Why I am Leaving SharePoint and Why You Should Consider It Too

It’s no big secret that over the previous months, I’ve done less and less SharePoint related work. That is because I’m leaving SharePoint as a career and I’m here to tell you why.

I’d like to start, however, by saying what are not the reasons I’m leaving SharePoint.

It’s Not About SharePoint

I’ve had heated debates and flame wars with people who say that I’m leaving because SharePoint is such a shoddy product.

SharePoint is a great platform. The way it enables businesses to build solutions to give them advantages quickly is amazing. I’ve seen people build solutions in an hour that has saved businesses days or weeks of work. I’ve seen companies utilize SharePoint to see completely new business areas and make a killing over their competitors. I’ve seen and had clients send me gifts for saving employees and jobs.

So no, SharePoint isn’t a bad platform. It is an awesome platform.

It’s Not About the Community

The SharePoint community is dwindling and has been for years. I’d be tempted to blame it all on Twitter buying up Tweetdeck because after Tweetdeck was nerfed to promote the silly web client, the once vibrant Twitter conversations in the community has gone away. 

However, the community still exists. It’s far more fractured now, spanning a range of sites including, but not limited, to Twitter, Faceboook, Yammer, and various web sites and other platforms.

I once wrote that community isn’t defined by technology but by people. The SharePoint people that comprises the community are still there. They’re just a lot harder to find and it’s more difficult to keep up with what’s going on now that there are 10+ newsfeeds to follow.

It Is About the Future

SharePoint is dying, and don’t give me that “it’s not dying, it’s turning into something else” because that’s the same as saying that Michael Jackson isn’t dead, he’s just turned into daisy fertilizer.

Sure, SharePoint is turning into something else, which means that there’s a new way of solving every problem, using a new set of tools, in a completely new game. That’s fine, but it’s not SharePoint anymore.

As a SharePoint professional, you’re asked to relearn everything you know, basically taking your productive skill set back to zero and start building again. You’ve learned plenty of transferable skills, but you can also transfer those skills anywhere you want.

The new paradigm of SharePoint isn’t SharePoint anymore. It’s no longer about using technology creatively to gain a competitive advantage, it is about getting the latest commodity that everyone else has too.

Commodities can never be a competitive advantage.

So ask yourself this: You have a completely blank slate in front of you. Everything you know is wiped clean. You need to spend the next two-three years at building a new skill set.

What is it about the coming paradigm of SharePoint that makes you want to start writing “My new career as a SharePoint something” on that blank slate?

The technology certainly isn’t unique anymore. There are five dozen alternatives to virtually any part of the new SharePoint now, and even Microsoft encourages you to pull in components from varying sources when you want to build something.

Is it brand loyalty? Are you really willing to bet the next years of your future just to remain loyal to a brand that has a decade long track record of changing just as you gain any reasonable amount of proficiency? If so, you’re certifiably insane and you can stop reading right now.

It’s About Fun

The main reason I’m leaving SharePoint, however, is that it’s no longer fun. Part of the challenge of being a SharePoint developer is overcoming adversity and finding creative solutions to problems using an at times limited set of tools in innovative ways.

That was just the first step. What is utterly fascinating with SharePoint is that you can then take those skills and be incredibly valuable almost anywhere you go. Even when you’re charging your clients hundreds of dollars per hour, you still produce more value than that, at least if you know your trade.

So it’s not just a personally interesting challenge, it is a profitable one for all parties involved.

That is no longer going to be the case. SharePoint hasn’t evolved in the areas that matter so after many years, I’ve seen and solved virtually every problem there is.

When I now get a request for work, I can usually compose the solution entirely using code I’ve already built. I can take an existing taxonomy description and turn it into a fully content type enabled SharePoint structure in minutes, maybe an hour. I have so many workflow templates and have done event receivers so many times, I can probably fix your business process in a day, including writing out the training documentation.

It’s become a matter of producing rather than creating. I’ve become an assembly line worker rather than a developer. I no longer need to think and I have great fun thinking.

So, What Now?

I’m deeply fascinated by many things. I’ve already worked for a few months in the startup community both to learn and to offer insights from my experience as an investor and as an entrepreneur. Maybe I’ll pursue a career helping startups succeed.

I’ve also wanted for decades to get into game development. Over the previous months, I’ve built a platform for interactive story telling called Wizh. It’s in closed beta now and I work on it as much as I can because it brings back the fun.

Wizh is built on top of an interactive story engine called, creatively enough, ISENG, and I see huge potential in using ISENG in everything from story driven games, interactive fiction, and other entertainment areas, but also as an engine powering training, education, user experience testing, and more.

ISENG is to games and entertainment what SharePoint workflows are to business processes, to put it into language my SharePoint savvy audience can understand.

I’ve kept up with my students over the years but lately have seen that most of them want to learn things outside of SharePoint so I’ll probably refocus my mentoring efforts into a broader area of development.

I’ll probably also offer the odd opinion piece on SharePoint, but it won’t be my career anymore. This blog will retain it’s existing content but I’ll start adding other pieces of writing that interest me. If you want to tag along, you’re more than welcome.

Of course, if you have a great idea or need an experienced developer, entrepreneur, and architect, I’m all ears and would love to hear your thoughts. Maybe you’d like to partner with us in developing Wizh? We are always looking for interesting ideas, especially if you can help us fund the development.

That’s it. I’m done. .b has left the building. Talk again on the outside.

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In Memorandum: Georg Oscar Furuknap

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law!

My father, Georg Oscar Furuknap, d.o.b. November 22, 1944, died this morning, on June 30, 2014. May he be granted the accomplishment of his will.

I didn’t know my father recently and we haven’t spoken in more than a decade. We barely spent time together for a number of reasons. Those reasons are irrelevant today and shall forever be forgotten.

Today, I celebrate the passing of my father. He lived his life as he desired, bearing the consequences of his choices, whether good or bad. I cannot imagine he really regretted anything he did.

I also cannot imagine he wanted me or anyone to grieve his passing so instead I choose to celebrate that he has accomplished everything he ever will. I will drink and be merry in his name and know that if there is an afterlife, he will make hell a bit better or heaven a bit worse. Or vice versa.

Here’s to Georg Oscar Furuknap: Skål!

Love is the law, love under will.

To those contemplating offering condolences, please re-read the above text. If you do not understand that text, spare me your selfishness and shut up. 

Norwegian translation:

Gjør hva du vil skal være hele loven!

Min far, Georg Oscar Furuknap, f. 11. november, 2944, døde i dag morges, den 30. juni 2014. Måtte han sjenkes fullførelsen av hans vilje.

Jeg kjente ikke min far i det siste og vi har ikke snakket på over et tiår. Vi brukte knapt tid sammen av forskjellige grunner. De grunnene er ikke viktige i dag og skal for alltid glemmes.

I dag feirer jeg min fars bortgang. Han levde det livet han ønsket og tok konsekvensene av sine valg, enten de var gode eller dårlige. Jeg kan ikke forestille meg at han noen gang angret noe han gjorde.

Jeg kan heller ikke forestille meg at han ønsket at jeg eller noen skulle sørge over hans bortgang, så i stedet velger jeg å feire at han har oppnådd alt han kommer til å oppnå. Jeg skal drikke og være glad i hans navn og jeg vet at om det er et liv etter døden så kommer han til å gjøre helvete litt bedre eller himmelen litt verre. Eller visa versa.

Til Georg Oscar Furuknap: Skål!

Kjærlighet er loven, kjærlighet under vilje.

To those contemplating offering condolences, please re-read the above text. If you do not understand that text, spare me your selfishness and shut up.

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SharePoint 2013 App Model – The Jury is Back

A few months ago, I stated that I was still on the fence on the SharePoint 2013 App model and that I needed to see more of it to determine whether it is useful. I followed this up with a post titled SharePoint 2013 App Model Solves Non-Problems Only? that have since sparked some debate.

I’m happy to report that the jury is now back and is ready to pass a verdict.

I, the Jury, Find the Defendant Useless!

Let me skip right to the conclusion so you lazy people can just move on. The SharePoint 2013 App model is useless. It isn’t innovative,  it doesn’t offer anything you cannot already do, and its main purpose is as a marketing ploy from Microsoft.

From a technical perspective, I find the App model to be severely lacking even in the most basic functionality. From a user perspective, it is confusing and disappointing. From a developer perspective, it is boring and offers no incentives to adoption.

Finally, and this should interest Microsoft immensely, it is undermining the trust in SharePoint and Microsoft as a serious contender for enterprise functionality.

Now that you’ve read the conclusion, you can sod off and start polluting the interwebs with counter-arguments to demonstrate your lack of understanding.

For those that wish to increase your understanding, read on and I’ll elaborate on why and how I’ve reached this conclusion.

Oh, and you should probably also read the first article on SharePoint 2013 non-problems because it answers some additional points that were clear way back then.

Lack of Innovation

The App model offers a completely new way to build functionality on top of your SharePoint data. Or does it?

The basic premise is that from now on, you should build your Apps outside the SharePoint farm and just call into SharePoint using web services.

But this isn’t really new, is it? For years, those that wish to build functionality this way has been able to do so through libraries like SPServices. Marc Anderson has been a champion of building non-managed code solutions for SharePoint longer than most people have known how to spell SharePoint.

The ‘newness’ has also been argued to be in the vastly expanded functionality that the web services offer and that there are now Microsoft libraries to communicate with these services. Again, this is nothing new, except that the author of the libraries is now Microsoft rather than Marc Anderson.

As for the expanded functionality, this has always been available to anyone who needed that functionality. In fact, even after SharePoint 2013’s release, Microsoft themselves advised customers on how customers could extend the web services with functionality that isn’t included in the App model libraries.

In short, there’s nothing innovative about the model. Everything has been possible all along.

Technical Shortcomings

Even if one were to accept the argument that the concept behind the App model, of putting the calling HTML and JavaScript files somewhere else, is valid, the App model lacks plenty of functionality that is required to build anything but the simplest of solutions.

A typical and recently mitigated example is the lack of ability to create a site collection through the App model. That’s right, up until just recently, there was no way to create a site collection through the App model. It was mitigated on Office365 some time ago, but on-premises clients were relegated to extending the web services on their own. If, for example, you wanted an App to create unique site collections for various projects or teams, which is a pretty common pattern, well, you couldn’t do that.

Note: I’d also like to take this opportunity to point out that this shortcoming wasn’t discovered for almost two years, which should say something about the adoption.

This isn’t the only example either, and a lot of the functionality of SharePoint isn’t and can’t be made available through the App model at all. Examples if this are delegate controls, event receivers, and a range of layout options that cannot be accomplished because of fundamental shortcomings in how Apps work.

So, solutions have to rely on extending the web services themselves. That’s been possible for over a decade already. So what if there’s a new URL you can use to retrieve the data through REST; if you needed that, you could have done so years ago and in some cases you’re still being asked to do so.

Developer Incentives

A key selling point for the App model is that it makes SharePoint development available to anyone who knows how to use HTML and JavaScript. Microsoft has even said that it now has millions of additional developers because anyone with HTML+JS skills is now a SharePoint developer.

The premise of this argument is that through HTML and JavaScript, developers can now access SharePoint data and develop solutions that use SharePoint simply as a data service.

The problem with this is that the App model with its limitations offer very little to incentivize developers to use the platform. At its core, the App model gives you access to SharePoint data, which could have been cool, except that as a data engine for the web, SharePoint isn’t competing.

Note: If you want to look at the competition on data engines for the web, look at Amazon’s range of data services in AWS or even at Azure; all of these offer data engines that far outperform and out-feature SharePoint.

HTML and JavaScript developers look at what features a service provides when deciding where to put their learning and development efforts. That means that SharePoint needs to compete with every other commodity data service.

And it does. Except that the functionality that makes SharePoint competitive such as workflows, delegate controls, master pages, event receivers, and so on still requires farm solutions. That means that to a developer, you either use SharePoint as is, which means it has to compete without any of its unique features, or you still need to learn farm development.

In short, SharePoint as a data service isn’t viable in face of the competition.

User Disappointment

Another key selling point is how easy it would be for users to now implement new functionality in SharePoint. They simply head over to the App store and download the awesome Apps that will improve their work life with a click of a few buttons.

The problem here is that there’s so much you cannot do, many of them high on the list of things users want, that it becomes a disappointment faster than you can convince anyone of the subtle benefits.

Want to create site collections for your teams to manage themselves? Sorry, can’t do that (well, now you can, but it’s taken almost two years).

Want to chance the look and feel of SharePoint (and isn’t that always high on the list)? Sorry, can’t do that.

Want to implement simple functionality to fix things like missing Title fields in documents? Sorry, can’t do that.

I’ve reviewed several business cases for functionality and solutions to be built on top of SharePoint and so far, I’ve always had to either say “Sorry, the App model won’t work” or ask the client to change their requirements because the technology can’t accomplish what’s required. I’ve always been able to say “Well, if you’re OK with using Farm solutions, it can work”.

Users see that what they want to accomplish can’t be done more often than they see that they can get stuff done easily.

Lack of Trust

I’ll probably come back to this point in a separate post later, but Microsoft has painted itself into a corner when it comes to building customer trust.

If you look at the history of the recommended SharePoint solution models, you’ll realize that for every version of SharePoint, Microsoft has changed its recommendation. Microsoft shifts their recommendations so often that it is impossible for organizations to keep up. Organizations and developers put their money and time into a certain and recommended method only to have that method ridiculed or deprecated a few years later.

So, Microsoft, if they were to change their recommendation again for vNext (aka SharePoint 2016), would lose any trace of trust they have. They cannot simply abandon the App model, so they have to stick with it, even if they themselves realize it’s sometimes ridiculous and lacking.

That means they must keep working on getting the App framework to catch up with Farm solutions and that further stifles innovation. They cannot create awesome new functionality that harnesses the power of SharePoint fully because they still haven’t gotten most of the basic functionality to work. And they cannot abandon it because it would kill every ounce of trust they still have in SharePoint as a development platform.

You Are Sentenced to Oblivion

With all these problems with the SharePoint 2013 App model, I’m sorry to say that I don’t really see a future for it at all. Not just that, but the App model is holding back the innovation of SharePoint as a platform; the very thing that made SharePoint so awesome in 2007.

Unfortunately, Microsoft can’t abandon it either; they’ve put too much clout into it. Their entire development story for SharePoint 2013 hinges on the App model, and it’s not telling the story that developers want to hear and it certainly doesn’t tell the story that users want to hear.

It doesn’t matter whether the administrators love not having to deal with farm solutions anymore because, long term, the business solution doesn’t involve SharePoint at all.

.b

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