Friday, July 21, 2006

Fun, Funny and The Nod

Recently I've been trying to read the Creating Passionate Users blog more regularly since they seem to always have some valuable insight into topics that range from user behavior to group dynamics to making the mundane fun.  I really liked the posts about Usability through fun which says that it's OK for something that is not normally associated with "fun" to actually be fun.  To some folks, it may be unfathomable to think that some accountant spending all day twiddling with a spreadsheet would ever equate that with "fun."  Likewise, a developer spending hours on end trying to crack the mysteries of some webservice, a database schema, a UML model, or just trying to reduce a poorly written algorithm from order n2 to nLogn, may also refer to the experience as tedious and frustrating, but in the end rate the overall experience as "fun."  Developers are certainly an interesting crew.  The rest of society just looks as us as those poorly groomed geeks hunched over a keyboard in some dark room writing nothing but gibberish into the computer.

So why do so many of us consider this as "fun?"  We would most surely not think of it as "funny."  (Ok maybe the word picture of some tie-dyed, long haired bearded hippie may seem "funny."  O wait... I work with David I ;-).  I remember the first time I encountered a computer and computer programming.  There was a feeling of accomplishment and power after writing my first "Hello World" program.  And maybe that's also part of why we do what we do, we're a bunch of narcissistic control freaks ;-)?  Maybe it's just that we're also a highly creative group that are able to easily tap into both the left and right side of our brains?

This brings me to something I've been thinking about for a while.  How can we capture, identify, and otherwise articulate the notion that programming can be a  "fun" and pleasurable experience?  How can we, as this new Borland spin-out (currently referred to as "DevCo"), get the current and next generations interested in pursuing a career in software development?  What about providing low- to no-cost versions of Delphi, C++Builder, and C#Builder and blanketing the earth?  Clearly Microsoft has begun to go down this path with their no-cost Express editions of Visual Studio and the Coding 4 Fun site.  I applaud their efforts since the more you can grow the total number of developers the bigger the whole pie is and thus the larger "DevCo's" slice can become.  One thing that may hinder some of this effort from Microsoft is their sheer size.  They're a huge monolitic, faceless, unapproachable corporation.  Sure, they've been actively trying to present to the world their kinder gentler side through all the various bloggers and massive PR machine.  But how truly "genuine" is this effort?  I'd like "DevCo" to be the company that is approachable, honest, innovative, highly relevent and above all FUN!  Being associated with "DevCo," either as an employee or as a customer, should be regarded as being fun.  I think we can be a serious contender, and have fun at the same time.

Which leads to my next point; The Nod.  How many of you regard Delphi or C++Builder as your "secret weapon?"  It's your "edge," right?  It'd be cool to walk into a coffee shop and see someone with their laptop open with BDS up pounding out some code.  You'd be able to give them "The Nod."  That unverbalized communication that tells the other person that "you just know" and "you're both in with an elite bunch."  I've had this happen in many other apsects of life.  What about the time you just bought that new car and you know it was one of the first for that model year?  The first time you're driving around town and you see some stranger in the same model and year... You make eye contact and get "The Nod."  I remember when I had just gotten a brand new Ford Mustang SVT Cobra.  Since only about 3500 or so were built in that model year, it's a pretty exclusive group.  So when you drive around and see someone else in the same kind of car, you get "The Nod."  This still happens to this day.  I've gotten and have given "The Nod" many times over the last few years.  Remember the J.D. Hildebrand quote in the old Windows Tech Journal, "It's going to change our lives, you know."?  What is interesting for this discussion is the following quote, which was "He cocked his head for a moment and then grinned back at me, nodding. 'I know.'" (emphasis mine).

Is all of this just some crazed lunatic waxing poetically or just pining for the "good ole' days"?  Maybe ;-)... but try and reserve judgement for a few weeks and see if "DevCo" doesn't start taking steps toward fulfilling some of what I'm describing above.  The "DevCo" team has quite a few rounds left in the clip...