Ambivalence and ALT.NET

It pains me to say it, but ever since I tuned in to the ALT.NET movement, it’s kind of rubbed me the wrong way.  The content of the posts that I read are generally pretty good (and at times great), but what gets to me is the overall negative tone of the community.  Rather than just trying to get the word out about the cool open source (or just non-Microsoft) technologies that are out there, and the Agile methods and practices that can make your life easier, the prevailing message seems to be, “If you’re not already doing this, you’re a sub-par developer.”

I understand the need for a foil for Microsoft, the need for a periodic reminder that not everything that comes out of Redmond is gold.  But I think it can be accomplished in a more positive way.  In an email conversation with Jeffrey Palermo, I asserted that what we need are “Agile Evangelists,” missionaries into the land of Mort that can spread the word about the good news of a more Agile approach to software development.  But what we seem to get most of the time are complaints that Microsoft isn’t doing enough, and that bosses, co-workers, or fellow .NET community members are too dull to realize the benefits of what they’re touting.

You can see this dynamic in action if you watch the video of ScottGu presenting the very first peek at ASP.NET MVC to the ALT.NET conference in Austin.  For the most part, things go fine, but there a few tense moments where people asking questions are downright belligerent.  Since the MVC framework is a genuine (IMHO) attempt by Microsoft to reach out to this community, you’d think they would be a bit more cordial.

That said, I think their message is a sound one.  Most developers that I know don’t devote a lot of extra time to learning new technologies, and thusly have a limited perspective.  That’s not intended as an insult.  These guys program for 9 hours a day, there’s no reason to expect them to take more time away from their friends and families to tinker with the newest language they heard about on Twitter.  Those of us that feel compelled to do so, however, (I think) have a responsibility to at least make them aware that there are other things out there.  If the only exposure they have to this outside community is a blog post they stumble upon that rants for hundreds of words about how Microsoft will never release anything worth using and that all developers who don’t use technology X are just wasting their time, how likely do you think they’ll be to try technology X?  Ever? 

This isn’t in any way intended to be some kind of personal attack on those who actively participate in this sub-culture.  I think the ALT.NETers have a lot of good things to say, and a lot that they can teach the larger .NET community.  If they can temper their message a bit, I think they will reach enough of us that I think of as the “tuned-in small names” that there can be some progress in exposing Agile practices and open-source tools to the masses.

4 thoughts on “Ambivalence and ALT.NET

  1. Chad Myers

    After having been slapped in the face repeatedly by Microsoft many times over the last 7-8 years, I think it’s reasonable for people to be skeptical and weary when Microsoft (even if it is ScottGu) present something new and sold as a radical departure from the designer-laden norm that has bitten them so many times in the past. Why should Microsoft get a free pass? I remember Microsoft touting Visual Basic ViewPages (I think that’s what it was called) as the New, Officially Blessed way of doing ASP + COM web applications. It was all the rage, all the hotness, in every trade magazine, tons of MSDN articles. But it had some critical design flaws and then, it seems, in a matter of weeks it totally disappeared and anyone who was working with it was totally abandoned.

    It should be noted that people haven’t given RoR, for example, a free pass. It’s only caught on after years and years of development and practice and use in the real world (though maybe not mainstream). Many were, and still are, very skeptical of RoR and it’s capabilities and RIGHTFULLY SO! So then why should Microsoft get a free pass?

    I don’t think I’ve heard anyone slam ScottGu for doing MVC and all have applauded his effort to turn things into a new direction at Microsoft, so we take him at his word. Remember, though, the company behind him may yet tank his effort and so we must be cautious.

    As far as whiny complainers, yet, that. is it because we’re whiny complainers, or is it disgusted with how the art of software development has been completely perverted (by many, not just Microsoft) in a vain attempt to make it ‘easier’ for junior developers rather than making the most important thing the teaching of core values and practices?

    I know I’m disgusted with the way development is done in most shops. Microsoft is easy to pick on, but they’re certainly not the only offender, or even the worst. They have lots of good and lots of bad. If they didn’t have any good, we wouldn’t have the ‘.NET’ on the end of the ALT.NET moniker.

    In short, ALT.NET is (partially?) about doing it better and increasing discipline. There are principles and practices that have been around longer than most of our careers that are still as timelessly true today as they were back then and yet people still don’t follow them and hold on to proven-wrong practices and continually shoot themselves in the foot by this. Why, then, shouldn’t we be disgusted with this fact?

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  2. Brian Sullivan

    Thanks for your thoughts, Chad! I don’t really disagree with what the ALT.NET movement has to say, I’m just saying a change in tone might be beneficial. At the risk of being cliche, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

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  3. David Mohundro

    Really, the “tone” varies widely depending on who you read. Not only that, but text is such a poor means of communication. I wonder sometimes if I’m reading into someone’s words too much when in fact, they’re just very sarcastic and biting, but well intending.

    I completely understand what you’re saying and I think we could all do a better job of communicating. One of my biggest complaints with using blogs as a means of communication is that the readers of blogs are, by definition, attempting to learn more. If the blogs are the only place that this information is getting pushed out, then only learners are going to be able to get this information.

    I think it is up to people in organizations to push this out and in user groups. I spent my entire first two years of development without any feed subscriptions – I didn’t even know they existed! From the moment I first subscribed to my first feed (CodingHorror I think), my learning as a developer increased greatly. If all we do is get developers who are passionate about their craft, I think we’ve succeeded.

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  4. Brian Sullivan

    That’s true, Mo. You don’t really realize how much is communicated by vocal overtones until someone takes something you said in an IM completely the wrong way. Another issue may be that the majority of people have a difficult time expressing themselves in writing anyway. I don’t think this is the case with most ALT.NETers, though. Whether I like the tone or not, most of the bloggers I’ve read seem to be pretty skilled writers.

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