Strong opinions, weakly held

How big is the club?

Today Tim Bray asks how many people are really members of the a club that’s hard to succinctly describe:

In March, I gave a keynote at Web Design World in San Francisco. Frankly, it did not go that well; in particular, the crowd didn’t laugh at my jokes. Here’s one of them, more or less: “Being a Web Guy at Sun is a little intimidating. At high level strategy meetings the Chip Guys talk about what they’ll be shipping in 2009, and both the OS Guys and Java Guys talk about things a year or two out. As for us Web Guys, well… three weeks ago, I didn’t know that Twitter would become the Hot New Thing.”

It became apparent that most of them hadn’t heard of Twitter. The same joke (I’m a slow learner) fell flat at a meeting of University IT and Computer Science people a week later in Calgary. So let’s take this as evidence of the insularity and smallness—and, perhaps, unimportance—of the Internet In-crowd.

Jon Udell weighs in with the following:

What’s more, I believe this tribe is, over time, growing farther away from the rest of the world. That’s happening for an interesting and important reason, which is that the tools we are building and using are accelerating our ability to build and use more of these tools. It’s a virtuous cycle in that sense, and it’s the prototype for methods of Net-enabled collaboration that can apply to everyone.

But for the most part, we’re not crossing the chasm with this stuff. I’ve thought, written, and spoken a lot about this issue lately. It’s why I’m reaching out to public radio, why I’ve been speaking at conferences other than the ones frequented by my geek tribe, and why I am working for a company whose products reach hundreds of millions of people.

I’ve often thought about this. Let’s say you’re a software developer who reads weblogs that pertain to your profession, and tries to keep up with the latest advances in platforms, techniques, and so forth. That alone puts you in a very small minority of the overall community of developers, to say nothing of the public at large. I am consistently stunned when I talk to Java developers who don’t know anything about ORM frameworks, the MVC pattern, refactoring, or test driven development. And yet the truth is that they make up the vast majority of our profession.

In my world, Ruby on Rails is this huge thing that everybody has been talking about for the past couple of years. In the wider world of software development, it’s barely a blip on the radar. There are probably ten times more people using Fortran or Cobol at work than there are using Ruby.

It kind of stuns me that there are so many people out there who do essentially the same work I do and yet are completely unaware of the tools and resources that I think are necessary to stay up to speed.

I’ll say that I agree with Tim that the club is small, but not that it’s unimportant. People in this club are defining the future of information technology, and the rest of the club is evangelizing that future, mostly by accident. And I agree with Jon that we could be doing a better job.


  1. Okay I admit that technologies are often developed before we find a use for them. But, could someone please explain to me the possibilities of Twitter – because, I just don’t get it….Thanks!

  2. Asbjørn Ulsberg

    April 19, 2007 at 4:53 am

    My irk with the situation — that there are people in the industry that mostly think about programming as a job and nothing more — is that the largest portion of the industry is not just unaware about “new” stuff like Twitter and Ruby on Rails, but they are completely uninterested. A mention of these things to them doesn’t even bring forth a reaction. If you’re lucky, they might raise their shoulders and say “so what?”.

  3. Asbjørn: I think that defines the difference between a leader and a follower. I’m not sure that you can do much to motivate a follower to become a leader.

  4. I’m with you, Reuben. I heard about Twitter, went to the web site, poked around for a few minutes, and said, “Huh?” I’m at a loss to come up with any reason for anyone to use this, much less the huge numbers that have turned it into the latest big thing. I’m open to being enlightened, but at the moment I just don’t get it. Of course, at work the Twitter site is blocked as being in the “Personals & Dating” category. I’m married, so perhaps that’s why I’m not understanding the appeal of the service.

  5. I deal with the people in the COBOL world and I’m not totally convinced that any of the current nifty technologies are going to really sink in over there even in the long run, at least at many places.

    I mean, once you’ve skipped PCs, all modern programming languages, GUIs, WANs, LANs, client-server, and the World Wide Web, you might get the idea that you can skip Web 2.0 as well.

    I exaggerate. A little. But only a little. And I say this as someone whose entire job is based around developing technology to help people get their information available in ways that are very Web 2.0-buzzword-compliant.

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