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Sitecore MVP Summit & Symposium 2016

One week after the Symposium, overcoming my jetlag, catching up a-lot-a-work, blogging about the cool new Azure Apps stuff and celebrating the weekend with a nice brew, it’s time to look back at both the Sitecore MVP Summit & the Sitecore Symposium 2016 edition!

Let’s start with the location: New Orleans. Good choice there Sitecore! My first trip to the States and a very nice place to combine a well organized event in a luxurious hotel with some amusing side-events and entertainment. Before the event started we’ve had a beer and a burger with a few fellow Dutchmen and in the morning a stroll around French Quarter. And the weather was playing nice as well :).

This was my third Symposium (after Amsterdam and Barcelona) and my first MVP Summit. I must say, this 2016 edition was the most impressive one, very well arranged and full of high quality sessions, cool news and great networking opportunities.

It’s magic !

Being an MVP Summit, I cannot share all the details we’ve been shown of course, but most topics were also part of the Symposium and I can share that the most exciting aspect was the ability to discuss new features or work in progress with other MVP’s from across the globe and with Sitecore architects, product owners and developers as well. I think it provided for some very useful insights.

And apart from the Sitecore magic we saw, a real magician appeared at our dining table too. He made sure we went home that first day with ‘something to remember’, as he’d say. After some routine card tricks, that were already quite amazing at such a short viewing distance, he literally made a full deck of cards disappear between the hands of Boris, a Dutch Sitecore Solution Architect. Kept us astonished for quite some time. But it blended in well with all the secrecy and magic of the MVP Summit, seeing what Sitecore’s got up its sleeve and being positively suprised by all the sweet .NET Core stuff. The NuGet surprise wasn’t a real surprise anymore, since the feeds were already available, but nonetheless a great improvement, showing the power of the community (who’s really driven this change).

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One of the highlights of the MVP Summit were the roundtable discussions on the second day of the event, covering multiple Sitecore topics. Cloud is one of my focus areas and so I joined the discussion at that table, lead by technical product owner Ciaran McAuliffe. I was able to share my ideas, questions, verify my assumptions and above all, hear how other Sitecore developers solved common challenges. This is something I experienced as one of the greatest rewards for being awarded the MVP title. Absolutely great!

By the way, for some change, our second day was hosted at the NOLA Motorsports Park. A great location, where we’ve collectively DDOS’ed the WIFI using our MVP Slack channel and got competitive at the kart track later that day. I have to thank Marissa, Pieter and Mark (and others whom I may unintentionally forgot to mention) for organizing such a great event!

nola motorsports park

Sitecore Symposium 2016

After the grand opening of the Symposium by Michael Seifert, showing how to ‘DEMAND MORE value for your customers’, Jason Silva did an inspirational talk on how technology innovates, more rapidly than you’d think, and with more technological capabilities in our near future than you’d imagine. Check out his YouTube channel, it really boosts your energy and triggers your imagination.

So, onto the development stuff then. I started out attending the Developer Keynote by Lars Nielsen, followed by an xConnect demo by Todd. Although not yet available, I think the new xConnect API (also built on .NET Core) really leverages the full potential of xDB and makes customizing profiling a lot easier.

Sitecore on Azure

Next up was the ‘Better Together: Sitecore on Azure’ talk by Ciaran. Of course, we’d seen most of the stuff at the MVP Summit, but Ciaran had a nice surprise waiting for the audience: he literally used a chatbot as his helper in the demo and let that chatbot provision a whole new Sitecore environment live, on demand. I think that’s quite impressive, isn’t it? In case you’ve missed it, I already wrote an extensive blog post on this topic, which you can read over here.

SXA for Sitecore Developers

Another tasteful snack at the Symposium was the SXA session by Kern Nightingale. Well presented and good content. It’s a step up for Sitecore on its product: from a platform (or more pessimistic, an ’empty box’) to a powerful platform with an out-of-the-box boilerplate for common site components. This enables implementation partners to focus on their added value and the customer specific requests, enhancing both quality and business value of future Sitecore implementations. Or as Darren Guarnaccia says: “(with SXA) Phase 2 ‘nice to haves’ become Phase 1 ‘totally possible to haves'”.

kern on sxa

The day ended at the House of Blues for the Symposium Party, a great venue with multiple rooms and stages, hosting four great bands. We’ve really had a blast over there!

High Velocity, High Quality Sitecore Deployments

After the opening keynote of day two by Jane McGonigal (Why Games Make Us Better), I attended the ‘Go Lean’ session by Joseph Bissol from Comcast. A nice talk with an impressively well constructed deployment process. It was nice to see a lot of tools and processes that we’re also using, but also inspirational due to the features that are one step ahead of most CI-implementations: seamless rollbacks, even of features before the latest. At Colours, we’re constantly revising and optimizing our Continuous Integration process and these kind of sessions never become weary.

Keeping Hackers Out

One of my fellow Dutch MVP’s, Bas Lijten, was presenting at the Symposium as well. Security is a very important aspect of web development and sadly overlooked more than once. I think Bas did a great job at showing the risk of different types of attacks, even when you think you’re well protected. It was assuring to see not that many surprises, since we are always arranging security tests by experts when approaching the first release of any new site handling personal data, but I sure learned some new stuff and if you haven’t already done so, you should absolutely download Bas’ Sitecore Security module to aid in delivering more secure Sitecore implementations.

Helix & Habitat

A dancing hedgehog then showed us more about Helix and Habitat (no, really). In a nutshell, the most important statement to remember, is that Habitat isn’t a boilerplate for your new projects, nor a demo site for your customers, it’s an example implementation of the Helix development rules and principles. If you’ll build a new Sitecore website, from now on, use Helix as your starting point and guidance for your architecture. Check Habitat to see how it’s been implemented, but don’t start with an example project like that to build your site on.

I think it’s great to see that Sitecore changes its role from only being a platform supplier to giving guidance in architecture (Helix), giving your projects a headstart and enabling multidisciplinary teams to work with Sitecore simultaneously (SXA) and helping you out with provisioning a well scalable Cloud infrastructure (Web Apps, ARM templates) together with a sizing advise (yet to be released) on a consumption based license model.

Turbocharging Sitecore Publishing

Just before the end keynote by Lars Nielsen, showing the future capabilities of Sitecore, the last breakout session was hosted by Stephen Pope: a very entertaining but impressive talk about the new Publishing Service, also built on .NET Core. After years and years of wondering why it takes over a thousand actions to publish a tree of ten items, we finally got to see the reason behind this, but more importantly, how they fixed it using a scratch built publishing service that’s far more efficient than the original process. Actually, it’s so fast, we can now stop worrying about users hitting the ‘Publish (entire) Site’ button, and that’s quite an achievement ;).

All the fun aside, I am really fond of the new component based .NET Core architecture of Sitecore. Add the NuGet feeds and native Dependency Injection support, and you can see we’re really moving to the next era in Sitecore development!

publishing service

Sadly, all good things come to an end. And so did this packed week of Sitecore goodness and heaps of fun. Can’t wait to see y’all in Vegas next year!

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Rob Habraken

Software Engineer, Technical Manager, Consultant, Sitecore MVP and overall technology addict. Specialist in web development, Microsoft technology and, of course, Sitecore.

https://www.robhabraken.nl