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...


  1. I think it's a great idea to keep fun in mind. I remember working with a programmer who suggested that while a calculation was ongoing, the numbers could spin - like those you see on some automatic noticeboards, at train stations, know what I mean? - until the result is found and the numbers stop spinning (each digit spins separately). Is there a component that does that? Maybe you could add one to Delphi. It's fun for the user of an application (unless they're complete sourpusses, which is always a strong possibility, so make it a configurable option).

    Regarding Microsoft as a competitor, their bread and butter is from operating systems and office applications; they will never be properly geared towards developers, which is why it is so maddening the way they change things without a care and cause huge problems. It doesn't matter to them, secretly it may be highly advantageous--that it's hard for anyone else to program to their applications--but that is not what you want from a developer tools company.

    You win just by being a developer tools company, simple as that, which MS can never be unless they split. They should probably split into three, by the way: operating system, applications and tools. If the anti-trust people got their act together they'd "suggest this strongly" to them. But hey, let them moulder on as they are...from a partisan viewpoint.

  2. Quote I work by:

    "If it's not fun and profitable, what the hell are you doing in business?"

    Robert Townsend,"Up the Organization: How to Stop the Organization From Stifling People and Strangling Profits", 1970

  3. You are a brave man! :-)

    (or does he just look tough?).

    >> (Ok maybe the word picture of some tie-

    >> dyed, long haired bearded hippie may

    >> seem "funny." O wait... I work with

    >> David I ;-).

  4. They say "You've got to have a dream to make a dream come true." I sense a little bit of the Disney "Imagineering" theme or the Apple "Think Different" slogan. Whatever you guys are planning, it needs to be BIG BALLS and relentless. That go big or go home thing is the way to go. It does not have to be expensive, just very cleaver and direct.

    We need to get Borland tools back into High Schools and Colleges again like the old days. Just DON'T take no for an answer. I'm sure we could get a grass roots continuing education ciriculum worked up so that we could teach Delphi 101 at the local college or university.

    What about getting some leverage my expanding into MacOS X, Linux and Game Consoles? These types of programmers are "think different kind of folks that maybe an easier nut to crack that the typical Microsoft pie eater. (Microsoft Pie Eater: if Bill serves a turd pie up in the form of a product, a Microsoft pie eater groupy will eat it up and smile through the entire experience. He will then tell all his friends how Bill's new turd pie is the best pie he ever ate)

  5. Impatient Delphi LoyalistJuly 21, 2006 at 4:01 PM

    Delphi developers wake up!! Delphi is no longer the productivity tool leader it was once. It can no longer afford to command $2K on it's future versions. Some (not all) of the bright developers of Delphi are now working at MS. Who says they cannot be a great dev tools company?? Their tools are now as productive, if not more. The enterprise market has kicked out Delphi and so has Borland. All these make me think that the "Nod" is a form of self denial of the state of our community, a belief of what Delphi was and no longer is.

    Please, please focus back on the grass roots, the individual developer, the hobbist, the person who is passionate about building a great program not because he is paid to do it. It starts from there and if successful, see how it bubbles upwards.

    "Grow the grassroots and yee shall yield a redwood." - IDL

  6. I think DevCo and even Borland does "get it". Borland realized if they keep strangling the developer group, they would completely run it into the ground (worth $0 instead of $150 million or so). A BIG hand to Borland management for facing the "we can't do two things at once" music AND just not dumping DevCo to the highest bidder (i.e. lets-kill-another-product Microsoft). That being said, it isn't going to be easy for DevCo to stop a long slide. It has all been said before but... #1 Quality Products, #2 Afordable 'Starter' Products (for the schools/hobbiest) and #3 Products so COOL that your rabid fanbase starts to grow (that is the head nodding, 'fun' idea that Allen is talking about). 'Cool' in this case means the IDE needs to look professional (think Apple style) and have some in-your-face powerful features. These don't have to be huge, uber features, just things which let you say things like, "I can code/debug/test that routine in 3 seconds with this feature VStudio loser boy."

  7. > It'd be cool to walk into a coffee shop and see someone with their laptop open with

    > BDS up pounding out some code.

    Perhaps from an American point of view.

    But believe me, it would absolutely *NOT* be cool to walk into a Dutch coffee shop

    with a laptop.



  8. You should be careful with The Nod approach. Topspeeds Clarion was killed that way, because developers where unwilling to share their secret weapon.

  9. Any impartial analysis of MS tools would have to conclude that they are a mess. That is useful, and long may the majority of developers flounder around with them, while the sharper crew get the work done. Software development should be a production line, not a bureaucracy, not a job creation scheme. I've looked into using MS tools, but really, they really, really suck. There is everything to play for.

  10. I'm focusing more on the "fun" here than the "Nod." Two things that came to mind while reading your post: The Delphi For Fun website and the Borland-sponsored code contests.

    Delphi For Fun is a fantastic place for students or new users of Delphi to go. Gary Darby has built up quite a library of programs and commentary on puzzles, games, algorithms that is FUN. An entire introductory course in programming could use that site to drive their coursework. If DevCo is serious about creating "Dev-olutionaries" (just coined that phrase--sure beats "Webvolutionaries"), then supporting Gary and sites like his would certainly not hurt.

    Borland sponsored a couple of code contests back in 2002. Charlie Calvert and John Kaster were involved in this. I believe only two contests were held before the idea was dropped. This was a great way to have fun, spur creativity, and marvel at what others were doing with their favorite dev tool. Even if we don't need to display an awesome flame graphic in our business app, its fun and exciting to know that you COULD do it so easily.

    Perhaps it is beyond the role of DevCo to actually run the contest, maybe that is the role of some inspired Delphi-dude out there. But what great task for an intern! Come up with 4-6 contest ideas to be run in the next year. Create the framework of rules and website to drive it (heavy lifting already done). Give away a great DevCo prize and run with it!

    Certainly these are not the only ways to create Passionate Users, but the seem like a good place to start.

  11. For my 2 cents, I think DevCo needs to be much more "transparent" to its developers. Their is a lot of mistrust of BI(/ DevCo) based on the past mishandlings; if you want to woo back developers that have left the fold, you have to be honest and put a lot more cards out on the table to generate trust.

    And be willing to fix bugs without waiting for two or three "paid" upgrade versions before they are fixed.

    Since most dev's don't trust either company; and both BDS and MSVC are buggy. So, neither wins.

    What other factors is it going to come down to currently to pick a toolset? Long term life, MS appears to be in the best position. Market Share, MS again has it. Free product, MS has it. Most up to date support for current technology, MS has it.

    So, if you are going to win, you have to either fight them for best on a LOT of fronts (which imo is a loosing battle, they have the resources); or change the battlefield.

    I would personally pick a vendor who I trusted to do the right thing and had decent tools, then a vendor who had excellent tools who I didn't trust. However, between two untrused toolsets, I have to go with the better toolset...


  12. Unbundle the packages. Most of us use 1 language 90% of the time. There is no reason to sell Delphi .net, Delphi Win32, C# and C++ all in one package. Split them into 4 separate products, and make each one affordable, say $299, for the Pro version, $499 for the Enterprise version and $799 for the Architect version. You can still bundle them if neccessary, but it will mean that a microISV can get started using a full featured development tool at a minimal cost. You'll gain market share without a doubt.


  13. I agree with Mark. In the real world, how many developers actually use Delphi, C# and C++ at the same time?? Developers become productive when they master a single language. Shipping BDS with multiple "competing" languages just doesn't make sense.

  14. +1 to Mark. Please unbundle the package and lower the pricetag!


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