Special Reports

Visual Studio Live!: New Technologies Breed New Uncertainties

User experience expert Billy Hollis points to great deal of uncertainty, and describes the best response for success in such a world.

Billy Hollis gave attendees an overview of adapting to a modern technology landscape based on the cloud, the Internet of Things (IoT) and modern user interfaces at Visual Studio Live! last month. The always entertaining and unconventional Hollis kept the crowd engaged throughout his hour-long keynote presentation. Visual Studio Live! at the Bally's Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, NV, ran the week of March 16-20.

Hollis kicked off his presentation by posing the question, "What's the safe choice?" He says people frequently ask him that question when developing and deploying new systems. His forward-looking presentation looked at some of those choices facing corporate IT and development groups these days. "Here's the answer, but I don't like giving it to you," he said. "There is no safe choice."

"We are in that era of software development when things are changing. We're moving over to lot of new things," he said. The technology landscape is changing so rapidly that it's virtually impossible to have the answer for every solution. "If anyone tells you they have the answer, don't pay attention to them. They don't really know."

Hollis' real advice has to do with looking forward and preparing for technological uncertainty to the greatest possible degree. "The obvious advice to give you," he said, "in this time of uncertainty when technology is changing so rapidly, is to use technology that will easily move to the cloud."

A flexible development approach is also advisable, according to Hollis. "You're going to have to support multiple mobile devices and IU stacks," he said. "We used to develop software for an 8-10 year lifecycle. We don't have that expected longevity anymore."

The future of technology is certainly changing, which engenders a significant degree of uncertainty. "We're in an age of uncertainty and we hate it," he said. The human brain does not respond well to uncertainty, Hollis says, but we have to be prepared with some kind of response. He outlined four basic responses to the type of uncertainty we face in the software development world:

  • Denial: Deny the uncertainty is really there.
  • Recognition: Recognize the extent of the uncertainty and panic.
  • Realization: Realize there will be uncertainty and simply hunker down and endure it.
  • Embrace: Or you can embrace the uncertainty.

Hollis then detailed how each of these responses manifests itself in the software development world. There is quite a bit of denial going on, as he pointed out, insofar as many developers look to one single technology solution for all needs, which is a limited view. "UX design is pretty immature these days," he said -- a situation he attributes to an overreliance on one technology. "At the present time, there's a big difference between what's possible with HTML and what you can actually get to work." It does work though, he said, if your apps must have reach, if your UI needs are relatively simple and if you're willing to continuously test and tweak your code.

Recognition and panic manifests in something like Windows 8.0, which he described as a huge, yet preventable, failure. When Microsoft saw how consumers reacted to iPads, they saw people were connected to their devices on an emotional level. Microsoft saw this and panicked and rushed to get Windows 8.0 out. It wasn't ready, Hollis said. "The UX was not up to it."

The culture almost encourages a "tunnel vision" to recognize and endure uncertainty. "This is the world we live in," he says. "People focus on what they're comfortable with." The endure response for developers is to continue to write code the same way they always have out of habit, not necessity. "Certain things become a ritual. We fall into them not understanding they may not serve us going forward." Agile is optimized for generating lots of code, but not necessarily an optimal UX.

Those who embrace the uncertainty are often the best prepared. "What I really think you ought to do is embrace uncertainty, but this is the hardest," he said. "Suppose you instead had a culture of capturing the answer. Put that uncertainty right in the document. Embrace the uncertainty, capture it and understand where it exists and be comfortable with it."

Imagining what can be done with the uncertainty facing you can also lead to enhanced creativity. Your value then becomes tied to your ability to influence a positive outcome. "You need awareness for modern UI, and how to make it intuitive, with little or no training," he says. "You need awareness for cloud computing.  You need awareness of the IoT."

The next Visual Studio Live! event takes place in Austin, TX from June 1-4.

About the Author

Lafe Low has been a technology editor and writer for more than 25 years. Most recently, he was the editor in chief of TechNet magazine. He has also held various editorial positions with Redmond magazine, CIO magazine and InfoWorld. He also launched his own magazine entitled Explore New England, and has published four editions of his guidebook The Best in Tent Camping: New England.

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