Sunday, May 23, 2010

The AQA Language Debate – UK v Vietnam

This article (“Exam board deletes C and PHP from CompSci A-levels”) has received a bunch of Slashdot comment, and I wouldn’t have entered the fray but for my recent trip to Vietnam.

The point of my trip was to see an offshore development team, and very good they were too. One of the things that they drew particular attention to was the fact that at university in Vietnam, they don’t study “things like Fortran”, but “commercial skills” like C++, .NET, Java, and that all students spend a year in industry as part of their course. The point being that all graduates are good to go from the day they leave – they emerge from University ready to contribute.

Contrast this with the perverse nature of the UK education system – no one can persuade me that learning VB6 is more progressive than PHP or C  - it’s absolutely ridiculous, and as for the BCS approving of the decision – well that just confirms everything I’ve always thought about them (beards & sandals).

It also seems completely counter-intuitive from the point of view of the students themselves, especially at A-level. Teach them PHP and they’ve got enough to go and build a website. Teach them VB6 or Pascal and they’ve got enough to what – write an Excel macro? Which do you think they’d rather do?

Just for the record, these would be my language choices:

  • The basics:
    • C, C++
  • Commercial frameworks:
    • .NET (C#) or Java
  • The web:
    • Python, PHP or Ruby
    • Javascript
    • HTML, CSS & XML
  • SQL - can’t really get away without it
  • Just for the fun of it:
    • Erlang, Lisp, Smalltalk, F# ?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Vietnam thoughts

I’ve been in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in Vietnam for the past few days – Saigon as was – so here are a few thoughts:

  • People are very friendly – and it doesn’t appear to be put on
  • They love mopeds – a lot
  • They have no obvious indigenous culture

I know the last point is a bit controversial, but seriously, on a tour of the city, the points of interest included:

  • Communist party office block, turned museum
  • European Catholic cathedral
  • French Post Office
  • Chinese pagoda
  • Nothing Vietnamese.

Doesn’t stop it being a nice place, however, and the people really are friendly. Only thing to know beforehand is how to cross the road, which does seem to be a genuinely Vietnamese experience. The key is to ignore the traffic, and whatever you do, don’t stop. Just walk slowly through the traffic, and it will all just run around you, like water. It’s a rather bizarre experience.

Streets of Saigon - mopeds

Streets of Saigon - Communist Party banners

Saigon City Palace

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

.NET as a “web development” language.

This is the list of current Open Graph Protocol helper libraries that have appeared in the wild since the protocol was announced at f8. Spot the .NET library. Hang on, there isn’t one.

Open Graph Protocol implementations

That would be because people who really understand websites do not use .NET. And by understand I mean people who get that HTML is a skill, and not what the junior guy in the corner does.

So why is the .NET community so backward in coming forward, again? I blame Sue – I mean Microsoft, with their stupid bloody tools (see previous post.)

(Taken from the Open Graph Protocol documentation - http://opengraphprotocol.org/#implementations)

Sunday, May 02, 2010

What’s in a date?

Can you recall the date on which any online business launched? Furthermore, is there any significant  web-related date that anyone can remember? When did Google launch, or Yahoo!, or Facebook? When did Amazon sell its first book?

I can’t remember the date on which any project I’ve ever been involved with went live. Clearly a project needs a set scope / duration, if only to contain the project scope & manage costs, but with the magic of hindsight, the actual calendar date is irrelevant. What counts is the quality of what is delivered. Google is Google because it’s an amazing product, not because it launched on  … well, you get my point.

(Interestingly, the Google website doesn’t list any significant dates at all – just the year-by-year calendar of events. Wikipedia does list dates – but only for things like the date the domain was registered, the date the company was incorporated. There is in fact, no known date on which the search engine itself “launched”. Perhaps it was always there, and Brin/Page simply discovered it, like gravity, or natural selection?)

The reason dates have such prominence is marketing. Dates are critical in marketing – where things like promotional campaigns and launch events centre around a date. So the problem seems to be the relationship between marketing and production. It’s the age-old issue (/moan) – you should market something that has been built, and not build towards a marketing plan.

I’ve decided to write about this (again!) because of a comment made on a conference call earlier this week. That the launch of a product couldn’t be delayed on account of the parent company’s marketing budget dates – in order make use of the remaining quarterly budget we had to hit a launch date of the 12th May, irrespective of the quality of the product. The account manager was genuinely suggesting that we remove the testing period and launch direct to the public because they had booked a big promo for a given date.

I’m not saying that marketing is a worthless industry – it isn’t – it can be amazingly effective. However, what will ensure the long-term future of the product is the quality of the product, and not the campaign announcing its arrival.

(I think you can expect me to return to this theme fairly regularly, so if you work in marketing and think I’m wrong, please look away now. Or comment.)