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.


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.


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.



  1. Allen says, "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."

    This "bleed-over" is *exactly* what I want. I guess I should clarify my rant so that it can't be read as opposition to splitting the conferences. But, yes, I think SDO should be a feature, which is why I don't understand why the conference site says it won't be.

  2. Craig,

    The site does say that those topics will be covered, however they will be done from the devloper's perspective, without all the marketing buzz-hype. It said that it isn't the *focus* of the conference. For that, the EECon is where it is at. I do think we need to draw the line somewhere. However, if we've drawn it in the wrong place, then that is where we need community feedback.

    For the others reading this, you should go to the borland.public.conference newsgroup to make sure you have expressed your opinion.

  3. I think we should be very careful about affect a split might bring into DevCon

    - Will value remain the same?

    - Will coverage expand?

    - Is financial support withdrawn from DevCon to pay for "Pebble Beach, or Hilton-Head", "a round of golf" and "a glass of 100 year old Cognac"?

  4. Allen,

    I don't for a second doubt that Borland is dedicated to selling SDO, nor even that it will be a topic at the conference. The only thing that baffles me is the statement that you need to go to a different conference to get this info.

    I don't think developers (or CEOs!) need the full message. I think they need the bit which applies to them; that's what "role-based" is all about. And that's where I'd draw the line, if it were me with the pencil. I'd rewrite the conference page to say:

    "Although, some coverage of enterprise products will be included in the Conference program, a separate Enterprise Essentials Conference is also planned with more complete coverage of these topics."

    (Note SDO deleted from the selection above.)

    And then I'd add an SDO/business of software track, focusing on how single developers and employees of small companies can be successful in the marketplace. I.e., the type of info that Paul Graham and Joel Spolsky present -- developers eat this stuff up.

  5. Nick,

    I was using you as a way to juxtapose both views and try and bring them together.

  6. Craig,

    I think the site hints at exactly that, although, I admit it is less that clear. From the conference site:

    "Although, some coverage of SDO and enterprise products will be included in the Conference program, a separate Enterprise Essentials Conference is also planned with more complete coverage of these topics."

    Define "some." That may be where you're having trouble? Also there seems to be no explicit reference to a separate SDO track. I'm not convinced that one is needed. It should be covered in conjunction with all the other tracks where appropriate. I'd prefer to keep it this way since it keeps it out of the realm of theoretical and into the "I can do this with the tools today" area.

  7. Serge,

    Those are very valid concerns and quite frankly, I cannot answer that. For the conference themselves and promotion of same are now under the marketing teams and their budgets. The existing DevRel and conference teams are responsible only for the content. This allows our side of the house to concentrate on getting the best content we can. Marketing is responsible for promotion, the venue, special events, keynotes, etc.. Of course, I make be wrong about how it is really split it, but that is my impression.

  8. Allen,

    A very clear explanation. I agree completely.

    It will be interesting to see how these two conference events shape up.


  9. Forget CEO's. Borland is a non-starter with them, and besides if we want their opinion, we (the developers) will give it to them. They can't do squat without developers. The best argument Borland has is that the developers love it. If you forget that you forget to breathe as a business. Microsoft doesn't give a two-penny damn about developers, their customers are end users, they sell applications to end users. They talk to CEO's, and CEO's know what they mean. Borland sells tools to developers, and developers know what Borland is talking about (at least we used to.) I'm telling you, it's the developers who tell the CEO's what tools to use, just accept it - that is the fact. You are talking to the wrong people, about the wrong things. It's enough to make me want to switch to Microsoft Visual Studio, when I hear all this **** about ALM etc.

  10. So, Steve, don't hold back... tell us how you really feel ;-).. I certainly hope you don't treat your CEO (presuming you work for one) with such disdain.. I'd be willing to bet, you'd not be working there for long. That is also not a very good way to win friends and influence people. If you can win over your CEOs and other management, you are way ahead of the game. Borland is simply trying to help you. Treating it as an adversarial relationship isn't going to endear you to anyone.

  11. [Steve Moran]

    "Microsoft doesn't give a two-penny damn about developers..."

    I could not disagree with you more on this one point.

    -- Robert

  12. I am glad to see the split and the direction. Good clarifications. Thanks

  13. Allen wrote:

    "Define 'some.' That may be where you're having trouble?"

    Sorta. I should emphasize once more that my blog was about SDO marketing as a whole, not about the conference in particular. I don't think that Borland is going to sink or swim based on the success or failure of DevCon. But SDO has that potential, especially in the "swim" end of things.

    Allen correctly notes that Borland has been chastized for not marketing development tools to managers/execs, and they are starting to do this. I think the converse is also true: Borland should market business solutions (namely, SDO) to developers. But it has to be done in a way which is different from how SDO is marketed to managers/execs.

    Managers and execs seem to already know they need help with their business processes, and they are well aware of how often software projects fail. You don't need to tell them that they need SDO, you just need to show them it will solve their problems.

    Developers, OTOH, tend to ignore business needs altogether, and attribute the same level of mortality to their pet projects as a 16-year-old boy with his first car. Most developers read the SDO marketing materials and come away saying, "What a bunch of meaningless jargon. Boy, the PHBs must be really dumb to pay money for this stuff." You can read the reactions to the Core::SDP documents on borland.public.delphi.non-technical if you doubt my assertion on this point.

    So developers need a different set of brochures to be sold on SDO, and Borland already knows how to do this -- Boz Elloy did it very well at BorCon last year. I want to see more of that.

  14. Actually, what I see and hear all the time from the VP-level is "standards", and that is their #1 argument against Borland. Is Delphi "standard"? Is VCL.NET "standard"? The second argument is somewhat related to the first, which is "after you're gone, will I be able to find a Delphi developer to maintain this code". I love almost everything Borland is focusing on, but the key word that seems to unlock doors at the VP level is "interoperability". They are less likely to object to buying Borland tools if they know they aren't locked into them, and that if they choose to do some work in Visual Studio and some work in Delphi, that the two will communicate seamlessly and one could be 'converted' to the other as painlessly as possible. Things like being able to read/write Visual Studio project files are big here, as is the ability read/write Visual Studio .SLN files (which isn't there yet). The interop makes the decision to 'risk' Borland tools 'feel' safer, and that makes it easier to sell them on. I hope that Borland sells the message of interop and standards compliance so that people at the VP level and above don't feel like they are being asked to take risks with 'non-standard' solutions. In my opinion, VP's are too risk averse on the whole, but c'est la'vie.

  15. Hi Peers(and Allen),

    I'm reading all this about SDO and I'm generally agreeing with Craig. Please do give me something to play with. I can actually only afford(stretching and making acrobacies) the Pro SKU of Delphi, this means that - if I got the things right - I have no right in using Together as a code generation tool. You don't want to give Pro users ECOII? Fine. You don't want to give Pro users two way code generator? Fine. How about a one way code generator?

    That would allow "us" to things quicker, better and more than everything else, *using Delphi without having to download/buy third party


    Even only a tool to convert a DB to source(be it C# or would be an extremely welcome tool and a much valuable addition.



  16. Wait a minute... The PHBs get to go play golf at Pebble Beach or Hilton Head, while I get to go to a geek museum? That sucks <g>. I have to admit that I hate listening to manager-speak, but I'd be willing to sit through hundreds of hours of it, if it meant I could play Pebble Beach! ;p

  17. Allen wrote: "Marketing is responsible for promotion, the venue, special events, keynotes, etc..."

    I understand this, yet what level of marketing group is responsible for the event. When we look in the past of Inprise days, it was marketing decision to target enterprise market... so what it would be today?

    I think an idea of splitting conference is great, MS doing the same thing with set of different conferences to present to different groups. But it is importent to look back and do not do same mistakes. If BorCon without hipe = DevCon, then it is great. But if DevCon is more of the user group meeting week, then it is not much of the exciting. For once (again) you shift conference schedule to use one more day of the work week, which isn't great move for developers (hey, I would like to be on the conference, but still have my work days paid), but offcourse this is just look back perspective, if there is a business decision which really bring value into a conference arrangment, then I do not think about this as a big problem.

    Being a conference for love-Borland group, lets not forget to help this group in marketing Borland products. MS doing a great job to promote their products, even one which do not exists yet. I, personaly, would like to see more of "will-be-there" things.

    Another thing which were presented very weak in a past is a team organization/management. Solution presentation, best practices. This is not one-thing topic, and it is not marketing presentation, but it is solution presentation on how-to-do-things-right-with-Borland-products.

    Add project manager, software architect, team manager tracks and show different aspects of consuming Borland technologies and it will be valuable for many.

  18. I think you make good points and I think the split is a good idea, and hope that it pays off in the long run. It's understandable that what was once "Big Bad BorCon" might now turn into two off-springs, DevCon and CxoCon. I just hope this split is done taking both sides into consideration and not cutting back on the side that right now brings in more revenue.


Please keep your comments related to the post on which you are commenting. No spam, personal attacks, or general nastiness. I will be watching and will delete comments I find irrelevant, offensive and unnecessary.