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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

As Users Become Programmers

Dick was interviewed by Tom D'Auria of IMI TechTalk, on KFNX News Talk Radio, Sunday, August 1st. The conversation was about how programming is becoming less complex and how computer software is being fashioned directly by users, instead of professional programmers. These are Dick's notes from the interview.

What users are becoming what programmers?
30 years ago slides were made for executives by graphic artists. Those slides were on a carousel that went "kachunk" every time the slide changed in the projector. Powerpoint allowed anyone to make slides. YouTube allows any fool to make and post a video, and they all do. Today Google Apps gives anyone a free website and free email, Google App Inventor  lets anyone build an Android App without programming. Microsoft has Kittyhawk  which will allow non-coders to create dot net , Silverlight, and XAML products.

The trend is that building gets faster and easier, so more people can do it, which extends the number of useful projects which extends the value of the coding suite and the hardware.

What is driving this trend?
As we move from Enterprise software to open source software, to create revenue we have to give customers what they want, not what the programmers say they want. In large projects there has traditionally been a formalization of project management and project. There is a “cutoff date” after which the customer can’t suggest improvements.

Let’s see, our understanding of what we want is dynamic and enterprise code development methods are static.

There is a lot of dissatisfaction with code developed with this model. It is almost universal. The reason given is usually "stupid customers" and this new programming paradigm lets those stupid customers have exactly what they want. It works quite well, actually. So this is primarily about software quality and value to the user.

Second, If you want people to use your software, you have to make sure they can use it.

A key part of having Android surpass iPhone could be having any user create the apps they want to use on their phone.

What experience do you have with user programmed software?
Quite a bit actually. 30 years ago, I was the king of "desktop slide making" selling a box that would make a roll of film you would take to the drug store and get your slides back in a carousel, an early technology that was wiped out by powerpoint and the computer projector.

In 1995 I hand coded a large website that was used for marketing my company. I remember my triumph at learning how to code curly quotes. I stayed up for nights on end tracking down and fixing typos and thinkos.

More recently I've put up two Google apps websites, and, in less than four hours each, and two blogs, and Through The Browser, in about ten minutes each.These are all free. I even get free email accounts with them.

I use them to touch over 100,000 people twice a week, which takes less than an hour. I am not sending email blasts, readers have opted in to read my posts.

What about quality of communication if we let amateurs create the code?
Theodore Sturgeon, the great science fiction writer, studied the history of our species at length, and gave us Sturgeon's Law, "90% of everything is crud." If anything, it's getting a little bit better as we have more people playing.

Code has never been very good. We talk about which code is awfuller. This could change that discussion to, "Which code is more useful to me?" which may be a more valuable conversation.

What will happen to IT professionals?
The reason the best got into the trade was they were the best problem solvers. There is always need for competent problems solvers. I just read a book The Science of Liberty by Timothy Ferris, that shows how the founding fathers, the guys who wrote and signed the Constitution, were practicing scientists and problem solvers.

We know about Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, but I read a great story about George Washington and James Madison down in the swamps of Jersey discovering what causes swamp gas during a lull in the Revolutionary War.

The louts who say, "I won't open port 80 no matter what the mission of the company is!" have ROAD status. That's a military acronym for Retired On Active Duty, but they can do that anywhere. No reason for IT to get all the credit.

I had a chance to meet with the head of strategic planning for one of the largest government contractors last year. He said they were getting out of IT services. Not much goes wrong when you are looking at other people's websites. They are going after more real science and engineering work.

Last week I related that story to the sharpest pricing mechanic I know, who is at a mid-tier government integrator. He said, "That's most of the IT contract work in the government!" Welcome to the new world.

How can people find out more?
Sales Lab gives many presentations on this new economy, and we put them all on the web. I learned that from Tom Peters. He must have a million slides on the web. If you are interested in our view of where things are going, go browse That will get you to two blogs, two websites, and over 20 presentations.

Tell us your reaction. Please comment about you see the paradigm shifting (below)

On Wednesday, August 18, Sales Lab will be hosting two free shows,
How To Scale Your Organization? Build Borrow or Buy? 7:15 am in Rockville, and
Front End Selling, Noon, Mount Vernon Lee Chamber of Commerce, Alexandria


  1. David Weinberger is one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto, the book that started Web 2.0 in 1999 and just refurbished and republished in 2010. Today, he had a fine post on his experience as a user programmer,

    A good read!

  2. This is interesting stuff, and strikes a chord.

    Starting just over three decades ago, Michael Cowlishaw of IBM created Rexx, a command language designed to be usable by mere end-users.

    Rexx was revolutionary: it's intuitive yet powerful, and programs from a few lines to tens of thousands -- indeed, entire products -- have been written using it. People from secretaries to full professors (back when such folks used mainframes) programmed in it, encapsulating their knowledge: a short Rexx program listing five frequently used commands could be invoked as a single command, saving many keystrokes. (The DOS Batch [.BAT] language fills the same niche, albeit without the “intuitive” or “powerful” attributes.)

    In 1989, Rexx became the IBM standard language across all its platforms, and lives on today as the Open Source Regina Rexx ( and even Object Rexx ( Those of us who know Rexx look at languages such as Perl and shake our heads at the finicky syntax and elaborate constructs; we were using Rexx for the same kinds of things decades ago, but using a language that's much easier to use and debug.

    So now Google, Microsoft, YouTube, et al. are reinventing that wheel. This isn’t a bad thing – Rexx’s place as an end-user language has mostly passed -- but I had to give a nod to something that was clearly decades ahead of its time.

  3. Thanks Phil!

    You gave us a really educational, insightful comment.

    That's what I love about blogs! *grin*