Technical investments

What skills do you think are going to be valuable over the next couple of years? and what are you doing to develop them?

And where have you been burned in the past?

Me: I converted my VB5/6 MCSD to a C# a few years ago (03/04 ish?). I still do more production VB6 than .net. I would now call that a poor investment of time effort and money. I read recently that the .net framework 2.0 penetration was about 10% of desktops, 1.1 is about 40%?

Whats going to be big (that is realistic in my little world)? well I wish I knew!! Maybe compliance? hopefully migrating struggling spreadsheets to more enterprise ready technologies? In the smaller orgs I expect to see migrations away from Excel to OpenOffice Calc, in fact I recently quoted on one of these. Maybe BI and OLAP will finally kick in? What do you think?

Whats going to be small? .net/Excel I reckon will continue to be a minority sport. Excel 2007 is unlikely to impact my clients before 2010 unless someone fixes the interface. In fact I think the UI incompatibilities will fragment the spreadsheet development scene.

What am I doing? I’m continuing the develop my C++ skills for developing fast secure xlls, I am also testing some of my stuff on OOo Calc and dipping a toe in the Star Basic pool. Interestingly Gnumeric will run directly from a pen drive with no need for an install – that makes it a great choice for some tools I use.

Other than that I’ll continue with Excel/VBA/Access/ and maybe VB6. I personally have some reservations about using VB6 with it being so close to retirement, but no one else seems to care, so maybe I’m being over cautious?

I’m also going to keep an eye on Linux, I totally can’t decide if there is an opportunity there or not for our sort of skill set. What do you think?

What about Java? I have actively avoided Java (after a very brief play with J++ many years ago) to focus on other things. Anyone planning on investing a bit of time/effort in Java?

Another thing – web development? Lots of stuff seems to use Linux/Apache/OS (LAMP stack) and we are lead to believe that is gaining ground, and interoperability is the future. Yet IIS takes market share from Apache every month. What does it all mean?



16 Responses to “Technical investments”

  1. gobansaor Says:

    A small town paper The Skibbereen Eagle,became famous around the turn of the previous century by declaring it was “keeping an eye on the Czar of Russia” over his expansionist designs on China. So a bit like the “The Eagle” and yourself Simon ,I too will be keeping an eye on Linux, .NET/Excel, LAMP etc. but also like the Eagle a fat lot of good it’ll do.

    I’ve given up on trying to guess the future instead I’m intent on creating the future. And the only chance of doing that successfully is within a small area of specialisation, for me that’s going to be microETL/BI for others it may be .NET/Excel integration or MSOffice to OOo migration.

    For everything else I’ll just have to go with the flow.


  2. tfsjohan Says:

    We have alot of clients that already have upgraded to 2007 and more are coming. For those that have Office 2003 Pro or Office 2007 there has never been any problems with .net installation and using VSTO.

    I really hope that VSTO will become bigger and better. Personally I think the VSTA solution in InfoPath 2007 is the perfect combination of the simplicity of VBA and the power of .Net and Visual Studio.

    I been working with .net since the first beta, so I guess that the transition isn’t a problem for me. I mainly use C#, but we’re thinking of moving to VB.NET simple because it’s easier for VBA developers to learn VB.NET than C#. But I really like C# better.

    The biggest problem right now is that there are very few good people that both has good Office knowledge and are good programmers. I don’t know any good .net developers that knows anything at all about Office, and I don’t know any good Office-people that are talented developers.

    // Johan

  3. Simon Says:

    Your last comment hit the nail on the head.

    I quoted for a VBA to VSTO (C#) migration recently and they baulked at the rate. I said the same as you, there are probably less than 10 people active on-line in the UK currently who have good Excel object model knowledge and good C#/.net dev skills. And no one new is rushing in.

    I think they went with a basic .net dev in the end. They’ll have saved 1-200 quid per day, but the project will probably take months longer. In total cost terms they just lost a load of money, but as they only measure day rate they will never know.

  4. Ross Says:

    Simon could you qoute for the job, not the day rates?

    I’m spending time with and C++. Guess with one ios more fun! ;-(
    I dont like VSTO very much. I know that 3 is better, but why spend time targeting 1 Office version, when you can just as easy write a com addin for all of them – managed or unmanaged?

  5. Marcus Says:

    “skills… valuable over the next couple of years”
    Ironically enough – VBA. As you’ve pointed out, some of this will be related to migration work. I finished such a project a couple of months ago migrating which required someone with appropriate understanding to figure out how a series of Access databases and Excel spreadsheet with 40K LoC across them hung together. I think this will become more common place.
    And while I’ve been wanting to, I haven’t had the time to get really comfortable with .Net/C# although I wouldn’t pursue any certification – I’ve yet to witness any real ROI. Most people I know who’ve got their MCSD/MCAD said it gave them a credibility boost but had little to no impact on work volume or rates. As a contractor I’m not interested if the company will simply pay for my exams (which are tax deductible) – the investment needs to have a tangible ROI to be justified.

    At this point I have zero intent on investing time in any of the MSO alternatives beyond curiosity. There’s been zero commercial demand so far.

    “eye on Linux…opportunity”
    None, unless it hits the desktop in a serious way and there’s a Linux version of MSO.

    Java: Again no. It’s far less a natural complement to MSO Development than .Net/VSTA is.

    Johan: “thinking of moving to VB.NET”
    Had similar thoughts but the level of demand between VB.Net and C# made the decision for me.

    “VSTA solution in InfoPath 2007 is the perfect combination”
    Agree – a large portion of work is capturing data, shuffling it around or reporting it. However, in finance, they nearly always want information reported in Excel. Even if the solution is web based, they’ll want an ‘Export to Excel’ option. This makes VSTA and Excel the ultimate electronic Corsican Twins.

    A lot of my self development time is spent on domain knowledge. Once you’ve demonstrated a minimum standard of technical knowledge, I’m finding domain knowledge in a niche area providing the greatest ROI at the moment.

    Cheers – Marcus

  6. Marcus Says:

    The other aspect in relation to VBA demand is something Biggus touched on a while ago.
    While the existing army of VBA developers is being depleted (retiring, changing careers, whatever), it’s not being replenished by new foot soldiers to become the new officers in tomorrows MSO VBA world. It’s simply a matter of the laws of demand and supply kicking in. This is at least in the medium term.

    Cheers – Marcus

  7. Simon Says:

    Clients really need to know what they want to consider a fixed price, and so few do.
    VSTO, 2008 looks good, fully targets 2003 and 2007. I can imagine you have lost the love from trying 2005SE.
    I’m still unclear what real technical justification there is for not using VB6 for COM add-ins.

  8. Dennis Wallentin Says:

    For me it’s just to continue to develop my skill & knowledge with .NET & VSTO & Excel and SQL Server/SharePoint. VSTA is too far away to make any business decision today on.

    I’ve decided to totally disregard any other tools & platforms from a business perspective.

    Hej Johan – Trevligt att se att du också är aktiv här :)

    Kind regards,

  9. Ross Says:

    >>the investment needs to have a tangible ROI to be justified.
    Yes, and not just £, time and passion* as well.

    >>Clients really need to know what they want to consider a fixed price, and so few do.

    Well thats called sales Simon! :-)

    (c/c++/xll) Yeah, the way i see it is that it’s fast and good for excel, a bit of a pain to write, but you can take a c dll an use it is almost any other program? So i think the ROI is high, but that you might use it only a bit – what i really think is that i might end up begin able to use other folks robust and fast C in my VB/C# program. I see Xll as a relivent way of “getting into it” – albeit slowly.

    >>VSTO, 2008 looks … & VB6 for COM add-ins.
    Yeah VB6 is better than for com addin at the mo. The big upside of .Net is OOP and all the classes, which make it so fast and easy to work with. I just think that try and do it in .Net and then your solving the problem now and learning a bit about .Net too, but this might not be issue an issue for you though.

    westside, eye.

    *maybe not the right word, I can’t think of a better one.

  10. Simon Says:

    PRE-sales I reckon
    (fair point though)

  11. Johan Nordberg Says:

    >> Marcus: “There’s been zero commercial demand so far.”

    I don’t really see that that has anything to do with it. I see zero commercial demand for anything code related. I only see solutions for their problems. If I choose to solve a problems using crappy code, alot of global variables, a plethora of goto statements and other really lousy programming concepts, my customer wouldn’t really care. However, I would care. A lot. And I would find it very embarrassing if someone else looked at my code. And most of all – I would hate to work that way.

    For me, the whole .net story is about writing better code, having a better IDE that actually helps me with my work and not being in the way of doing my work. Snippets, better intellisense, inheritance, interfaces, a real compiler, reflection, good xml support, good db support are just f few things that make .net development soooo much better than VBA.

    Just imaging an editor that don’t popup a dialogbox every f*****g time you move the cursor away from an incomplete line of code.

    As for commercial demand, customers are not aware of what’s the best solution for them. That’s our job. If I can deliver more in less time, I see a commercial interest and a competitive advantage.

    The biggest problem with .net solutions right now is the deployment story and the annoyance of to many office editions.

    // Johan

  12. Jon Peltier Says:

    Johan –

    “Just imaging an editor that don’t popup a dialogbox every f*****g time you move the cursor away from an incomplete line of code.”

    This is so simple to change. In the VBIDE, go to Tools > Options, Editor tab, and uncheck Auto Syntax Check.

    That and checking Require Variable Declaration are the first two thinkgs you need to do in any VBA installation.

  13. Carl Says:

    Hi Simon,

    Interesting discussion.

    Afyer a bit of thought I have decided to target Excel 2007 soon. I know it has faults that I will have to work around but one thing that I am starting to realise is that the latest in fancy charts counts much more heavily in the price people are willing to pay than it should. Apart from that some of my customers are starting to move so I feel I don’t have much choice.

    I am in love with .NET (sorry VB – C is too hard for me) so I intend spending quite a bit of time on VS2008 and playing a bit with VSTO. I still can not get over the fact that .NET is so big. Does anybody actually “know” it ? I only use Excel with .NET when a win app calls Excel and dumps some data in or calls an existing Excel that’s full of VBA – so maybe I will have a look at creating an addin.

    I am also hoping to get more out of SSRS so I will not need Excel so much.

    If I have any time left I would like to learn ASP.NET

  14. Marcus Says:

    “There’s been zero commercial demand so far”

    Hi Johan,

    Maybe I should put some context around that statement. 99% of my development is in banking and finance. On the desktop there nearly always MS based, although on the server it’s a different story. I have yet to encounter any interest, whatsoever, in any alternatives to Microsoft Office of the desktop (i.e. zero demand).

    You’re absolutely right that we’re there to deliver solutions to their problems. That solution also needs to conform to implied constraints such as the client’s existing technology base. It’s a hard sell proposing a solution in OpenOffice when the client has 35,000 desktop licences for MSO or SQL Server when they’re an Oracle shop. If those constraints didn’t exist, you’re right, you’d choose the best tool for the job.

    “few things that make .net development soooo much better than VBA”
    I’ve go to agree with you there. I have found though that many corporate clients prefer VBA development because they understand it. That they don’t have to rely on the IT dept to maintain it and that they have some degree of control over it.

    All the best – Marcus

  15. Simon Says:

    Anyone else ever had to re-write a VB6 app because the client lost the source code?
    thats one benefit of VBA at least.

  16. Johan Nordberg Says:

    Marcus: You’re absolutely right! However, I don’t see how installing .net framework and the vsto runtime is even close to switching to Open Office. When Vista becomes more popular you already have .net framework 3.0 installed. All versions are available from Windows Update. For the clients I’ve worked with that hasn’t been a problems.

    To some degree, I think it’s up to us developers to suggest VSTO and be confident enough that it’s the best solution for our customers problem. I’ve always been an early adopter and I do have to control myself not to use new technology just because it’s new cool technology. But I really think that the time is ready for VSTO.

    // Johan

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