I’m not taking on the Alt.NET world
I’m not taking on the Alt.NET world because I value their contribution. I’m not trying to start any battles or wars. At the same time, I think things need to be said about the attitudes and actions of that community to keep things in perspective and foster more effective dialog across the entire industry.
The synergy of the greater Alt.NET world has led to a maturity and cohesion in tools that is very impressive. And I continue to learn from that space as from an array of other spaces. I value that.
I think the relationships of individuals within the Alt.NET community are an amazing discordant symphony that is pushing ideas forward at an astounding pace. My occasional brief observation – most often occurring in hotel bars – are that ideas float and are shot down a dozen times slowly morphing through the head of another amazing individual. Eventually some of the ideas gain traction and someone writes some code or otherwise formalizes it. Formalization allows formalized criticism and therefore improvement. This is really cool. It does not, however, look like any fun, words like stupid and misguided and childish fly around at an amazing pace. The negativity and intensity that makes it just short of a rugby match without teams. But the output is amazing in quantity and quality of thought.
The movements that Alt.NET champion have helped shape our actions and conversation. I have the opportunity to interact with hundreds of programmers a year and I have a sense of what they are doing. Continuous integration is making real inroads into how groups work and formal “integration” phases built into schedules are becoming as rare as the Prebles’ Jumping Mouse.
But this, even along with the fact the surviving results work for the practitioners involved, does not survive the corollary logic that it is the best development strategy for all, or even most shops. Cohesion and maturity do not define the best approach for the vast numbers of programmers that make up this industry. That’s why the good thing is that Microsoft did not blindly follow the pattern that worked for the relatively small Alt.NET community when developing Entity Framework. Entity Framework is a far broader initiative and EF must work in scenarios where the other pieces of Alt.NET style development are not in place (BDD, behavior based objects, test first development, etc).
If the Alt.NET ideas are the whole answer, why isn’t everyone using that approach? If it’s because everyone hasn’t personally been indoctrinated by working for months on an Alt.NET project, as I understood Scott Bellware to be implying about me in a recent comment on my blog, then Entity Framework cannot succeed regardless of the perfection of the tool. If you have to go be personally instructed, you can no more be personally instructed in EF than in NHibernate.
Entity Framework should not block any technique, including agile, additional infrastructure, code generation, rules engines, workflow, SOA, dynamic user interfaces, as the top of my head list. But neither should it be built in the vision of one existing – and therefore outdated – approach to software development. The change in terminology from TDD to BDD illustrates how fast thinking within the Alt.NET community changes and Entity Framework cannot chase these changes must but blaze its own trail based on the best thinking in every community.
I am not defending EF v1. It has issues. That’s not the point. The point is that the Alt.NET community is not a group of priests or gurus* that understand what the rest of us poor peasants need. Not for EF, not for broader development. I don’t believe in buying what other people tell you, thus what I value is not the “market” with its top down stories – in this case not Microsoft’s strategy outright. I believe in the intelligence of an industry evolving together – strictly the evolution of memes where continuous integration wins and behavior driven objects haven’t. Bottom up intelligence. What works in the trenches of Cleveland or Huntsville or Cut ‘n Shoot or Miami or Fairbanks. That’s what I want Microsoft to prospect and drill for. That’s what I want the Entity Framework team to become impassioned about uncovering.
Finding bottom up intelligence is an interesting ballet because it requires leadership, test products and the ultimate programmer in the trench getting out an application. Alt.NET actually represents all three of those things, so as a self-reinforcing environment it is interesting and important. I think anyone not paying attention to the ideals espoused is missing an opportunity. But the techniques and tools coming out of Alt.NET must meet the much higher bar of relevancy to the broader programming industry and by in large they have not made that cut (and incidentally, neither have my quite different ideas).
The interesting question – for all the good ideas that the broad industry does not embrace – is why? That’s the question I wish we were discussing. But that conversation is nearly impossible to have if predicated on the assumption that one set of ideals (agile is the current fashion) is considered to have more value than others. Meaningful conversations can’t happen until the visible presence of the Alt.NET community appears much more willing to listen and much less intent on its own internal modus operandi of shooting down ideas simply to see what can survive the onslaught.
*The priest guru thing has not been stated, but I’ll be happy to stand up and help squash implications of superiority in any group or individual within this industry. From Alt.NET “We are a self-organizing, ad-hoc community of developers bound by a desire to improve ourselves, challenge assumptions, and help each other pursue excellence in the practice of software development.” But the most important word in this declaration is the first “a”. There are many, many, many programmers outside this community that share these espoused ideals and that are successful in pursuing other strategies to obtain the only real goal – saner, faster development of quality software to meet business needs.