I am Alt.Net Pursefight

This post is only of use to those who were monitoring/involved in the ALT.NET “movement” circa 2007 and 2008. It was an age of high adventure where a desire, predicated on the assumption that the status quo in terms of Microsoft-driven guidance on Patterns & Practices and tooling was not leading to the creation of Good Software in the short and long terms, had given rise to a set of “alternative” orthadoxies meant to improve the lot of developers.

If this situation doesn’t mean anything to you, or if you arrived “after the party”, then this post has little value.

Recently, I decided to write the following email to one Scott Bellware:

I’ve been wanting to write you to get something off of my chest: I am the sole person behind the ALT.NET Pursefight blog (since discontinued), twitter account etc. It’s something that’s been sticking in my craw for some time and I’m only now getting around to rectifying it. My apologies for my laziness on this. We’ve only met once (at the “Night of BDD” event that you attended in Seattle where you sat there and got verbally abused by Jim Newkirk and Charlie Poole for two hours). We don’t have any kind of relationship, professional or otherwise, but it’s something that I’ve wanted to tell you, nonetheless.

I’ve grown to respect you over time (during and after my period operating under the ALT.NET Pursefight monicker). Not just for your community work, but for striking out as an independent and pretty much putting your money where your mouth is. I figure that I would, in fact, have a lot to learn from you (by virtue of your longevity in the industry alone) and were I ever to actually contact you to try and dig out some of that knowledge for my own benefit or the benefit of the community at-large, I’d be misrepresenting myself if I didn’t make this disclosure. As far as my respect goes, all I can say is: you were pretty much proven right on every count with regards to your insights as to the trajectory of the “ALT.NET movement”, as well as on numerous technical issues: EF is indeed a travesty, amongst other things. I also agree that education is the way forward to “raise the water line” for the community as a whole in terms of bringing the average level of competency up for the aggregate of developers but, having experience with the “minister to the heathens” approach to outreach/education, I still think the process needs some work (sadly, most of the issues I observed came from trying to motivate the “knowledgable” people to give up their time and put aside profit/renown motives to engage in this public service). I am also, perhaps unlike you, quite dubious about the whole Software Craftsmanship thing, even though its proponents seemed to have ( perhaps from observing ALT.NET’s fate) hedged their bets a bit and reduced it to a series of bland “we care more” truisms.

As for why I did the whole ALT.NET Pursefight thing in the first place, I thought it was needed at the time. And perhaps there was some capacity where it could have been useful or performed some function of value for the community; If that was the case, I feel like I utterly failed in it and, as such, just gave up on the whole thing. I apologize for the ad hominem attacks against you. If you still want to kick my ass, I guess you now know with whom you can make arrangements to try and do so next time you’re in Seattle. In all honesty, you’re the only person that I’ve disclosed this information to (besides one personal friend who knew from the start), as I feel like you’re the only person who bore any real amount of non-substantive criticism from me. What you do with it (wreck my professional persona, firebomb my house, etc) is up to you, I guess. That being said, I don’t really feel like I have any real “need” to have a public coming out where I can announce to the world that I was ALT.NET Pursefight; it wouldn’t achieve anything. I don’t need any boost from the pseudonym to properly heckle and ridicule any of the current crop of self-aggrandizing idiots and their enablers in the community. And I doubt that I really fall into line, in retrospective, with any of the opinions expressed (I don’t think I ever really took any sides, just threw tomatoes at others from safe cover) as ALT.NET Pursefight and would have to defend were I do to claim the identity. Chalk it up to youth and stupidity.

Anyways, I just wanted to share this with you so that, if I ever do meet you, I can at least buy you a beer and not feel like a douchebag while doing so. I can’t expect you to want to “forgive” (is that even the right word?) me or what-have-you, but at least you’ll know that the person who said stupid things eventually came clean.

To which he replied.

The value in making this disclosure public would be in giving the community one more example of public integrity. Every exemplary action that goes unseen doesn’t contribute as much as it can. Although I appreciate starting my week with your example of courage.

Why did I take up the ALT.NET Pursefight! name? I can’t say for sure, but I think it boils down to something like: I lacked the technical chops, at the time, to enter into and interact with the community as peer, so I assumed an anonymous personality and begin a meta-commentary on the “community” and its personalities. In a way, I was catering to a specific sub-group that wanted to heckle and redicule the “prevailing personalities” of the ALT.NET community (who, warts aside, were providing value for said community). But, regardless of whether or not I was just “giving them what they wanted”, I have to take personality responsibility for my actions.

You can gather from the email that I was reluctant to make the public disclosure that I am making now. But Scott makes a good point on the value of doing so, the merits of which I can add nothing to.

I don’t feel like I owe the “community” as an abstract any apology; It has soldiered onwards, marching blandly towards its own irrelevancy without any help/hinderance from me personally. Some good things have come out of it (although it’s perhaps fallacious and premature to assume the correlation of Microsoft’s changing stance towards OSS in the dev community was caused by ALT.NET the movement— Although I’m sure many of the prominent OSS people that they took “out of circulation” has helepd in changing minds internally). That being said, I do owe apologies to many individuals within the community, about whom I said stupid and unjustified things. To them: I am sorry.

The future of “progressive” techniques in the .NET developer community still hangs in the balance, as far as I’m concerned. Microsoft continues to crank out vendor lock-in focused patterns and APIs, especially if you take into context the possibility of the “Silverlight for every platform” mutterings and the whole EF/One-data-binding-to-rule-them-all talk coming from some bloggers. I personally feel like their open source overtures are a short/mid-term strategy to win ethical boons while still slipping in their typically sub-standard solutions and betting that the mediocre developers and managers will pick the easy wrong, rather than the hard right. To me, that’s what their Open Source support is: A hedge. Whether I’m correct in that assessment or not is something that history will have decide.

We have to recognize this for what it is and address it as such in the sunlight of public discourse and intellectual honesty; Anonymous sniping and heckling isn’t the solution. This is where I was wrong in the past and this blog post is a step towards correcting that mistake.