Work/Life: At Reuters, Mr. How-To Hits The Road

From 'nyet' to .Net, Bill Evjen travels the world to talk about software architectures.
In the world of software architectures--where hundreds of protocols and languages and APIs need to work in harmony--it's hard enough for one company to get its computer systems tuned smoothly, let alone humming with those of its customers or partners. That's a challenge Reuters America Inc. faces in getting its real-time information services into the eager hands of financial companies. It's Bill Evjen's job to make it happen.

Evjen (pronounced "ev-E-en" like the bottled-water brand) is a technical director of development with the platforms group in Reuters' IT organization. Based in Reuters' office in Creve Coeur, Mo., just outside of St. Louis, Evjen spans the globe--Chicago, London, Frankfurt, Zurich, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Singapore, New York--meeting with developers and software architects at banks and brokerage companies. Those firms route Reuters' real-time data feeds into their own applications, and Evjen helps them do it in ways that minimize the hassle and maximize the benefits.

"It's important that we relay best practices, approaches, and capabilities to the development organizations of financial institutions that are going to use our platform," the 33-year-old technologist says about his job. "It's like the approach Microsoft and Intel and others take. There's interaction between the business sides of these companies, but there also needs to be interaction between the technical sides, so you have architects talking to architects and developers talking to developers."

Bill Evjen, technical director of development at Reuters promotes as well as studies Microsoft's .Net.

Evjen promotes as well as studies Microsoft's .Net
Evjen describes himself as an evangelist for Reuters' technology-based services, which means he serves both a marketing and educational role, as well as being a how-to guy. It's a proactive approach that makes sense as more of Reuters' customers grapple with the complexities of software-oriented architectures and Web services.

How Evjen himself landed this assignment is a round-the-world adventure that started in Washington state in the early 1990's, involved detours to St. Petersburg, Russia, and Helsinki, Finland, and ended up in St. Louis. He came to Reuters about three years ago after having worked as an independent computer consultant who had developed a deep expertise in Microsoft's .Net technologies. "I work with people who know a lot about many technologies across the board," he says. "I decided to focus on one vendor's offerings and become an expert at that."

In college, it wasn't computer science he studied, but Russian linguistics, first at Western Washington University and later at the Gornyi Institute on the Neva River in St. Petersburg. In 1996, Evjen took a job working for Aeroflot, the Russian airline, in a Jack-of-all-trades marketing role that involved travel between Seattle and eastern Russia and included interacting with the Federal Aviation Administration, public relations, and creating an English-language Web site.

Evjen did the programming himself using Microsoft programming tools. The transition from "nyet" to .Net was easier than it might seem, he says, pointing out that learning a computer programming language is similar to learning a foreign language. "It's all syntax and linguistic rules."

Next, Evjen moved to St. Louis to set up base near his father, a Boeing employee, and search for a job in the Midwest. He's come to love St. Louis: "I can't imagine living anywhere else," he says. Bill and his Finnish wife, Tuija, are raising their two children to be bilingual. At home, he speaks only English to them, and she, Finnish.

Evjen has become a person of influence in the .Net world. He's executive director and a founding member of the International .Net Association, a group of 200,000 Windows-savvy users, and founder of the organization's St. Louis chapter. He's written more than a half-dozen technical books on the technology, including Professional VB.Net 2003, published in June by Wrox Press, and ASP.Net 2.0 Beta Preview, due in July, also from Wrox.

He also makes regular postings to his own Weblog, though he admits to having mixed feelings about the blogging phenomenon. "I see a lot of people start them, do them for a month and then stop. I see others who use it for meaningless bashing," he says.

These days, Evjen is busy helping Reuters' customers prepare for a new service, scheduled to begin testing in September, that will deliver real-time financial data in "snapshots" rather than a nonstop stream. Not all applications require every tick of market data, Evjen explains, and money can be saved by configuring some to receive only the data they need. These so-called "request, response" scenarios use a different set of APIs, which means Evjen is on the road again getting the word out. Earlier this week, he answered E-mail from London en route to Amsterdam.

While not a pure Windows shop, Reuters has embraced Microsoft's technologies as a platform for its information services, so much so that the company is featured in some of Microsoft's advertising. In fact, it was at a Microsoft-sponsored group dinner at the TechEd conference in San Diego where I first met Evjen, where Microsoft VPs mingled with just a handful of important clients. But the .Net maven tries not to let that closeness influence his work. "I have no allegiance to Microsoft the company," he says.

Though he doesn't have much spare time, Evjen likes to pick up a hammer and saw when he does. "I now find doing things like refinishing basements as a very relaxing thing to do," he says. After all those hours deep in discussion over APIs, it's easy to see why.

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