Death of a fanboi salesman

Summary:Our industry is changing to one that behaves more like the academic world. There's no place for allies and fanbois any more. Finally!

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As we move on, we as an industry need to behave more like academia. Mutual respect and understanding looking to discover the truth.

Over the past 18 months, I've written two pieces about Windows Phone. In November 2011, I did a piece about the Lumia 800. Last month, I did a piece about the  Lumia 620 . Cut a long story short, I'm not a massive fan of Windows Phone.

That aside, typically when you write pieces that criticise technology you can attract the ire of fanbois. The really odd thing about criticizing Windows Phone is that you emerge from the process feeling like you're covered with a sticky goo. There is a strangely icky energy that Windows Phone fanbois come at you at with. It's quite off-putting.

But with a baseline level of bile, you always get useful feedback. In particular in that piece, a lot of people said they wanted more detail in that last piece as to why I felt iOS did a better job than Windows Phone. That's fair criticism, and if I return to talking about Windows Phone, I'll try and do a better job of that side of the coverage.

As well as feedback from strangers, you'll also get some feedback from people you know and work with. One piece of feedback I got from a colleague described the piece as "harsh," saying that I "was an ally of Microsoft's who's written their eulogy."

My reply to this was that "today in our industry, there is no place for allies." Anyone who hitches their career to any one vendor with anything more than guarded distrust is doing it wrong. This wasn't always the case — I did pretty well for almost 15 years doing nothing but being entirely "on message" from Microsoft, but certainly now it'd be mad to hope for another 15 years.

However, I don't think that this shift is a result of things changing at Microsoft or any of its peers within the industry. Nor do I think it's because currently everything is consolidating and changing very quickly. I think the idea of "allying oneself" to a vendor is going out of fashion because the computing industry is finally beginning to mature.

Evangelism

Personally, I have no problem with bias. Bias is part of basic human psychology, and we all do it. You'll be biased about some things, I'll be biased about others. Where we struggle as an industry is managing to remain in control of our emotional responses with regards to bias.

Say someone reads an article that proclaims that the "iPhone is rubbish." Assume the reader has a bias towards thinking the iPhone is good. There are two ways they can go — they can respond emotionally, or they can react emotionally. An emotional response is one where the individual understands their own psychic landscape and has an understanding of how their own biases affect their own thoughts. The outcome of this is a measured, sensible reaction allowing the writer and reader to reach a joint understanding through constructive exploration of ideas. An emotional reaction is one where the individual is not aware of their own psychic landscape and just reacts — typically with vitriol, and often with ad hominem attacks. This is where appreciation of a technology ends and "fanboiism" starts. The danger of fanboiism is that it's unconstructive — it's not about building a collaborative understanding. It's only about "lashing out."

Tech companies typically employ a special class of salesperson called an "evangelist." Their job is to seed customers with a special combination of love and technical information designed to de-risk a customer's adoption of a technology. These evangelists often work directly with companies on what is essentially a consultancy engagement, but they also often work in a loose way with the community. The purpose of working directly with the community is to both gather leads and to "spread the word." Importantly, the cost codes for this sort of evangelism sits within sales and marketing budgets.

Proper, paid evangelists rarely exhibit fanboiism — part of this is due to the fact that they are salespeople at heart, and salespeople typically have good emotional awareness because of the nature of the process of selling. They are also public representatives of their employers, which demands a certain deportment. Finally, paid evangelists have access to better information that provides a more complete understanding. But their job is to get you to drink whatever Kool-Aid their employer would like you to drink.

Go outside of paid evangelism and things are a good deal less controlled and it's much easier to find fanboiism. Oftentimes, particularly in this industry, baseline emotional awareness is pretty low. Information is often starved, leading to a lack of a complete picture. There's also no embarrassment that flows from a lack of professional deportment — fanbois often operate anonymously.

A realization that I've come to recently is that in our industry, vendors have worked out how to cultivate allies out there in the community, but those allies are simply unpaid extensions of the sales and marketing teams. Say you set up a hackathon using your own time and money to show people how to make — picking stuff at random — Android apps using Xamarin MonoDroid, who are you doing that for? You might get some advantage in terms of networking and creating sales leads, but the most obvious entity in that scenario that benefits is Xamarin.

(And I might be being biased here myself. Xamarin makes great products and I believe in what they're doing. Am I actually acting as an extension of their sales team by mentioning their product here? There's a strong argument that I am, but my desire is to use a real company to make it easier to follow my point. As a reader, you need to judge my bias, and my motives.)

Anyway, if you think about it, that whole arrangement is downright weird. As professionals we're being asked to choose the best solutions for our customers, but everything we do and everything we hear is being influenced by a chain of people from paid evangelists down to unpaid allies all (hopefully) pushing the "correct" positive message.

Academia

A question I've been asking myself for a while is "why are there so many open source frameworks now?" The answer, I think, is because as an industry we're moving towards structures found in academia, rather than the sales-led approach of the technology industry dinosaurs of yesteryear.

Topics: Software Development

About

Matt Baxter-Reynolds is a mobile software development consultant and technology sociologist based in the UK. His latest book -- "Death of the PC" -- is available on Amazon now.

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