Developer Directness Improves Quality
VSM's readers and authors are notorious for their (often brutal) honesty; we rely on this constructive criticism to provide you with a better magazine.
I chanced upon a newspaper article recently while traveling that brought home for me what it's like to work for a magazine devoted to software development.
I don't remember which paper it was, but the article discussed the reputation of developers for being anti-social. Rather than be defensive about it, the developers interviewed for the article basically owned up to the stereotype, relating horror stories that might do The Office proud, even as the reporter himself took pains to note that not everyone conforms to the stereotype.
The gist of the article centered on developers' capability for directness, a directness that to others can border on rude. As I read the article, I had more than a few glimmers of recognition, where I was reminded of the traits that seem common to many of my best authors.
I mean this in a good way, but software publishing isn't for the thin-skinned. One of the things I like about being an editor at a technical magazine is the unusual bluntness of the people who read and write for this magazine. In many environments, people have a tendency to withhold or sugarcoat their true opinions about things. But for whatever reason, that doesn't seem to be a trait shared by many of the magazine's best writers, or its readers—at the least the ones who write to us.
It's my experience that people—whether authors or readers—rarely tell you what you're doing right at a magazine like this one. I've been upbraided many times through the years—for everything from misinformed edits to poor article choices to ill-considered opinions. Long-time contributors such as Roger Jennings, Andrew Brust, and Karl Peterson aren't just fearless when it comes to expressing their opinions about the magazine, but also possess extraordinary attention to detail. This probably comes as no surprise—strong attention to detail is a trait that you might expect in a good developer. Combine these traits with long memories, however, and there is no statute of limitations with respect to how deeply into the past someone will reach to remind you of a particular faux pas.
Negative e-mail to the magazine outnumbers positive e-mail by about 3:1. This has held true for as long as I've been at the magazine. I think I'd been at the company for perhaps six or seven months before I made my first pilgrimage to one of FTP's Visual Basic Interactive Technical Summit (VBITS) conferences (now called VSLive!). The event stunned me in one respect: People really, really liked the magazine, to borrow a line from Sally Field. It wasn't just the people I spoke to, either. Developers at focus groups—which are conducted by professional interviewers with the editors and magazine staff tucked safely behind a one-way mirror—expressed similarly positive opinions. I was so accustomed to negative feedback that hearing overwhelmingly positive feedback caught me completely by surprise. This is also a pattern that has held steady through the years.
As the editor in chief, I love the directness of both our readers and authors. They are essential to making this magazine serve its readers needs in the best manner possible. I want all of your feedback about the magazine: the good, the bad, and the ugly—especially the ugly. It's not that I'm a masochist, and I don't crave abuse; rather, I understand that I can do my job better when you weigh in with your honest critiques.
Be sure to check out long-time VSM contributor Bill McCarthy's recent interview with Ron Jacobs, conducted at Tech Ed Australia. Bill has long been one of VB's most vocal advocates. In the interview, Bill discusses many of the features that appeal to him about VB .NET such as My.Classes and other RAD-specific features. One of Bill's key contentions in this discussion is that one goal of a developer is to minimize the code you need to write; indeed, your goal, as much as is reasonably possible, is to rely on auto-generated code, which enables the developer to concentrate on the task at hand rather than in implementing plumbing. Listen to the show at www.skyscrapr.net/blogs/arcasts/default.aspx?ID=341. Check out Bill's blog at http://msmvps.com/blogs/bill/.
Talkback: Do you think developers reputation for directness is deserved—or myth? Tell me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick Meader is editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.