and I'm actually not positive what information they need. So for instance, you might actually create at your company a one to apply for leave chat bot, go out and say, "Hey, how do you apply for leave?"

Chuck Sterling (00:23:17): Then it goes out and gives them one link. And what you do is you look at the topics and you say, "Hey, wait a minute, they're actually asking things about babysitting or they're asking about new computers, let's add those topics." Now, you're actually learning from what the topics were and they're adding that value. But the UI for them actually still stays a natural language interaction, where they went out and asked a question, "Hey, Rob, how do I get a new laptop based on the company budget?" And then pretty soon you see the next question is, how do I do my gasoline expenses?

Chuck Sterling (00:23:51): For you, you don't have to actually rewrite a new screen, you don't have to code new buttons, you just add a new topic.

Rob Collie (00:23:56): I see. That's cool. So is there always a chat bot front end? Is that consistent?

Chuck Sterling (00:24:01): Yeah. That is actually what they're delivering. Let's talk about it at a philosophical level right now is that typing is certainly one medium that people interact with. And I don't know that we've done announcements in other spaces, but let's imagine if you will, how else might I interact with this? I think, what are we doing right now? We're not typing, we are doing what?

Rob Collie (00:24:20): We're talking, we're speaking, conversing.

Chuck Sterling (00:24:22): We're talking, we are conversing. So it seems like if you actually have the intelligence in the back end to go out and parse words and then go out and give responses, that's the next logical progression. So you can go out, and I'm not here to do disclosure, I'm not here to do announcements, but there's natural evolution in that space.

Rob Collie (00:24:42): Yeah. We don't want you to disclose any secrets here today, but can you tell us some secrets?

Chuck Sterling (00:24:46): Yeah, absolutely. How would you like me to break into jail? How would you like to chat-retire today?

Rob Collie (00:24:54): We don't want that.

Chuck Sterling (00:24:55): I actually I've been downloading cool feature that you guys would be very interested in, and I got blessing from the Power BI team to actually go out and demo this is that, you've probably seen my demo where I go out and put a Power app and set a Power BI report so you could go out and update your underlying data set or add your data. You've probably seen that. Now, what I just started demoing this week for the first time, and these aren't builds that are available yet, this is actually still pretty rough, is that if I order to go out and add that Power app inside of a Power BI report, I'm actually generally pushing or editing one record. Just the one I'm looking at or the one I want to update, or the one I want to add.

Chuck Sterling (00:25:37): Now, there's lots of use cases where your guys' company, maybe you guys have actually decided that these customers need a discount or these customers you're going to go out and defer their billing for whatever reason and you want to email all of them and oh, maybe they're just delinquent and you want to email all of them and say, "Hey, could you actually just pay your bill." Having a Power app that you go out and click on the button says, "Send email, send email is not the best solution for that." So what we're actually doing is giving a new type of button inside of Power BI that lets you call one of those flows from Power Automate, passing in the entire dataset, and then letting you iterate through like a whole bunch of garage door openers had just been clicked, turn on stove at this guy's house, turn on stove at that guy's house and do whatever the right steps were.

Rob Collie (00:26:20): Sounds like Obi-Wan Kenobi quotes. I just had this vision of millions of garage doors all closing at once and then suddenly going silent. There you go. The ultimate power in the universe, that one button

Chuck Sterling (00:26:35): That's where I met you is actually the dark force of data analytics. What was the name of that title? That's actually the first time I ever saw you present?

Rob Collie (00:26:44): The Data Insights Conference?

Chuck Sterling (00:26:46): Yes, but it was actually titled like the dark force of-

Rob Collie (00:26:49): Oh, right, The Dark Matter. The Dark Matter for BI Project.

Chuck Sterling (00:26:52): The Dark Matter. Thank you.

Rob Collie (00:26:53): The Dark Matter for BI Project is The Communication.

Chuck Sterling (00:26:55): And you had lots of Star Wars references and the dark matter presentation.

Rob Collie (00:26:58): Oh yeah. Those jokes always only like land with like 30% of the crowd. It's like, "I'm at a data conference." The right room?

Chuck Sterling (00:27:11): Is this my cab, hello?

Rob Collie (00:27:13): That's right. Some of the things you were saying about the success that Power BI had on behalf of the citizen developer, and you've seen my trap that I lay for people in my presentations where I ask them what the number one programming language, most popular programming language in the world is, and everyone guesses Java and all of that. And eventually I spring it on them that it's Excel formulas. They pass the test of, they are programming language, they're just hiding in plain sight.

Chuck Sterling (00:27:39): Number one BI feature all applications have is?

Rob Collie (00:27:42): Export to Excel.

Chuck Sterling (00:27:43): Export to Excel. That's right.

Rob Collie (00:27:46): It's actually like any application that has anything to do with data. That's the button that gets worn out. The label gets worn off over time here, so much erosion.

Chuck Sterling (00:27:53): I was almost able to not use Omniture because they move that button. It's like, "Oh, oh, what happened here? Oh, oh."

Rob Collie (00:27:59): We just had Bill Jelen, MrExcel on. And I've known this guy for a long time, we've been business partners for a long time and friends for a long time. And even I didn't know that he started his career as an export to spreadsheet guy making reports out of the expensive six-figure reporting system that didn't do what it was supposed to do. And he was exporting to Lotus.

Thomas LaRock (00:28:23): He was Mister Lotus 1, 2, 3.

Rob Collie (00:28:24): Yeah. He was only like three years into Excel when he launched his site. It was really fascinating. But I think of Bill as an accounting guy almost, and that is where he worked, but he was a BI backstop. He was the black market BI guy, the export to Excel, they just didn't call it Excel back then.

Chuck Sterling (00:28:43): Ken Puls has got the same background.

Rob Collie (00:28:45): Isn't that crazy?

Chuck Sterling (00:28:46): Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:28:46): And Ken is a developer's developer.

Chuck Sterling (00:28:50): He's become one.

Rob Collie (00:28:52): Yeah. He is now. We have a joke at our house, if I bring like a new device home or something like that, I got this new heater for our garage and it's a beast. And I look at my kids and my wife and I say, "Hey you know what I found this on?" And they all know, they look back at me and they said, "Did you find that on the not effing around aisle at the store?" Well, Ken's parents found him on the not effing around aisle. He's in our gun sites for a future recording.

Chuck Sterling (00:29:21): You have to bring him in.

Rob Collie (00:29:22): I can describe the way that I observe Microsoft in two different stories, it depends upon who I'm talking to, which story I'll use. So I'll tell you both of them. One version of this story is that I try not to be tainted or confused by the information that Microsoft produces or that other people in the community. I just try to like filter all that out and look at like, watch what the person's chest is doing because that's where they're headed, all those pump fakes with the head and the hands and everything. They can fool you with that, but if you look at their chest, that doesn't lie. So I watch Microsoft that way.

Chuck Sterling (00:29:55): How do you get that signal? It's great to say that, but how do you get that signal? I'm genuinely curious because I've been looking for that, I've only been working here for what, 28 years. I'm still looking for, how do you focus on the chest?

Rob Collie (00:30:06): You know this, I don't have anything that's going to light you up, but always watch what they do and not what they say. The mouth is easy. For example, you don't have to confirm or deny any of this, but I was laughing my head off the whole time years ago when Microsoft was saying, "We're not deprecating MDX, we're not moving on. We're not moving on from multidimensional. No, no, no." But then you go and you look and you see all the stuff that they were doing wasn't supporting it. And I'm like, "See, they haven't pulled the plug on it. It's still a good product, it's still doing things for people. It's just that investment in it has stopped."

Rob Collie (00:30:45): And so that's all that really matters the end game action. Of course, the other way to describe this perspective is like I'm lazy or I'm not out there consuming all this information all the time. It's like a slow cooked meal, I don't come up with observations about what's going on with any pace or any frequency, but as the slow picture starts to evolve, the way you described it as exactly what I've been conjecturing is going on is that we look, we went and we did for all that modeling and for ETL, we came up with citizen developer Excel crowd focus technologies that bring a lot of that industrial strength power of the traditional world, the traditional IT world to these people.

Rob Collie (00:31:31): And it has been such a smashing success, I completely agree. Once I saw what it looked like, I bet my future career on it, I went all in. So to see Microsoft now going, "Well, that was a good trick. What else can we do that trick with?" I have been thinking that that's the game, but one particular thing I want to get into with you as a central figure in the Power platform world is this thing that we talked about with Lori, the Gartner VP that we had on a few weeks back, this is another part of me reading the external tea leaves of what's going on at Microsoft. I'm going to name drop.

Rob Collie (00:32:08): I have bounced this off of James Phillips in email. He listened to that one section of the podcast and gave the thumbs up like, "Yeah, that's what we're doing." I felt very validated at that moment. But all these things are interrelated. It's not just that there's areas, they're domains that a citizen developer population can colonize, that's a theme that unites them for sure, but these things aren't in their own worlds. They actually interact and overlap with one another quite a bit. And that I think is unrecognized genius of what you all are up to.

Rob Collie (00:32:40): Again, as a like a practiced observer of Microsoft, I'm looking around, I'm looking at Microsoft, then I look over at their competitors, then I look back at Microsoft, I look back at their competitors and I stay looking at their competitors and I go, "Oh, you're in trouble. Microsoft has got mate-in-five," to you use a chess metaphor. It's like, it hasn't happened yet, but it's coming.

Chuck Sterling (00:33:07): Yeah. As you mentioned, it lives in a continuum. That's actually the where we're actually now not refocusing, but additionally are adding into our repertoire of offerings. If you go out and take a look at our old Power BI messaging, it's about self-service, self-service, self-service, citizen developer, you could be your own data analysts and these were very Excel focused. And if you go out and take a look at the chest now, to use your metaphor, I like that metaphor by the way, where's that chest looking at? What are the new features that we're delivering? And it's actually going back to that enterprise integration. How do I actually put it back into the hands of our traditional VBAs?

Chuck Sterling (00:33:45): What am I talking about? I'm talking about well, premium capacity, I'm talking about data flows. All the Power query stuff that you did, now I can actually hand them as an end point, or I'm just going to start pumping it back into your analysis cube or your data lake. So Power BI is actually now got this whole grow-up story called enterprise BI as part of that self-service and Power Apps has picked up exact same charter in the last semester where we're actually really focusing on, how do we not just make the maker successful, but have a grub story where we can hand it off to the development team?

Chuck Sterling (00:34:20): So go out and look at the big announcements that we've actually made this month was, "Hey, inside of your Power Automate flow, you can actually now do check-ins to get hub and to create new repositories." That's clearly not a maker story, but that was actually a big feature. The other biggest feature that we had last month was the ability to go out and use visual studio code to parse your applications. Those are not maker features. What they are is makers have got it to the line it now works, how do I hand it out to my operations to operationalize it and make sure that it actually does safe and accessible in all the right ticks now that it actually has all the domain knowledge?

Chuck Sterling (00:35:00): So you're definitely calling it correct in that. Yes, we want to enable those people, but we want to enable a grub story as well. So there's where our chest is pointing, I think, at least looking at my dev team.

Rob Collie (00:35:12): Yeah. You look around and you see the absolute top end monster experts from the previous MDX world, and they're happily slinging DAX on a daily basis now. These are people who would be Olympic gold medal contenders if all that data modeling were an Olympic sport. And we're teaching that same language to the citizen developer, to the Excel crowd. I guess it's really, really cool. Whether you're the citizen developer turns into Marco Russo or Alberto Ferrari someday, it doesn't matter, every now and then one of them does. But the important thing is that language doesn't have to be rewritten or re-understood or re-imagined if it experiences a grow-up transition.

Rob Collie (00:35:59): And that's a really big deal. When I was on the Excel team and we would visit Wall Street, one of the things we would get every single trip we go out there, we'll get the same request, which was, "Have you guys got something that will take an Excel spreadsheet and like convert it to C or C# or C++?"

Chuck Sterling (00:36:18): Repeat after me, Excel is not a database.

Rob Collie (00:36:22): That's right. So what they were doing was they were hiring all of these the quants, the stats people, whatever that would build these just absolutely insane Excel models, and now they want to run them on a server. So in some sense, this Excel model that had been built, you could think of it as a specification, like a very, very, very precise specification for an enterprise app. You'd think that'd be a gift like, "Hey, you can even test it. You got edge cases, go back to the original and ask it what it does," all that kind of stuff. And yet the innards of that thing are so complicated and written in a language that is completely foreign to IT that is a non-starter to convert this thing.

Rob Collie (00:37:09): And so that's why that thing kept coming up. And so that example looms over my head every time I'm thinking about DAX and its grow-up story, it's not a rewrite. Maybe there's some formulas that IT looks at and goes, "Oh, we can make that more efficient," or something like that.

Chuck Sterling (00:37:23): It's a tuning process, it's not a recreation. Absolutely.

Rob Collie (00:37:27): That's also following those same responsible paths. So the underlying you get really down closer to the metal, whatever codes being really built behind the scenes, it's enterprise grade.

Chuck Sterling (00:37:39): That's right. One of our primary missions is called development is a team sport. And it's actually to make sure and enable those fusion teams across larger enterprises grow these applications up. They're not the access to of yesteryear that people will have to go out and fare out, you know the challenges that Access to credit and that they were just get pocketed away and solve problems, but they didn't have a way of actually growing up into a big story.

Rob Collie (00:38:06): You mentioned access, I have to ask you, have you crossed paths ever with Howie Dickerman?

Chuck Sterling (00:38:11): I have, yeah. I interacted with them quite a bit when I was in the Power BI team. And matter of fact, he's delivering for Ken Puls at the Vancouver User Group this month. So yeah.

Rob Collie (00:38:21): Oh, that's fantastic. Part of me imagines that the universe wouldn't be able tolerate the two of you in the same room. There's like too much directness in one place and an obsession with fishing and boats at the same time, I just imagined the two of you hanging out all the time.

Chuck Sterling (00:38:39): Separate buildings and I guess not enough overlap business-wise. I know what he does. I track him and I've actually gone out and praised him in some of my events, but as far as being in the same room, I don't know if that's ever happened.

Rob Collie (00:38:55): Well, let's not take that chance, okay?

Chuck Sterling (00:38:56): Yeah, yeah, of course. That's crossing the streams in Ghostbusters. That's not fair.

Rob Collie (00:38:59): That's right. Did you know that he had like this completely, when he was working on the Excel team, he had this landing craft, it's like all aluminum landing craft boat built just for him, and he had a business called Illuminator because it was an aluminum boat? He was like towing boats in distress out in the San Juan Islands and running fairies of motorcycles and stuff over to the islands and everything, just seems like-

Chuck Sterling (00:39:23): We probably hang out in different financial circles. My boats tend to come in boxes that say Revell on them.

Rob Collie (00:39:33): Yeah, he's a long timer, he's been at Microsoft a very long time.

Chuck Sterling (00:39:37): I have two, but my first stock option was zero, and I don't know if you'd multiply zero by a whole bunch of numbers, Tom, you got to help me out with the math, it gets complicated for a marine biologist, it's still not a real big number.

Thomas LaRock (00:39:48): So it's a lot of zeros after a number, are you talking just zero?

Chuck Sterling (00:39:52): Yeah. It was a whole number. It was an ant of zero.

Rob Collie (00:39:57): You know what they say, zero here, zero there, sooner or later, it adds up to real nothing.

Chuck Sterling (00:40:05): My last boat cost $100, and the one before that I bought for a dollar. I'm certainly Craigslist aficionado, apparently.

Rob Collie (00:40:14): I think he even sold as his custom boat that was like the most exciting thing that ever happened to him at the time. He was like, "Ah, I got rid of it."

Chuck Sterling (00:40:20): Yeah. And that's the old joke, because one of the two most exciting time in a man's life is the day he buys a boat, and then of course the day he sells the boat.

Rob Collie (00:40:28): True. True. Well, he's had both. He's gone full cycle. So can we talk about Power Apps licensing?

Chuck Sterling (00:40:35): I'm not a licensing person, but sure, absolutely.

Rob Collie (00:40:37): Neither am I, really. Microsoft software licensing is famously byzantine and there are people who actually identify as professionals that all they do is navigate Microsoft licensing. We need Power Microsoft licensing. That's the next citizen developer frontier.

Chuck Sterling (00:40:54): We need licensing MVPs to get by those guys capes.

Thomas LaRock (00:40:57): I think they're called lawyers.

Rob Collie (00:40:58): Power of blockchain, that's a good idea, but I'd push it down the stack one notch, get the Power licensing in there. I've only got a vague sense of this. I'm far enough removed from the actual tech implementations these days. I don't tend to personally and run up against the actual licensing obstacles and things like that. But one of the things that struck me is I've now heard from a few different people who are reasonably significant paying customers of things like Power BI, who can't use Power Apps because there isn't a breaking point for them that's smooth in terms of the pricing.

Rob Collie (00:41:39): That might even be old stories at this point. All of those people might've found solutions by now, there might've been even changes. Is there anything going on there that has addressed that? Are you even familiar with what I'm talking about?

Chuck Sterling (00:41:52): Yeah, yeah. I'm, again, not a licensing person, but let's recap what some of our peers have done and that we're being compared to, because that's actually important. Power BI and SQL Server, you go out and buy an instance sort of thing. I'm talking about premium here. And I then go out and dole it out as much as I bought. So if I bought a Greyhound bus worth, I could go out and put a Greyhound bus worth of people. Or actually, I can put a lot more than a Greyhound bus worth people, I just hope to God they never try to get all on the bus at the same time. So that's actually a capacity model.

Chuck Sterling (00:42:26): And again, it's something that we're familiar with, we're accustomed to, and I think we've actually trained our customers to do that. Power Apps has gone much more like what your team has done when they went into the cloud, and they have a per user license. So if you want to use Excel as Rob Collie, you get an Excel license. For Power Apps, we actually have a per user license. So if you want to use Power Apps, I can actually go ahead and license it for me, Chuck, and Tom and Luke, we could actually go out and get them a Power Apps license, just like Excel.

Chuck Sterling (00:42:59): What's happening is, those companies are going out and saying, "Well, hang on, that's more than me being able to put the entire state of Michigan on this bus for the cost of just one bus. Yeah, I should have bought 20 buses, but they're never all there at the same time, and I'll go ahead and take the hit when they are." So what we've also done is we've actually added this notion of licensing an application. I can actually have people at the application get registered. And again, people are going out and try to compare it to a SQL server capacity, or if you translate it to an Excel or a Word or a E3, E5, then it actually makes a little bit more sense.

Chuck Sterling (00:43:43): Where it gets challenging for me, and you've seen my demos, you actually see that I actually often have turducken. You're smiling so you know what I'm talking about. I often have turducken where I go out and I'll start my journey with Excel, and that's an E3, E5, and then I'll actually go into Power BI, and that's now a Power BI user or a premium. And then I use Power Apps, and now I'm in Power Apps. And I use Power Automate and I use a lot of it, and there's a capacity for that. And then I actually go out and show AI builder to do sentiment analysis. Or actually, what's the one I've been using? Classification. I'll use data classification. That's actually the one that excites me a lot right now

Chuck Sterling (00:44:21): And that is yet an additional license. And if I'm counting them right, I think I'm up to five, and I didn't try very hard. And I haven't got a PVA chatbot on there. Because you often decide, I want to build it to answer questions on, "Hey, how does this application work? Or what does this acronym mean?" Or whatever the case is. And that's a sixth license. I've been talking with Charles Ramona in my organization, and he understands that there's a problem. And what he is actually got his business people doing is going, do we go back into an Azure sort of paradigm or does he actually go and follow suit with maybe suite of Office?

Chuck Sterling (00:45:01): And they're looking at both. They want to actually talk to the customers and actually deliver the needs, but there are too many licenses, it is too complicated, especially when you do the turducken marriage. I don't think anybody's going to be confused at, what is this feedback you're getting, Rob? I hear on a regular basis, and I think it's when people start going out and compairing Power Apps to a SQL server at $10 a month for everybody I can possibly add onto it.

Rob Collie (00:45:28): Yeah. I'm sympathetic with this, again, as a former insider. People outside the company, it's hard for them to truly put themselves in the other chair and see it from the other side. First of all, the fact that there is such complaint or difficulty, first of all, you've got to take it as a compliment.

Chuck Sterling (00:45:49): Yes. They want it.

Rob Collie (00:45:51): They want it.

Chuck Sterling (00:45:52): If it was silence, then you have a much bigger problem.

Rob Collie (00:45:55): That's right. That's right. So, by advancing to this stage of griping about it, we're already saying, "Hey, this is hot. We really like this. And it's a shame that there are these odd pricing inflection points or cliffs that you've.... " Sometimes it's not even just the money, sometimes it's the people who need it aren't the ones that negotiate the deal with Microsoft, and so there's a political problem. They've got to go get someone's attention at their company and say, "Listen, we need you to go buy this for us." And they're like, "Nah, I feel pretty non-helpful today." There's a lot of silos and things like that that end up standing in the way.

Chuck Sterling (00:46:33): At your company, how many times do you work with the marketing division and they're like, "We're in. We're willing to write the check. It's done." And they're like, "Ah, you need to talk to your tenant administrator and hand them the check so they can actually go out and spin it up." And they're like, "Oh, that gets hard. That gets hard. There's no check big enough to make those guys do what I want."

Rob Collie (00:46:54): Yeah. In the early days of the Power BI cloud service, it felt like an act of God to get someone to go add the DNS records to light up Power BI for that domain.

Chuck Sterling (00:47:04): You know what's funny, is one of my most read blog posts when I had to move from MSDN to my personal blog is buying an Azure Power BI Embedded skew. Not because they wanted to do embedding, but rather these are internal people where that were buying it to actually get premium capacities because we can't. We could not inside of Microsoft get the tenant administrator to actually back bill it to a particular business group. So I look at all this traffic and I get all these questions, and they're all with Matter of fact, I got another one last night.

Chuck Sterling (00:47:36): And this blog post is like four years old. They're like, "Hey, in this picture of your Azure tenant, how do I actually go ahead and add my Power BI apps?" Again, it's just because it enables all of those features, but using an Azure subscription model, which of course anybody with a credit card can spin up.

Rob Collie (00:47:56): Yeah. It's so funny how like just internal bureaucracy, even if there is an outright opposition to something, the amount of inertia, it's just like, "No, we give up."

Chuck Sterling (00:48:11): My wife works at SAP, and between the two of us, we have some interesting pillow talk about who had the hardest time to get the simplest thing done. I want to say it's a push. I was going to say, I think she may win having a little bit more, she come in from the concur side of the business and they're actually, we're doing things a little bit more streamlined. They're now SAP, SAP, so I think it's a push now, but yeah, it's funny.

Rob Collie (00:48:40): There's no project more unending than an SAP implementation. The old BI projects, the traditional BI projects that I like to make fun of, and they're not really old, they're still happening, unfortunately. The world has recognized the new way is better, but that doesn't mean that they're doing the new way exclusively. I still think the old way, we've got some work to do. Even those old traditional BI projects, those things seem fast compared to an SAP rollout. There's The Dutch House saying about soccer. Of course, it gets lost in translation and then Rob retells it and it's even worse.

Rob Collie (00:49:20): It's something like, "Soccer is a beautiful game that goes on for 90 minutes, and in the end, the Germans win." And I saw someone skew riff on that years ago and said, "ERP is an implementation that goes on for years and years, and in the end, the Germans win."

Chuck Sterling (00:49:37): Yeah. Pretty appropriate, actually.

Rob Collie (00:49:40): Who knows whether that applies to internal operation of the actual software company. It's tempting for me to theorize that their internal workings mirror what their projects feel like, but that's probably not true.

Chuck Sterling (00:49:52): I guess I could probably go out and posturize a big, company's a big company's a big company. I don't know if there's a whole lot that actually get to act as startups after certain size.

Rob Collie (00:50:01): Yeah. One of the first things that Bill John and I bonded over was all of his perfectly rational conspiracy theories about like why Microsoft did something X, Y, Z. And my answer was always, Nope, nope, just stupid big company politics," or just stupid big company bureaucracy, not even politics. And it was like my answer to everything like, "No, there's a really dumb, stupid reason for all of this."

Chuck Sterling (00:50:23): Never apply malice where ignorance is just as easy to explain. I think it's the Occam's razor of industry.

Rob Collie (00:50:30): Yeah. And it doesn't matter how smart the people are that you comprise the big organization of, every organization's got different incentives, and so they all end up pulling in different directions and the rest is predictable.

Thomas LaRock (00:50:43): So you guys actually have met?

Chuck Sterling (00:50:45): Yes. I don't know if Charles remembers or not, but you guys came up and did a bootcamp at the Commons. Is that where we met, Tom?

Thomas LaRock (00:50:56): No, you came down and did the keynote at SQL Live in Orlando for me Andrew Brust, that's where you and I first met.

Chuck Sterling (00:51:02): Got it. And actually, I was just starting to play with Power Apps at that point, so I snuck over... You had a parallel track, and I was actually hanging out over there as much. And what we did, and I regret to this day, I think, was we went out and used buttons in Power BI and recreated all of PowerPoint. So everything that we showed was a Power BI page and we actually navigated everything, including the animations, using Power BI buttons. And then what I also did, and it's actually probably the coolest demo. So the demo I wish I did more of was, how do you go out and talk about the cost of performance? This is actually really cool.

Chuck Sterling (00:51:42): So if your website, Rob, is five seconds slower, how much does that cost? And it turns out what I was able to do is I actually grabbed the application insight data off of a real website, it was actually use some, and you know Mike Carlo and Seth Bauer, I don't know if the you know boys up in Wisconsin. And did a little bit of modeling in saying, they sell ads, and by having a page render a little bit faster, they're able to sell this many more ads. And then what I was able to do is grab the pricing dynamically using M from the Azure pricing page, and then slide up and down the different SQL capacities to serve pages faster or slower.

Chuck Sterling (00:52:23): Because it turns out, most websites are a direct result of how fast your database actually serves the data. This isn't going to come as any surprise. The faster your database, the faster you can serve a page, but are you going to buy SSD Z series for every single page? Does it prove the price. Does it actually make it more cost effective? So using application insights, the Azure pricing, and a little bit of modeling, I was able to go out and say, "Hey, if we slide it to the G series of Azure SQL capacity, this is actually how much we're getting and this is actually how much we're losing in terms of pricing.

Chuck Sterling (00:52:58): And that was actually the demo that we did, and I was able to actually show that with real websites, real pricing, and a little bit of modeling on their ads that they were selling. And of course, the easier thing would be to do on a real website would be, how often are they clicking on buy or seek engagement or whatever the case is for your business rather than selling ads. But the model is actually no more complicated. Does that make sense?

Thomas LaRock (00:53:25): Yeah, I was there, so it makes sense.

Chuck Sterling (00:53:27): No, I was asking, Rob. I don't know that I've ever seen a demo that goes out and shows the cost of performance or the value of performance.

Rob Collie (00:53:36): That's really neat. It's almost like using solver. It's an optimization problem? Where's the peak, the relative maximum?

Chuck Sterling (00:53:45): It's right. And I had different pages, and they obviously had different loads, and I could actually go out and start factoring that across into different instances. So we could actually go out and use your solver metaphor to say, "If I take these three pages and put it on this instance, I then actually can go out and save the company a lot of money because they're easy to solve, their static," or whatever the case is. So yeah, that's exactly what it was. And I showed it using all of these tools. My application of sites in Azure is really isn't, but I think it is actually well within the realm of people that implement telemetry on their application. And I could have probably used Google Analytics as well.

Thomas LaRock (00:54:23): So what I'm waiting for is the cost of a query. And I don't know why we don't have it yet because I know all that data exists inside of SQL database, especially depending upon the cost model with like DTUs. So the idea is you should be able to look at your bill. And right now, I can look at the bill and it can tell me how much that SQL database costs me for the month. But I'm like, "No, no, break it down. What were my top 10 expensive queries, dollars?" Because then you could look and you can optimize for costs and say, "Hey, I don't need to run that query 1,000 times, I just need to run it once, store it in cache somewhere and serve it up that way." And I don't know why we don't have that yet. I really don't.

Chuck Sterling (00:55:02): Azure monitoring doesn't show me SQL queries.

Thomas LaRock (00:55:05): But it could.

Chuck Sterling (00:55:05): It could, I'm just saying that if I had Azure monitoring wired up, we could do that right now today, I wouldn't even need the bill for that.

Thomas LaRock (00:55:12): In SQL database, of course, there's the query store. It's just a blending of two data sets, that's all it is. You're Microsoft, you have all the data.

Rob Collie (00:55:22): Unite the clans. Unite us.

Chuck Sterling (00:55:24): And you can save somebody, I don't want to throw any names out, but some of the big players, you can probably save them millions of dollars by going... Seems like there's might be some smart data guys, entrepreneurs that are looking for that next chapter. Anyways.

Rob Collie (00:55:40): I don't know what you're talking about there.

Chuck Sterling (00:55:42): I have no idea what we're talking about.

Rob Collie (00:55:43): Yeah. And these citizen developers that you're talking about, these Excel people who are really good at spreadsheets, it's a pleasant fiction, isn't it?

Thomas LaRock (00:55:51): I'm just a data janitor, I don't know much.

Rob Collie (00:55:55): On the personal front. How did you go from being the marine biologist out in the, what, Bering Sea?

Chuck Sterling (00:56:01): Yeah, like I said, super, super as easy. If you are in Seattle with a life science degree, literally there's only two places you're going to get a job.

Rob Collie (00:56:09): Well, wait, wait, wait. One of them apparently was on a boat in the Bering Sea. So we're already at three. You decided you did didn't want to be out in the Bering Sea anymore? How did that even just personally-

Chuck Sterling (00:56:21): So Oregon State University, I have a marine biology degree. I've got this sheepskin... And what is interesting is that while I was getting this degree at Oregon State, I was actually running a saw mill at a Douglas County Forest Products. It's now warehouser mill. So I was running a saw at night to pay for my college. I was pulling down $65,000 a year at that point. I was driving a 280Z, I had ski boat, and going to college. I wasn't sleeping a whole lot, but I'd given up on that for the most part. And then I get this degree and I'm like, "I'm going to make some real money now. I'm big time." And I went out and the best job I could find was working for National Marine and Fisheries, part of NOAA, at 100 bucks a day. So I dropped down to $36,000 a year from 65.

Chuck Sterling (00:57:05): So I basically halved my salary, and now I'm on a steel can with a whole bunch of people I really didn't want to get to know, 30, 40 days straight, back to back to back. And by the time you got off that boat, you were almost damaged goods, you weren't the same person as when you got on that boat. So I'm like, "Okay, this isn't working out. We need to do something different than this." So I'm like, "Okay, where can I take Chuck's degree in the Pacific Northwest?" And I looked at the help wanted daily, and the big money at that point was Oracle DBAs, they were just killing it. I'm like, "How do I get to do that?" It's like, "Clearly, I need to figure out this software."

Chuck Sterling (00:57:46): The reason my degree is a marine biology and not oceanography, Rob, is because the marine biology degree did not require a single computer class. Oceanography required one computer class, that's why I don't have an oceanography... So that's worked out well for me. And now I'm looking at, "Okay, I've got to get in the software industry. Where do I do that? Hey, there's this Micro Serve thing in Seattle, I'm going to go apply there." So I go from 65 to 36,000, and they offer me my first job supporting at Excel at about half of my NOAA job. I'm pretty certain that if I had actually got a job where I was asking, "Do you want fries with that?" I would've been making more at my first Microsoft job with how many stock options, Tom?

Thomas LaRock (00:58:31): I believe there was zero options.

Chuck Sterling (00:58:33): Zero, yes. So if you ever called Excel support during the Excel 3.0 days, you probably spoke with me or David Ferguson or Kat McFarland, almost positively.

Rob Collie (00:58:44): Whoa, whoa, David Ferguson, who ended up writing setup scripts for the configuration management team in Office?

Chuck Sterling (00:58:50): Yeah, absolutely. And he did a startup. Actually, it was called [inaudible 00:58:54] and actually did voice stuff. Yeah, those were my peeps. I hung out for two years there. And the whole time I was like, "Clearly, I'm not a Microsoft good fit. This is not a long term thing for me. So how do I actually find that Oracle DBA job?" So what I did was I actually started studying at night. I volunteered for the night job at Excel, and I started studying something called Lightning. You're going to laugh because he knows that that's Access, is what that lightning turned into. And I go in and apply for the job after studying this to actually leave, to go out and be an Oracle DBA and this Access team after eight grueling hours; you need to do a podcast on just the interview process at Microsoft, grueling hours, said, "You're not a good team fit. You don't have the intellectual horsepower. We're not even certain about your hygiene aspects, but"-

Rob Collie (00:59:46): Well, that's saying a lot. I know what the access team looked like back in that day.

Chuck Sterling (00:59:50): Yes, "But you passed the breath test and the stack is you. We're down to you. So how would you like to join the team?" I'm like, "Yes. Now, I can go out and get that Oracle job I've been dreaming about," after I learned Lightning, because I still didn't have a name. So I joined the support team and my manager, Connie Sullivan is actually who it was, she sits me down and says, "Hey Chuck, I know that we hired you into the lightning team, welcome to the team. It turns out, we actually just bought this other product nobody else wants to support it and since you are the low man in the totem pole, you get to figure out how to support this."

Chuck Sterling (01:00:26): And they handed me a white box with a purple fox face on it, and it said Fox Base, I think, or FoxPro one." And they're like, you're the FoxPro guy. You're that person, nobody else wants to do it." So hired to the Access team supporting FoxPro? So I got to continue the story because it's actually fun is that I'm looking at the whole part, so I'm like, "Okay, it looks like the C++ developers, actually just seed developers are making more money than the Oracle developers. I got to get rid of this Microsoft thing. This isn't a good fit for me. They're going to figure me out."

Chuck Sterling (01:01:02): It's not even an imposter syndrome, it's help wanted poster syndrome, "They're going to figure me out and I'm going to be on the street. So how do I go out and parlay this into a C developer job? "So what was my old play? I volunteered to work nights on the FoxPro and I started studying C and C++ and the Windows SDK. And I went out and interviewed a year later. So I did that for a year, and I interviewed for the Windows SDK, I don't know if you remember, you guys can't see my hands on the podcast, but the Windows SDK was a box about 50 pounds and it was big. It was like the size of your desk, and I applied for that team.

Chuck Sterling (01:01:42): Once again, you really don't have the skillset, you can't type in algorithms, you don't know how to do bubble sorts and honoring and trance algorithms, your coding skills are shocking. Again, personal hygiene stuff aside, you're not a good team fit, but nobody else interviewed, welcome to the team. So I joined the team excited that I'm going to learn development to actually go out and get a development job in the real world where I'm going to pull down the big dollars. And [inaudible 01:02:12] sits me down, I think it was and says, "Hey Chuck, welcome to the team. I got some news is that the team actually just acquired another piece of technology, nobody else wants to do it, nobody else. We don't understand it, you're it."

Chuck Sterling (01:02:24): And they had me this product called Visual Basic. I was the Visual Basic guy that. I did that, and once again, I'm like, "Ooh, this stuff's hard. It's not easy at all and I don't know if that I wanted hard. That was not what I signed up for. What was the path before? Oracle. Let's get back to that game." We had just licensed Sybase, it's like, "Oh my God, SQL Server is just like Oracle. Let's get back to that Oracle path, I'll make that money, I'll be out of here. I'll be done." Volunteered to support FoxPro at night and I started learning tuples and attributes and COD stuff and Sybase SQL Server and applied for the SQL Server team.

Chuck Sterling (01:03:05): And couple things worked against me here. A, when I volunteered to work at nights, I didn't know that I was going to be supporting every development feature at Microsoft. So I wasn't just supporting Windows SDK, Visual Basic, and C++, everything that had in SDK is what I did. So that was a tough job technically and challenging and fun. And I went out and interviewed for the brand new SQL Server team. Sean Abby was running that, great guy, and he asked me probably one of the scariest questions I've ever been asked for in an interview at Microsoft.

Chuck Sterling (01:03:36): And if you guys ever hear a question like this, my suggestion is actually go out and say you need to use a restroom, leave. Just don't come back to that table.

Rob Collie (01:03:46): Like that scene in Fargo, where William H. Macy just excuse himself and he goes driving by and he's fleeing the interview.

Chuck Sterling (01:03:56): Yes, do that. So the question was, "Hey Chuck, after you joined the team, did you want a mountain view or a lake view? And you can actually choose any computer you want and we give you your own pager." So the part after you join the team, if you hear those words as the first question out of your interviewer's mouth, that's not a team that you want to be on. It turns out that the SQL Server team at that point were getting more server downs and escalations in a week than the rest of all support was in a month. And again, we had just it in from Sybase, so I can probably get by a little bit.

Chuck Sterling (01:04:35): We were learning, it was new and it was what it was. And so they desperately needed escalation engineers. And it got to the point, one of my greatest skill sets was figuring out a DBCC command that would run longer than my shift was. Did I say that out loud? I need you to figure out a DB SYS indexes, SYSCONSTRAINTS and... This 15 minutes short. Oh, and SYS calls. Go ahead and get those and do a validation check of your data. Give me a call back at this number when we validated the data that is actually back in good shape.

Rob Collie (01:05:12): Man, there's so many people that I know where part of those stories as you told them. Like this tour, 11 times I wanted to jump in and say, "Oh, did you know this person? That person?" You probably did. It's a heck of a tour.

Chuck Sterling (01:05:29): Yeah. We have such a French movie similar paths. I can can't believe that we haven't intersected, but then again, I was in Lincoln Plaza, you were on campus, so I rarely got up to campus and all of us were in Lincoln Plaza.

Rob Collie (01:05:41): My similar stories I interviewed as an afterthought, I was so set on going to work for Andersen Consulting, now Accenture, and Microsoft had a bad reputation on campus back in the '90s. They were the evil empire.

Chuck Sterling (01:05:56): Well deserved.

Rob Collie (01:06:00): Microsoft really, really grew into that reputation with the antitrust trial the way that was conducted, we were just sitting around going, it's like that Key & Peele or whatever that skid is, like, "Are we the bad guys? We have skulls on our uniforms. Are we the bad guys?"

Chuck Sterling (01:06:16): Did you have to do any Bill reviews?

Rob Collie (01:06:19): No.

Chuck Sterling (01:06:19): I was going to say, I don't think there was a lot of questions, are we the bad guys? Some of those were... There was no, how do you feed kittens and how's the homeless back then. It's different Microsoft now, it's much warmer and friendlier. And literally the conversations are, how do you make sure and service the customers first?

Rob Collie (01:06:34): I am very deeply suspicious of this smiling Bill Gates that we see in public these days. I'm like, "What are you really up to Bill?"

Chuck Sterling (01:06:50): And what Rob's talking about for you guys on the podcast is Bill has a very different vernacular of words he uses enclosed doors. Let's leave it at that. Great guys, still smart, wicked smart, different set of words with different number of silvers.

Rob Collie (01:07:05): I'm going to go as far to say that it goes beyond that as well and it's like what I see in public, I wonder like, "This is a cloaking device, right?

Chuck Sterling (01:07:20): It's been great changes though for everybody. The fact that we actually start thinking about all those things, so chops to build.

Rob Collie (01:07:26): Yeah. I think everything finds its way. Like so many people that have been on this show, this is still a pretty young show, we haven't had 30 episodes yet. So many people, I'm not picking people, we're not picking people to come on the show because we're like, "Oh, this person's got a really random ass background." We're not looking for the eclectic back stories, we're looking for people that are interesting to talk to in the data space. And it turns out so many of you, of us, have these crazy random paths that you never would've planned it. And so there's a lesson in this, which is, it's like that whole thing, oh, it's the Mike Tyson quote or everyone's got a plan so they get punched in the mouth.

Rob Collie (01:08:07): You can plan your career, and some people can pull that off. Props to those people. I'm not trying to take anything away from them because they've got a capability that I don't. So if you're not that person though, being the flexible one, the dynamic one that can surf those waves and can seize those opportunities as they come along, and can follow that random chain, I think that's the rest of us. Some people are pedigree and can call their shot, we're the other people.

Chuck Sterling (01:08:37): I have them here, my history at Microsoft, I count myself very lucky, has been a series of buying lottery tickets and winning iterably. Again, I really do feel that every step was this crazy pseudo exit strategy that actually really did set me up to succeed the next step. I had amazing interactions with the people like you and all the teams I worked on were great, and it actually set me up to go to the next level of the thing. And right now, we're talking about, I get to play the absolute latest in cutting technology.

Chuck Sterling (01:09:08): I don't know how I got here, but I'm certainly not going to look at the gift horse in the mouth. I think I find myself very fortunate, very lucky here.

Thomas LaRock (01:09:16): But that's who you've always been. You just described yourself, something new came along and it got handed to you. I think it just gravitates to you.

Chuck Sterling (01:09:24): Yeah. Again, I want to count myself lucky, I was actually able to be in those positions at that time. I don't know how or why, but yeah, it's been cool, been a fun ride.

Rob Collie (01:09:33): It's a myth to suggest that, this isn't a myth for them, but for most people, it's a myth to suggest that you're going to be in control of your own life. Things that happen external to you are going to have tremendous impact, but it's also a myth that you're helpless. You have this middle degree of control. I'm not sure if I've told this on this show before, but I learned this really powerfully from being on a white water trip with someone who really knew what they were doing. It's true that this guy in this raft, because we're on the river and we're in a raft, it's not like we're going to be able to go overland, we're not able to paddle overland.

Rob Collie (01:10:08): So we're confined to the river, and there's that external constraint that the river's going to take you sooner or later where it wants to take you. But within that river, this guy could call his shot, "We're going to just go over there and hang out in that little pool and we're going to go over there in that little rapid, and we're going to deliberately get stuck. We're just going to sit it there." He could take us anywhere while directing a team of novices, and it was pure excellence. It was unbelievable. And there's a very close parallel to career. You were in that river, but within that river, holy hell, were you maneuverable?

Chuck Sterling (01:10:44): And to bring that back to technology, by setting yourself, by knowing how to take advantage of each situation, being able to, I may have actually had three other different skill sets I was able to do when I went from FoxPro to SQL, but the fact that I actually knew that SQL one, let me actually take advantage of that one. So the river guide one that you're talking about, the fact that he knew how to actually read a riffle, enabled him. The fact that somebody on the Excel team knew Power Query was able to read that story as far as what's the next thing and actually make it an industry. So it's enabling yourself to take advantage of a situation, I guess, is what you're saying.

Rob Collie (01:11:21): And there was something else about your story even though it was like the funniest refrain in the story. It was like, "This is going to be the way I'm getting out, I'm going to go make the big bucks," over and over again, that's like a standup routine man. There's also at the same time, there's something I think real about it. Even at our company, I'm always telling people, at least on my team, I'm telling people that they should always be thinking about their resume and what it looks like for the next job, whether that job is here or not, that is a good mindset, I want you to have that mindset.

Rob Collie (01:11:52): And so you were inadvertently always thinking about your resume for the next job. Actually deliberately not inadvertently. It was just like, this wasn't your strategy, but you could look back at it and say, "You were following that strategy for a long time and it's taken you places."

Chuck Sterling (01:12:08): And for your listeners, if they haven't read, Who Moved My Cheese? it's a requirement. You guys can't see Rob's facial expression, but he lit up, obviously he knows the book as well. I've been on teams where managers would give that to employees. And not as a signal that you need to go out and figure out the next thing, but you always need to make sure that your knife is sharp for whatever you want to do next. You need to actually create your own future. Who Moved My Cheese? is what, 70 pages, Rob? And it costs like five bucks on Amazon.

Rob Collie (01:12:32): That's smart. It's one of the only nonfiction books that's worth its length.

Chuck Sterling (01:12:37): Yeah. That whole enabling makers, I guess, having people outside of Microsoft and this podcast, thinking about how they can take advantage of it is actually fun. And I don't know what that means in some cases, and that's the fun part of this business is, what is it that... I recently saw that there are going to be more applications in the next 15 years that have ever been traded, ever. So in the history of mankind, if you take all of that code and everything that's ever been done, in the next 15 years, we're actually going to maybe even double it. I know it's a monumental shift in velocity, and 70% is going to be written by non-traditional, non-developer sort of things.

Chuck Sterling (01:13:21): And what does that look like? And I think that's the next cool thing is that it's going to be our kids on phones that are going to figure out how to solve problems that we don't know. And I see them playing with Minecraft and I see them playing with these games, and I think those are the building blocks that tomorrow that I don't understand yet.

Rob Collie (01:13:39): And when you say things like, and you hear things like 70% of them are going to be built by citizen developers, just the way the sentence is constructed, it has you thinking about just the shift in the labor. It focuses on as if the apps are going to be the same, which they're not. And that's the other half of it that I think is like the possibility is here, what we're going to see in terms of value creation and efficiency gains and things like that. It's not just that the audience is going to change, we don't know what's going to happen, we don't know what we're going to get out of it, and there's some really exciting things that are going to come from that.

Chuck Sterling (01:14:16): And that was the point I was trying to make is that we are literally in the precipice of a break new world and I'm excited to see, is it chat box? Is it smart services? I love my new Roku TV and I keep thinking, "There's got to be something here and I don't know what it is." I'm looking forward to that next thing and I'm always looking around. That's why I'm always asking kids what they're going to be when they grow up because I'm still looking for pointers.

Rob Collie (01:14:38): Well, let's circle back. Let's do this again in 18 months. A lot's going to change between now and then and you're right in the middle of that milestone.

Chuck Sterling (01:14:46): I'm looking forward to it, Rob, I'd love to. I'm honored that you'd even consider it.

Rob Collie (01:14:49): And I think this would be a really valuable one for the audience to tune into, so much appreciated, sir.

Chuck Sterling (01:14:54): Not a problem. Tom, it was a pleasure again. For some reason, I thought you came up with Rob to one of his data clinics that he did on campus, but I'm glad we figured out that it was actually in Orlando.

Thomas LaRock (01:15:05): It was in Orlando that we physically met. And of course, I see your name come through the MVP distribution list every now and then when you have to herd those cats for whatever reason.

Chuck Sterling (01:15:15): One of my truest joys in the job actually is getting to play with you cats.

Thomas LaRock (01:15:19): It's just every now and then something and goes off the rails and you get this email from Chuck. He's just like, "No, this." And it's like, "Oh, okay."

Chuck Sterling (01:15:26): One of the things that I actually plan on doing for the MVPs and you guys might think it's interesting to listen to, is so far when we actually measure KPIs, we often measure how many MVPs do I have? And the group just started measuring, it's actually CSAT, so we can figure out how happy you are. And I'm so thankful for Lana Montgomery for adding that. I have that in my review. So when you look at my review, I actually have those two numbers, but they're table stakes. You don't want unhappy MVPs and you want to have MVPs, so there's a number.

Chuck Sterling (01:15:59): What actually I'm proposing is that we start carrying numbers around how much that we can actually go out and grow your membership. So instead of actually looking at it is, "Hey Tom, what are you doing for us? How many views did you actually drive in the end of this URL? How many times did you come in and do something for us?" I'm saying, "Why don't we go out and get reports of your YouTube and your Twitter channels or whatever voice say you've got and say, 'As a result of you being my MVP, I want to see me do things that cause it to grow.'" Because of Chuck, Tom grew 20% last quarter. And that's actually literally the number that I've got in my goals.

Chuck Sterling (01:16:38): We're actually trading those reports right now, I'm going to start with Twitter and YouTube. There's this thing called LinkedIn, but whoever owns that product, Rob, I don't know who owns that, their API is really hard to use. Luke, you can cut that part out.

Thomas LaRock (01:16:54): Do not cut that out, Luke.

Chuck Sterling (01:16:57): Okay. And I'm sure the team's working on it with the due diligences that it deserves. There you go. But anyways, I thought you'd be interested that I'm actually having those conversations with Lana Montgomery and the team right now, and it actually seems to be going well. The hard part of course is the reports.

Thomas LaRock (01:17:13): Yes. As somebody who works in marketing, I understand that these are metrics that can be hard to quantify. I know one of the things for MVP that it's been hinted at, but basically, it's about who makes the cut. And sometimes the word that gets thrown around is influence, is that somebody who's seen as influential? And it's like, how do you measure that? But I like the idea of you saying, "Hey, Tom's got this many Twitter followers, can I help grow that for him in some way?"

Chuck Sterling (01:17:42): I want to unwind the last one. Yeah, they do throw around impact and influence a lot. And I keep going out and saying, "That's an our problem, that's Chuck's problem, that is not a Tom's problem." And let me explain in that if Tom were based in Indonesian and he spoke, God, I don't know what they speak in Indonesia.

Thomas LaRock (01:18:02): They speak Java, I think.

Rob Collie (01:18:03): Oh really? Object oriented or JavaScript?

Chuck Sterling (01:18:07): Anyways, if you were in a small demographic in a fringe language, your impact and your influence is actually going to be marginalized as a result of that, but your contributions and the effort that you put into actually going out and supporting us and the community could be every bit as much. And I keep actually asking my peers to think about us focusing on increasing your impact and your influence and having them awarded based on contribution effort. So if you guys are putting in 30 hours in Indonesia speaking Java or Indonesian or whatever the case is, and I get somebody that is actually in Massachusetts with a big pipe and he's able to actually work a quarter of the time and get twice as much impact and influence, is he twice as important?

Chuck Sterling (01:18:53): And in Chuck's eyes, I usually know, I would say that one's working much harder and I should probably go out and recognize the efforts of the person putting into it, not the fact that they actually have bigger lovers, because I want to go out then say, "How can I help that person with their lovers?" And it changes the dynamic quite a bit. So anyways, if you saw me go out and grab my head and sigh, it's because the impact and influence conversation is something I have all the time and it's near and dear to my heart. And you guys are so important, I want us to actually look at you the right way and making sure we focus on the right things.

Thomas LaRock (01:19:26): I appreciate that. Thank you. It's amazing to hear.

Rob Collie (01:19:29): I'm honored that you came on the show. We've really enjoyed it.

Chuck Sterling (01:19:31): Thank you very, very much. I really appreciate it.

Announcer (01:19:33): Thanks for listening to the Raw Data by P3 Podcast. Find out what the experts at P3 can do for your business. Go to Interested in becoming a guest on the show, email lukep, [email protected] Have a data day.

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