ALT.NET “Mean” – How do we fix it?

I’m watching the video that Scott Hanselman graciously recorded of the “ALT.NET: Why so mean?” session at ALT.NET Seattle.

I’m rolling my eyes a lot at the discussion because it seems to miss a lot of the basic points and the severity of the minor crisis our industry has been facing for some time (lack of significant engineering discipline, serious academic pursuits, and scientific analysis of success and failure, etc).

If we are mean, or I am mean (which no one has accused me/us of, but I’ll put it on myself), then I ask: What else should we be doing?

The Analogy

Consider this analogy which may best explain how I feel about the situation:

You come home from work some evening and sit down with your daughter who’s writing a story on paper. To your abject horror, all her letters are upside down!  Her handwriting is decent, but the letters are all inverted.  You decide to pull her out of school and send her to a private school.

Upon interviewing the teachers at the new school, you realize they, too, teach inverted writing. You find out that it’s a new wave of teaching that has caught the education community by storm and most every school is teaching it.  The teachers are delighted by this and believe that it’s what the children and parents really want. They’re proud of themselves for having solved so many problems for parents and children. They honestly believe they’re doing the right thing for the kids.

Obviously your first priority is to fix the damage done to your daughter and teach her correctly or send her to a school that does not adhere to this new, objectively wrong philosophy.  But what about all the other students now coming up through the school systems being damaged by this harmful teaching? 

Sure, all these kids will be able to read and write to each other, but they will be completely functionless in the real world for at least a generation or two.  What a travesty! What a crime against an entire generation of children! 

The Breakdown

Ok, that’s overly dramatic, I realize and the analogy is a little overboard, but hopefully you get the basic point of everything.  Sure you could start trying to rally parents and start teaching children both methods of reading/writing, but you still have your full time job in order to feed your children.  How, then, could you ever compete an army of full-time teachers teaching the other method?

Remember, this is an analogy, so we shouldn’t argue the analogy.  Yes, there are problems with it, yes it’s overly dramatic, yes it’s only illustrative not completely accurate, etc.  I’m not trying to demonize Microsoft, and not everything they’re doing is setting things back, but some things are. Microsoft is not perfect and some of the things they do do not help and, in fact, set things back. Can we at least agree on that?

And what then are people who see the “wrong” things supposed to do with the people who are being ill-affected by the “wrong” things?  Let them flounder and suffer?  Try to educate them all?  Try to stop Microsoft from doing wrong things?


The Result: What to do?

What if Microsoft is doing more wrong things than we can possibly ever hope to keep up with (—NOTE: They’re also doing a lot of RIGHT and GREAT things… don’t get me wrong)?   We have full time jobs. Should we quit our jobs to fight against incorrectness?

What if we do try to stop Microsoft from doing these wrong things and, instead, offer feedback and try to correct them before the damage is done?  Sounds good. Now, what if some of the folks that are doing wrong things within Microsoft won’t listen, or dismiss the advice and proceed to damage the community?

If we raise awareness of the problem, we’re “mean”.  What then?

Worse yet, what if there are others in the community who have some profit-interest (book deals, speaking engagements, lucrative contracts) in seeing the “wrong” technology being released so they can help customers who are unable to use the technology effectively (… because it’s “wrong”!)?   What if these people who have conflicts of interest malign us and call us “mean” and tell us to stop being “a**holes” and, basically, to shut up?

The Crux

Should we just sit down, be quite, and allow such horrific waste and loss of productivity persist in our profession?

If not, how should we combat this problem (keeping in mind we have full time jobs as well and have limited personal time to dedicate to this)?

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