My friend Joey "Accordion Guy" deVilla has been a fixture in the Toronto technology scene since his days working at multimedia house Mackerel back in the mid 90s. He has been a strong proponent of the DemoCamp and BarCamp scenes, and helped build up the local Ruby community. His blogs The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century and Global Nerdy are smart and fun - and popular enough to bring large 'Google Juice' benefits to anyone he links to.
And yes, he does play accordion. Nine Inch Nails and AC/DC and Britney Spears. On the accordion. He is an inspiring example of how much mileage you can get out of the smart use of a simple, novel schtick and a winning attitude.
After a long time in the open source and startup worlds, Joey surprised us all last year by joining Microsoft. Our worries that he would trade in his raver jeans and assless chaps for a golf shirt and khakis were soon put to rest, though: his boss is requiring that he work away from the office most of the time.
Microsoft is going through interesting times. In the last few years they've had some major changes at the top, botched Windows Vista, watched Apple take over the music industry and set the agenda for mobile technology, and are still trying to find reasons for people to want to buy a new version of Office rather than just stick with the one they got in 2000.
More importantly, for a place that became (in)famous for the cry of Developers Developers Developers, they've been losing the lead - at least in mindshare. The 'cool kids' and startups these days are working with PHP, Ruby, Python, mySQL, PostgreSQL, and Linux. As recently as five years ago, the main advantage of open source was that it didn't cost as much, but now in many ways open source tools are better for many kinds of development.
Also, I remember in the 90s that a bright young programmer fresh from school would be thrilled at the prospect of working at Microsoft - now they'd rather join Google or Apple, or simply do their own startup.
Microsoft may move slowly, but they're not stupid. To avoid falling into (eventual) irrelevance, they need to catch up with what's going on outside of their own walled garden.
That's where Joey comes in.
Joey has been doing a lot to bring together the Microsoft and Agile/Startup/Open Source communities: He founded Coffee and Code to give developer communities an informal context for meeting up and talking tech. He has been handing out Windows 7 Beta DVDs like party favours, and has been inviting people like me, Pete Forde, Leigh Honeywell, and 'Krispy' Uccello to Microsoft events (where we eat most of the food and ask most of the questions).
Microsoft Canada's Developer and Platform Evangelism team is spending this week doing some planning for the upcoming year, and Joey has been doing some serious thinking. His blog posts from yesterday and today are good reading:
If Bill Buxton could approach Microsoft Corporation as a person — and hey, that’s the way the law treats corporations, so why not? – and asked him/her to draw a computer, I suspect that s/he would draw something based on mental model of a souped-up circa 2000 computer: a desktop computer with a nice flatscreen monitor, running Windows XP and having a somewhat limited connection to the ‘net.
I think that this is a problem. I also think that the source of this problem is Microsoft’s success.