This Sunday, a three year anniversary came and went, and because I was writing an article for a magazine I forgot all about it. Three years ago, on March 15, 2006, I officially started work at DevExpress as CTO, trying to fill the nine-league boots left by Richard Morris, my predecessor.
It's instructive to think about what has happened over the past three years of DevExpress' life while I had my hand on the technology tiller.
- We started these blogs and this community site very soon after I joined (this blog was started on April 7, 2006). One of my remits was to blog about what we were doing, what we wanted to do, what we had done and shouldn't have, and the rest of it. And to be candid and open. This post makes it blog number 290 for me, a smidgeon less than 100 posts a year, or a post every 2.5 business days. In the early days I was pretty much the only blogger, but now we have Oliver, Gary, Mehul, and Emil writing like crazy too. Community Server tells me I've had 1716 comments published to these blog posts, which probably means my Mum has been typing non-stop.
- The community section here was the first step to opening up DevExpress more so that our customers can see what we're about. When I started there was a lot of resistance to this (keeping the window blinds drawn means that people can't see our mistakes), but I'd have to say we've been quite successful at it. We now have roadmaps every year, we pre-announce new features with screenshots, I sometimes predict (and get disastrously wrong) when we'll release, we're better at support and at documentation than we were, etc. I get the feeling that customers are more confident about what we're doing and therefore keener to renew subscriptions and so on. I'm not saying we're perfect yet — we still make mistakes — but we've come light years from where we were.
- When I started there were just the WinForms, ASP.NET and VCL products. We'd just begun the subscription licensing plan (and the whole client center application was in the process of being written with an early alpha of XAF in order to accommodate it). Since then we have had three new technologies to research and decide about: WPF, Silverlight, and ASP.NET MVC. Despite the growth in the company (headcount has increased by about 2/3 in this time), this still represents a dilution of our efforts in any one platform.
- The number of customers we have has grown too (thankfully!), and we have very good retention rates for our subscription customers. I can't claim any kudos for this because I think the company as a whole has become much more customer-centric (although if you ever listen in on one of our marketing/evangelism meetings, you'll hear Ray berating us for not being customer-centric enough) and I feel that you, our customers, are supportive of what we are trying to do and what we produce. We do listen to you about our products and what we need to improve them, even though those improvements may not happen as quickly as you'd like. Another big aspect of being customer-centric is that you can contact any of us at a moment's notice: my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, for example. If you want to phone: 818 844 3383, extension 206.
- Another one of my remits was to drive the quality of our products upwards. About 6 months after I joined, we were at TechEd Europe in Barcelona, and I remember having this long meeting in the hotel bar with the main R&D leads (they were there too) to discuss and thrash out how we were going to implement agile practices, including TDD and unit tests. Since then we've even released our unit test suite as part of DXperience, and ASPxGridView (as far as I recall) was the first product we wrote using pair-programming. The couple of ***-ups we've had since then with our releases (there was the black day when we posted two different releases with the same version number, for example) has only driven us as a company to improve quality. As with everything, it's a journey: we're not there yet, nor do I expect us to reach it.
- Almost a year ago, we leased some office space in Glendale, CA, and moved in. Pretty quickly, this became our marketing hub and I started to rack up the miles on Southwest travelling back and forth. During this time we started the DevExpress Channel and Jeff and Amanda and Erica came on board. Our magazine and web advertising is now done exclusively in Glendale and we've had some spectacular campaigns over the past year, due to the work Kevin and AJ have put into them (AJ's the graphics wizard behind our conference giveaways as well). A side-result of all this marketing is that I'm now the go-to person for magazine editors and reporters on how DevExpress is reacting to the news du jour, which of course only increases the penetration of our company brand.
All in all, three years filled with incident and color. I certainly didn't think it would be like this, to be honest.
Anyway, if you're an old-timer customer-wise and remember the days BJ (Before Julian), or are a relatively new customer and are wondering what all this fuss is about, I'd like to welcome you on board the DevExpress roller-coaster, it's been a wild ride so far but you ain't seen nothing yet. Fasten your seatbelts.