am the host of .NET Rocks!, an Internet audio talk show for .NET developers online at www.franklins.net/dotnetrocks and msdn.microsoft.com/dotnetrocks. My co-host, Rory Blyth (www.neopoleon.com), and I interview the movers and shakers in the .NET community. We now have over 60 shows archived online, and we broadcast a new show every Thursday night from 10PM to Midnight, Eastern Standard Time (GMT-5). For more history of the show check out the May/June 2004 issue of CoDe Magazine, in which this column first appeared.
Sometimes the coolest .NET Rocks! shows are not about .NET at all. Show #59 with author Bob Reselman was one of those shows. He is the author of the novel, Coding Slave (www.codingslave.com) about a young woman from India who comes to America to work as a contract developer on a huge ERP project, and ends up changing the world. It gives developers and non-developers alike a glimpse into the software business for good or ill. Bob was the CEO of a Wall Street .com among other things. Topics of our conversation included outsourcing, the meaning of our jobs, parallels between musicians and programmers, and the future of computing. Here are some of the more memorable moments from show #59 with Bob Reselman:
Bob: “It takes a lot of money to keep our economy going… I’ve done pitches [for venture capital] where I say, you know, I need a million dollars. And they say ‘what do we get back?’ and I say 20 million, and they say to me ‘that’s not enough.’ “
Carl: [Laughs] “That’s insane.”
Bob: “I know. And that’s common. People want to know that the deal is big enough for them… I don’t actually talk about that in the book. I’m more concerned about the plight of programmers and why this is happening.”
Rory: “I’d like to just take a moment to tell any listeners out there saying ‘what does this have to do with .NET?’ Probably, your job. You know? This is stuff that matters to absolutely everybody, especially now in the tight economy. I’d like to understand this stuff better myself, which is why I’m glad we’re having this discussion.”
Bob: “Yeah, and believe me, I am too. I love to code. I mean, I’ve done it for years, but you just see this stuff… I mean I’ve done big-six consulting. I worked for Gateway, you know? And we all know their history. And I’m still in love with the company. Those are some of the greatest people I’ve ever worked with in my life.”
Rory: “You love to code, and you want to continue to code, which is why you want to understand why certain decisions are made that might cut you out of your job.”
Bob: “Or you cut you out of your job!”
Rory: “Now that’s a good point, because I’ve seen situations where I’ll look at somebody and I’ll think, you know, you should just be outsourced, buddy. You’re not doing anything, you’re sitting there, you got your feet up on the desk and you expect everything to just come to you and you think the world owes you a favor. You know? Why should you be getting paid to do this when there is somebody in India who’s perfectly willing to do the job, and wants to do it, and is happy to have it?”
Bob: “I don’t have a problem with outsourcing. I mean, I’m not going to bed at night seeing this as a justly unfair situation. I see it as an example of the unification of the planet. The planet has been unifying since Columbus got in the water, and now we’re just seeing it at accelerated rates.
“We think we [coders] are like brand new guys on the planet but we’re not. We’re the people that rule the world, we just don’t know it. Charlemagne practically owned Europe at one time, and he was illiterate. He was the king, but he didn’t control the communications channel at all. That was controlled by his scribes and his messengers. The Church controlled the scribes and messengers, and the Church had a huge interest in making sure that Charlemagne was in charge, because they needed to unify the planet.”
Carl: “So the scribes and messengers were his technology…”
Bob: “Exactly. But the scribes didn’t know [their role]. They thought they were doing the work of God. They didn’t really understand how powerful they were. They could have just rewritten a couple of notes and the face of history would have been changed.”
Carl: “Let me read the paragraph that illustrates that. This is where Ajita [the main character] is addressing an audience during a keynote at a [developer] conference…
I am sure that some of you, dear colleagues, think I am exaggerating our role as the rulers of the world, and the degree of our impact on the world at large, but think about it please. The President of the United States can push all the buttons on the console of any Star Wars machine of his choosing, as hard as his mighty fingers will allow, but if the poor coder at Raytheon or Lockheed-Martin who wrote the software for the missile tracking systems was distracted in Love Chat the night he was supposed to be programming the “ShootTheThingDown” function, the President might well find himself annihilating a 747 full of tourists on their way to see Shamu instead of an evil Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile on its way to Toledo, Ohio.”
Bob: “Yep, that’s it. And so… there are no victims here. There are no victims. We’re making the world we want…”
Carl: “And what is that world? I mean, on the next page you’re basically asking ‘is this a world we want to live in?’ because what’s happening to us as coding slaves is:
We have abdicated our responsibilities. We have become nothing more than slave laborers building modern-day pyramids glorifying the vanity of pharaohs instead of the greatness of mankind. We isolate ourselves in stall-like cubicles away from sunlight and make code that has marginal personal value. We are lonely, angry, and scared. We sit alone looking to our code for companionship and meaning, and what we really desire is the warmth and closeness of another human being. And still, we code alone.”
Carl: “That’s pretty preachy…”
Bob: “Uh, yeah. I’ve been there, done that… Let me give you a little history here. I wrote the book in Greece. After 9/11 I was in New York and I was busy being a rich executive at the time, and 9/11 sort of woke me up. So, I left the country for a while. I wound up in Greece, and I really tried to understand what was going on. And I saw this speech by Noam Chomsky (www.chomsky.info). He has an interesting idea, that most people can only think about one thing at one time. I’ve tried to think about two things at one time, and it’s very hard for me. And he says well if you can only think about one thing at one time, what do you think about?
“And he talked about baseball. Now, I’m a big baseball fan. I love Fenway Park. I have wonderful memories of every time I’ve ever sat in a seat there. Now the thing he says is, I don’t really know anybody on the team. None of the people there are my friends. None of the people I know have friends who are on the team. And yet I find myself giving large amounts of attention to this thing called baseball. So, what’s the social benefit, or the political benefit of doing this?
“Well, if you’re thinking about baseball, guess what you’re not thinking about?”
Rory: “Work, and 9/11, and problems…”
Bob: “Right. So, what am I doing here? I mean, as a coder I’m one of the most powerful people in the universe, and what am I doing here? I don’t know.”
Bob actually proposes a solution, but you’ll have to buy the book to learn what it is. Well, that’s all for now. I hope you get a chance to listen to the show. It’s well worth the click.