TITLE: Eat *That* Dog Food AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: February 16, 2006 3:23 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Eric Sink tells one of the best stories ever to illustrate the idea of eating your own dog food. Go read the whole paper and story, but I can set up the punchline pretty quickly: Table saws are powerful, dangerous tools. Many woodworkers lose fingers every year using table saws. But...
A guy named Stephen Gass has come up with an amazing solution to this problem. He is a woodworker, but he also has a PhD in physics. His technology is called Sawstop. It consists of two basic inventions: The videos of this product are amazing. Slide a piece of wood into the spinning blade, and it cuts the board just like it should. Slide a hot dog into the spinning blade, and it stops instantly, leaving the frankfurter with nothing more than a nick. Here's the spooky part: Stephen Gass tested his product on his own finger! This is a guy who really wanted to close the distance between him and his customers.
Kinda takes the swagger out of your step for using your own blogging tool. Eric's paper is really about software developers and their distance from users. His title, Yours, Mine and Ours, identifies three relationships developers can have with the software they write vis-á-vis the other users of the product. Many of his best points come in the section on UsWare, which is software intended for use by both end users and the developers themselves. Eric is well-positioned to comment on this class of programs, as his company develops a version control tool used by his own developers. It's easy for developers to forget that they are not like other users. I know this danger well; as a university faculty need to remind myself daily that I am not like my students, either in profile or in my daily engagement with the course material. I like his final paragraph, which summarizes his only advice for solving the ThemWare/UsWare problems:
Your users have things to say. Stop telling them how great your software is and listen to them tell you how to make it better.
We all have to remind ourselves of this every once in a while. Sadly, some folks never seem to. Many faculty assume that they have nothing to learn from what their students are saying, but that is almost always because they aren't really listening. Many universities spend so much time telling students why they should come there that they don't have the time or inclination to listen to students say what would make come. I also learned an interesting factoid about State Farm Insurance, the corporate headquarters for which are located down I-74 from Eric's home base of Urbana, Illinois. State Farm is also a major corporate partner of the IT-related departments at my university, including the CS department. They work hard to recruit our students, and they've been working hard to help us with resources when possible. The factoid: State Farm is Microsoft's largest non-government customer. [In my best Johnny Carson imitation:] I did not know that. As a result of this fact, Microsoft has an office in the unlikely location of Bloomington, Illinois. Despite an obvious interest in hiring folks with experience using Microsoft tools, State Farm has never pressured us to teach .NET or C# or VisualStudio or any particular technology. I'm sure they would be happy if we addressed their more immediate needs, but I am glad to know that they have left decisions about curriculum to us. That said, we are beginning to hear buzz from other insurance companies and banks, most located in Des Moines, about the need for student exposure to .NET. We probably need to find a way to give our students an opportunity to get experience here beyond VB.NET and Office. Where is that link to Mono... -----