Sitecore Symposium: What’s Your Future as a .NET Developer?
Ding, dong, .NET is dead! If you keep up with tech news, you’ve probably heard this already. I had, so I wasn’t completely shocked to hear that Sitecore is shifting away from .NET Framework web development at Sitecore Symposium. I’ve been a .NET developer for my entire career, so my first thought was, “What does this mean for my job?”
To be clear, .NET Framework may be at the end of its lifecycle, but that does not mean that it’s going to disappear overnight. No new features are being developed; however, support will continue for it for the foreseeable future. There will be .NET websites to support for years to come, and the Sitecore XM Cloud environment itself does actually still require .NET Framework to run (as well as .NET Core). It’s the development process on top of Sitecore that is moving away from .NET Framework, and that has some significant implications for backend developers. Sitecore is embracing the future of web development with open arms by leaving ASP.NET MVC behind and utilizing a fully headless approach with XM Cloud.
So, what does this mean for .NET Sitecore developers? Are we obsolete? The short answer from Sitecore is an emphatic no…but, as is always true in tech, there will be a bit of learning and adapting required. There is still an important place for backend developers, but we won’t be using .NET Framework anymore when creating new renderings and components. Instead, XM Cloud will support headless development, pushing content to Sitecore's Experience Edge delivery network. To render this content, developers have several options. Next.JS, built on React, is a popular option (getting a lot of attention due to Sitecore's technical partnership with Vercel), but ASP.NET Core is also a viable option, and will likely feel more familiar to .NET developers who can continue to work in C#. Vue and Angular are also valid options.
As a final note, when working on backend features, you can write classic pipeline code for XM Cloud, but you are encouraged to use the new GraphQL endpoints. This is more for the ability to support legacy code than intended to be a crutch to avoid learning the new technology. And if you’re curious to start working with these new services but aren't moving to XM Cloud yet, there is more good news: GraphQL and Webhooks are also coming to XP with 10.3, allowing XP developers to start writing more service-based backend functionality.
The Time to Start Learning React is Now
I have nowhere near the level of expertise our senior frontend developers have, but I know enough to modify existing React applications and create simple new ones. I think that familiarity is a good goal to start with. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by React if you’re expecting to write a whole complex React app from start to finish immediately, but if you take it slow and start with the basics now, you’ll be ready for the future of Sitecore. There are a lot of fantastic training courses for React available online—I really enjoyed the ones on frontendmasters.com.
Front-End and Back-End Come Together
The takeaways from my first two sessions at Sitecore Symposium were: “.NET is dead, headless is the future, learn React.” After that, the presentation from Velir’s Dave Peet and Children’s National Hospital’s Ali Nesson was the perfect way to tie it all together with a real-world example of how Velir’s developers used a headless development strategy when building a new Sitecore XM 10.2 site. Sitecore 10.2 is not required to be headless but provides headless capabilities and the ability to incrementally convert MVC to headless. So, it’s a great intermediary step towards XM Cloud (which is fully headless) without requiring a full rebuild. Our back-end and front-end teams really came together to educate each other and combine their knowledge and strengths. The back-end developers brought in crucial knowledge of Sitecore, back-end architecture, and data concepts, while the front-end team provided their expertise in React to help bring the back-end developers up to speed on the framework and handled the advanced React work.
I think for organizations to succeed, it will be important to break down barriers between front-end and back-end development and utilize external training resources as well as encourage teams to help train each other. If you’re an independent developer reading this and thinking about your career, it will be crucial to stop thinking of yourself as a “back-end” developer and embrace the front-end. And hey, “full stack” sounds great on a resume. React may execute on the client side, but it’s just another programming language—if you know how to code in .NET, you can learn React.
Other Takeaways from Sitecore Symposium
At Sitecore Symposium, the thing I was most excited to hear about Sitecore’s updates to the developer experience was that changes will compile and load in seconds. I spend so much of my time compiling my code and then waiting as much as twenty minutes while the spinner spins endlessly in the browser tab. The idea of back-end changes loading seconds after compiling got me jumping out of my seat.
There are two ways to do development in XM: Edge mode, and fully local. Edge mode connects to a cloud dev instance and only runs the rendering host locally. As a result, it’s super lightweight and lightning fast. This mode is ideal for front-end developers. The other option, preferable for back-end/full-stack developers, is fully local, which means Docker and containers. It will not be possible to run a true “local” CM instance with XM Cloud—that is, running as an IIS application on the computer as opposed to in Docker containers. Get comfortable with Docker now because you’re going to be seeing it a lot.
You Should Go to Sitecore Symposium and Become an MVP
As a developer, Sitecore Symposium is an invaluable resource for learning what’s on the horizon and getting an in-depth look at both new and current Sitecore technology. As Velir’s Sitecore Practice Lead Dan Solovay explained to me, you shouldn’t go into the conference with the expectation of coming out of it an expert in any topic, because the talks at Symposium aren’t training sessions. They’re more of an opportunity to learn high-level concepts that you can dig into when you get home and get informed and inspired about all the things you can do with Sitecore. This mindset really helped me get the most out of Symposium as a developer.
As a Sitecore MVP, the MVP Summit is a priceless opportunity. You’ll get even more exclusive insights that aren’t publicly available yet (all under NDA, so no sharing here—you’ll have to become an MVP yourself if you want to know the details!). What’s even more valuable is the opportunity to provide direct input and feedback to the Sitecore team. There are roundtable discussions where MVPs can have open conversations with members of the Sitecore team, as well as small panels with extensive Q&A sessions. It’s a unique opportunity to provide suggestions or raise concerns, and to make an impact on the products Sitecore offers.
If you feel intimidated by the MVP program, don’t be. Sitecore wants the MVP community to grow. It’s not intended to be an exclusive club. The members must provide quality and value, but Sitecore wants as much of that as possible. So, share your knowledge! Write blog posts about anything that took you more than an hour to figure out. Create open-source modules for any custom tool you’ve built that makes life easier for you or your clients. Working towards MVP status benefits both yourself and the community at large.
If you are interested in becoming an MVP but don’t know where to start, Sitecore offers an MVP mentorship program.
Want to learn more about Velir’s Sitecore MVPs? Contact us to chat with one or visit our Sitecore page. And keep an eye on our blog for more posts about our insights and takeaways from this year’s Sitecore Symposium!