For a long time, I’ve been trying to write an entry entitled “I Hate Mort” that captures everything that I think is wrong with the current “Mort, Elvis, Einstein” taxonomy of developers that Visual Studio uses. And, for a long time, I’ve been failing miserably. I think it’s that I tend to want to be very fair-minded on the subject—by and large, people are extremely well-meaning when they talk about Mort and Visual Basic, and I feel bad bad-mouthing something that a lot people have invested a good chunk of thought into. However, Scott Bellware has no such qualms:
The Microsoft developer personas that include Mort, Elvis, and Einstein are ultimately an ethically bankrupt mechanism to pigeon-hole software developers into the kind of overly simplified categories that a typical marketing staffer is comfortable with. While intended to help this particular parasitic segment of the corporate world to behaviorally model the psychological predispositions of software developers at their work in an unrealistically simple way, it has instead turned into a system of limitations that developers have begun to impose upon themselves to the detriment of the advancement of software development practice and industry. It appears to be a bid by developers to rid themselves of the capacity for rational thought in favor of tribal identification with corporate brands and software rock stars.
Now, I don’t agree with everything Scott has to say in “Mort or Elvis? A Question for a Bygone Era”—he definitely has some specific axes to grind that I don’t—but I think he does capture some of the essence of the problem with the personas. The fundamental error I think most people make with the personas is that they see them as mutually exclusive rather than points along the experience spectrum. When I’m working on the VB compiler, I’m definitely an Einstein, thinking at a very high level. When I’m working on stuff like the VBParser sample, I’m generally an Elvis, thinking at a somewhat lower level. And when I’m writing batch scripts or ad-hoc data analysis tools, I’m definitely a Mort, hacking around to figure out what I’m trying to do.
The point really is that most people are usually Mort, Elvis and Einstein all at the same time, depending on what they’re doing. And by building tools that target one or the other, we’re artificially segregating people’s work into buckets that don’t really map onto their daily lives. (I would also argue that the past several releases of Visual Studio has emphasized some personas over others.) Finding a way to better serve people as they move through the flow of the day-to-day work is something that is need of some serious attention. And it’s something that VB has historically been very preoccupied with. So… what to do about it? That’s the question, isn’t it? Nothing to talk about yet, but it’s fermenting…