The great question," wrote Sigmund Freud, "which I have not been able to answer, despite my 30 years of research into the feminine soul, is What do women want?" If a reincarnated Freud sought a challenge today, he might well apply his question to application developers.
The choices they make can bewilder us. Their specialized knowledge is made dangerous by their unpredictability: Their actions can demolish plans and dreams, built on years of patient effort, if they feel theyve been treated with lack of respect.
We know that developers crave novelty, in no small part the reason for the rapid adoption of Java; we know they cherish familiarity, remaining fiercely loyal to any technology that theyve finally mastered after long effort. We know developers demand excellent tools; we know they resist tools that dictate more than they enable.
Most of all, though, we know that anyone with a technology to sell, or anyone hoping to turn a technology into a competitive edge, does so at the pleasure of developers—or does not do it at all.
We dont know if Microsoft execs have studied Freud, but they do have insight into what developers are looking for. Not only does Microsoft cater to developers hand and foot, but it offers by far the largest population of target platforms on which to run the applications developers create. Developers like that.
But, lots of platforms is not enough. Take PalmSource. With its failure to ease developers migration to the Palm OS 5 platform and its more robust ARM processor foundation, the vendor is looking far too much like Dilbert on a date.
IBM, which was once so full of itself that it repelled developers in droves, has shown the right kind of sensitivity with its strategic unification of database and application server technologies.
Today, developer concerns are no longer framed by arcane debates over programming language design; developers tools can no longer be chosen by stopwatch measurement of raw code speed. Instead, developers find their world expanding to embrace network management, which is crucial to Web service quality, and human resources, as training becomes a career-long process. The vendors that keep needs like those in mind will be the ones that attract the most developers—and, in turn, have the most to offer to IT.
If all else fails in attempting to understand developers, our advice is simple: Try listening.