Most everyone who’s steeped deeply enough in the culture of Visual Studio has probably run across some mention of Mort. Mort is one of a triumvirate of personas that the Visual Studio team uses to describe the developers that they are targeting. The other two members of this group are Elvis and Einstein. (I got complaints from internal people the last time I mentioned the personas, so let me take a moment to say that they are open knowledge.) Love them or hate them, the personas have become an integral part of the way that many people talk about VB, C#, and C++, both inside and outside the halls of Microsoft.
There is a problem, though. Let me illustrate, if I may. First, here’s Einstein:
A bit of a card, to be sure, but generally a pretty brilliant guy. Sure, he’s spent most of his life chasing some crazy theory of unification, but overall he’s the go-to guy when you’ve got some rocket science project. And, of course, he’s the one claimed by the C++ folks. (Since you pretty much have to be a rocket scientist to fully grok C++…)
Next, we’ve got Elvis:
OK, so maybe Elvis’s best years are a little bit behind him and he’s just been coasting on his youthful talent. And, yes, maybe he’s been hitting the corn dogs a little bit too hard. But, c’mon… He’s Elvis, for heaven’s sake! The King! Maybe you don’t call him if you want to go to the Moon in a rocket, but if you want to entertain a stadium’s worth of rabid, screaming fans who won’t notice he’s, um, a little overweight, he’s your man. And, of course, he’s claimed by the C# folks.
Now, we finally come to Mort:
Hmmmm. Well. Yes.
Now, I should say that this is not the way that I think of Mort. Or that this is the way that our team thinks of Mort. To me, Mort is a smart, pragmatic guy who’s more interested in rolling up his sleeves and saving the world than sitting around noodling on some unified field theory or eating copious amounts of doughnuts. But to a large slice of the world who have an opinion about Mort, this is who they see. A toothless, unkempt hillbilly who’s best kept up in the mountains of West Virginia and away from all nice and normal folks.
And, of course, he’s the one claimed by the VB folks. He’s us. See the problem?
Personally, I think it’s time to let go of the Mort persona. Send him a nice fat check, a referral to a good orthodontist, and thank him for his hard work. And in his place? Well, I’d like to propose hiring this guy as our new persona:
Ben, as I’ll call him, is a pretty pragmatic guy and a bit of a polymath, a jack-of-all-trades. In between a writing and political career, he also finds time to be a postmaster, a publisher, a scientist, and an inventor. In short, he does what most VB programmers do: he multi-tasks like crazy, solving problems wherever he goes. (More information about Ben can be found here, for those not steeped in American history.) Now, sure, Ben’s not some rock star like your average George or Thomas is, getting all the attention with flashy military or political antics, but he’s really your guy when you need something done, you need it done right, and you need it done with a minimum of fuss and bother.
Doesn’t Ben sound like a wonderful persona for VB?
Of course, when it comes to product planning stuff like this, what I think doesn’t really matter a hill of beans. I’m sure there’s no getting rid of Mort, no matter what some people may think of him. But we can dream, can’t we?
One piece of conventional wisdom that I hear now and again is that “nobody uses Visual Basic.” When someone’s giving a talk and asks people to raise their hands if they use VB, they say VB’ers are in the minority. In the buzz-o-sphere, Visual Basic seems to be only discussed when debating whether some other language is the “new” Visual Basic. Even Microsoft has been accused on occasion of seeming to favor C# over VB in things like samples or documentation.
We were having a discussion internally about this piece of conventional wisdom and whether the numbers really backed this idea up. And they don’t. If you look at some of the numbers:
- Visual Basic is the #1 .NET language (as reported by Forrester Research)
- Visual Basic is the #1 downloaded and #1 registered Express Edition (topping the #2 position by 20%)
- Visual Basic is the #1 MSDN language dev center and blog in terms of traffic
- The Visual Basic Team blog is in the top 1% in readership of all MS bloggers (I don’t know where I fall in that since I host independently.)
All this points to a large “silent majority” of VB users out there who simply go about their work day after day yet don’t make a splash in the places that some people seem to think are the ones that matter (i.e. conferences, blogs, etc.)…