Category Archives: Microsoft

Another transition…

After spending a year and a half working on “M”, I’ve decided to make another change in what I’m doing and and move over to the SQL Server Programmability team. That’s the team responsible for things like the T-SQL language and runtime in SQL Server. Working on “M” was a lot of fun and the team was great, but after spending a good, long while down in the bowels of a GLR parser, I decided that that was enough and that it was time to do something else. Working on SQL Server programmability is, in some ways, a combination of all my previous jobs-a bit of data from Access, a bit of runtime from OLE Automation, and a bit of programming language from Visual Basic and “M”. It’s also an interesting challenge-a product that’s both well established and confronting a lot of new challenges. I think it’s going to be quite a bit of fun!

It does mean saying goodbye to “M”, and that was sad (although, really, they’re still in the same division and not that far away), but that’s the way it goes. I’ll be looking forward to their next CTP, which is where people will see a lot of the hard work that’s been going on and the overall direction that the language is headed. There’s a lot of cool stuff coming, and I think people will find it very interesting!

Changing jobs also means that I’m back to drinking from the firehose, learning the ins and outs of the guts of the SQL Server engine, as well as T-SQL. Interesting stuff. Any good T-SQL/SQL Server blogs anyone can recommend?

A Channel9 E2E2E video…

Charles just posted a new “Expert2Expert2Expert” talk on Channel9 on “Programming Data.” This was a talk, moderated by Erik Meijer, with me and Michael Rys about data and programming and “M” and SQL Server and more. It was an enjoyable conversation but Erik did observe afterwards that I’d managed to avoid saying too much about “M” specifically! There wasn’t any mysterious intent on that one-as I said in my previous blog entry, things have been continuing to move in the “M” world and there just isn’t a lot new that I can say at the moment. Soon, hopefully, soon.

Did Joel Spolksy nearly drive my coworker insane?


Dare had a pointer today to a programming.reddit story that talks about competing versions of a dustup between Joel and Greg Whitten back when Joel used to work for Excel. I could care less who’s right, but the interesting implication of the story is that Joel was the one who came up with the application interface for VBA. I’m not sure that’s entirely true-a lot people worked on VBA-but if it is, he might be responsible for nearly driving a former co-worker insane.

When I started at Microsoft, I worked on Access. Access used a version of BASIC called Embedded Basic (or EB) for its programmability story. EB may not have been perfect, but I always thought it was a really nice language engine-it was small, it was fast, and it worked really well with Access and its programming model. After Access 1.0 shipped, however, EB was discontinued in favor of VBA which was the new official programmability story for Microsoft. There were a few people left on EB whose job, as far as I could tell, were just to tell me “no” when I came to them and asked them to fix bugs. (My interactions with the EB team at this point inspired my program manager to tell me that one of my special skills seemed to be “being able to tell people to f**k off, but in such a nice way that there’s nothing they can say in return.” Suffice it to say, I didn’t have a great relationship with the EB folks.)

By the time we got to Access 95, we knew we had to move over to VBA. The head of the project stopped by and asked me if I was interested in maybe leading the effort to switch over to VBA. In what I can only describe as an extreme fit of sanity, I declined. Another coworker took on the job. Suffice it to say, it was nearly a complete disaster. VBA was designed to work well with Excel, which had a totally different storage, execution, and debugging model than Access. As a result, almost everything having to do with programmability had to be redesigned, often in some pretty hairy ways. From the outside, it seems like a miracle that it ever worked, much less worked well.

As you can imagine, this was pretty hard on my coworker, who was responsible for getting this working in Access. As I remember, the VBA team at the time (Joel was gone by that point, I think) was somewhat sympathetic but not overly helpful-after all, they worked really well with Excel and we had all these “weird” requirements. Anyway, I knew things weren’t going well when my coworker came into my office and told me, “I found this really stupid bug that I made, so I decided to rename all the local variables to say insulting things about me.” Then one day I came in to work and found my coworker wasn’t there. When I asked where he was, I was told that he’d been ordered to take several days off and fly to Vegas to unwind for a while. I believe they were worried he might totally go off the deep end.

In the end, though, we shipped, my coworker did not go insane, and everything ended up OK. But it’s interesting to think what might have happened.

Scored some updated Addison-Wesley books

While I was hanging out at the Addison-Wesley booth, I picked up a copy of two updated editions that I’d been eyeing. One is the updated C# Programming Language specification that includes a lot of hard work by Mads:

Book Cover

And the other is the updated Framework Design Guidelines:

Book Cover

Both look just awesome. I think they’re also supposed to be giving out this sooner or later:

Book Cover

So I can hopefully pick up one of those too!

Let’s get small…

I just wanted to give a shout out to my fellow Oslo employee Vijaye Raji whose Small BASIC project just launched on the new DevLabs site. It’s a version of BASIC targeted at truly beginning programmers, and I think it’s a great example of how BASIC can be utilized to make things very simple and easy to use. I got the chance to see Small BASIC in action being taught to high schoolers and it was wonderful to see the kids start to make the connection between what they were doing and what they could do. It’s a great project, and I hope it goes far!

Volta released…

Just a little shout out to the latest project by that crazy language pimp, Erik Meijer. (He’s the guy you have to thank for much of LINQ and especially for XML literals in VB.) In its own words, Volta is…

[…] a developer toolset that enables you to build multi-tier web applications by applying familiar techniques and patterns. First, design and build your application as a .NET client application, then assign the portions of the application to run on the server and the client tiers late in the development process. The compiler creates cross-browser JavaScript for the client tier, web services for the server tier, and communication, serialization, synchronization, security, and other boilerplate code to tie the tiers together.

Although my focus continues to be on client programming by directly emitting IL for the runtime, I think Volta has some extremely interesting ideas contained within it. I’ll be interested to see how this project fares, especially given the success of his previous ideas…

What do I actually do…?

Back in December, when discussing my bout of writer’s block, I said that I should probably write an entry “What the Hell I Do [at Microsoft],” since I think that the question is sometimes a little murky (even to me). Most of my career I was just a “developer” or “manager,” but now that I am an “architect,” things are a little more complicated.

As far as I can tell, “architect” is such a general title at Microsoft that it’s practically meaningless. It can mean totally different things in different organizations. In my case, being an “architect” seems to mean:

  1. I’ve been around a long time.
  2. I’m a developer (more or less).
  3. I don’t manage anybody.

(For those paying close attention, my title when I started this blog was “Technical Lead,” which was an even more meaningless term, especially since I used to be a “Technical Lead” on Access when I was much, much, much more junior. And I believe that my title will soon change to “Principal Architect,” which only means that if you’re an internal Microsoft person, you’ll have a general idea of what my career ladder level is.)

I should also be clear that I am an architect working on Visual Basic, not the “architect of Visual Basic.” There are at least three other people who work on Visual Basic that share the title of “architect” with me, all of whom do wildly different things. Basically, we’re just a bunch of senior developers who didn’t want to manage people but were useful enough to keep around anyway.

So that’s my title, but what do I actually do? Well, my standard cocktail party answer is “go to meetings and write emails.” And (very) occasionally write blog entries. However, if you wanted to pin me down a bit more, I tend to spend my time doing the following:

  • Attending language design meetings. We tend to have two hour design meetings every week on Monday and Friday to talk about Visual Basic language design. This is where we hash out new ideas, work through details, and deal with followup issues. With where we are in Orcas, it’s mostly followup issues at this point, but we should start gearing up to do some early thinking about post-Orcas soon.
  • Writing the language specification. This is a seasonal activity, so to speak, since it’s really only done later in the release cycle when the various individual feature specifications have settled down. It’s sort of a last formalization step for all the features and a chance for me to do a pass through everything we’ve decided. I’m actually just about to start this for Orcas.
  • Doing community stuff. This includes blogging, going to conferences and giving talks. I don’t do a huge amount of this in any one year, but it’s something I’m trying to do more of.
  • Writing code. Amazingly enough, I still do this. It tends to be what we call “long-lead” work, though, stuff that’s maybe a little further than prototype but not real production. For example, I did a lot of work on getting the first couple of LINQ CTPs (the pre-Orcas CTPs) out the door. And I’m doing a lot of work right now on some other code that might appear a little at MIX and (I hope) a lot more at the PDC.
  • Answering questions. As the longest serving member of the language team, I get a lot of random questions from people about design questions, past and present.
  • Talking to other teams. Whatever I’m working on usually interacts with other teams in some way, shape or form. With LINQ, I spent a lot of time talking with the C# team and SQL team. With the stuff I’m working on now, I’m spending a lot of time talking with other teams. Coordination is frequently the name of the game.
  • Trying madly to keep up with my email. Like the rest of the universe.

Of course, what anyone does at Microsoft always tends to be a moving target, so I’m sure I can write this same entry each year and it’ll be a little different each time. I guess that’s what keeps life interesting!