Fan Mail

When you work in public, and you invite people to tell you what they think, they will. It often isn’t pretty, but you better listen up.

My previous posting elicited an email (name withheld since it was an email and not a public comment) quoted here in full

You're joking, I trust? You've been doing nothing but apologizing for crappy work since we began working with Silverlight last summer. Your job is important to the success of Silverlight. You need to be replaced with someone who's willing to spend the time required to produce quality work. NO MORE LAME EXCUSES.


Clearly this is one frustrated and unhappy customer.


The key question is why?

What cultural or interpersonal differences in the way that I look at things would cause her to think that I’ve been apologizing for 11 months? (Setting aside the question of whether I’ve been doing “crappy work? ”)

Please do not reply with how much you disagree with her… your kind words are much appreciated, but have been expressed elsewhere. The last thing I want to do is start a debate about her opinion.

The point of this blog post is not about the quality of my work, it is about how to explore new ways of doing things without confusing people or making them angry

Experimenting In Public

I love my job. One of the things I love about it, is that it is not static. In my experience, there are two kinds of people in the world (one kind thinks there are two kinds of people in the world, the other kind doesn’t). 

One kind likes to get really god at what they do and keep doing it. The other kind, like me, likes to keep changing and evolving and trying new things. We love a blank sheet of paper; we are inspired by reinvention.

The post this woman was responding to was about taking the risk of setting aside 15 years of relatively successful presentations and trying a new approach, one that I think will better serve the Silverlight developer, one that is far  riskier, far more work, far less certain and far more exciting. Most important, an approach that is not guaranteed to work but if it does, I believe it will make me a much more interesting presenter with much more to offer.

That is the proposition.

Terror does not create innovation

terroe_eye_1There is a culture in some parts of Microsoft; perhaps some parts of the entire industry,  in which you must never show fear,  never show any weakness, never show anything but total confidence.

I remember this at Ziff/AT&T  we would have meetings and the junior staff was terrified of asking questions for fear of ridicule or at least disdain.

I had the privilege that went with the absurd title of “Distinguished Software  Engineer” of asking the “stupid” questions that many others (it turned out) wanted answered as well. It taught me a powerful lesson; don’t be afraid to look stupid; it is a lot better than being  stupid.

Somehow this connects up with an article I read recently that profiled 10 billionaire entrepreneurs who had, among them, 25 previous bankruptcies.

Fall Down, Get Up

So, despite advice, I continue to experiment, and I continue to do so openly; shockingly acknowledging when things don’t go as planned, working harder and preparing more the next time, and building up a stronger base of tools with which to convey what I think is some of the most interesting and exciting information for developers: the what and why and how of Silverlight 2 as it evolves. 

Why You Never Score A 10

I’ll leave you with this oft-told story. Early in my writing, back when I was writing about C++,  I received two emails on the same day. One said in essence “no one has ever explained pointers in a way I understood before.”  The other said “I don’t know what it is you do for a living, but it can’t be programming or writing because you are terrible at both.” I hug them both on my wall, and perhaps I will hang this feedback next to them.

My actual favorite email said this: Please sir, I translate your book to Korean, but first, what means ‘I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore?”

Keep those cards and letters coming, and if you are unhappy let me know, but please try to be specific. What is bad, what needs fixing specifically. I can’t promise that I’ll agree, but at least I’ll know where the trouble is. If you are happy, let me know that too (I pass those to my boss!); as my friend Laurence Moroney says “all proceeds go to a college fund – my kid’s college.”

And worry not; my ego (and my job) are secure. Or secure enough.

Thank you. We now return to our regular blog, already in progress.



Picture of girl: iStockPhoto
Picture of eye:  stock.xchng
All pictures fully licensed by Jesse Liberty


About Jesse Liberty

Jesse Liberty has three decades of experience writing and delivering software projects and is the author of 2 dozen books and a couple dozen Pluralsight & LinkedIn Learning courses. He was a Senior Technical Evangelist for Microsoft, a Distinguished Software Engineer for AT&T, a VP for Information Services for Citibank and a Software Architect for PBS. He is a Xamarin Certified Mobile Developer and a Xamarin MVP and a Microsoft MVP.
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