Greener grass

This morning I read the blog post 'Life with a .NET' by Jon Wear. It's about leaving .NET / the Microsoft platform for the great unknown 'outside the Microsoft world'-universe, and it's a great read.

It made me reflect on my (rather secret) journey in that same universe outside everything Microsoft this summer. After I finished LLBLGen Pro v4.2 this summer, I fell into the usual 'post-project' dip, where everything feels 'meh' and uninteresting. Needless to say I was completely empty and after 12-13 years of doing nothing but .NET / C# / ORM development, I didn't see myself continuing on this path. However I also didn't see myself leaving it, for the obvious reason that it's the place where my life's work lives.

Rock, meet Hard Place.

This summer I took a journey to find back the love I once had in writing code, starting with Go and Linux, after that Objective-C, Mac OS X / Cocoa and coming back full circle on .NET with the Task Parallel Library (TPL). It's an unusual trip, but I didn't really know what I was looking for, what it was that I needed to be happy to write some code again, so I was open to anything.

In my career I've learned (and luckily also forgotten) a lot of different programming languages and platforms. After 20 years of professionally using all those languages and platforms for short or longer periods of time I can conclude: they all are just a tool to get to your goal, they're not the actual goal themselves.

I already knew this of course when I went into this journey, so learning Go was, in hindsight, more of a 'let's do this, see where it leads me' kind of thing than a real move to Go. After learning the language and working with the tools available I realized it wasn't the world I wanted to be in. The main reason was that I develop and sell tools for a living, I'm not a contractor and Go's commercial ecosystem is simply not really there. After my Go adventure I had learned a new language but nothing of what I needed to get past my problem.

To learn a language and platform, it's best to use it in a real project. Some time ago I had an idea for an app for musicians (I'm an amateur guitarist) on OS X. This was the perfect opportunity to learn a new language and platform, so I did the radical move to learn Objective-C with XCode, targeting OS X. I have to say, this was a true struggle. XCode was 'OK', but Objective-C was something I hated from the start.

Yeah, I know, Xamarin etc., but I didn't want to use that, it would still be C# and I did that already all day long. I know Apple has released a new language (Swift), but at the time I sank my teeth into Objective-C it was still in beta and I thought it would be a good idea to learn Objective-C to understand the platform better anyway.

Besides the Objective-C syntax (oh boy, who cooked that up) I was also faced with a rather unfamiliar framework: Cocoa. Though after some reading, Cocoa looked like the similar frameworks we have on Windows and Linux/X, but one thing stood out: its dispatch queues and Grand Central Dispatch. For my app idea I needed a lot of parallel processing and the queues made this easy, as in: you could think about parallel work in a naturally way: this is a piece of work I want to run in parallel with what you're running already, and take care of the rest for me, including work stealing, scheduling, the works.

It matches what modern 3D engines do on multicore CPU/GPUs: chop up the work in small chunks and schedule those on the available cores. Suddenly I got new ideas how to do things in parallel in my designer and more importantly, do things in real time. To do that, I needed dispatch queues on .NET. I realized that .NET has this already in the form of the Task Platform Library (TPL), since .NET 4.0. Strange how things like that are completely uninteresting till you realize their real power and from then on they're that new toy you can't put down.

My little journey brought me back to .NET without realizing it, to find back the love of writing code by finding motivation in an element that's a core part of an OS I don't use in my daily work. It opened the route out of the rabbit hole by showing a new path I could take without leaving my life's work behind; on the contrary: it opened my eyes to completely new opportunities and ideas. I would love to share those, but I don't want to give my competitors ideas, sorry Winking smile

I wanted to write this post to show you that moving away from .NET might look like the solution, but chances are .NET / the Microsoft platform isn't the real problem, it's between your ears: languages, platforms, tool chains, IDEs, editors, shells etc., they're all just means to get somewhere. Using one over the other doesn't change a single thing about where you have to go, only perhaps the way you get there. While a new route to get to your goal will offer new scenery, the road likely is as bumpy as the one you're used to and the scenery will not be that special after you've seen it a lot of times.

Safe travels.

1 Comment

  • Nice write-up. I also face the same issue every now and then and then all of a sudden a new type of project comes along where I can use a different part of the framework or platform which then pulls me back in. Hope I can keep it that way.

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