Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Developers, DevCon, Cubans and Cognac...

Nick and Craig (of Borland newsgroup and TeamB fame) have both weighed in on the seemingly odd direction of this year's Borland Conference, now referred to as DevCon.  Frankly, I have to sympathize with them both.  Being on the inside of Borland, I have a clearly different perspective on things.  However, looking from the outside, I can see why they're a little concerned.  Let me try and shed some light on what the thinking on this may be.  I doubt I'll be able to even come close, and I may even offend a few developers or CxO's...  But, hey, sometimes you just gotta... ;-)..

Inprise? Did he say, “Inprise?“

For many years, I've heard over and over, in the newsgroups, at BorCon “Meet the team” sessions, and directly from customers, this ongoing rant about how Borland needs to “sell” to their bosses, the managers, CIO, and CTOs.  For a long time, Borland has been very good at capturing the hearts and minds of you the front-line developers.  However, we've seemed to always fall short on the messaging to those that actually make the purchasing descisions.  With a previous management team (who shall remain nameless), this rant was totally misunderstood.  This led to the, now infamous, “Inprise” name change.  It was a radical move, and one that certainly did very little to endear our core constituency, those front-line developers.  But it was and attempt at winning the hearts and minds of your bosses, CIOs and CTOs.  It was just executed poorly.

“This ain't no steenking Inprise“

Now, I've read and heard all the latest scuttle from the peanut-gallery.  They're likening the current marketing surrounding ALM, SDO, Core::SDP, etc.. as a return to “Inprise.”  I do not think that is the case.  Unlike that time, in which it was clear, both externally and internally that the developers were just a cog on the software development machine's gears (or were they the grease in between the gears ;-), developers are a critical piece of the overall story.  In fact they are the centerpiece.  Developers are a perceptive, pragmatic, and sensitive bunch.  What I find interesting is that many times they latch more onto what was not said than what was actually said.  Why is that?  I think it is about trust.  Many developers seem to have a built-in “Bogo-meter” through which all “marketing messages” are passed.  Too many vague sounding buzz words, and the meter is pegging at the extremes.  But those are the sort of messages that do seem to resonate with the dev. managers, CIOs and CTOs of many companies.

Stereotypes

Now this is where I'll probably offend a few folks.. but I am going to state this as hyperbole in order to, hopefully, get my point across.  The reason for the split between having a single, all encompassing, Borland Conference and now having a smaller more focused Developer Conference and a separate Enterprise Essentials Conference is to face the realities of how we should be marketing the whole Borland SDO story.  Craig pointed out, quite rightly I might add, that many small companies through nessesity have to blend the roles of managers, CIOs and CTOs with that of the front-line developers.  However, I also think that in order to become big, you have to think and act big.  This is what we're doing.  By keeping a conference that we can tailor to the needs of the developers, we can maintain focus and add more value to that conference.  Contrary to what the feeling is between Craig and Nick, I think there will be a fairly large amount of bleed-over from the ALM and SDO side of the overall message.  Remember how I said that the developers are a critical piece of the whole story?  Who do you think puts the information into the ALM and SDO pipelines?  ALM and SDO are about management, predictability, and maintenance.  Without the base level information obtained from the developers, there is no information in pipeline for the managers, CIOs and CTOs to even see.

Cognac?

What's this have to do with Cognac?  Well, I liken the difference between the DevCon and EECon like this;  DevCon is about raw technology.  Its about learning how to get your job done as quickly and easily as possible.  It's about getting on board with the latest industry trends.  So I see this conferences as one where there the whole day is spent in different rooms listening to guy totally geek-out about how the latest cool piece of tech can improve their work.  Then, in the evening its about some special event at nearest “Sci-fi-” or tech- museum, amusement-park, or some similar geek attraction just to give everyone a chance to loosen up and have some fun.

On the other hand, a conference dedicated to the education of your manager, CIO or CTO is a little different.  These kinds of conferences would take place at a venue like Pebble Beach, or Hilton-Head.  Afternoon sessions would be suspended for one day of the conference for a round of golf.  Evening festivities would take place in huge parlor/library style room with dark mohogony panelling, leather upolstered wing-back chairs, a piano player in the corner adding a light ambiance to the room.  All the “suits” would be milling around with a fine Cuban in one hand and a glass of 100 year old Cognac in the other.  Dale, all the execs, board members, and the Borland marketing and sales managers would also be milling around asking “CIO Hank” how he likes his new summer home;  All the while gently leading the conversations back how Borland is there to help make them successful and make sure they get their yearly bonus.  This conference would be no less chock full of information and “marketing” than the DevCon, however, it is at a totally different level, delivered in a different fashion, and wined-and-dined with style. (to me?  Boooorrrrinngg!) 

If you have attended some of the Borland Conferences in the past few years, you may have noticed that Dale and the many execs that were milling around were surrounded by a flotilla of other suits.  These suits are those CTOs and CIOs.  They go to a conference for a different reason.  They are there to somehow make the right descision for their company, be able to defend it, and  to feel good about it.  This isn't accomplished by technology alone.  It is many times done by them feeling like their vendor's top management is also their buddy.  They've got their back, so to speak.

I realize this is total hyperbole and very stereotypical, but I wanted to make the point that front-line developers care about different things than CTOs and CIOs when it comes to dealing with a vendor.  So Nick, Craig, I'm sure this splitting of conferences isn't going to be perfect the first time around.  It will take fine tuning and everyone's feed back is essential.  However, I'd recommend reserving judgment until all the facts are fully disclosed.  In fact, I don't even know all the facts at this time since the sessions and tracks haven't even been fully decided on.