Potential at the Trailing Edge

Lots of people linked to the happy news last week that Jon Udell was joining Microsoft, so I didn't bother.  I have previously recommended  his great interview with Anders Hejlsberg.  This is a clear, concise, hands-on demonstration of LINQ (including LINQ to XML) that feels like Anders stopped by your office to explain it in person.  I have to credit the interviewer for a lot of that.

I met Jon Udell at the XML 2003 conference, and blogged about it in my previous home on the web. I remember one interaction well: I had (a year or so before joining Microsoft) just bought a Mac Powerbook and noticed that he and most of the other really cool people were also using one.  I asked if this the first sign of a trend toward OS X... he replied something like "no, just a fad."   A couple of years later I noticed that many of the  bleeding edge people seemed to be switching to Ubuntu Linux and others were agonizing about whether to switch  ... so I guess he was right!  And I've given the PowerBook to my daughter and gone back to Windows.  Oh well.  I can't exactly pull off that Mac Guy style with my age and physique anyway.  Maybe I'm worse than uncool; I use a Mac Mini at home now ... but commit the heresy of running Windows Vista on it.  [The Mini is a phenomenal piece of equipment: very small physical size, lots of horsepower, extremely quiet, relatively cheap ... I wonder how much of Apple's newfound market share comes from people like me and some colleagues that I know who  buy their hardware and run our software?.]

Anyway, the tagline here comes from a piece in Udell's new weblog:

Part of this career change goes beyond switching employers. The disconnect between the geek world and the civilian world has really been bugging me lately. Leading edge aside, there’s so much potential at the trailing edge that languishes because nobody helps people connect the dots. ,,, Smarter methods of communication. More powerful data analysis and visualization. Surprisingly simple kinds of integration.

That really resonated with me.  It is similar to the LINQ to XML vision in that we see lots of people in the "civilian world" who could benefit from the data interoperability that XML enables but don't have the tools to use it effectively, and no particular interest in learning a whole set of specialized XML technologies just to do a single job.  Although I would hardly call it "trailing edge", LINQ is all about connecting the dots between existing programming languages and the different data sources that one comes across.

More generally, and more to the point of what Udell will be doing, there does seem to be a problem in our rather fad-driven industry:  Lots of people are contending over who gets to lead the parades, but not very many are coming along behind to sweep up after the horses and elephants. I can't blame the "civilians" for wanting to avoid those streets until nature does its slow but sure cleanup job, but there are a lot of good ideas that have been generated and proven (not to mention bad ideas that have been discredited) in the debris of yesterday's parades. The example closest to my heart is XML I suppose - it's no longer hip (and the hipsters are off exploring new ideas such as JSON), there is a lot of, uh, compostable material left behind that needs to be disposed of properly, but there's much of value if  users can get the kind pragmatic advice on what works and what is overkill that Udell does so well.

Bleeding edge geekdom is lots of fun, but working on the trailing edge has a pleasure all its own.  What works today will probably still work tomorrow, but it can work better if we incorporate the formerly bleeding edge stuff that actually proved itself.

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