Why Microsoft developers need to unionize

Why Microsoft developers need to unionize

Summary: I've yet to meet a Windows Phone developer who's happy about the way the latest SDK release is being handled. Perhaps a little industrial action is required...

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TOPICS: Windows, Smartphones
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To bring you up to speed, Microsoft announced that access to the Windows Phone 8 (WP8) SDK would not be made public, but that developers could apply for early access. The caveat? Only developers with Windows Phone 7 (WP7) apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace/Store could apply. It later transpired, as you might expect, that the SDK was locked down with an NDA. Developers who got access to the SDK were not allowed to discuss it publicly.

Cue a total shambles. There are a whole slew of developers who wanted access to the SDK, but didn't get it. There are developers who asked for access, got it, but then don't use it. And all the time because rather than in a proper NDA where you form relationships with the participants, Microsoft staff are running around on Twitter mopping up where people have accidentally leaked stuff. And, as you might expect, the whole lot has been intentially leaked anyway.

Personally, I think limiting access to the SDK was a terrible move. The "word on the street" as to why that's happened if because it's got some unannounced features in it that Microsoft want to keep the wraps on. Really? As James Kendrick reflected on Twitter last night (and I'm paraphrasing) if you've got some killer feature that's going to put someone off buying an iPhone 5 and waiting for WP8, why on earth would you not start banging the drum about it early? The Obsorne effect cuts both ways.

Developers of the world, unite

I've never seen Microsoft run a pre-release programme like this before. I've been NDA'd on various developer initiatives with Microsoft over my career and each time it's very personal, always one-to-one, and very clear and well defined. What's happening with the WP8 SDK is just a mess.

What you do hear from the Windows Phone developer community, almost universally, is that they don't want this sort of programme. But they do want information. They want early, universal access to the SDK. (Which save for this example Microsoft has always done historically.) Importantly though, they want to help. They want to invest in the platform and drive it forward.

So what can developers do if they want to make Microsoft communicate more openly and clearly and stop them doing this sort of release in future? There's precedent for this - they can form a trade union.

And it's at this point I need to carefully pick an example that doesn't break an NDA, or give oxygen to any leaks …

"What's that Microsoft? You won't tell us what's happening with Project Cool in the Windows Phone 10 timescale? Brothers and sisters? Strike!"

One out, all out.

(For reference, Project Cool is circa-2000 vintage was the code name for C#.)

User groups

OK, so striking is going to be difficult - and I'm being illustrative rather than serious. The last thing you want to do is get fired (or even go bankrupt) because your Windows Phone comrades have gone out on strike over the latest fight and you're unable to do your job and ship software. However, trade unionism does tell us a lot about the power of collective bargaining and gaining power through organisation.

And although we're talking primarily about Microsoft, this applies equally well to all of the platform vendors.

At the moment, Microsoft only seems to engage with their commercial partners. Back in the day, Microsoft was better at developer engagement. It's generally regarded that the shine has come off of that story over recent years, which is a shame because now Microsoft needs developer buy-in now more than ever. Through formally structured, collective action, the developer community could reassert itself on Microsoft by transforming itself, en masse, into a proper, commercial partner, as opposed to a bunch of happy-go-lucky geeks with no option by to tow the line.

Microsoft has always been willing to listen - I think what's happened over recent years is that the language has changed to be more commercial and less "developer-y". (I think this happened when Gates left. Ballmer isn't a developer.) As is often the case in life, you can't change other people - you can only change yourself. If you want to communicate better with Microsoft learn to speak their language. Problem is, your buying power is too little to do that. Microsoft wouldn't feel it if you didn't renew your MSDN subscription, or started developing for iOS.

There's precedent for fixing this however - it's just that it's not typically called a "union". Although in developer-land we tend to think of "user groups" as a nice place to have a chat and see some interesting talks, a good number of the major enterprise software players collaborate with a different sort of "user group". You might call them "customer groups". Customers that individually don't have much sway - because they spend too little to appear on the vendor's radar - group together to present a united front. The vendor listens because on aggregate the spend is much bigger. Or more to the point, the amount of damage they can inflict becomes more relevant.

That sort of group works collectively, collaboratively to drive forward their case and make their needs felt. They talk amongst themselves, decide what they need, and go back to the vendor with their demands. It usually makes both parties stronger, as common sense would suggest. Clumping a few thousand developers together with a united message of "work in this way, or we won't build for your platform" is likely to be super-effective.

So, Windows Phone 8 developers ... organise, arrange, and apply pressure.

Claim your power.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topics: Windows, Smartphones

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61 comments
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  • You want Union thugs..

    to compete with the boys from Redmond? Well, it's great news for Apple!
    Tony Burzio
    • We have seen where union leads FOSS to

      See that thug Stallman over there? I don't think we want a piece of that.
      LBiege
    • union thugs vs communist thugs

      You may enjoy life working for 50 cents an hour but don't drag down the working class with you...

      Ps: unions lost their grip some 35 years ago...

      But enjoy your one-liners... if you thought about it, there has never been a time where working class prosperity did not have representation- including unions...
      HypnoToad72
      • Unions stopped being the...

        solution and became the problem long ago.
        non-biased
        • Hardly

          You've just become one of the brainwashed. Let me put this in perspective for you: Most of the ani-union thus blamed the unions for the downfall of GM and Chrysler... however the 800lb gorilla in the room in that situation is the fact that Ford also uses union labor not only in their manufactuing process but for plant maintenance. And BTW Ford did NOT take a bailout.

          Want more?

          Okay let's talk cake - Hostess cake to be exact. The upper management blamed the unions for the downfall of their company - an American Icon. What they downplayed is that their management team got raises that ranged from 80% to 300% of their pay while they demanded that the rank and file workers take cuts in pay and benefits. Hell on their bankruptsy filins they requested thousands for management bonuses. And BTW those same union thugs that didn't want to take the paycut were the same ones that took paycuts a few years ago when the company was bankrupt before.

          So tell me again just HOW the unions stopped being the solution and being the problem. Tell me how it's the unions fault.
          athynz
  • Well, its ok to wait...

    WP8 is a major platform change and there won't be any drastic changes like Wp8 in the near feature, so its ok to be cautious. Rushing into releasing the SDK may not benift if its incomplete.
    owlllnet
  • Unions?

    Worst idea ever!

    Well, I take that back. They really were needed at first and did good things. Now they only exist to hamper progress, stifle innovation, increase waste/fraud, and drive companies bankrupt.

    I do like the idea of some kind of super user group. There are lots of user groups across the world, but they are not truly united as one. About the closest thing to that I can think of is INETA. In fact I bet you'd have a hard time getting a local user group to agree to one idea. The challenge there would be to actually create an official and creditable group that MS or any platform vendor would care about.

    If one were created I'm fairly certain they (the platform vendors) would only allow members who were also certified on their platform. Who knows, that might not be such a bad idea there.
    Zheldon
    • who old you that?

      But if you hate the middle class, support politicians that gave corporations that offshored jobs taxpayer money... now try to think of the repercussions... less revenue for government and a perception of overspending, people out of work or suffering, i could cite a few dozen issues... but these are more than enough to get you started on thinking...
      HypnoToad72
      • No one told me

        I am going from over 40 years of life experience. I will not play the cherry picking game with you. Like most people you seek out a few examples and generalities to fit your "facts".

        Lets take your comments though.

        support politicians that gave corporations that offshored jobs taxpayer money...

        Government does not create jobs, but it does help set the environment. Like anything, companies will move away from a hostile environment to a more friendly environment. This is natural and can be fixed. Unions are a big contributing factor to the unfriendly environment.

        now try to think of the repercussions... less revenue for government and a perception of overspending, people out of work or suffering...

        I do not even know what you are thinking. Higher taxes is the solution? You do realize that as taxes go up actual government revenue goes down right? As taxes go up companies leave for lower taxed areas, so yes that creates more unemployment etc...

        No, I'm kind of closed minded on this one. Unions are more evil than any company. But you can cherry pick some good unions, I'll give you that. In fact you can probably cherry pick as many good unions as there are truly evil companies.

        Lets look at things this way. A union is like a parasite. It lives off its host company. Some parasites can exist off their host without any noticeable effect. Others can adversely impact their host or kill it.
        Zheldon
        • "I am going from over 40 years of life experience"

          So less than 20 years as a self supporting adult. Read a few history books.
          AnalogJoystick
          • Experience does not start at adulthood

            At least half of my negative experience with unions came from before I was an adult seeing the affects on family and friends businesses. You might not have learned anything before you were an adult but I sure did.
            non-biased
      • Where has the government ever given corporations taxpayer money?

        You mean like solyndra? lightsquared? Taxbreaks are not giving corporations money theyre letting them keep more of what they earned which is very different. Yeah theyre bad like all cronyism, but not as bad as the blatent cronyism were seeing now with the whole obama campaign contributors really getting billions in taxpayer money. Sticking millions in their own pockets and then declaring bankruptcy and walking away with it. The solution is simple. Flat corporate tax rate of 15%, no loopholes, no special gimmicks for r&d, greenjobs, or any other such nonsense. Ends lobbying dead in its tracks.
        Johnny Vegas
        • Damn it

          You had to post a logical, and well thought out comment? One which I happen to agree with to some exctent. Get rid of Achmed, and his Socialists, and go with flat rate. I think 10% would do it, as the Bill Gates/Warren Buffets/etc. would lose their tax shelters.
          Troll Hunter J
          • Which they are happy to do

            "as the Bill Gates/Warren Buffets/etc. would lose their tax shelters."

            And they have said that straight out, that all including those like them, should pay their fair share.

            The problem came with the Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Eric Schmidts of the corporate world, those who that found they would rather spend their money hiring lobbiest to save even more in taxes.
            John Zern
          • Fair Share?

            Fair Share? What the heck is a "Fair Share"? Oh, that's right... I know those buzzwords. "Fair Share" is making everyone else pay more than you! That's right!

            If you stopped and actually thought about corporations, they do not really pay taxes. They simply raise the costs of their goods and/or services to match the tax increase imposed by government. And guess who pays those prices on their goods and/or services? That's right, the middle class. If you think raising taxes on corporations is good, you simply haven't thought out the consequences.

            "Fair share" is a catch phrase used by politicians who want to stir up economic class envy. These people want those who "have" to be hated by those who "have not". And why? Every politician knows that if you get an "us vs. them" mentality to drive a wedge between two groups and make the "us" group larger, you will garner more votes than actually speaking the truth.
            benched42
          • If you stopped and actually thought about

            yourself, you do not really pay taxes. You simply pass the cost along to the company that employs you and they in turn pass the cost to their customers.

            (See how silly that logic is? Everybody in the economic chain relies on getting paid and everybody passes passes their costs up the chain.)
            AnalogJoystick
        • Let's see

          GM and Chrysler during the auto bailouts and quite a few banks during the banking bailouts. Or are we not counting those as the government giving corporations taxpayer money.

          Not to be confused with corporations being given taxpayer money is the fact that several corporations are given excessive tax breaks - for example Verizon payed nothing in taxes and was in fact given several million in tax credits... oh wait, that IS a corporation bein given taxpayer money.

          You were saying?
          athynz
      • Nobody had to tell me either

        I watched with my own eyes several times how unions drove businesses out of business and it a couple of occasions where the union was driven out. When that happened the companies were able to cut the dead weight employees that the union demanded they have and across the board increased the wages of the valued employees that were productive while at the same time allowing the company to once again be competitive in their industry/market. I also know somebody else that told his employees that if they unionized he would most likely shut down. Within a year of going union the writing was on the wall, the union was driving the company out of business so he told his employees he would just shut down and sell all the equipment. Just about all his original staff came begging him to stay open if they kicked the union out but it was too late and they regretted it for ever. He sold everything, bought another business where he did ever have to worry about unions and have been very happy. He didn't want to let all those people go but he wasn't going to lose everything just to prove to them how the union would end up hurting them. Unions had their place and did great things in the early 1900s but for many years now they have just driven up the cost of everything. You want to accuse anybody that is anti union of being anti middle class but the fact of the matter is that unions have drastically driven up everyones cost of living.
        non-biased
        • Allow me to repeat something I posted above:

          Let me put this in perspective for you: Most of the ani-union thus blamed the unions for the downfall of GM and Chrysler... however the 800lb gorilla in the room in that situation is the fact that Ford also uses union labor not only in their manufactuing process but for plant maintenance. And BTW Ford did NOT take a bailout.

          Want more?

          Okay let's talk cake - Hostess cake to be exact. The upper management blamed the unions for the downfall of their company - an American Icon. What they downplayed is that their management team got raises that ranged from 80% to 300% of their pay while they demanded that the rank and file workers take cuts in pay and benefits. Hell on their bankruptsy filins they requested thousands for management bonuses. And BTW those same union thugs that didn't want to take the paycut were the same ones that took paycuts a few years ago when the company was bankrupt before.

          So tell me again just HOW the unions stopped being the solution and being the problem. Tell me how it's the unions fault.

          And before you try and play that "I learned before I was an adult" card you tried to earlier my father and I both worked both sides of the union "fence"... in union and non union environments so I have first hand seen the conditions, benefits, and yes drawbacks of both sides. But go ahead and tell me how unions have drasically driven up the cost of living.
          athynz
  • Developers, developers, developers

    I am all for groups with common interests and goals communicating and cooperating, to some a point. If however, you do not like how MS operates, take your developer efforts elsewhere. Microsoft WILL get the message.

    If, as a developer, you are somehow highly dependent on MS for your livelihood, you have just put yourself in a potentially very precarious position.
    D.T.Long