Office developer

What does that mean to you?

If I said I was an ‘Office developer’ what skills would you expect, which would you not expect?

Here is roughly my current assumption:

Expected knowledge

  • Decent grasp of Excel and probably Jet/Access, maybe other dbs, developed over years of real world usage
  • Maybe Word/PowerPoint/Outlook dev skill/experience, maybe not.
  • Decent VBA skills to glue stuff together
  • ability to pick up new COM object models pretty easily
  • probably some relevant business domain knowledge.

Not expected knowledge

  • Any Visual Studio stuff
  • Any packaging/deployment stuff
  • Any server based development

Yet I get the feeling Microsoft expect all of the above plus SQL server, plus Sharepoint, plus VSTO of course etc etc the list seems to go on for ever. Well except maybe the business acumen part.

I think the key point for me is that I see an Office dev as someone who has relevant business exposure in exchange for deep technology knowledge. They have experience of using Office to solve real business issues, before and as a part of being a developer. Do you see the business exposure as relevant?

Which of these would you call an Office dev?

Peaches, originally an accountant, good at Excel, copes in Access, decent VBA.

Fifi, degree in computing, exellent at C#, never used Office ‘in anger’, develops web parts for Sharepoint.

I’d say Peaches-yes, Fifi-no, but I suspect MS see it different (opposite in fact). If so, when did that happen? how come? What are those people that used to be called Office Devs now called (let me guess – amatuers?)?

Does this all tie in with the rather difficult (and ongoing) birth of VSTO? Because I’m sure nothing in Office itself changed to re-classify a bunch of people.

Do you agree or have I been left behind? (If so what other things did I miss?)

Cheers

Simon

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14 Responses to “Office developer”

  1. Marcus Says:

    Hi Simon,

    Most of the better MSO Developers I’ve dealt with have risen through the ranks of the business rather than having CS qualifications (yes this is a generalisation. This has given them several advantages:

    1) They know the MSO applications as they’ve used them themselves as a productivity tool not simply a development tool.

    2) They typically have better understanding of the business including usability issues.

    3) Too often ‘real developers’ see MSO as Mickey Mouse, and that affects how they approach MSO as a development environment.

    4) As they know the application better, they typically utilise native application functionality rather than re-inventing the wheel through code.

    Example: Some time ago I maintained a suite of Word templates for a Patent Attorney firm. Any time text was formatted it was done with a slab of code. When I spoke with the developer and asked about the method behind the madness he replied that there was no other way. When I showed him paragraph styles and template replication his jaw dropped.

    He simply didn’t know the application well enough. And as he considered Word to be Mickey Mouse didn’t invest the time to learn how to use it as a development tool. He was also not a proficient Word user and was blissfully unaware of much of the application’s innate functionality.

    ——-

    By the same token there are also some poor MSO Developers which have risen through the ranks who usually suffer from some of the rigour and development discipline you’d expected from someone who is CS qualified. I’m sure we’ve all seen work which doesn’t follow any development standards, lacks naming and coding conventions, lacks error handling or defensive coding technique and so on.

    ——-

    “Office developer… what does that mean to you?”
    If someone only develops in a single app, I wouldn’t refer to them as an office developer but a Word Developer (for example). An Office Developer should be able to develop across several MSO apps, including interoperability between them.

    The specific technical skills would be dependant on the app developed in. For example, I’d expect that an Access developer have a grasp on both DAO and ADO as well as SQL.

    Now, how many grass-root, ‘Peaches the accountant’ business developers got started with VBA because, like Edmund Hillary’s justification, it was there? And how many of these are aware of VSTO and have the capacity/budget/authority to purchase and install all the required components, let alone the time to invest to learn it?

    “what are those people that used to be called Office Devs now called”.
    If MSO Development is considered Mickey Mouse, does that make me a Mouseketeer?

    I think I’ve waffled enough now. It’s someone else’s turn.

    Cheers – Marcus

  2. Biggus Dickus Says:

    Peaches and Fifi ???? My God Simon !!!!

    Great question. Comments tomorrow ;-)

    Dick

  3. dermot Says:

    As a purely Excel developer, I’ve noticed that the best software I’ve seen and written has been where the developer knows BOTH the business and the software well. The solution seems to flow naturally.

    The worst software I’ve seen has been written by business people who can’t use the software, or by software developers with no clue about the business.

  4. Marcus Says:

    I think we’re on the same wave-length dermot. I just take a few more words to say the same thing :P

    Cheers – Marcus

  5. Simon Says:

    Marcus – Mouseketeer – great name. I’ve seen the same ‘Office is MM’ attitude.
    Dick – inspired by the Geldofs
    Dermot I agree, I guess my point (there was one?) was MS seems to have lost sight of the value of business knowledge. (Their push towards VS VSTO etc seems to preclude people with a business background.)

  6. Ross Says:

    I think an office dev is a person who deliveries solutions mainly through an office UI, they can use any tech behind that.

    Having a degree in Softwear engineering does not make you a better programmer.

    Peaches and Fifi can not write the same softwear. Fifi looks cooler to other programers, Peaches (the little minx) is look more usefull to bussinemen. One may be better than the other, but there feilds do not define this.

  7. Ross Says:

    !!!!Please ignore above posted before I’d finished!!!!!

    I think an office dev is a person who deliveries solutions mainly through an office UI, they can use any tech behind that.

    Having a degree in Software Engineering does not make you a better programmer.

    Peaches and Fifi can not write the same software. Fifi looks cooler to other programmers, Peaches (the little minx) looks more useful to businessmen. One may be better than the other, but their fields do not define this.

    >> Does this all tie in with the rather difficult (and ongoing) birth of VSTO? Because I’m sure nothing in Office itself changed to re-classify a bunch of people.
    >> And how many of these are aware of VSTO and have the capacity/budget/authority to purchase and install all the required components, let alone the time to invest to learn it?

    Might VSTA help in this area?

    VSTO is as far as I can see a Joke, I would think MS would want to bush under the table ASAS, no matter how good it is, its useless unless it works reliably, we’re not talking about social networking websites here, were talking about $!

  8. Dennis Wallentin Says:

    Hi all,

    For some time ago Marcus used the term OBAD (Office Business Application Developer) which I find to be excellent.

    Given the additional input (once again from Marcus here) we can expand it to be something like:

    EBAD –> Excel Business Application Developer
    etc…

    The way MSFT promote and view for instance VSTO they show their ignorance about the larger group of OBADs (and its subgroups).

    A recent article in MSDN Magazine (August ’07 – Office Apps Extend Your VBA Code with VSTO) include the following:
    LINQ (Language-Integrated Query)
    WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation)
    WCF (Windows Communicating Foundation)

    How many of You know what these expression means?

    Kind regards,
    Dennis

  9. gobansaor Says:

    If you define your career as IT focused (i.e. your CV or business offering most likely to first hit the CIO’s desk) rather than business focused (bound for the CFO’s, COO’s or CEO’s desk ) then chasing the latest MS technology may be a wise thing to do.

    To most business people an office developer is somebody who finances and builds office real estate. How they most likely see people like us is as data/reporting analysts who happen to have the technical skill to extract, load and present their business data. If that person happens to be an accountant with VBA skills or an IT guy/gal who’s comfortable working at the coal face of business matters little as long as the job gets done.

    Most such data analysts use Excel as their primary tool because its ubiquitous and its “good enough”. If or when something better (and by better I mean significantly better) comes along (and is widely adopted) then it’ll be the time to add that technology to the tool set.

    Tom

  10. Ross Says:

    I have seen all 3 Dennis, but the only one I really know anything about is WPF, a GDI “replacement” in .Net 3. – I guess then that WCF is a replacement for hwnd type things? – well in part anyway? LINQ i have heard people talk about but dont know what the hell it is.

  11. Simon Says:

    Ross LINQ is roughly a neater way of doing:
    strSQL = “SELECT…”
    strSQL = strSQL + “FROM…”
    etc
    Tom – fair point on most peoples understanding of Office developer!
    Dennis I have a good idea of their meaning but have never delivered working solutions to paying clients using them, and I don’t see any of that on the horizon either.

  12. Marcus Says:

    Now Dennis, that’s just plain scary recalling that (OBAD). I think we’ll have to start calling you “Steel Trap” – as in: He’s got a memory like a…

    I wasn’t aware what WPF and WCF stood for. But you must remember that other acronym PCMCIA: People Can’t Memorise Computer Industry Acronym’s.

    Regards – Marcus

  13. Dennis Wallentin Says:

    Marcus,

    You’re too kind ;) According to my wife that’s not true… Thanks for the PCMCIA which I will add to my never ending list of acronyms.

    Kind regards,
    Dennis

  14. diggerboot Says:

    Simon, couldnt agree more, in my opinion you’ve summed up the “animal” exactly, an office developer is invariably exactly as you’ve described them .
    They’re invariably not what I’d call programmers but rather business focused users with some programming skills. In my experience they are often focused on one of the office apps (eg Excel) but have enough knowledge to integrate solutions with others

    Jon

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