Getting ASP.NET programming lessons on the quiet

21 August 2007

A conversation I had recently turned out to be funny; not funny ha-ha per se, more funny amazement.

I was chatting to Plato, a member of our support team. He's taken on a couple more supervisory responsibilities since Max has been tanning himself on vacation at the seaside, and he showed me a reply that had been written to a customer. (I'm paraphrasing, by the way.)

"You must set the DataSource property of the ASPxGridView with every call to Page_Load, not just that first call with IsPostBack == false."

This stunned me: it implied that the customer didn't know the page cycle for ASP.NET applications, that they didn't know that everything has to get reconstructed (and destroyed) for every postback, that ASP.NET programming is just not WinForms programming, and that state is not maintained.

I was suddenly hit with a thought, and so I asked Plato: how many times are you helping people with our ASP.NET controls and it turns out that you end up helping them with standard ASP.NET concepts instead. He replied, every day. He gave the example of one customer who, despite several example programs or variations thereof, still doesn't seem to get the ASP.NET page cycle, the difference between server-side and client-side processing, but, because they're using our ASP.NET controls, we should be helping them.

This situation fills me with amazement and a bit of shock. We have a fixed set of resources for support: the guys in the support team. When one or more of them goes away on vacation or is sick the others have to take up the slack. And here they are teaching some customers ASP.NET programming by giving answers to questions and by providing example programs. All of this takes time, time away from other support issues and customers, those that perhaps require more advanced answers with longer research times.

And I'm shocked too: are people really approaching web applications as funny kinds of WinForms programs? Or are they being told by their bosses to "make this program work in a browser" and are thrown in the deep end, and have nowhere else to go but their control vendor's support team?

I remember when I started ASP.NET programming. I read through Fritz Onion's Essential ASP.NET cover to cover and I still got the cycle wrong in my first few attempts at writing a web app. And I was using Developer Express' ASPxGrid as well. But I persisted and worked it out and finally the page cycle became my friend. Do programmers these days not bother? Or are they hacking away in the hope that something works? And somehow we're getting caught up in this loop of hack, hack, hack?

I don't know the answers to these questions. I equally also don't know what to do about these under-the-radar ASP.NET tutorials that some customers are getting. Where is the line between helping with our controls and teaching about web programming? Should I even bother getting worried about this? A happy customer is a happy customer after all, even if we're making them happy by helping with some standard beginner stuff.

I've asked Plato to monitor the situation but I certainly don't want to get all bureaucratic and forbid it. Sigh, just color me amazed.

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