ALT.NET Should Be Divisive, But Not Contrarian

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In his post Goodby CodeBetter and ALT.NET, Sam Gentile writes about his dissatisfaction with CodeBetter and the ALT.NET movement. I don’t know Sam personally, but I’ve read his blog for a long time and know him to be a well reasoned thoughtful person.

Sam, please don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, to use an old cliche. I don’t think it’s necessary to equate CodeBetter with ALT.NET. Perhaps CodeBetter bloggers are very influential in the ALT.NET circles, but it’s important for ALT.NET to stand separately and on its own.

Sam mentions that ALT.NET is divisive.

ALT.NET is a divisive thing. No matter what they tell you, they are full of negative energy, they sneer at others that don’t buy into their view and sneer at the "enterprisey" folks. I know, I was there.

I think the divisive label can also be applied to the Agile Movement, which Sam was a part of. It divides people into two camps, those who agree and those who don’t. It’s divisive because it makes a stand, but hopefully without all the sneering and negative energy.

ALT.NET should be about considering alternatives, not being contrarian.

A lot of fuss has been made about the ALT.NET label on this particular movement. Personally, I think it’s darn near impossible to change the name of a movement once it sticks. The real work is in putting the meaning into the label so it reflects something positive.

For example, I don’t see ALT.NET as saying, “you must use alternatives to Microsoft technologies in all cases”. Otherwise the ALT.NET movement would really be the Ruby, Erlang, Python, Haskell, Java movement. ALT.NET is not about simply being contrarian.

I think the movement is really about opening people’s eyes to always be learning and considering better ALTernatives to the tools, methods, and practices they use now. As Dave Laribee wrote in his ALT.NET post...

What does it mean to be to be ALT.NET? In short it signifies:

  • You’re the type of developer who uses what works while keeping an eye out for a better way.\
  • You reach outside the mainstream to adopt the best of any community: Open Source, Agile, Java, Ruby, etc.\
  • You’re not content with the status quo. Things can always be better expressed, more elegant and simple, more mutable, higher quality, etc.\
  • You know tools are great, but they only take you so far. It’s the principles and knowledge that really matter. The best tools are those that embed the knowledge and encourage the principles (e.g. Resharper.)

These are all noble goals.

In his Goodbye post, Same relents about his ALT.NET involvement.

Now, onto this whole ALT.NET thing. When I was in the weeds at Algo, coding away, I too got caught up in the low-level issues and put out a stupid ALT.NET Moniker and List. I took a ton of crap on this from my friends all over the world, both inside and outside Microsoft. It wasn’t about disagreement, it was just blindly putting a list that was stupid, cross out everything Microsoft in one column and replace it with something else.

In reading his post, I don’t think it’s anything to necessarily be ashamed of in that his post first lists the principles above, but then it goes on to make two lists, one for ALT.NET and one for Not ALT.NET. Sam’s mistake is not in joining in the ALT.NET fun, it’s in making the hot-or-not list appear to be a significant part of ALT.NET (whether he intended this or not).

As the last ALT.NET principle states, tools only take you so far. Not only that, they change rapidly. Tools that are “HOT” today will end up being “NOT” tomorrow. While picking the best tools for the job is important to developers, suggesting specific tools is an addendum to ALT.NET, not core to it.

I certainly have my list of tools I think are the best tools for the job, but I won’t go so far to say you must use these tools or you’re a Mort. Drawing lines among which tools you use is just plain silliness, reminiscent of elementary school lines drawn along who could afford designer jeans.

So Sam, if you’re reading, keep in mind that the Agile Manifesto wasn’t written in one shot. It took time to evolve and refine the message till it was something the signers could agree upon.

I think ALT.NET is in that stage. The message is still being defined and refined and we need voices of reason involved. So while you might leave CodeBetter, consider staying involved in ALT.NET. After all, the goal is to sift out the really gold nuggets and move them to the mainstream.

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