The Non-Professional Team

I work on the non-professional team. No, this doesn’t mean that we come to work late, drink heavily on the job, and dress in fuzzy slippers and bathrobes (though there have been times…). This means that, unlike the bulk of the rest of the Visual Studio team, my team is chartered with looking at people who are developers but who aren’t paid to be developers. This means students, hobbyists, and the folks like the accountant who wrote a really amazing VBA macro to help during tax time.

It turns out there are millions of people like that – about four times as many as there are professional developers, and that’s not counting the professional developers who go home from work and keep coding for fun (we consider those folks still to be professionals for a variety of reasons). And, while a tool like Visual Studio Professional suits many needs, it doesn’t fully meet the needs of these customers. For example, a professional developer is typically more willing to spend an hour learning a new technology because a) they’re paid to b) it can be very interesting and/or c) they’ll probably make use of that technology again so the learning time will be amortized. Most often, it’s c.

What’s really interesting to me is that different people in this segment have different motivations. If you think of the college student working on a CS assignment, s/he is actually a lot like a pro developer at that point: they’ll spend a lot of time to learn techniques because they must. But if you think of the college student who’s just building some kind of application for fun, they have a totally different set of motivations – and a different patience level. In this mode, the student is more like what I’ll call a hobbyist.

Hobbyists are folks who write code because it’s fun, interesting, and even (dare I say it) cool. But hobbyists don’t have the same motivations as others: for them, having fun is the high order bit. So I introduced our group to what I call the 20-minute rule: if a hobbyist isn’t having fun in 20 minutes, they’re going to quit and watch TV or read a book. Because that’s what we’re competing for: someone’s attention. It’s not that, if they don’t like my product they’ll switch to Macromedia or something. They’ll give up and go play World of Warcraft. It’s a very different mindset from the professional developer.

Our team is chartered with three things to do: go make Express the best possible tool for enthusiasts, deliver Tuscany (particularly its community capabilities), and figure out how to make programming accessible to even more people. Any one of these areas is substantial work. The three together are humbling. But what I’m finding is the level of knowledge and passion within Soma’s organization for this customer is huge. Since taking on this charter, people and groups have come to me with ideas, demos, and information that have shown me just how smart the people around me can be.

Now if I can just hire some of them…