Sleepless in Seattle at Microsoft Build

John Hanson is Lead Software Architect, heading a team that currently works with Vista Cinema, MovieTeam, movieXchange and Veezi. Like many at Vista, John joined the company whilst at university and has stayed part of the Vista family ever since, which speaks volumes about the very cool space that Vista occupies. Earlier this year, John went to Seattle for the Microsoft Build Conference... and here he tells us all about it.

One of the ‘most fun’ parts of my role as Lead Software Architect is working with the product and development teams to see where Vista could use new and emerging technology to continue to keep Vista ahead of the game. 

As a technologically forward-looking company, Vista takes the training of its staff very seriously. The products we provide are the result of the skills and experience of those who design and build them. And to keep us all on top of changes in the technical realm, we have regular technical training in- house, formal and informal knowledge shares, innovation ‘hackathons’ and conference days at our friendly, growing ‘Paradise-is-Aotearoa-New Zealand’ HQ.

And where better to find out what’s going on at the cutting edge than the Microsoft Build Conference? Vista sends at least one lucky person there every year and this year I had that privilege.  Traditionally held in San Francisco, this year it took place in Seattle. ‘Build’ is Microsoft's opportunity to pitch its newest tools and technology to thousands of developers and is the place where Microsoft allows us to not only peek ‘behind the curtain’ to see what they're thinking of building next, but also to meet the development teams at Microsoft and to exchange ideas with the people building the software and platforms that we depend on.

The Build Conference kicks off with a big opening event that Microsoft uses to show off a little. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, always begins by outlining the vision for Microsoft and for its developer community. You get the clear impression (backed up by talking with Microsoft staff) that Microsoft has changed under Satya’s leadership.  Having come from the Microsoft Azure (Cloud Computing) team, he has fundamentally changed both the focus and vision of the organisation. No longer solely focused on selling Windows and Office licences, Microsoft has opened the door to outside ideas and technology as well as returning to true innovation.
For the rest of the opening event and for the next three days, we were all given the opportunity to look at new software as well as talk about how to best write software to make use of the capabilities demonstrated at the Build Conference.  It was fascinating and I learned too much to detail here, but I can pick a few trends that are worth noting for Vista and our customers.

The first is Microsoft’s ongoing focus on their Azure Cloud platform. Clearly, this is where Microsoft has bet the house, the car and the kids, and is the most rapidly evolving piece of their offering (it probably doesn't hurt that their CEO came from this division).

Vista has many years’ production experience on Azure with Veezi, MovieTeam and movieXchange. The ongoing investment in that platform by Microsoft offers a level of capability unheard of even a few years ago; not only are you able to host software in 30+ data centres around the world, the PaaS offerings for big data, business intelligence, language understanding and dozens of other platform offerings allow many more organisations to deliver software at a level previously reserved to only a few worldwide players. Having also attended an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Summit here in Auckland just after Build, I think it’s fair to say that both cloud platforms are moving forward at a rapid pace and the fierce competition in this space can only be a win for organisations like Vista and, by extension, our cinema industry customers.

Another major trend has been the emergence of smart assistants and the democratisation of Artificial Intelligence. For example, Amazon and Microsoft are investing a lot of money in conversational interaction platforms. Vista was recently able to prototype this directly with Microsoft engineers; we created an intelligent chat bot – with which interaction was possible from a number of platforms – to discover films and show times and to sell tickets.

Other trends include the ongoing concentration on .net core, a Microsoft Platform that has enabled us to host some of our newest high-performance components on Linux, the emergence of Virtual and Augmented reality systems that is already in use by some of our smaller cinema Veezi customers and is a fast-growing area of concentration from vendors such as Imax.

Finally, I’d like to end with a personal observation.  Professionally, I've been writing software with Vista since 2002 and have attended at least one technical conference every year since. The last two or three years have been by far the most interesting. With the rate of technological innovation as well as the continuing adoption of Vista products by some of the world’s greatest cinemas, I am truly excited to see what we and our customers can build together to take the cinema experience further into the future together.

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