“Self inflicted damage“ is probably the right expression to use. It’s Sunday, I am home, it’s a beautiful day and I am once again packing a suitcase. The taxi arrives at 16:00h and I’ll be airborne at around 16:45h (the drive to Düsseldorf airport from my apartment is about 8 minutes and I am already checked in via phone) going to Munich and from there to Bern in Switzerland for a 1 1/2 day workshop with a customer. Tuesday afternoon I take the train to Zürich airport and will fly straight to Brussels for a series of meetings Tuesday evening and Wednesday all day. As per current planning, I’ll be back at Düsseldorf airport on Wednesday by 21:45h.

And all that in a week that was supposed to be “work at home”. In the past four months, I’ve been to the U.S. three times and I’ve been to Singapore, Algeria, Saudia Arabia, Pakistan, and Turkey as well as in Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Norway, England, Italy, and Holland – with the occasional business meeting in Germany in between. With some of these trips being really short – like less than 2 full days in Karachi, Pakistan coming from Miami in Florida (+9 hrs) and leaving to Europe (-3 hrs) I even give up trying to adjust to the time zones and if I happen to wake up at 3am in the morning I just accept that as what the body thinks is right, make or order coffee and just stay awake. I thought last year was nuts in terms of traveling, but this year easily beats it.

The traveling per-se isn’t all that bad, but getting up at 3:30am in the morning or earlier or just stay awake through the evening to catch a flight in the Middle-East, crossing more than 6 hours of time-zone differentials three times in a week, and all the irregular sleep hours and the irregular eating hours are definitely causing stress, are badly affecting my ability to get work done and aren’t really healthy. And since I am always cordially invited to be someone’s guest most of the evenings I am on the road, it’s not a very polite thing to reject the invitation to dinner and a drink or two – which doesn’t help keeping the weight down and doesn’t contribute to be well rested all the time. And I really can see why some frequent business travelers become alcoholics. If one’s body is easily vulnerable to addiction, the “dinner meeting culture” alone drives people straight to the edge and then they do hard liquor – done. Beer and wine in good measure is good enough for me, thanks.

What’s somewhat frustrating about the traveling on tight schedules is that you often get to places where you haven’t been and then you don’t get to see anything of the city or country. Pakistan is one of these examples, with the added, unfortunate complication of a very volatile security situation. I’ve now been in Karachi twice and all I have seen is the airport, the highway from the airport into the city, a particular hotel (both times), and two restaurants. And whenever we left the hotel, we’ve been in a bus followed by a pick-up truck with a bunch of policemen with machine-guns. And with that “experience”, you get pulled in front of a TV camera for an interview and get asked “what do you think of Pakistan?” Well… What I can say about Pakistan is that the people are great. It’s difficult to find a room with 600-800 people who are so exuberantly enthusiastic about information technology as in Karachi. It’s hard to find a fitting analogy to describe it, but the way they are longing for and absorbing knowledge is as if you had a room full of sponges and you are holding a water hose at it for an hour and once you are done, the floor is still dry like a desert. And once you say “that’s it, thank you for your attention” at the end of a session, you’ve got 50 people jumping up, running up to the front, bombarding you with questions. It’s absolutely amazing.

Also amazing is my new friend Arfa Karim (picture), who is the youngest “Microsoft Certified  Professional” in Pakistan and – by what I have been told – the youngest girl at that in the world, having achieved the application developer certification with just 9 years of age. And after talking too her for quite a bit in Karachi this year, I can say that Arfa certainly didn’t cheat there. She’s really a C# wizard and she’s got a well developed self-esteem about it.

Speaking of “Microsoft Certified” …

Since May, I proudly carry the title of a Microsoft Certified Architect after passing a very humbling board review in Redmond. It’s my first ever Microsoft Certified Anything that I have, so I am very happy to have it. The Microsoft Certified Architect program, which has only been announced at TechEd US, is a very interesting and very ambitious program, which is not primarily about Microsoft technologies and not about someone sitting down and answering some questions to a program. To become an MCA, you have to be a well-rounded person, balancing technical, business and people skills and you have to prove that you’ve done stuff and shipped stuff. Having been accepted into the circle of the first 50 MCAs is truly a big thing – and given who the other folks are, I am still not sure whether I am worthy. When I was sitting on the reviewer side of the certification board in March (they had a boot-up “chicken and egg” issue – only MCAs can sit on the board, but what do you do if there are none?) I had several people where I was thinking to myself “who are you to dare making any judgment about this person?” since we’ve had several people coming in where you just learn new stuff with every sentence they’re saying.

From the board review in May I went straight to one of every year’s favorite “little big conferences” in Portoroz/Slovenia, to which I’ve been for the 4th straight year. There are just over 2 million Slovenians overall, but Microsoft manages to pull well over 1500 people to a developer and IT pro conference. Translated to the scale of Germany, we’d have to have 64000 attendees at an event to match that. And traditionally, Microsoft Slovenia throws one of the best event parties each year.

Once things settle down at the end of this week and with only one (“the”) major event left to go in this first half year (TechEd Europe in Amsterdam), I’ll have to log some of the past months travel experiences for myself here in my blog and also get back to writing about technology issues. There are a lot of things that I’ve learned and I’ve actually written a bit of code here and there that’s worth sharing, but with all the travel I just never found time to sit down and write about it – sometimes I just need a break as well. TTYL, gotta catch a flight.