October 2019

Volume 34 Number 10

[Editor's Note]

And Now a Word From Our Columnists

By Michael Desmond | October 2019

Michael DesmondWhen MSDN Magazine closes shop after the November issue, we’ll be saying farewell to a gifted group of longtime columnists who have been the heart and conscience of the magazine. I wanted to take a moment this month to recognize their contributions and consider the lessons they’ve learned in the process.

I’ll start with James McCaffrey and his Test Run column, which got its start in January 2003, after the release of .NET Framework revolutionized the way applications were developed and tested. For the next several years, McCaffrey says, his column explored how to test .NET apps natively, with an emphasis on automation. But a sharp pivot was already in the offing.

“During this time, I was one of the few research engineers who worked on machine learning systems, including ‘TMSN,’ the predecessor to the ML.NET framework that was released earlier this year,” McCaffrey explains. By 2012, breakthroughs in storage, processing and algorithms convinced McCaffrey that machine learning was about to explode. “So, in May 2012 the Test Run column switched focus to machine learning and artificial intelligence with an article titled ‘Dive into Neural Networks.’” (msdn.com/magazine/hh975375)

Looking back, McCaffrey singles out two columns: “Use Bee Colony Algorithms to Solve Impossible Problems” (April 2011, msdn.com/magazine/gg983491) and “Artificial Intelligence—Particle Swarm Optimization" (August 2011, msdn.com/magazine/hh335067). He says: “Both articles illustrate the joy of computer science—creating beautiful abstractions of reality that solve practical problems, which can’t be tackled using standard approaches.”

I asked Dino Esposito what Cutting Edge column stood out to him over his decades with the magazine. He recalled one about the transition from ASP.NET Web Forms 1.1 to 2.0, and a feature called “personalization” that was a built-in, provider-based API to support custom application settings. He showed how developers could achieve the new functionality in the 1.1 version, and in doing so, he says, “basically rewrote for the current version what the team at Microsoft was writing for the next.”

Esposito says the accomplishment gave him a “sense of power,” and produced an outpouring of feedback from readers excited to extend the existing framework ahead of version 2.0. He says: “Today, it’s much harder to do, given the significantly increased complexity of things, but it’s a very nice memory and still a goal to try to pursue anyway—to learn and do it yourself.”

The Working Programmer columnist Ted Neward wouldn’t argue that last point. His 10-part “Multiparadigmatic Design” series (msdn.com/magazine/ff955611) in 2010-2011 stood out to him, he says, “largely because that was the first time I’d really had to bear down and explore, investigate and describe what had always been a much murkier concept floating around in my head.”

His conclusion: Penning the column forced clarity of thought. “Writing for the column definitely helped me learn things about subjects I thought I knew, and after writing, knew better.”

Julie Lerman says she often faced “steep learning curves and a lot of research” with her Data Points columns, and singles out her look at document databases (“What the Heck Is a Document Database?,” msdn.com/magazine/hh547103), which forced her to wrap her head around NoSQL concepts. She also says that returning to previous topics after discovering new solutions could be both immensely rewarding and “a little humiliating.” (“Refactoring an ASP.NET 5/EF6 Project and Dependency Injection,” msdn.com/magazine/mt632269)

The experience, Lerman says, expanded her horizons as a devel­oper. “I was able to broaden my technical expertise in so many directions—digging Git, Docker, Azure, document databases—as well as follow the path of Entity Framework even to this day. So much fun!”

Speaking of fun, resident bomb thrower David Platt clearly relished his role as back-page instigator at MSDN Magazine. And he particularly enjoyed his columns on Visual Basic 6, including the June 2012 piece, “The Silent Majority: Why Visual Basic 6 Still Thrives” (msdn.com/magazine/jj133828), that produced more first-month traffic than almost any article in the magazine over the last 10 years.

“Nothing stirred up a hornet’s nest like these columns, both pro and con,” Platt says. “Talk about pouring oil on troubled fires!”

Michael Desmond is the Editor-in-Chief of  MSDN Magazine.

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