I Hate Mort (sort of)

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…

16 thoughts on “I Hate Mort (sort of)

  1. Scott Bellware

    I certainly don’t believe in the viability of much of the guidance that Microsoft provides and the practices that it reinforces. No doubt that came across in my post. At least I hope it did. "Axe-grinder" is likely an appropriate name.

    I definitely appreciate your comments recognizing that we have multiple modes of operation, and that we aren’t simply personas.

    I hope that Microsoft will endeavor to recognize modes of development – like agile programming practices – that haven’t been well-supported in the tools. At least I hope that the next generation of tools won’t continue to be obstructions to contemporary practices.

  2. Anthony D. Green

    I think you’re right about that. And it made me think of what I really like about VB. It’s very… accessible to Mort and Elvis and Einstein. I’m not saying other languages aren’t but I work with it. And you can use it at all of those levels. So maybe we need a button you can hit on your IDE that makes a bunch of panels flip out in a batcave kinda way when you go Einstein and or a slider on the side that when turned all the way down just gives you MSPaint?

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  5. Mike Gale

    I think that personas have great value. The Mort, Elvis, Einstein set seem a joke though.

    As you say people are flexible and work over a range. For example some programmers also write documentation, manage some OS and hardware tasks (even if reluctantly), build web pages (not just XHTML but also CSS, images and copy writing), write T-SQL and design dB, run NCover… Issues like that have a big impact. They might want to Einstein in on an issue, after writing copy for a few hours, but have become rusty on how the IDE does it.

    There will also likely be things they hate and actively avoid. (Tools, ways of doing things…) Like hating the old VS 2002/3 design surface rewriting web pages, hating XSLT development, custom scripting languages…

    If you have personas that describe this sort of thing, might that be better?

  6. Robert Conley

    So is the fact that Visual BASIC is percieved as a "Mort" product is the reason why backwards compatibility was trashed between VB6 and VB.NET?

  7. OwenG

    You just don’t get it, do you?

    There are whole industries centered around the Mort personality.

    There are whole industries centered around the Elvis and Einstein personalities.

    You think that just because you’ve been developing for ten or fifteen years that you know everything there is to know about development. You come off like the guy who thinks he can do sales because he worked at a shoe store while he was in high school, or the other guy that thinks he can do technical support because he’s helped his dad get his computer running.

    Compare these three companies: a financial consulting group that develops single-use software solutions for individual clients; a engineering firm that develops software for use by scientists in labs; and a company that develops shrink-wrap software for a vertical market. These three types of companies are the embodyment of the three personas (mort, einstein, and elvis, respectively).

    All three companies build software; all three companies (should) run test cases; all three companies have deployment issues; all three companies want to use agile methods to deliver value faster.

    But their mindsets are _completely_ different.

    If you think the three personas are a joke, you’ve been working at Microsoft too long…Elvis.

  8. Marios

    I have used VB since the days where it was not realy usable, and I have grown with it.

    Since VB .NET I have felt that finally I have a language that can express all that I want in a consise and productive way. Adding artificial limitations to the language and IDE makes me feel as if Microsoft wants to limit my growth.

    As said above all personas are part of my day’s job.

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