Ex-Silverlighters and how they influence the vNext

On the Interwebz, when you stumble your way through the various “Silverlight is dead”-style blog posts, what you will most likely see is the theme around skill transference.
Silverlight advocates of the past, who have now switched over to WinRT, have begun to spread the message that not all is lost. You can take your Silverlight skills to WinRT!

It’s Kool Aid Time: this year’s batch is Raspberry.

When I read posts like these, I simply shake my head and admittedly get a little annoyed at the existence of such posts. More to the point, I’m also getting weary of seeing MVP’s of the Silverlight of yesterday flipping the script and now putting out a public audition for WinRT MVP auditions.

I get the mindset that often goes into these style posts, and in many ways you have to give these folks credit, as they have simply have moved on. Unfortunately like most people inside cubicles around the world, the luxury of riding the new wave(s) is often restricted to a small cluster of adopters and influencers.

You know these people: they are usually the same people on stage at a conference somewhere telling you what you’re doing wrong and how you should adopt vNext tech to do better.

Back to reality.

I’ve been at the birth of a new technology; I’ve been in a team that spent millions on marketing and seeding the new technology to over 6 million .NET devs and around 500 million PC’s worldwide. You could say I’ve seen a lot and learnt a lot from that experience.

The one consistent ingredient to seeding a technology is what we collectively call the “influencer”. The idea is you round up a bunch of Community Leaders, you shower them with Glass Awards, titles like MVP, or at the very least make them feel important or as your “favorite”, and then you get them to tell people your message (as the theory is that this in turn adds authenticity to your message).

When I was an Evangelist, I went from being an unknown non-.NET developer in an Adobe/Macromedia scene, to being suddenly invited to speak at Microsoft Conferences, Twitter Followings, Facebook Friend Requests, Invites to Business Deals/Meetings and so on. You feel as if you’re now the one being dated whilst at the same time you in turn make others feel the same the ripples of influence continue.

That’s how you artificially pump a community up around a technology adoption. There are different flavors to the approach, but ultimately, your job is to become a band manager and not the rock stars (you scale more).

The messaging framework.

When the time comes where you need to broadcast your message to the crowd of followers, your main focus is to ensure you get traction around repeatable messaging. That is to say, you ensure that you all sing from the same hymn sheet and with enough repetition this message will be the consistent soundbyte you hear at a local conference near you.

For example:

  • Silverlight isn’t dead; it will be around for 20 years.
  • You can take your Silverlight skills today and reuse them with Win8 tomorrow, as in the end it’s just XAML and C#, right?
  • And so on..

These are examples of how you frame the conversation to break down resistance, or what Steve Jobs would call the “distortion field”. It’s sneaky, and often if you’re not paying too much attention, it will creep up on you and then you find yourself saying the above as if it became suddenly your idea (kind of a mutated confirmation bias at work?).

Change is the enemy.

That’s how you flip the script; that’s how you get people to stop looking behind and start thinking about what’s coming up. You can shift an entire community from the old to new in under 2-3 years using that formula mixed with enough conference blitz, blog post(s) and so on.

This is, however, all a false sense of change. That is to say at the conference / front lines, it looks as if things are moving forward fast, quick everyone get on the new wave!

At the cubicle level, the environment that when the conference etc. is over and everyone retreats back to their various developer enclosures. They are still likely staring at WinForms, Windows XP, WPF, Silverlight and so on for the next 1-2 years minimum.

This is where the thinking around change truly festers, as now it’s less about having XAML and C# skills but more about how to use them in an upcoming project. The bottom line is if you are writing Silverlight/WPF, the very notion or idea that you can transfer your skills in 2-3 years when Windows 8 dust settles is really pie in the sky broad stroke thinking.

Today, you have to File-New Silverlight/WPF Project, as it’s realistically the environment in which you are likely to get success in this .NET space. You could go down the path of HTML/JS and really get ready for devices of tomorrow, but that’s tomorrow, this is today.

Silverlight is at the end of it’s life, and in turn anything that takes a dependency on it is sure to decay over the next year or so. Windows 8 is not a desktop release; it’s a tablet release. The future around how Windows 8 plays a role in businesses of tomorrow is still a huge unknown.

Microsoft really needs to stop switching gears so fast here. If the future is to gravitate towards the next wave, then fine. Change is good, yet do so in a manner that has clarity attached.

Stop hiding behind the sound bytes of the usual muffin eaters at the same conference(s). Stop just abandoning the toys of today because they aren’t as shiny as the ones you make tomorrow.

Spend more time in the transition or bridging between the old wave and the new wave, whilst lastly settle on a message around how you transfer and not throwaway messaging of “well if you know how to write code you can write better code tomorrow”.

I think it’s clear we all can learn a language or two. That’s not the point, the point is: What incentive do I have to relearn (or go backwards in) in order to move forward?

WinRT is Silverlight 1.1 or 2.0 when it comes to development experiences. Windows Phone 7 Development vs. Windows 8 Development isn’t as clear as it could be. Lastly, if Silverlight has no more releases left in it, then how do other products like Lightswitch, Expression Blend, Visual Studio, etc. get affected by the end of life stigma?