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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14 responses

  1. Avatar for Adel
    Adel October 6th, 2007
  2. Avatar for Sam Gentile
    Sam Gentile October 6th, 2007

    Phil,
    Thanks for your post. I didn't mean to throw out the baby with the bath water, but I guess it sure looks that way. I meant to say that these things have value but value at the code level, and that there is much more to a world of IT and Software Development. I'm tired of all the fighting, the constant view that everyone else is doing it "wrong."

  3. Avatar for Don Demsak
    Don Demsak October 6th, 2007

    IMHO, ALT.Net is about fostering significant options. It isn't for or against any particular technology or style, but is about giving developers viable options to build applications.

  4. Avatar for Sean Chambers
    Sean Chambers October 6th, 2007

    I personally found Sam's goodbye post to be very negative itself.
    I take offense to how he labeled the alt.net community as being "full of negative energy", and "sneering". I used to subscribe to Sam's blog as well but find him very negative. I recently took him off my blog list as I found no value in reading his blog anymore.
    I for one admire what Microsoft has done thus far. It is truly amazing. I do not label people as "morts" or even claim that they are doing things wrong. I simply feel that there is a better way to do things. Microsoft may have brought us this far, but there comes a time when you do look for other "alternative" ways to do things.
    People simply have different views and understandings of things. If Sam believes the alt.net community to be negative then I wish him the best of luck in other areas.

  5. Avatar for Sam Gentile
    Sam Gentile October 6th, 2007

    Well, then Don and Phil, you may want to change some of its key spokespeople as they are constantly making it seem that way. Look at the comments and reactions on those person's blogs. Anyway, I have said everything I am going to say and want to drop out of the conversation. People should do what they feel is right.

  6. Avatar for Sam Gentile
    Sam Gentile October 6th, 2007

    > I take offense to how he labeled the alt.net community as being "full of negative energy", and "sneering".
    The spokespeople like Bellware and Jeremy and others are full of negative energy and putting down people that don't do it their way. Maybe you need new spokespeople that don't attack Microsoft and others every other day.
    I know my post may seem very negative and it came out a lot more than I wanted but there is a strong message there that there is value in architecture and other activities.I find it interesting that you label me "Very negative" and my blog but you have no problem with people like Bellware saying "Microsoft, you are deeply, deeply pathetic. I'm endlessly amazed at the effort you put into crafting such screwy software."
    Anyway, this will go into personal attacks and places I don't want to go. I don't want to discuss this any further.

  7. Avatar for Dimitri Glazkov
    Dimitri Glazkov October 6th, 2007

    Nutty stuff. It appears I've been ALT.NET'ing for at few years now. But I ain't joining the cult. By the time there is a cult, it's usually also the time to quit it.

  8. Avatar for Karthik Hariharan
    Karthik Hariharan October 6th, 2007

    I'm not at all surprised at Sam's actions. He merely echoes a sentiment I've heard around the developer community even outside of the blogosphere when talking to people at user groups and events.
    ALT.NET is perceived as being anti-Microsoft because of a few bloggers' overzealous nature in describing their disdain for Microsoft products and all things anti-Agile. This is really quite sad, considering ScottGu is presenting the debut of the Microsoft MVC framework at the ALT.NET conf tomorrow.

  9. Avatar for Sergio Pereira
    Sergio Pereira October 6th, 2007

    I wish they make the videos of the discussions available soon because there has definitely been a lot of synergy in the air. Sure there were the mandatory rants by the usual suspects, but in the end it was very well described by one of the participants as "tough love".
    Rest assured that the discussions have been, for the better part, focused on genuinely improving our work, whatever that means. I has been also an important validator for the attending crowd and Microsoft (I hope).

  10. Avatar for efdee
    efdee October 6th, 2007

    "I know my post may seem very negative and it came out a lot more than I wanted but there is a strong message there that there is value in architecture and other activities."
    Perhaps the ALT.NET people's post may seem very negative but there is a strong message in there too?

  11. Avatar for Chuck
    Chuck October 9th, 2007

    "These are all noble goals."
    I agree, however none of these are new. The Pragmatic Programmer told us most of this stuff several years ago (although some of the buzzwords may have been different). I suspect even then it probably wasn't new. So, I have trouble understanding why ALT.NET is a 'movement'. It just seems like the same advice repackaged.
    I see people write as if ALT.NET is some new revelation, it's not. I've yet to see any new ideas from people promoting the term. The most notable impact I see is the 'I'm one of these guys' effect. BTW, your agile analogy is good, because it has suffered from the same effect. Currently, ALT.NET seems to reflect a club mentality more than anything. People look for ways to associate themselves rather than understand the intent.
    FWIW, I agree with some of the CodeBetter criticisms. There is a lot of negativity there...usually you have to wade through it to extract anything useful (which is why I rarely read their blogs).

  12. Avatar for Haacked
    Haacked October 9th, 2007

    @Chuck Ruby on Rails is nothing new. It repackages MVC for the web using Ruby, a language that's been around as long as Java.
    But it's still very notable and worthy of attention.
    You dismiss "repackaging" as if it's trivial and unimportant, but it's not. Packaging is extremely important and is what helps ideas gain traction. Sure these ideas have been around a long time, but the lack of developers applying the principles hints that there may be a need to repackage them.

  13. Avatar for David
    David October 9th, 2007

    Sam Gentile says things like "We're (Neudesic) hosting an SOA Infrastructure Webinar with Microsoft on October focusing on our Neuron ESB. The theme is...". This is of couse pure bs. Also look into wiki mind wipe for more on SG.

  14. Avatar for J.P. Hamilton
    J.P. Hamilton October 19th, 2007

    I think ALT.NET is only a movement for people who have spent years implementing Microsoft-only solutions. Possibly it's the discovery that there is a big, bright world outside of Microsoft and the smartest people don't necessarily live in Redmond. When I first heard the moniker, this is kind of what I thought about the "movement". I never perceived it to be negative in any way, shape, or form. I always saw it as a group looking to spread their wings a bit.