Friday, October 11, 2013

Where angels fear to tread.

A notable part of my week is spent perusing many different technical blogs and screencasts in hopes of continuing to saturate my brain with the latest and greatest (?) in software development practices and playthings. In my recent efforts I stumble across a blog post with a picture of a group of Pluralsight 'luminaries' at a restaurant table in sunny Oslo. I pretty much recognized all of them--save one. At first I thought this was a spouse but the name looked eerily familiar. I check back on the Pluralsight home page and lo and behold, she is one of the newer instructors. In my usual curious manner I fire off a couple of additional search queries and discover that not only is she inexplicably beautiful but apparently she's a newly minted C# MVP and- wait for it -her meteoric ascension into the realm of software engineering has lasted less than 30 months.

My first inclination was to snicker and chalk it up to a loosely and hastily implemented initiative on MSFT's part to enhance PR and re-ignite their evangelism efforts. After reading through more blogs, posts and even viewing one of her screencasts I started to let this stark reality sink in and begin to fester a bit. Typically I can shake my head and acknowledge a little embellishment and sensationalism in the era of YouTube stardom and relentless self-promotion. However, the implications soon began to surface and I had to cry foul. Why? Read on.

First, it must be said that I'm about as anti-chauvinist as one can be. I'm all for the glass ceiling to be shattered and for both genders to play fair. I'd be remiss if I said that there's not a part of me that questions rapid success as a byproduct of extrinsic attributes but that happens irrespective of one's gender. Second, I'm aware that you can be a very attractive woman and leverage your sheer brilliance in the software space; there are the Marissa Mayers, Kathy Sierras, and Gayle Laakmanns of the world who can stand toe-to-toe with the stuffy MIT Nobel recipient on any given day. But let's face it, the 0-100 in 13 months (as per her claim) is not just grandiose, it's downright, well, sensational. I recall a few years back when Jenn Sterger (remember her?) sprung on the Sports Illustrated scene with 'thoughtful' commentary--primarily as a response to her explosive blog following. The main catalyst? A brief cutover by a cameraman during a FSU football game to her section and a gushing Brent Musberger. Her persona also elicited a very vocal group of detractors ('haters'), many of which cited her fake 'attributes' as her claim to fame more so than her wit and insight in the world of sport. Fast forward a few years and now you have someone who is much more buxom and mature than our dear Jenn and instead of providing sports analysis, fitness tips or lingerie recommendations she's become the 'Tooltime Girl' of Tech. Forget Kathy Komando we have a Scandinavian sweetheart who has in less than two years ascended to the status of celebrity programmer (aka conference speaker) and inspired would-be hackers of all stripes to follow their passion like she did. Yes, passion, hard work, a love of all things code and a little bit of luck were the recipe. For some reason I wanted to keep searching (this time adding in terms like 'fraud' and 'critique') in hopes of exposing this as a marketing ploy or even a contrived bit of theatre for the sake of a dying brand.

Let's press rewind again. In one of my earlier posts I make mention of how the Joel Spolskys of this world drone on about the sheer criminal aspect of colleges turning out clueless CS grads who don't have the mental faculty to grasp essential concepts like indirection and recursion. That there is even a biological basis for one's inability to 'get it' when it comes to thinking in computation. That these should not even consider littering the sacred practice of development, as it 'dumbs down' the profession and the barriers of entry that save us all from horrible software. Consider that this sentiment was originally the clarion call of the Microsoft elite. Now, the "Celebrity Programmers" infiltrate conferences everywhere, bringing their wit and wisdom to the masses yearning for their day in the sun. I've become resigned to the fact that most of them (the "Evangelist" types to be specific) are more marketing than makefile. Nonetheless, I do expect that someone who's demonstrating a new technology have a background that speaks of grounded expertise and aptitude.

When I have the privilege of taking in a screencast from the likes of Avdi Grimm or Jon Skeet I sit in awe at how they generate beautiful code on the fly. I marvel at the insight of Scott Hanselman and Dave Thomas as they ruminate on the aspects of our rapidly changing landscape. So when I see a neophyte in the profession fein such gravitas I am sickened to the core. Maybe I should shrug it off and accept the fact that this is an outlier, manifested by the brilliant minds of the folks in Redmond and that those of us who have put in years of sweat equity in earnest should take pride in our own experiences, whether they be lessons learned or projects completed as professional currency that won't be devalued by such a circumstance.

Some people ask me why I have such a bias against the .NET stack and MSFT. Perhaps in the agnostic OSS world we see a bit more of a meritocracy. Don't  believe me? Check out a few threads on Stackoverflow sometime. Ironically, one of the more recent blog posts from our Development Diva waxes regretfully, a wounded soul that reverberates a hesitancy to engage Stackoverflow because of some concerns of negative sentiment, malicious intent and inability to articulate in the 'acceptable manner' of the forum. Well, one thing's for sure. A virtual venue like SO- being as forthright, intolerant and discerning as it is known for-will certainly in time provide some exposure...regardless of how many rock star coders would love a microsecond of acknowledgement from the bodacious beauty of binary. There are always those whose oblate objectivity permeates the welcoming facade. It's a hard business of brilliance, ingenuity and self-aggrandizing largesse that is truly a place where angels may fear to tread. Even those who appear heaven sent.

Until my next rant...