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Protocol | Enterprise
Your guide to the future of enterprise computing, every Monday and Thursday.
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Microsoft’s never-ending quest to win over developers

Developers are as crucial as ever to Microsoft’s future.

Welcome to Protocol | Enterprise, your comprehensive roundup of everything you need to know about the week in cloud and enterprise software. This Thursday: Microsoft makes its pitch to developers, a Slack-friendly startup cozies up to Microsoft Teams, and why "open source is a story of money, hype and fortunate timing."

Also, don't miss Protocol's Joe Williams in conversation with Databricks CEO Ali Ghodsi on June 7 at 8 a.m. PT/11 a.m. ET. Learn what's next for the company and how Databricks plans to win in an increasingly competitive market. Register now to reserve your spot.

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The Big Story

Push, commit?

Software developers are a tricky audience for enterprise tech companies. They're just as important as customers — in some ways, more important — but they are harder to win and easier to lose.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has recaptured the attention of the developer community over the last several years by pivoting to cloud services and augmenting Microsoft's historic strength in developer tools like Visual Studio with key acquisitions like GitHub and Xamarin. Without feedback from a live audience at its annual Microsoft Build developer conference, held this week as hopefully the last virtual edition of the conference for a while, it's hard to tell how well Microsoft has sustained that momentum.

But within the voluminous "Book of News" that Microsoft drops on the table during its major events were a few developer-oriented projects that you shouldn't overlook, including a new Microsoft Research program.

  • The Developer Velocity Lab is a new effort to "investigate ways to measure and improve developer productivity," looking at developer activity across GitHub and Visual Studio, as well as open-source projects.
  • "We want to get creative so that our research can be easily and quickly usable by many people," Dr. Nicole Forsgren, vice president of research and strategy, told VentureBeat.
  • As developer experience becomes a competitive factor in enterprise tech, companies will need methods for measuring internal developer productivity as well as how external developers are reacting to their products and services.
  • Microsoft said it plans to publish findings from its research, but you can also bet the insights from this project will be plugged back into its developer-facing products across several different departments.

Microsoft also announced the formation of a new industry group that promises to help developers learn how to build more energy-efficient software, which could be an amazing hook for developers concerned about climate change.

  • Accenture, Thoughtworks and the Linux Foundation joined Microsoft to create the Green Software Foundation, which hopes to "build a trusted ecosystem of people, standards, tooling and leading practices for building green software."
  • There's an incredible amount of software running around the world designed around the assumption it will have access to unlimited, always-on servers running in data centers.
  • It doesn't have to be that way, and researchers have known for some time that software can be designed in ways that use computing resources more efficiently.
  • Microsoft and its partners will be careful to avoid greenwashing this initiative, but there is real work that could be done here to influence a generation of developers.

Of course, one way to win over developers is to make new developers.

  • One year after it announced an investment in OpenAI, Microsoft announced plans this week to use its GPT-3 language technology in its low-code Power Platform.
  • This will supposedly allow novice developers to write software using regular English commands, rather than strings of code.
  • No-code and low-code tools are having a year-long moment near the top of the hype cycle, but they show a lot of promise to improve developer accessibility and free up more-skilled developers to work on crucial projects.

Every company in enterprise tech that harbors ambitions of becoming a platform — which is to say, almost all of them — knows they need a vibrant community of developers to succeed. Microsoft recognized this before a lot of today's developers took their first programming class, and developer enthusiasm for its projects and services will be a good bellwether for its future prospects.

— Tom Krazit

A MESSAGE FROM TRELLO

Work should be flexible enough to fit the life you choose. Gone are the days of fitting your life around your work, basing every decision on how to make yourself more available for the grind. Trello gives you and your team the freedom you need to actually get things done.

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This Week On Protocol (at Build)

Cloud multiball: Microsoft customers will be able to use five new Azure services on their own equipment or on other cloud providers. I unpacked what that means for cloud competition, and how the concept of "lock-in" is more fluid than it might seem.

Support the troops: It's hard to think of a recent Microsoft enterprise product that has received more investment and promotion than Teams, and a startup called Troops.ai has been helping the company compete with Slack. Joe Williams looked at Microsoft's plans for making Teams a stickier part of its customers' everyday workflows by investing in the startup.

Five Questions For...

Karthik Narain, Lead, Accenture Cloud First

What was your first tech job?

My first tech job was part of my Computer Science Masters' internship, which was at an HP joint venture company in India, where I was working on a project management product as well as HP product support. It was a self-service mechanism customers would answer a series of questions that would increasingly narrow down solutions for them. It was very rewarding because I was basically just a kid, but these very senior engineers would come to me with questions that I could easily answer because I built the product.

What was the first computer that got you excited about technology?

Incidentally, it was a computer built by another HP joint venture with HCL, called HCL-HP, which was selling HCL-HP computers and printers. My cousin had this computer that used these very thin floppy disks you needed to boot the computer. He had all these side-scrolling games on floppy disks, and I remember us playing these for hours.

What is your favorite pastime that does not involve a screen?

Everything involves a screen nowadays, but I'd have to say music. I listen to a lot of music and I love listening to it on CDs because I think the quality is still superior to digital. Other than that, I just love spending time outdoors with my family. Not necessarily going on hikes or very physical activities, but just having a good time observing nature.

How can enterprise tech improve its current status around diversity, equity, and inclusion?

I strongly believe that we need to step back and revisit diversity from a more holistic perspective. We need to look beyond just gender and race to a broader definition that also includes upbringing, social status, skills and fields of expertise and so on. Ideally, every team should be a microcosm of people with different backgrounds and perspectives that, together, bring so many different ways of approaching issues or designing products.

What will be the biggest challenge for enterprise tech over the coming decade?

The next ten years will see further acceleration of technology evolution and changing consumer expectations. In enterprise technology, the burden lies mostly on the shoulders of CIOs, CTOs and CDOs.

In the previous era, these roles were focused on providing services to the business. Nowadays, technology is powering the world and changing consumer behaviors, so the roles of enterprise technology leaders need to shift from servicing to leading. This means that technology professionals need to step up and lead — think about the future and behave like product organizations, taking extraordinary risks as well as greater accountability for their decisions.

Around the Enterprise

A MESSAGE FROM TRELLO

Work should be flexible enough to fit the life you choose. Gone are the days of fitting your life around your work, basing every decision on how to make yourself more available for the grind. Trello gives you and your team the freedom you need to actually get things done.

Learn more

Thanks for reading, and have a great holiday — see you next Thursday.

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