Overheard at DevWeek: There's too much technology in the world

25 March 2009

My workshop day at DevWeek is over, and I'm waiting for Thursday to do my remaining three sessions on C# and F#. I've had a number of good conversations here – thanks to everybody who came up to me and said hi!

For no apparent reason, one common theme has crept up several times in discussions I've had this week, both with other speakers and with attendees of the conference. It's the topic of technology evolution, and the associated difficulties people have to keep up to date. Generally, there appear to be three types of programmers in the world (tongue in cheek, slightly):

  1. The ones who are interested in technology and chose a career in that area because they've always been interested. Of course they can be overwhelmed by the amount of new technology all around them, but type 1 programmers regard it as a challenge because it's part of their mission in life.
  2. The ones who have a personal life which doesn't (only) involve computers, but who recognize that regardless of the job they have or the opinions of their employers, it's in their own best interest to learn about new technology sooner rather than later. So they go to community events or pay their own ticket for a conference like DevWeek. They spend time reading blogs and stackoverflow.com.
  3. The ones for whom programming is a 9-5 (insert local standard working hours here) job. They look at technology as a tool. The tool is given to them by their employer, and they don't necessarily know how to use it very well. They aren't interested personally, so they pass on training opportunities half the time. If their employer gives them a new or changed tool, they hate him for it, because it makes their work more difficult. On average they live much longer than types 1 and 2.

The reality is today that there are far more type 3 programmers in the world than types 1 and 2. They tend to form large teams as well. Teaching any single type 3 programmer something really exciting and new, like maybe nullable types or even generics, is quite a hard job, but for large teams of them it's practically impossible, which puts some people in the industry in a pretty difficult position.

Take consultants. They come to a customer, analyze the situation, and find that the best solution would be to create a little Ruby on Rails application. They suggest that to the customer, who thinks it's the most hilarious thing he's recently heard. Next time, they might not even suggest the same thing. And it doesn't have to be anything esoteric like Ruby, it could be new programming language features that some of us have been using for about 5 years now in VB.NET or C#.

Finally, take component/library vendors like DevExpress. Sometimes we see the need to move on, so for instance we start using Generics – and since we asked back then, we know that there's a good percentage of our customers who likes that we made that step. But how large is the group of people out there who doesn't consider using any 3rd party controls because they don't understand half the technology that these products are based on? I honestly don't know how big this problem is today, but one thing I'm pretty sure about: it's not going to get better on its own. There's hardly anything we can do about it. Maybe Microsoft, the company that defines the programming world most of us live in, should spend some time thinking about this and coming up with ideas. I guess if I asked, they might say they already do this. Doesn't seem to work very well, though.

10 comment(s)
Gary Cox

I personally have stuck by your product because you move with technology.  If you become stagnant and remain behind then your competitors will love you because those of us that go forward and keep ourselves up-to-date (as they say) will move on.  So keep up what you are doing, let those who don't want to learn stay behind.

25 March, 2009
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25 March, 2009
Aaron Smith

I am a type 1 and always have been. I do have a life outside of technology, but I don't just learn this stuff because of a job, I do it because it's my way of life.

That said, there is a huge problem in this industry because of type 3 programmers. These are generally the ones that create the messes that type 1 and 2s have to clean up. They usually don't care about how well their stuff works or how it looks, as long as they can get it out the door so they can get home to go fishing or something.

I don't think component makers like DevExpress need to worry about type 3 programmers. If they did, they would have to stick with the oldest technology possible and try to dumb it down so that the type 3ers wouldn't even have to read the documentation. If this was the case, then DevExpress would lose the type 1 and type 2 programmers to someone else who caters to the type 1 and type 2 people. If ALL component makers catered to type 3, then us type 1 and type 2 people would just create our own components because we know we could do it better... Plus, type 3 programmers are not going to buy controls anyway, because they will just be happy with whatever is given to them for free. No extra learning required.

With all that in mind, I must say that I have been really happy with DevExpress and the complexity with ease of use that they provide, but I have been a little disappointed by the slowness of bringing out stuff for things like silverlight and wpf. However, I know there is a process that has to happen with these things and then looking at what just happened at Mix 09, it's probably a good thing they were a little slow to release stuff like that.

25 March, 2009
Scott Woods

Maybe type three can (should be) redefined as:

The ones for whom programming is a business. They look at technology as a tool. The tool should not cause business opportunities to be lost due to productivity issues around change for the sake of change. Their employers are willing to pay large amounts of money to ensure technology migration and interoperability to continue to support the latest platforms, but are not willing to pay the price for change just because a new technology is cool.  The new technology has to provide economic business advantages.On average they live much longer than types 1 and 2.

25 March, 2009
greg wilson

I think the larger companies create type 3 programmers.  I've been a consultant for over twenty years and it has always seemed to me that the larger companies move so slow and have so many layers of management that nothing ever really gets done.  This discourages people over time.  In addition the work is quite mundane.  The higher a individual moves up in management the less creative he becomes instead preferring to not make mistakes rather than to innovate.   I've been fortunate to work in the defense, broadcast and sports industries and it's always been fun.  If I had to be a cobol programmer or do boring business applications (like insurance), I'd probably turn into a type 3 programmer.  I guess I have a little emphathy for those guys.  Since I work in more "cutting edge" environments, the DevExpress components are absolutely vital.  Your components make all the difference!

25 March, 2009
Junior Thurler

I like so much the components of DevEx since they only build Delphi Components, since 1999. But the .NET components today don't have a good documentation to the programer. The help files is just showing the classes, the demos are so completely and so dificult to a new programer in the .NET world that sometimes it afraid... I think that DevEx could make more example of simple use of varios controls on the help files because I'm not the only one that agree in this case of the poor documentation...

25 March, 2009
Peter Hearn

I would say I'm a type 3, and that firmly puts me in the camp of a DevExpress customer!  (or else I'd roll my own components).

Once upon a time I was definitely a type 1, but nowadays there are too many languages to master, visual design is a big requirement for clients and I'm not good at that, timescales for projects are murderously tight and most apps now (and I'm thinking of Web apps in particular) are held together with bits of Javascript, asp.net, css and a few frameworks too.

The web is to blame of course - a crude system devised for sharing physics documents has been bent and twisted into a global data-processing platform and nobody has ever stood back and designed the bloody thing properly!  When you're building houses on sand, it's hard to work up any enthusiasm or pride in being a builder.

I am now very old - 45 - but at a functional level, there's been no real progress in the last 20 years in IT.  It all LOOKS really great now, but we still query, edit and save rows back to tables in Sql databases.

So, in my journey from being a type 1 to a type 3, I would cite an industry which never FINISHES anything as being the problem!  Windows can't make it through the day without numerous updates - we're all on-line for fixes, patches and work-arounds, just to get through the day.  C# is evolving so fast it's bound to become a huge mess in a few years.  My PC gets slower by the day as more patches and junk weigh it down, and folk wonder why working in technology just isn't interesting any more!

We DO have too much technology, and very little of it is stable enough or well enough thought through to make investing the time and effort to learn it worthwhile.  Getting through the programming day is like an Indiana Jones mission - you're relieved to have survived and if the project is still alive then that's a bonus.

26 March, 2009
R Cox

What about type 4?

The part time type 2.5 or the hobbyist.

I read when I can, learn when I can, hit the keyboard when I can which is usually when I get home.

I too rely on DevExpress because you stay current with the technology. It’s like candy…

Reading through the article and responses I can agree with a lot of what has been said. I work for a large company (not in IT) and I have seen how mundane their everyday jobs can be. So I totally agree with Greg… and I liked what Peter had to say… There are a lot of issues that Microsoft seems to never fix and yet they move on. One question someone brought up… does Silverlight have a data model… is there a plan for a data model? Why not?

We all have to keep as current as we possibly can.

What I think is important for third party developers are to keep their samples, examples clean and straight forward. I don’t think complex or complexity is the right word here… be as technologically advanced as possible, and be simple in design. I have seen other developers’ code snippets that were jaw dropping elaborate which took quite a bit of coding; and I could have done it in 6 lines with basic knowledge and it was a lot easier to understand.

Now take XPO for instance; I know other developers have said it’s too steep of a learning tool to just jump right in and get it running... you need time. Others say it’s just great… for me… better examples would certainly help getting things moving. The immediate questions that I had weren’t covered in the examples, so to the docs I go. And now we are talking about time which most of us don’t have, and I think that’s the main issue.

Please be as technologically advanced as possible and provide as many examples as possible that way everyone can enjoy!

26 March, 2009
Oliver Sturm (DevExpress)

Hi guys,

Thanks for all the comments on this! I don't feel the need to reply to anything in particular -- in the end your comments show how different the world looks from the various perspectives one can have, and I guess that's part of what I wanted to show in my post as well.

30 March, 2009

I'm just wondering, what a sad thing that today's wonderful technology just makes my computer working like a worm and my life so impatient. Each time i start to work with VS2008 I felt like my laptop was a x486. Resharper, devExpress,... all these nice tools are just too sloooow, unacceptablly slow. For some moment I do miss the old VB6 or Delphi, just because i feel they are faster than myself.

All the tech geeks, the enthusiast need to reconsider themselves when they are pushing the world according to their minds. Just like MS itself, either roll out for us an less-florid but efficient Windows7, or wait until Quadcore laptops are the cheapest.

6 May, 2009

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