The Devs and the Dev Nots

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The Devs and the Dev Nots

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There seems to be an alarming trend developing within the greater Microsoft community of building a firewall between those of us who write code for a living and those of us who do not. First, Microsoft decides to split TechEd US into two weeks, ala the TechEd Europe model, with the first week being geared towards developers and the second week towards administrators/IT professionals. Then, they split off the Office Developer Conference (February ’08) from the SharePoint Conference (March ’08) – see Andrew Connell’s post about it here. Now, just to make matters even less clear, they throw the Professional Developers Conference into the mix in October.

What Microsoft seems to be saying is "We don’t want developers talking to IT professionals and vice versa". I’m not sure where this mentality comes from but it’s dangerous, misguided and, in the long run, detrimental to the various product-oriented communities. Whether it’s being promoted by Microsoft or they are simply responding to the demands of each constituency I don’t know (based on what I’ve heard it all seems to be coming from the IT pros) but somebody needs to step up and put a stop to this before it gets out of control. I know, there are some who think that people get more bang for their buck by attending events that are targeted strictly to their particular interests, and there may even be some merit to this argument. But I can think a number of reasons why this is B-A-D, including:

1. Information Sharing. Think just because you’re a dev that you don’t need to know about SharePoint admin topics? You couldn’t be more wrong. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done code reviews only to point out the difficulties admins were going to have implementing and maintaining that code. Devs always say "Oh, I didn’t think about that". Yeah, I know, because you’ve got your blinders on and aren’t thinking about the entire solution. A mechanic who only knows about transmissions isn’t of as much value as one who understands how the entire car works. Over a year into the new product (two if you started with the beta distros) and why aren’t devs building solution packages instead of batch files for deployment? Because they don’t know how much easier it is to deploy and manage WSP’s, that’s why – just the kind of information you learn when you cross-pollinate with the IT pros.

2. Artificial Choices. Which track to do you attend if you are a designer? Or an Architect? You may not write code all day but you don’t do config and support, either – so where do you fit in? Which track does Heather speak at? Where do you go for Joel Oleson’s next filled-to-the-brim-with-vital-information speech? What if you work in a shop where you are the do-it-all SharePoint person? You need to know about web content management but also about disaster recovery – does this mean you have to go to two conferences just to hear the latest from AC and Bob Fox? Customers shouldn’t be forced to make these types of artificial choices – if they want to know about SharePoint that means they should have ONE place to go for ALL SharePoint topics!

3. Cost. If I didn’t know better (and I’m becoming less convinced that I do) I would think that Microsoft is now in the conference game for the money. There are just too many conferences throughout the year – we don’t need ’em all. Combine the SharePoint and Office conferences into one – SharePoint is part of Office anyway – and make it a biggie. And don’t schedule it two months before TechEd. Do I even need to mention the burden being placed on vendors? How on earth am I supposed to staff a booth at TechEd for two weeks? I need to talk to both groups – dev and IT pros – but I can’t afford to have staff in place (not to mention the immense cost of the booth itself) for two whole weeks. Maybe HP can afford it, but I sure can’t and I don’t think my friends at SharePoint Experts, Mindsharp, the Ted Pattison Group or Colligo can either. So that means that you may not get a chance to learn about new products that could benefit your organization because vendors have to pick and choose which week (or which event since there are so many) to be at. That’s just ludicrous. I thought ISV’s were a critical component in Microsoft’s marketing strategy but apparently I was wrong…

4. MVP’s. Ok, so this one is a bit selfish, but I want to hang with ALL the SharePoint MVP’s in one place. Not just because we have a great time together but also because I learn so much from them – especially the ones who aren’t devs. This applies to the average user as well. How great was it at TechEd to walk up to the SharePoint kiosk and talk simultaneously with Amanda Murphy, Adam Buenz, Brad Smith, Darrin Bishop and myself, not to mention the umpteen other MVP’s that were floating about. All that knowledge in one place is electric and it benefits the user tremendously – I had several conversations where someone asked me a question and I roped in a subject matter expert who was nearby to help me out. I need that and so, I would like to think, do Joe and Jane Average User.

5. Finally, and most important of all, is C-O-M-M-U-N-I-T-Y. Communities are responsible for SharePoint’s phenomenal growth and acceptance and they aren’t made up of single-issue voters. The best communities, the most dynamic ones, are comprised of people from all the different disciplines – devs, admins, architects, designers, the whole lot. Separate them and you kill the community. Kill the communities and you kill the product. It really is that simple.

I’ve heard the argument from the folks in Europe that they have real problems finding a venue to hold big, combined conferences like TechEd so they have to split them up and have more smaller shows throughout the year. Ok, I can accept that – the SharePoint conference in Berlin was busting at the seams and it was at one of the larger venues in Germany. So fine, do it in Europe because you have to (although I still don’t like it) but we certainly don’t have that problem in the US. TechEd barely fills up one half of the Orlando Convention Center – there’s absolutely no reason to split that up. And I’m sure we can find appropriate venues for other combined conferences as well (how big can an Office conference really be?) – space ain’t a problem on our side of the pond so that argument is a flaming straw man.

Word to MS – you’re putting the cart before the horse and it’s going to whip around and bite you in the rear. Ditch this split-personality idea and let’s get back to having one big happy family, you dig???