Having recently released my first major project after having left CodeGear/Borland I’ve found myself reflecting on the last few years and my decision to leave CG. It seems particularly apropos as my first Falafel review was today.
For awhile back in late 2006 early 2007 I’d felt like I was in a rut and watching all kinds of cool things happening in the .NET world. A few years earlier, I’d made the decision to work on Internet technology because I felt it was important and early on had me working on things like ISAPI thread pooling back in 2002 which was cool. Eventually, when Borland decided to get into .NET with C#Builder I got to work on the ASP.NET designer with Jim Tierney which was a great experience and served to “keep my head in the game”. I learned a lot about .NET and ASP.NET in particular and had the chance to write my first designer from the ground up. I used to wonder how many people Microsoft had working on their ASP.NET designer? I bet it was more than two.
The up hill battle
Prior to leaving Borland for Microsoft in 1999 I’d spent a great deal of time working on what eventually became the core of the ASP.NET designer, the integration of the MSHTML control. Even with all the capabilities we were able to wring out of it I became very discouraged trying to keep pace with Microsoft’s designer. When VS.NET 2005 RTM’ed it really hit me hard because I knew Delphi’s ASP.NET designer simply wouldn’t catch up at least not on the trajectory it was on. I recall many difficult conversations about which direction to take including dropping the designer entirely and focusing on creating a richer code editor experience geared towards web development. The primary issue was that Microsoft’s WebForms architecture placed an incredibly heavy burden on the design environment in an attempt to make it function like VB, Winforms and VCL designer’s developers had grown to love.
I was frustrated not spending time working on framework code people could leverage in their own applications and instead putting every last minute into the designer which, in the end, is more or less geared towards trivial applications. A fact that’s true even of Microsoft’s ASP.NET designer which has diminishing returns as the complexity of an application grows. Not a good value add proposition. For me, it was a pretty dark time and I didn’t feel my efforts were headed in the right direction, a point amplified when I attended Google Developer Day in May ’07. To be honest, I found myself sitting through session after session wondering why I was the only CG developer attending this free conference a mere 15 miles from the office thinking the entire team should have been there. You could say it was an epiphany of sorts 28 days before what would be my last day.
Another issue I struggled with was believing CG would eventually be freed from Borland’s confines. It’s been just over two years since the original announcement and to my knowledge still no word. Then there’s the decline in BORL stock, dropping an astonishing 70% in the eight months following my departure. While I managed to survive a dozen or more layoffs in 15 years I’m glad I dodged what must have been a nerve racking free fall.
Basically, there was a lot on my mind this time last year.
Life in the .NET world
Back to the point, it’s been a welcome change working exclusively in .NET and in many ways a reprieve from Win32. I’m enjoying the .NET ecosystem and learning lots of new tools which is something I wasn’t really aware I missed on the Win32 side. I think one of the key things that Microsoft was missing prior to .NET was a runtime that developers could “party on” (to quote an old Microsoft phrase) and with .NET they have that in spades.
Probably one of the most liberating things has been getting away from the Windows API and focusing less on the individual function calls and more on solving real world problems. The other day Mark Edington called me regarding a SendMessage question and I can’t say I really miss those days. Another exciting piece is knowing that there is lots more to explore like all the new features in C# 3.0. Admittedly, I really struggled not having the constant drum beat of language innovation present in the .NET world.
Speaking of tools one of the most enjoyable parts of .NET development for me has been using VS.NET, NDepend, NUnit, NCover and writing code that’s easier to test supporting things like Mock Objects. Reflection is a beautiful thing. I’ve also enjoyed the .NET Open Source community including dasBlog, CruiseControl.NET, FileHelpers , edtFTP , ScrewTurn , SubSonic and many others. I think the past nine months have done a lot to reinvigorate me as a developer and I’m feeling more engaged and learning more now than I had in years in Win32 land. It’s interesting to think the guy I sat right across the hall from had so much to do with launching both these development communities.
What’s your .NET experience been like?
[UPDATED: April 1] Fix link.