I live in a Alt.* world. Have been all my life. I prefer the alternate movies over mainstream. I would rather sit and watch an art film from 1930s German cinema than the latest slap-fest from Ben Stiller. I prefer alternate music over mainstream. Give me Loreena McKennit or Mike Oldfield over Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake anyday. So it's only natural I'm sucked toward the Alt.NET way of software development.

Back before I was into this software thing I was an artist. I jumped from graphic design to commercial advertising. During my 7 year itch I spent a good part of it in comics, and more precisely the alternate comics. I never tried out for Marvel or DC (although a Marvel guy who shall remain nameless liked my stuff and invited me down to New York to talk to them) so the alternate scene for me was Dark Horse, Vertigo, and Image. These were the little guys. The guys who preferred glossy paper over stock comic newsprint. The guys who were true to reality and weren't afraid to show murder, death, kill in the pages. I did a comic once about drug dealers in Bogota, Columbia (and the band of 5 guys [think A-Team but cooler] who would bring them down). The writer put something simple on the page like "the drug industry in Columbia was everywhere". If I was at Marvel or DC, one might draw the factories and lots of trucks, people packaging up the drugs, and shipping them off to the Americas. However this was Alt.Comic land and we told it like it was. I thought showing drug addicts (including one guy shooting up in an alley on one panel) mixed in with the tourists was the way to go. It was deemed a little racy and I was asked to tone it down, but it wasn't censorship and in the end I got to express what I really intended to do. I felt like I had made a difference and wasn't going to let the mainstream way of doing things cloud my judgement.

Alright, back to software development. I still don't know if I'll call myself an Alt.NETter simply because I'm not sure it's clear what that means. Any Alt.* movement in the world has it's basis in reality. Alternate art, movies, and music were created as a way to exercise expression of freedom, not just to be different. What is it that we look at in the "mainstream" way of software development that bothers us (enough to create an Alt.NET way). This really doesn't have anything to do with Microsoft does it? However many people have tagged MS as being the "evil empire" and using Microsoft tools is the wrong way, Alt.NET is the right way. Even the name seems to resonate against .NET and way Microsoft does things.

To me, Alt.NET means doing things differently than some whitepaper or robotic manager tells you how to do it because that's how it's been done for years. Alt.NET is any deviation from the "norm" when that norm doesn't make sense anymore. Maybe it made sense to shuttle fully blown DataSets across the wire at the time, because the developer who wrote it didn't know any better. However in time, as any domain evolves, you understand more and more about the problem and come to a realization you only need these two pieces of information, not the whole bucket. And a simple DTO or ResultObject will do. So you change. You refactor to a better place. And you become an Alt.NETter.

It's not about doing things differently for difference sake. You see a flaw in something and want to correct it (hopefully for the better). Perhaps BizTalk was chosen as a tool when something much smaller and easier to manage would have worked (even a RYO approach). Dozens of transactions a day instead of thousands and no monitoring required. If there's pain and suffering in using a tool or technology, don't use it. When you go to the doctor and say "Doc, it hurts when I do this" and he replies with "Don't do that" that's what we're talking about here. If it pains you to go in and maintain something because of the way it was built, then there's a first order problem here in how something was built (but not necessarily the tools used to do the job). That's my indicator that something isn't right and there must be a better way.

As software artists we all make decisions. We have to. Sometimes we make the right ones, sometimes not so right. However it is our responsibility if we choose to write good software, to make the right decisions at the right time. Picking a tool because it's cool doesn't make it right. Tomorrow that tool might be the worst piece of crap on the planet because it wasn't built right in the first place. Software is an art and a science. There's principles we apply but we have to apply them with some knowledge and foresight to them. Even applying the principles from the Agile Manifesto require the right context. Individuals and interactions over process and tools. We stay true to these principles but that doesn't mean we abandon the others. I use Scrum everyday and pick the right tools for the right job where possible. It's a balance and not something easy to maintain. If all you do is stick your head down and code without looking around to see what's going on around you, you're missing the point. Like Scott Hanselman said, you're a 501 developer and don't really care about what you're doing. You might as well be replaced with a well written script. For the rest of us, we have a passion about this industry and want to better it. This means going out and telling everyone about new tools and techniques, demonstrating good ways to use them, explaining what new concepts like DDD and BDD mean, and most of all being pragmatic about it and accepting criticism where we can improve ourselves and the things we do.

I suppose you can call it alternative software development. I think it's software development with an intelligent and pragmatic approach. Choose the right tool for the right job at the right time and be open and adaptable to change.

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