At Build 2017, I was blown away with the keynote demo by Yina Arenas and Harry Shum where they showed the power of Microsoft AI through real-time translation capabilities. What you might not know is that Yina is known as the Microsoft Graph mom – she is taking Office and Microsoft APIs from legacy and disjointed technologies to a new, unified API world.

I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with her about the latest and greatest on Microsoft Graph and what her team has in store for Microsoft Ignite.

Enjoy this latest episode of “The Road to #MSIgnite” interview series!

Dux: Hi everybody, welcome to another episode of Dux Quax Mobile! It’s a beautiful summer day here on campus.

Yina: It’s a little bit chilly. Last week was, like, extremely hot here. We had this heat wave and we were in the 90s, which is, like, abnormal weather for Seattle, so this week is easier.

Dux: Do you notice it’s a little hazy? What’s going on?

Yina: I think there’s a set of fires going on in British Columbia and we have all of the smoke coming down.

Dux: Ohhh, so the Canadians are sending it, huh?

Dux: So Yina, why don’t you introduce yourself? What you do here, the cool stuff you’re working on. I’m sure people would love to know.

Yina: Yeah, so hey everyone, I’m Yina Arenas. I work on Office Extensibility, so I’m part of Office 365 and Office teams and I work on all of the things that get to, like how developers and ISVs and line of business developers extend Office and, in particular, how they take the data that is in Office services and use it in their own applications. We call that the Microsoft Graph.

Dux: Ahhh

Yina: Other people know me as the Microsoft Graph Mom

Dux: There you go. The MGM

Yina: Yes, the Microsoft Graph Mom. That’s what I do.

Dux: So, extensibility, let’s talk about that. So, obviously with Office 365 and the recently announced Microsoft 365, the role you play, especially around the platform Office 365 in Office is very critical.

Yina: Yes, it is.

Dux: And Graph ties into everything. So, big picture, why should ISVs, partners, or, more importantly, customers be excited about the extensibility of office, and how can they take advantage of Microsoft Graph?

Yina: That’s a big question. So, Microsoft has this vision of reinventing productivity, right? And at the core of productivity is Office and you just think about the vast amount of users every day that use Office products, whether it is on the clients with Outlook, Excel, or Word or Powerpoint, or in the service with sending emails to an exchange service or collaborating with a document that is in OneDrive or looking at a portal in SharePoint. We have all these different services in Office 365 that are core to how people get things done, right?

Dux: Sure.

Yina: And also, when you think about it, these products are very, I don’t know if the right word to use is vanilla, but it is that the same product for everyone. You have Word and whether you’re a lawyer or a kid in school, that’s the product that you use. So that’s where extensibility comes in, enabling a whole ecosystem of developers that extend Office beyond what it does out of the box and makes it so much more tailored to what the specific industry needs, right?

Dux: And boy, that’s what’s really exciting, because if you think about it, everybody goes to work every day and you don’t just use Word by itself. You don’t just use Excel. You don’t just use SharePoint, and the idea that we can extend, make them talk to each other, and remember who you are, what you can see and not see regardless of what device, wherever, whenever, I think that’s really powerful.

Yina: Yes, indeed.

Dux: And more importantly, Microsoft opening it up to folks like me to be able to tailor it to my needs and my line of business. I don’t think there are any other companies that are doing that today.

Yina: I mean, we’re not the only ones that have such extensibility on our productivity efforts or on anything actually, for that matter. But, like you’re saying, it is enabling that set of developers to be meeting the needs of the customers, like by tailoring the products to specific needs that the industry has. So, whether it’s in education, finance, or legal, or healthcare, taking Office as it comes out of the box and being able to make it for that particular segment.

Dux: And I think that’s one thing that Microsoft is really good at. The way I look at it, if I go up for a 50,000 foot view, is that Microsoft democratizes technology like no other company. If you think about it, back in the 80s – you talk about Office – back in the 80s, I know before you were born, who would have an Excel spreadsheet? Only accountants. I wouldn’t even touch a spreadsheet. But today, we don’t think about spreadsheets. It comes with Office, it’s Excel.

Yina: It’s just there.

Dux: Yeah, and word processor, back in the day, it’s not like Microsoft Word, much less a collaboration platform like SharePoint, but today we don’t think about it. It’s just there. And now, with the push of Intelligent Cloud and Intelligent Edge, AI is the next frontier that Microsoft is democratizing, which is really exciting.

Yina: Yes, yes and not only democratizing, but powering our products, right? Because if you think about products like Office, there’s a whole bunch of ML and AI that goes into taking our products and taking the activities that we see from the users and generating insights based on that that we turn back into our products and we turn back into our products as well.

Dux: Sure.

Yina: We expose them to not only feed our first-party experiences but also to feed our third-party ecosystem.

Dux: Now speaking of insights. I’m sure you get this all the time. Customers would go “Well what about security? Are you saying that other people can see my stuff or my stuff will just show up anywhere?”

Yina: No, that’s not the case. I know that there was a lot of angst around that, but you know all of the permissions that users set on their continent, their data, is always respected on our services. So, you know, as long as administrators or users are not using security by obscurity, all of those permissions are respected on our services.

Dux: Sure.

Yina: And it’s not that anyone can come into our platform and say ‘Hey, give me all of the data for a given customer.” No, that goes through a flow that has full visibility for the users and for the admins on what applications are getting accessed, who has access to that data, you can revoke it at any time…

Dux: Sure.

Yina: And you’re able to manage that entire lifecycle on where your data is and how it’s secured in our services.

Dux: Especially these days, you talk about where your data is, right? And the looming GDPR, for example in May and Microsoft, pretty much in my mind, is almost ready for it from a perspective of, you know, your data centers are regional.

Yina: Yep, and there’s been a lot of investment on our side to make sure that we are compliant with that.

Dux: And that’s only one compliance. Obviously, different countries have different compliance. Here in the U.S., the government has its own Gov Cloud and DOD has their own ones, and it’s clear that Microsoft is serious about this and it’s investing heavily.

Yina: Yes, absolutely.

Dux: So how would all this work then? Would it be different if I’m in the UK data center or GCC, would all these capabilities be available, especially With Microsoft Graph and Office extensibility?

Yina: So, protecting the customer data is a prime at Microsoft, right? And if you are the developer that is building an application on top of that data and accessing through our mechanisms that we expose, whether it is through APIs or whether it is through the first-party experiences, all of that abides by those same laws.

Dux: Got it.

Yina: If you’re accessing data for a data center that is, I don’t know, for example, in China, we have an entirely different deployment in China.

Dux: Sure, through 21vianet, right?

Yina: That’s managed through 21vianet and it makes sure that all of the processes that the data centers go through and the management and all of that is separate from the rest of the world.

Dux: Got it.

Yina: And the same thing goes from data access layer. We have an entirely different endpoint, for example, the Graph in order for developers that are developing applications in China can access all of that data for those customers. So, everything is you know, whether it is in the first first-party or third-party experience, it follow the same patterns and the same regulatory, um, requirements.

Dux: Well, speaking of China, which reminded me, the Build demo that you did with Harry, that was really cool. That was like the Powerpoint translation demo, right?

Yina: Powerpoint translator, yes.

Dux: And you were speaking in Spanish and Harry was receiving in Chinese and vice versa, right?

Yina: It’s a part of the technology. Man, when I saw the demo and the script for the first time I was super psyched about it and afterwards, the reception from the public was just very heartwarming and then just to see, like, how many people reached out to me and they were like “this just really transforms how I interpret technology. Like, I have these- even if it is not just the language thing, the captions-

Dux: Exactly.

Yina: And how many people have needs to get these captions.

Dux: It’s a game changer. You talk about being inclusive, you talk about the true democratization of technology and I mean education alone. Think about it, there’s a lot of developing countries that lack resources and lack access, but if there’s technology and they have a teacher here who may not even speak the same language, they can contribute and teach.

Yina: Yep, yep.

Dux: It’s just amazing.

Yina: And it seems like, you know, you can think of it as so sci-fi and far away, but it’s not.

Dux: No.

Yina: It’s really, really simple and it’s really accessible for everyone.

Dux: And that’s the key – accessibility, right? That’s the exciting part, like I started my development career – I don’t do as much development anymore – but in Assembler, I didn’t even think this day would come where I can tap into cognitive services, ML…

Yina: I did assembly too.

Dux: You did?

Yina: Yeah, so I did electric engineering-

Dux: I have the same degree! Electrical engineering!

Yina: We teach assembly that’s like-

Dux: Exactly! There’s 40 commands. You push and pull and my first job was programming chips for a German company, but boy, I remember it was already cool back then. But today it’s just, you know, unlimited possibilities.

Yina: Yes, definitely. Technology is transforming how we live, you know, and how we get things done and reaching into this realm is completely a game changer. Like the thing that I demoed there and so many other technologies that were demoed at Build, right? Like, for instance, and I’m forgetting the name right now but do you remember the other demo that was done that was this bracelet-

Dux: Oh yes, yes, yes with a hand. Because her hand was shaking and I think through research, they developed this bracelet to counter the shaking so she could write.

Yina: Yeah! That’s powerful, right?

Dux: Absolutely! And that’s the cool thing, right? So now, like when my family asks me “What do you do? You’re into computers, right?” They always ask me that. You know how when you go back for a family reunion – hey can you fix my computer kind of thing?

Yina: Yeah, yeah I know.

Dux: But then I would show those little clips, that’s what I do. That’s really cool and you’re right, it’s through these stories and humanizing it and making a true difference and there’s so many out there. Even the HoloLens one where’s this, uh-

Yina: The stairs?

Dux: Yeah, the stairs and there’s this other one – I don’t know if you’ve seen it – there’s a visually impaired person and HoloLens was looking at and saying “Stop. Cross the street. Oh, you’re talking to Yina, let me pull her up on LinkedIn.”

Yina: Oh wow, that’s nice.

Dux: It’s crazy!

Yina: There’s definitely lots of good things happening in technology and it’s a really good time to be a part of it.

Dux: Absolutely. Now, speaking of technology, Ignite is coming up.

Yina: Yes.

Dux: Any insights you can share with Ignite?

Yina: Ignite is going to be a fun time.

Dux: So, how many sessions are you responsible for?

Yina: Um, I’m going to be giving one session.

Dux: Okay.

Yina: I’m going to be talking about how to build smart applications that use the Microsoft Graph and integrate with Office 365 data.

Dux: Uh-huh.

Yina: There are several other sessions that my team is putting together. A lot of them are on accessing data in Office 365, building on top of the Microsoft services… We’ve taken a spin this time around are being very enterprise and technology-focused-

Dux: Sure.

Yina: So, we’re going to have sessions around how to integrate bots with the Graph, for example.

Dux: Awesome.

Yina: How to use serverless or Azure functions in the Graph, how to IOT in the Graph, like a lot of kind of different themes than we’ve shown before and also very industry-focused, like talking about how healthcare is using and integrating with Office 365, how education is using some of these integrations, so we’re going to see a lot of that coming up and it’s going to be an exciting time and the entire team is getting ready for that.

Dux: And I think that’s the exciting part too, where Microsoft is now focused more on industry, and you talk about solutions, right?

Yina: Yep.

Dux: That’s where you see the impact. It’s not just about hooking up APIs…

Yina: It’s not about a single technology.

Dux: Exactly.

Yina: It’s about the convergence of that and how you take the best of them to make these types of applications. Whether it is the ones that we were talking about before, or ones that are solving a specific business need.

Dux: And that’s the world we live in, right?

Yina: Yep.

Dux: Well Yina, thank you very much. I think I took you to your destination, right?

Yina: Yes!

Dux: So, definitely very excited about this and looking forward to Ignite. Make sure y’all check out Yina at Ignite.

Yina: Yep!

Dux: What’s your Twitter handle? We’ll put it on the video as well.

Yina: It’s @yina_arenas

Dux: Yina Arenas

Yina: Yes, exactly.

Dux: Well thanks a lot-

Yina: Thank you so much for having me.

Dux: Of course!

Yina: It was a great chat.

Dux: Thank you, until the next episode, bye!