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Aspire to Inspire

This is an article on the topic of philosophy in software, business, and life.

The Need for Inspiration

In my estimation, the primary issue with our .NET client development ecosystem is that of inspiration. Note that in my appeal here, I am not suggesting or implying that is a primary aim of Super.NET. I will not complain, however, if that happens to result in a side effect.

Silverlight as an Inspirational Paradigm

When I reflect on Silverlight’s time, I have to say that I felt more inspired then than at any other time working with .NET technologies.

Why was that? Well, I felt part of an emerging movement, one that was revolutionary and promised to be ubiquitous.

The benefit of being ubiquitous, of course, was that the work that you applied towards that platform would be accessible by anyone that possessed the medium in which to view said work. In the case of Silverlight, it was the web browser. The idea was that every device or computer had a browser installed on it and it could view the application that was designed using Silverlight.

From a developer perspective, this meant maximizing exposure to your work. Every person on the planet would be able to easily access and see your work, should you choose to publish it. From a business perspective, it meant being able to quickly develop applications using one code base, and then being able to leverage that knowledge going forward anywhere that .NET was used. As such, it saved costs as you did not have to train, develop, and support with other incompatible languages, as we have to do now with JavaScript.

Additionally, I felt that this inspiration was infectious. Other developers seemed to be “lighting up” and constantly introducing really amazing ideas into the MSFT ecosystem. Namely, RIA Services and the DataView control. Also, the way controls were being made were really revolutionary. You had DataTemplates and other mechanisms that simply did not exist in the HTML web design space. And then you had such inventions and approaches such as the markup extensions which were incredibly powerful and inspiring in their own right.

This was all in Silverlight, culminating in Silverlight 5, the greatest release of them all. All the magic was finally captured, waiting to be established and disseminated to the masses. Inspiration was building upon inspiration and it really felt as this would last forever, and that we as .NET client developers were part of something special.

But that’s the key here, inspiration fostered more inspiration. And this is the key aspect that I think we have been missing in .NET since that time.

Then Silverlight Died

Of course, Silverlight did not last forever, but was, in fact, killed shortly after its peak. Truly confounding how that happened, of course. I still cannot grasp why you would kill a technology that saved businesses so much money, and replace it with a solution that ended up costing businesses more money. Even more confounding was that businesses did not question such a dubious decision and simply went along with it without challenging the fundamental business problems with the strategy.

However, Silverlight’s death presented a great opportunity to learn and produce character, if not on a logical or software level, then on a personal level, or perhaps even on a spiritual level.

Before Silverlight was killed I thought I was a hotshot times ten. Now I know I am just a hotshot times two.

I know that in my case when Silverlight was at peak momentum, I was a know-it-all bragface that had all the answers. I wasn’t a good teammate. Well, I was in some respects, but if there was a disagreement, I had to be right at all costs, to the point where it would impact my relationship with others.

To me, the death of Silverlight was a spiritual lesson. It allowed me to see that I, in fact, did not know everything. I was able to see that because I think something is a certain way, doesn’t mean that it actually is.

If I was wrong about Silverlight, then what else was I wrong about?

This sort of thinking leads to self examination and discovery. For me at least, the best way I could paraphrase this process it is that before Silverlight was killed, I thought I was a “hot shot” times ten. Now I know I am just a hot shot times two.

To me, the death of Silverlight was a spiritual lesson.

That is, still talented and capable, but maybe not as much as I thought. Ironically, though, now that I actually know more about myself and my limits as well as a better grasp on reality, I might indeed be closer to that “times ten” than previously believed. However, I have also learned that humility goes a long way, so two it is.

The Value of Inspiration

Why is inspiration so important? Well, to me, it brings out the “art” of what we do. We can start to see beyond the business of working to make a buck, and start thinking more big picture and having a higher purpose. We can start thinking of how we use applications differently and have fewer restrictions imposed upon us. In a business context, I see software applied as a science with very little art or meaning to it. However, when you combine this “science” with inspiration, I believe the art emerges from such. Then, art meets science, which in my view not only sustains the business but also improves upon it.

Let’s also not overlook the aspect of morale, either. Having inspired developers means having them invested in their work, which may mean more hours for a business which yields a higher ROI for the business that pays their salary. Inspired and invested developers know (or have a feeling or understanding) that their efforts are part of a bigger vision that they will ultimately be compensated for their time and more if their efforts are successful.