The Inner Life of a .NET Developer

Yes, Russell Ball is a successful .NET developer. But that doesn’t mean he’s unaware of the .NET community’s limitations.
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Clearly, Russell Ball is an accomplished and successful .NET developer. Which means he’s all too aware of the not-so-kind things said about .NET culture.

Indeed, Ball, 36, who lives and codes in Kansas City, Kansas, is one of the people who says those not-so-kind things. He’s even been known to post them on his blog, Caffeinated Coder.

Okay, Russ, out with it: what do you really think of .NET programmers?

.NET developer, Russell Ball

Russell Ball, .NET guy

“The .NET developers are the American tourists of the software industry,” he tells me. That is, they’re 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, you’re not saying that .NET aren’t 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. “It’s the same thing with the .Net world. It’s a fairly small group who’s considered really under-qualified, but I think they’re more visible and more publicized.”

Contributing to this problem is .NET’s 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 aren’t 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 won’t take off his training wheels.

“So that’s the origins of maybe why there’s 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 you’re not a Microsoft shop, then you have a whole lot of language options open to you. You’re probably in a corporate environment where, if you want to use a particular language, everything’s a lot more accepted. You have a lot more freedom of choice.”

Ball notes that in a Microsoft shop (which he’s 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 don’t 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 there’s 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 One’s 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.

“There’s 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.


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Tags: .NET, developer, MVC, Microsoft, programming


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