I know that you are a top rated developer. In fact I know that everyone reading this is ranking among the top 10% of all developers. How do I know? Because 90% of all developers never read a programming blog, never have any side projects to learn something new, and never spend any time or effort outside work hours to improve.
Many years ago, Tom Demarco and Timothy Lister wrote in Peopleware:
The average software developer, for example, doesn’t own a single book on the subject of his or her work, and hasn’t ever read one. That fact is horrifying for anyone concerned about the quality of work in the field, for folks like us who write books, it is positively tragic.
Back when they wrote that, books and not the web were the main source of information. Nowadays blogs and other web resources have largely overtaken books as the main source of information. Did that solve the problem? Do people read more? In my experience: Unfortunately not. The basic pattern persists: Most developers don’t care.
With the Internet being globally accessible and a key resource to any developer I don’t understand how people can choose to not participate in the online community. I’m not talking about every developer creating their own blog (who would read all that text anyway?). I’m talking about the value of reading blogs. The value of helping out sometimes on Stack Overflow (sometimes != spending hours every day). The value of keeping up to date with what happens. The value of keeping an eye on the wider perspective, outside your current assignment.
I know web developers who think that ASP.NET Web Forms is state of the art and jQuery is a niche script library for early adopters. You’re maybe laughing when reading this – but remember that you are one of the top 10% of developers that do read blogs. The other 90% don’t. They don’t know what is going on in the development community. They don’t make the connection between the fancy apps on their phones, the interactiveness of modern social network web sites and the work they do.
To me it’s amazing and I have no explanation why people behave that way. If you have any theories, please leave a comment. I know that you are one of those who cares because you’re reading this blog post, but I bet that you have people around you that don’t care.
The Silent Mass
Enough ranting. There is no use to it. The 90% that I really would like to reach with this post won’t read it (even if this is the very first programming related blog post you read, you’re now automatically transferred into the 10% that do, leaving the 90% behind).
For us belonging to the 10% it is important to remember that the other 90% do exist. On Stack Overflow most people just read answers found googling a specific problem. If they don’t find the answer, most people never post their own question. It’s like the dark matter in universe. It’s there – but nobody sees it. But even if those people never leave an active trace themselves, they are very much part of the software industry. They are developing software too, using the same (but probably older) tools as the 10% do.
Ignoring the silent mass and just listening to the loud-mouths can be really dangerous. That’s what Microsoft did when they effectively killed Visual Basic (VB6) and reused the name for another language (VB .NET). For those being active in the community, constantly pushing the limits of what could be done with the language, it was a natural step to move into a full fledged object oriented language. For those appreciating the simplicity of the language and using it to create line of business applications it was a disaster. Visual Basic 6 was a simple to learn, entry level language that let someone with limited programming skills create useful applications. Visual Basic .NET is a first class member of the .NET family, with all the complexity that follows. That’s why VB6 refuses to die.
What to do?
So what to do now? How to make the world of programming a better place?
I think that the we, the active in the community, have a responsibility to involve the rest. We have to try to turn those numbers around, to have 90% of developers keeping up to date. It will be hard, but since programming is more qualified than ever there is no alternative. Help your fellow developers to get involved. Help them set up an RSS reader and provide them with a good starting point such as Chris Alcock’s Morning Brew. (While you’re helping out, make sure they sign up for the Passion for Coding RSS feed and DZone too.)
The community will grow stronger with each person you get involved, but never forget the silent mass and their needs.