Indeed, Ball, 36, who lives and codes in Kansas City, Kansas, is one of the people who says those not-so-kind things. Hes even been known to post them on his blog, Caffeinated Coder.
Okay, Russ, out with it: what do you really think of .NET programmers?
Russell Ball, .NET guy
The .NET developers are the American tourists of the software industry, he tells me. That is, theyre unaware of the larger world, even intellectually incurious. All around them thrives an exotic and rich world of programming languages, but .NET programmers are often content to lounge at the tech equivalent of the Holiday Inn, snacking on delicious Velveeta cheese spread.
Wait, youre not saying that .NET arent as smart as other programmers, are you?
Actually, no, not exactly. People in the outside world know Americans who are perfectly intelligent and perfectly civilized, but the ones who are loud and obnoxious are easily noticed, Ball says. Its the same thing with the .Net world. Its a fairly small group whos considered really under-qualified, but I think theyre more visible and more publicized.
Contributing to this problem is .NETs low barrier to entry. Visual Basic from which many programmers come to .NET is considered very easy to learn. Consequently, many business power users, who arent actually programmers, can code in it.
In other words, enter the clowns.
The real hard-core programmers the C+ boys, for instance glance over at these semi-techies with a distinct disgust. In their eyes, a .NET developer is like a bike rider who wont take off his training wheels.
So thats the origins of maybe why theres a little bit of animosity between Microsoft and non-Microsoft, Ball notes.
And this perception, he admits, has a certain reality to it.
It [the world of .Net developers] tends to be a very insular community. If you go into the Java or Linux world, it tends to be very multi-cultural. If youre not a Microsoft shop, then you have a whole lot of language options open to you. Youre probably in a corporate environment where, if you want to use a particular language, everythings a lot more accepted. You have a lot more freedom of choice.
Ball notes that in a Microsoft shop (which hes worked in for the last 8 years), the prevalence of Microsoft servers and the comfort factor that the Microsoft corporate identity inspires with executives locks developers into Microsoft-centric choices. Hence the insular nature of some .NET developers.
So does that mean that .NET developers dont have the skill level of other developers?
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I think if you took the top 20 percent versus the non-Microsoft programmers, they would probably be about the same exact skill level, he says. But because Microsoft has traditionally had easier barriers to entry for people in the business world, I think theres probably a difference in the lower 20 percent, in their skill levels. People who are kind of dabblers in it, versus people who came from a computer science background.
To some extent, because of the low barriers to entry, there does exist kind of a small underclass of a hybrid between a power user and a programmer. Sort of a programmer-lite.
Oh wow, that hurts programmer-lite. Ouch.
Change Begins with Ones Self
Ball, though he remains a dedicated .NET developer, is working to broaden himself, to travel far afield from the walled world of .NET to the more diverse cosmos of many languages.
Theres not a whole lot I can do to affect the stereotype, he says. But one thing I can do is to try to be a little bit more multicultural in the sense of learning more [programming] languages, doing a better job of preparing.
Every language in every environment has certain strengths and weaknesses, he explains.