Archive for November, 2009

Would the real developer please stand up?

  • Behind door # 1; .NET developer eating 800 page manuals for breakfast
  • Behind door #2; power user, business professional
  • Behind door #3; clerical person

If you are working in SharePoint and you guessed door #2, you would get top marks because that is the majority of development. Now wait, you say, what about the professional coder? You would also be correct, but not as much because they will develop fewer systems now.

Power users have been developing shadow applications for years. Shadow apps? You know, the 1000+ lines of VBA code in an Excel application, or the Access application that really runs the department. Just give me a report in Excel format? That Excel data is not used for a report but a data feed for a shadow app. Shadow applications are called shadow because they are meant to live in the shadows, everybody knows about them, but nobody talks about them. “They are unsupported”! Kinda like some of our relatives.

Professional developers are busy; their work takes a long time and they can’t satisfy all of the business requests. Smart business people don’t just go away and wait. They take the tools available to them and start building application they use to run their business.

It has been getting easier and easier to write applications. SharePoint has pushed this to a new limit where people with power user skills can now build and modify web sites easily by using components called Web Parts which allow you to mash up a web page quickly, and sort, display and edit data in a database in a flash. And you quickly have a working application.

So does that mean the guy behind door number #1 will they have to learn to say “would you like fries with that”? No, assuming he understands the realities of the new world. Someone has to build the web parts, manage the server, backup, recovery and all the plumbing that makes an application. As shadow applications come out of the shadows, they can be fully supported and integrated into the business process. The developer behind door # 1 has to acknowledge the new reality and work hand in hand with the guys behind door #2; if they can do that then everybody wins.

They guys behind door # 1 can build the infrastructure, the really cool and hard-to-do web parts; the stuff they really want to do. They don’t want to build systems just to read and write data to a database; that was tough 15 years ago and boring now. Just ask a developer to build a web page to read / write data to a database and watch their face. Then ask them to build a complex web part, and watch his face this time. The guys behind door number 2 don’t have to hide in the shadows and can work together with the professional developers. And, the guys behind door number #3 get a better integrated solution that is supported and works together instead of lurking the shadows.

Sound great doesn’t it? It is, but you have to be careful now that the lights are on and the real apps are exposed; more about that in a future article.

Gord Maric

The more things change the more they stay the same.

It was approximately 1992 and Microsoft Visual basic 3.0 came out.  We cracked open the box, installed the floppies (early 90’s!) and we built our first application.  Okay, we put a button and a textbox on a window and wrote code that displayed “hello world” in the textbox when we pressed the button.  Whoohooo.  It was not rocket science but it worked.  Here is why it was amazing: previously to do this you would have needed C or C++ and hundreds of lines of code to draw the window, the text box and button and hook it all up simply to display “hello word”. Our VB app was one line of code. 

Why was this important?  Because it took a few minutes to write, worked the first time, did not require a rocket science  (err computer science) degree and we were able to go looking for a date on Saturday night and of course develop full blown business applications in a fraction of the time.

Roll forward 20 odd years; VB is marginalized, the web is everywhere and I want to develop a project management web site for my company.  I have basically two choices: build from scratch using ASPX and .NET technology, or install SharePoint on a Windows Server.  After clicking “next“ a few times, and choosing a team template, I have all the functionality I need (and way more than I could think of) in a SharePoint web site.  To customize, I can move things around to lay out the page the way I want, and in a short time I have a working usable web site.  Things have improved; I did not need a single line of code and we are free for Saturday night.

Previously developers complained VB6 was a toy, claimed it did not provide enough control.  (Grumble, what kind of language would allow you to use a variable without first declaring it, hmmm?)  Not much has changed; now I don’t have total control over the web site,  but, do I have a working functional  web site?  Absolutely.

SharePoint has dusted off that old model and is repeating it for web sites and business applications. VB turned out to be one of the most popular and productive languages ever created and SharePoint is going in that direction. History is repeating itself; SharePoint has given us a great tool that allows us to develop functional, usable web sites in matter of minutes versus years it would take using classic technology.

So, where do IT professionals fit into all of this?  Don’t worry we have a huge part in all of this, I’ll discuss that in future articles.

Gord Maric

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