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InfoQ Homepage Interviews David Laribee on Alt.NET and its Mission

David Laribee on Alt.NET and its Mission


1. I am here with Dave Laribee at ALT.NET Seattle and we are going to talk a little bit about ALT.NET. Dave, what exactly is ALT.NET?

ALT.NET is a label applied to a group of people working on the .NET stacks, the .NET programmers that are pushing the boundary. They are looking at things like open source; they are actively engaged in things like extreme programming, Scrum, Agile, Lean and they are just trying to get better and push it to the next level. Right now, ALT.NET is kind of a community practice around just edge stuff. What's cool, what's hot and what's really working in solutions. So, it's a loose confederation of people that self-identify there. Today it has been pretty much a blog post that a lot of people responded to, and a couple of open space conferences. It seems that there is a movement towards the group congealing and becoming a group of real identity of the before mentioned variety.


2. People have talked in the past of associating ALT.NET with tools like NHibernate or a particular test-driven framework, let's say NUnit, NBUnit. Would you say that's the case?

Partly, but I think that's the wrong angle to start argument at. We are going with the whole backnotion of tools should respond to some underlying values and principles and practices. And the tools should be oriented at - or right sized, to borrow a term from Lean - at fulfilling those practices. Tools are interesting, but as a community we seem to be more interested in the patterns that those tools implement.


3. What do you think happened in regards to the last ALT.NET event?

I think there was, just to be perfectly candid, a land-grab perception for some people that have been doing this for a long time. We've got the whole criticism of "There is nothing new under the sun" and "You are just co-opting all this Agile stuff" and I think that's all part of it. I think that also programmers - I'll just make this gross generalization - maybe tend to be kind of critical. We are critical thinkers, we are analytical. When a community just forming up in a pretty explosive initial batch of people, there is going to be some personalities that clash and there are going to be some issues.

This community is interesting because it's really the well-known programmer or the .NET programmer with a well traffic blog that was initially attracted there. So, there is a lot of personality to contend with. I would say that's from inside the community that the Iron came from. Outside I think there was a perception that ALT.NET was very anti-Microsoft. So ALT.NET is going to be a vehicle for running people off towards Rails or ALT.NET is going to be a vehicle for running people off to Java technologies. We've seen how things have gone, over the last year and a half. Microsoft is really stepping up in being a partner and a participant. It's a little different than a SharePoint user group. SharePoint user group, products, information comes down from on high and in this case we are forming up and asking Microsoft to "Come, learn what we want and see if we can build that in the products". A great example of that: MVC framework, ASP.NET MVC implementation -that's a good sign.


4. Have you seen any other responses from Microsoft, aside from the MVC framework?

I have. I've spent time with the Patterns & Practices group and they are very clued into what we are looking for. I definitely think of Microsoft as a tributary and input to my value stream and I think they are working towards adopting the principles that we think are good and providing us with the tools that match our principles and values. The Microsoft developer audience is huge and if we can form a nice clear message, we have an opportunity to grow this best practices stuff on a very epic scale. Microsoft is sensitive to that. Then again, it's a big company and there are things that still need work, there are areas where we are getting blocked on stuff, but the conversation continues, so I am positive.


5. How many changes have you noticed in this event as opposed to the last ALT.NET event in Austin?

It's a little bit bigger, so we have to take that as maybe standard error, but it seems Austin was very meta. There were a lot of session about let's define ALT.NET, let's write the manifesto, let's figure out what we are doing, now, almost none of that here. It's completely technical and that's where we need to be. There were a few things about dealing or working with management talking Agile stuff, but I consider that to be topical not so metaphysical in defining ourselves. That's one big thing.

Another thing, just looking at sessions about Domain Driven Design, the Austin session was a very Domain Driven Design one-on-one session: where are the key patterns, what's the core pattern language and what are the implications. Some of the subtle points with us: core patterns. At this event, the talk is raised up to a four level talk, but I think there is a sphere in this community of wanting to teach people or being able to take the time or not being snide or rude about a new question that's coming into a crazy high level talk. I think the skill level is going up, the patience is going up, the respect for your fellow programmers is going up, so from my perspective, cruising around it seems there is a net game: we are improving.


6. Doing events like this isn't scalable, but people can run their own .NET events?

Absolutely. I would say if you are interested in running your own .NET event, you can either get in touch with me or just go to the website, I'm not a bottleneck. You can go to and sign up for an account, and we have some features there that will let you host and publicize your event. Configure it for donations, directions or to connect with partners to for your event or to set up how many participants you want go live with at the event. We want to roll that out the next month or two and we want to see a lot of these, as much as possible.

There are some people also forming up user groups which is really interesting: Brian Donahue and Matt Kawasaki is out there very early creating a Philly and DC ALT.NET groups, respectively. They tend to be a little different than the average Microsoft of Java user group. They run using openspaces, they do randories, they do coding dojos, and fishbowls. The initial reception we've seen from the developer community in those towns has been very positive: great people willing to come out and speak/share their thoughts and a pretty healthy number of folks in attendance.

Oct 08, 2008