Two Anxieties and One Unarticulated Need

Why doing nothing is sometimes the right thing to do

In several of my recent conversations with folks in and out of the community, I’ve shared some things that they found—and a lot of my readers will probably also find—surprising.

A few years back I penned (as I do) a voluminous response, regarding VB, culminating in an open letter. What may surprise you is that after writing it I really didn’t attempt to socialize it much. I shared it on Twitter but in my experience that’s not actually a VB community hotspot at all. I had initially planned to make a bigger fuss but as I considered next steps and took counsel with those I trust I came to realize that the cycle of inaction-fire-response was just as likely to produce a terrible outcome as a good one (if not more so). Also, I was sleeping a little easier.

You see, in my first 2 years post Microsoft I wrestled with (among other things) two different anxieties regarding VB. I feared that:

1. The C#/.NET org wouldn’t do anything.
2. They would do something and it would be horribly wrong.

And every few months I’d peek in on vblang and find neither an announcement that they weren’t doing anything nor any announcements that they were doing anything in particular. And strangely I’d feel relief for both.

As a side note: if either had happened in 2018 or 2019 I genuinely wouldn’t have been mentally healthy enough to handle it so “do nothing, say nothing” in this case worked out well for me at least.

The Anxieties

In my 8 years at Microsoft attending VB language design meetings and product planning meetings I was constantly pushing back against the idea that the ideal for VB.NET was to “just do what C# does”. “That’s what the customers said they want! They’ll yell at us if we don’t!” Countless discussions that “co-evolution” never meant copying. It was exhausting but a fight worth fighting and after several years eventually I’d built the credibility to really shake that idea out of the heads of those within my sphere of influence.

That idea is wrapped in arrogance and bias and short-sightedness and genuine ignorance and intellectual laziness and yes, good intentions. But good intentions don’t always yield good results.

I’ll restate this plainly because people don’t seem to believe this about me (and I say this with no malice or insult intended): I experience no jealousy toward anything C# has. C# is a phenomenal language with great tooling, but C# has never produced an end-to-end experience in language or tooling that I have wanted to make my permanent home. The “spirit of the language” is different than mine and it can’t be gently nudged into being a great or even begrudging substitute. C# can add functional features, I don’t think the F# community will ever be like, “Yeah, good enough! I’ll switch” and I don’t think adding more imperative/mutable features to F# would allow one to wholesale lift-and-shift the C# community over to F#.

That’s not to say that I dislike capabilities that come to C#. There are many things I’ve wanted before C# even thought of them, and things they’ve gotten that I’ve only been grateful to have missed, and other things I’ve wanted in a very different way than they’ve appeared in C#. But there is nothing that I want because it’s in C#. But the problem is that “everybody” thinks that’s what I would or should want and frame decisions in that way.

Examples time!

So in 2015 we were working on the first release of VB powered by Roslyn. At one point in the cycle we’re prioritizing our backlog for the compilers/languages and I note that we’re doing question-dot (?.) aka “null-conditional member access” next. My dev lead had somewhat recently (re)joined the team and hadn’t been exposed to my philosophy over the years.

He nods his head agreeingly and says, “…Right! Because of co-evolution”.

Me: “No.

Not because of co-evolution.

Because in a private discussion thread with VB MVPs they expressed to us emphatically that `?.` was a top value-add for them. It has nothing to do with C#. The fact that C# also decided to do it is purely coincidental but has absolutely zero bearing on the fact that VB is doing it. We were always going to do it and if C# decided not to do it tomorrow we’d still be doing it“.

Interestingly, there was a heated internal debate on the question-dot (?.) operator while designing it. I can’t recall if this ever went public but the team was split on whether it should be left-associative or right-associative. That is to say whether a?.b.c should mean the same thing as (a?.b).c (left) or a?(.b.c) (right). The former is more compositionally pure and that was the argument that initially led the C# LDM to push forward with left-associativity. But there’s a pitfall there because if a is null, .c will throw an exception. Instead, in order to avoid the exception you’re forced to type a?.b?.c, which is what led the VB LDM to immediately push for right-associativity. Ultimately C# swung around to the right way but it was only after escalating the debate to an executive override. I honestly didn’t expect it and was fully prepared to die on the hill that VB go its own way here despite how “easy” and “comfortable” and “safe” it is to “just do what C# does”. Fortunately that fight never came but I still maintain that it was a fight worth fighting and that it could have very easily gone the other way.

Again you might be surprised to learn that I spent half my time on that release and the one following it convincing folks that we didn’t need to do features in VB. Specifically, that we didn’t need to deprioritize capabilities that would be genuine value-adds to the VB community and the VB experience for the sake of implementing or even pursuing the many ideas that were coming out of the C# design process. The vast majority of those ideas never even made it into C# because of various problems but the impact on the VB side was that they took time and oxygen away from features and approaches that would have benefited VB greatly. But C# was considering them so we had to spend cycles deliberating how they might work in VB.

When we first reached language completeness on the Roslyn compilers and were officially ready to implement new features rather than just attaining feature parity with the native compilers written in C++, I recall a moment when my dev lead (a different one) came to me inquiring about the necessity of the VB LDM: “Maybe we’re at a place where we ought to just ya know, let the C# LDM handle it?”. You see, he truly read both the need of the VB community (and the meaning of the co-evolution strategy) to be that the C# LDM would just do its thing and then skin those features into VB. I explained that this was not the case, but it takes a lot of time and credibility (which fortunately I had) to correct that misunderstanding one person at a time across a giant organization and then across an entire community. I see now that my inability to scale myself was one of my many failings.

The last interaction that comes to mind was from a high level director within developer tools. You see, we had this private mailing list where all of our VB MVPs and trusted influencers could talk shop and give feedback to the team. And anytime anything was amiss anywhere in the .NET ecosystem with regard to VB that list would flame up with someone dramatically proclaiming that this tool or that template was the last straw and that all hope was lost unless nascent technology Y got 500 samples immediately (care to guess how many of those tools, templates, or technologies are now “dead” btw?). Anyway, I sent out a reply asking for patience and calm, as I often did (another failure of mine) and this director privately replied that it was a good response but that he didn’t really see a way out of it as the only way the VB community could ever be happy was if we did everything for VB that we did for C# (in the same way and) at the same time. I absolutely do not believe that could make the VB community happy. I don’t believe doing that ever could have made us happy.

That mindset is like a virus running rampant through both the halls of Microsoft and the broader .NET community and for 10 years of my life I was steeped in anxiety about it all the time. More at some times than others and especially for the first two years where I wasn’t there to fight against it. And then one day “The .NET Team” announced that they had no plans to “evolve” the language further and that anxiety quickly went away. No more fear that some unconcerned and maybe well-intentioned person’s “whoopsie!” mistake would permanently mar the language with an inconsistency or some other mistake. No more fear that the loudest voices in the VB community which really do (for lack of leadership or imagination) yell as often as not for complete replication of C# in almost all respects would find purchase amongst some newer and unwary members of the team and we’d finally get that Semicolon keyword.

And my other anxiety, that nothing would happen. Well, that happened, so there was nothing to fear there anymore either. And in the first few months following the announcement while certainly anxious about COVID-19; racism, police violence, and civil unrest; murder hornets, and economic collapse, for the first time in a very long time VB was something I wasn’t anxious about.

The Need

In the past when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has spoken of using empathy to meet the unarticulated needs of users he’s reiterated that this isn’t the same as going off and doing exactly what the most and loudest users tell you; that’s why it’s (often) unarticulated. I haven’t found an exact quote but the closest was here where he says, “It’s not about going where people tell you to, but how you get there before there is conventional wisdom”.

So, if “feature parity” with C# is the red herring—the articulated want that doesn’t actually meet the need—then what is the thing that VB users need. What is all the clamoring and complaining and commenting and protesting really about (beyond the obvious cases of being technically blocked in some task)? The answer is surprisingly human:


The VB audience articulates a lot but behind it all is a very human and professional need to feel respected. Everything else is just a means to that end. Respect from their peers in other language communities. Respect from Microsoft for their decades long business relationship. Respect for their code, and their projects, their knowledge, and skills.

I have a t-shirt (that I never wear) that was given to me one year at MVP Summit that reads “VB.NET IsNot VB6”. What that shirt really says is “Respect me (unlike you treat people who use VB6)”. Every time any VB.NET developer has uttered a phrase distancing themselves from VB6 or VB6-isms it’s because they perceive that doing so gets them more respect. In the mid 2000s, when I was getting into .NET, I did the same thing. “Oh no, you don’t understand, it’s not like VB6 anymore—it’s okay, you can respect me now—I use inheritance!”. I’ve never worn that shirt, that I can recall, and have no plans to because I no longer believe that it’s okay to disrespect someone else as a means to building up your own cachet. But for many VB.NET developers this is still an instinctive and desperate move to scratch up what they really want: respect.

And co-evolution. When a VB.NET developer said “We have the co-evolution promise now” it wasn’t because they were getting the features they actually needed, or wanted, or used. It was a defense from a disrespectful industry. The oft-misapplied idea of co-evolution was a shield that said “You have no concrete examples to disrespect me because I will have the same things as something you do respect”. But make no mistake, copying C# doesn’t create respect. It just deflects superficial disrespect. If you have two children, is it respecting one to treat them exactly like the other always? “I took your sibling to baseball games so I always took you to baseball games ergo I respect you; I bought them blue shoes so I bought you blue shoes—ergo I respect you both equally”.

I recall once 5+ years ago we put out a preview of some potential new features in VB. One of which was the ability to perform a Select Case on the type of a value. Someone wrote in through the “Contact Us” form on the VB team blog and said (paraphrased) “I’m very worried about the direction of VB.NET. I see that you’re thinking of adding this Select Case on type feature but object-orient developers should use polymorphism and method overriding to get different behaviors based on the type of an object and I’m afraid this feature teaches bad habits and is dumbing down the language”. I can’t remember if I replied or what I said but I do recall asking Mads to chime in for some reason and he politely explained that while polymorphism was certainly one way to approach such problems, in functional programming languages it’s very common to use constructs like a type case or pattern matching to do the same things and that we were looking at expanding the languages with other constructs and techniques popularized in functional programming, etc. I’ll never forget the complete 180 in the customer’s response (paraphrased) “Oh! Functional programming! I’ve heard of that! Sounds neat!”. You see, once he understood that the feature was coming from a position of respect for his intelligence and not a crutch, he was completely open to it. Tying it to modern programming techniques like functional programming rather than pre-OOP procedural habits lent legitimacy and respectability to the feature and him and his code in using it by extension.

I can’t tell you how many times someone in the VB.NET community has come to me and said they read that Microsoft was going to evolve VB in a way that was true to the spirit of the language and that this meant “dumbing it down” and that we needed to change to present it as raising the bar of entry or removing the training wheels or some other condescending metaphor. This defensiveness is about respect. Co-evolution was about respect. The distancing from VB6 is about respect and the envy of C# is about respect but none of these things actually meets the need of respect. It’s an unmet and unarticulated need that can’t be solved easily or quickly or superficially.

This isn’t a need that can be met by everyone just “resolving” that they “respect” VB.NET developers. But it can be met, I believe. It’s going to take a lot of work and as much or more of it is cultural (about the community) as it is functional (about features and support). So, you see, I didn’t make as big of a fuss as I thought I would because the last thing we needed then and now is for “The .NET Team” to be startled by some fire drill or protest into doing “whatever” puts out the fire most quickly. Any little addition or change from “The .NET Team” no matter how innocuous or well-intended is as likely to cause as much harm as good to the VB experience unless rooted in the deepest reverence for what VB has already and is, has been, and still can be. I don’t think this is a change that can come from Microsoft and that it’s best that we, the community, take the lead for now. i.e. it’s for the best that outsiders sit on their hands for a bit longer. In my next post I’ll begin to talk about an alternate (and exciting) community-driven path forward that I see. Stay tuned.



How Do I Love VB, Let Me Count the Ways…

You know, I’ve been waiting to use this title on Valentine’s Day for two years. I realized after I posted my exhausting list of differences post that that would have been the perfect title but by then it was too late so, naturally, I’ve just been waiting for February 14th to roll around again… and again.

Anyway, it’s even better now because Valentine’s Day this year falls the day after a very special anniversary. Yesterday marked TWENTY YEARS since the release of Visual Studio .NET 2002 and with it the first release of Visual Basic .NET! That’s a long time.

To commemorate the occasion, a good friend shared with me this book he’d acquired way back in the day with a title that perfectly sums it up:

Visual Basic .NET and the .NET Platform

Just WOW. When this chapter… or section, in the history of VB started I was a junior in high school. I hadn’t even truly discovered the .NET flavor of VB yet but a few years later that changed and my career changed forever.

I’ve been giving lots of thought to the next chapter. But first, I want to try finally putting out that Part II of my list of differences in keeping with the “let me count the ways” title. I tried to get it out by today but it’s been slow going. I’m actually on vacation and hoping to get a good deal more writing done than normal so maybe it’ll come this week. Fingers crossed.

Well, that’s it for now. I vaguely recall encountering or remembering  few extra differences since my first post but I didn’t write them down and have since forgotten them. Hopefully I remember at least 6 more that I can add so I can cross 100 ways I love VB.NET.

Happy Birthday .NET and VB .NET (and C# too); Happy Valentine’s Day everyone and thanks for reading!

Warm and fuzzies,

-Anthony D. Green


This post was written in reverent memory of two colleagues who have passed away since I worked with them, Kieran and Howard. Rest in Peace.

Today’s post is written (in part) from PAX West 2021 in Seattle, which jives well with today’s topic: Enthusiasm. Much of the best parts of my life revolve around enthusiasm. Conventions like PAX, Star Wars Celebration, and BlizzCon are—more than just marketing events—celebrations of enthusiasm. My closest friendships are built around a common currency of enthusiasm for topics and activities. We talk often and at length about our favorite games, movies, TV shows, books, and technology. My preferred YouTube content is from creators with enthusiasm for literature, health, teaching, or just knowledge in general. The online communities I participate in are powered not by organizations but the enthusiasm of their community members. I remember my favorite time of year as a Program Manager on the VB team was MVP Summit because of how exhilarating it is to just be around others who are enthusiastic about programming in my favorite language on my favorite platform. I realize that though across a wide range of domains, at my core I’m an enthusiast. In fact, when Microsoft first approached me about interviewing for the role of PM of the VB.NET compiler back in 2009 that’s precisely how I signed my email accepting the invite. Not “Professional IT Solutions Consultant” or “Enterprise Software Architect” but “Visual Basic Enthusiast Extraordinaire”.

In the beginning of this year, I mentioned taking a break from social media to get some quiet, so to speak. I’m happy to say one of the words to tumble out of that quiet was this: enthusiasm. Not fandom. Not fun or favoritism. Not ego. Not even love or passion. I’d been thinking about my reasons for continuing to think about VB and in VB and those other words while certainly undeniable to various degrees didn’t feel super defensible to me as a case for why anyone else should care what I have to say, how I feel, or what I do. Not defensible to these imaginary critics, btw, but defensible to me. But unlike loving what you do, or having a fun job, or being a fan of your tools, I think it’s pretty difficult to argue that a life, professional or otherwise should be carried on devoid of or without regard to enthusiasm. That doesn’t mean that every single day I sit at my desk and laugh hysterically and post on Instagram videos of my saying “Isn’t this so fun!? My desk is the happiest place on earth today!” but there’s still a general enthusiasm (what defines and encourages that enthusiasm is a topic for later) for the field taken on the whole that I believe is absolutely worth fighting for.

While pondering this idea several people come to mind, some as counter examples, but I’ve decided today to focus on the positive. Specifically, two immensely respected past colleagues with inspirational careers who have since passed on and I’d like to talk a bit about how they’ve influenced my thinking on this topic.

The first of which is a man who I didn’t interact with very often personally but who was one of several role models for me at Microsoft. When I joined the Visual Studio (Managed) Languages team I was advised to get a few mentors and I did. My peer mentor’s mentor was a man named Kieran. Kieran said something that I’ve never forgotten and which I think summarizes what I mean when I talk about enthusiasm, “I always want to run those last few steps to my office in the morning”. And whenever I remember Kieran, that’s how I picture him, hustling to his office toward whatever the day’s challenges were. Not that every day was a trip to the amusement park but that, on the whole, he was going somewhere he very much and wholeheartedly wanted to be. That’s the example he set for other PMs and for me and his loss 3 years ago no doubt left the world dimmer for a lot of folks for a lot of reasons.

Another person who’s been on my mind is Howard. I worked with Howard a little over a decade ago in Chicago. When he joined the company I was then at, he was already in his mid-60s. He was the most knowledgeable person I knew about business process orchestration and far from thinking about retirement he was always thinking about what was next. His enthusiasm for his work was inexhaustible. I ran into him a few years into my time at Microsoft and he was still at it as of last year in his mid-70s. I think of Howard as an example of a long and wholehearted career. Sadly, when I went to look Howard up before writing this post, I learned he passed away late last year. I left my condolences with the family through a page they set up and I repeat my sympathies here. This loss to his family is of course beyond my comprehension and words and I will always cherish his time in my life as a respected, amicable, and resilient colleague and as an inspiration.

I could go on listing individuals near and far who “worked” in their fields in their 50s, 60s, 70s, or 80s and beyond, from Sir. C.A.R. Hoare in computing to Dr. Anthony Fauci in immunology, other members of public service, entertainment, and industry. I mention all of this to say… I’m 36 (37 in exactly 1 month). When I think about some of the brilliant and tireless minds I’ve worked with on the Roslyn team and the length of a career there’s a very real possibility that I’m not even halfway through mine. There could be another 40+ years of me giving a damn in the general vicinity of computers and programming in some form or fashion. How do I want to spend them? Rolling out of bed in resignation or running those last few steps?

Something happened to me, y’all. I once referenced fighting to stay on a platform, but I realize I’m in a fight for my very enthusiasm for what could be a longer period of time than I have been on the Earth. Will I be silent? Will I connect with others? How? Do you know how many times someone I know or who knows someone I know has contacted me and said “I want to get started with programming, where do you recommend I start?” and I genuinely just had emptiness in my heart and nothing to say? This has been true for several years now, at least 4. I lost something vitally important because I let externalities convince me that my own enthusiasm didn’t matter. That it was immature, trivial, or irrelevant. At times in the last 5 years, I’ve thought of myself as on a journey looking for the soul of something and this year I’m realizing that my soul is at least part of what I’m looking for.

What’s the impact if I give up on that search or if I bow out of that fight? The impact for me personally? The impact on others, or the lack thereof because I never share what I’ve learned along what has been a rich career (that’s not even half done yet). And this has made me think about what enthuses me about our industry and what definitely does not (and it’s not precisely a particular tool or product, btw). Anyway, in this time of silence I’ve resolved that while I might face a lot of criticism no one can ever tell me that it’s wrong for me to fight for my enthusiasm for the next 40 years of my career and my life. Not just as a clinically depressed person but as a human being I believe that’s however narrow the odds, that’s always worth fighting for!



P.S. My next post has been titled “Two Anxieties and an Unarticulated Need” but I’m on the fence on how soon to post it. I’ve been holding on to it for over a year and I’ve sort of lost track of whether it’s important to say it now. I’m leaning yes but thoughts change. I’m at least leaving you the title, so you know there is a next post. There’s always a next post.


I’ve been learning to love PHP every day for a little over a month now. Not that one—gotcha! No, I mean I’ve been attending a Partial Hospitalization Program. So 5 days a week for 5 hours a day I’ve been at a facility with a team of mental health providers (therapists/social workers, psychiatrists, nurses, etc.) doing everything from finding me a new medication regiment for my depression and anxiety to regular individual therapy sessions as well as group therapy up to 3 times per day.

If that sounds intense, that’s because it is. Once again, I find myself on a mental health-related medical leave from work. This time I’ve taken 12-weeks of protected time under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act to try to finally get some treatment for various conditions mental and physical that I really wasn’t able to deal with last year in 2020 the way that I wanted to. As literally everyone on the planet knows, the entire healthcare infrastructure of… Earth was overloaded throughout 2020 and the mental health component was no exception. At times I had one or two month waits just for a single visit with a therapist and now I’m almost living with a whole crew of them.

I’ve actually recently transitioned out of PHP and have just started what’s known as IOP or the Intensive Outpatient Program. It’s just a truncated form of the same program as PHP, I just leave 2 hours earlier and will eventually transition down to 3 or fewer days of program per week as I try to transition back into “normal” life.

For a minute I wasn’t sure why I decided to write this other than simply as an update for the small number of folks on the planet who might take an interest but, earlier this year I was reminded by a very good friend that my talking about mental health has made it a little easier for other people dealing with struggles in their own lives or their families beyond anything particular to me. And that’s a second great reason to share.

I’m not blaming this all on last year, though last year was stressful for many ambient reasons. There were also family issues not directly related to the global situation (and some were) on top of the same challenges I struggled with in 2019… and 2018…. and 2017… and 2016… and you get the picture. I’m a little more positive now because I have the experience of taking a leave from Microsoft for 2 months in the spring of 2017. I know what to expect and what to avoid or embrace more fully.

One thing I thought I was prepared for but clearly am not, is fighting with insurance companies. I thought I was ready for them this time but nope. Actually, this whole last two years has been very educational about the horrors and intricacies of the health provider-insurance complex. It might be fun for me to engage as a software development if I weren’t an often barely functional patient just seeking help. It turns out that someone with a dangerously pessimistic world view and a constant sense of impending doom, failure, rejection, opposition, judgement, and punishment isn’t the person to take phone calls from an angry bureaucrat and they should probably appoint someone to advocate for disabled persons like myself in these situations. But I digress.

I guess my midyear update is this: I’ve taken some body-blows but I’m in treatment, baby-stepping back to the things in life I love. Whoever and wherever you, if you or someone you know is or has been on the ropes lately (and I think that describes a lot of us) I hope you/they have/can find the resources needed to get back to what you love. We all need to get back to more love.

On that note, my next post will be on enthusiasm.

Warmest regards,


2021 Annual Update

I’d planned to post this much earlier in the month, but I guess it’s become a tradition to give an update on myself and my plans on or about the 25th of January. I’m trying to get accustomed to talking about myself on this blog (in addition to VB). After all, I am the eponymous topic of the domain name, but I’ve usually avoided in favor of posting one-offs in gists and stuff. There are reasons for that I’ll explain one day but I’ve rethought it and decided to open up a little bit more. While I know most people follow me to read about VB (and I still have oodles to say on that topic), I think it helps to have an outlet for my personal thoughts as well.

So, let’s talk about me in review and me looking ahead and what I’m working on with regard to my beloved language 😀

The Bonus Year

I debated whether to share this but in a lot of ways the current phase and perspective of my life traces back to an inflection point on October 8th, 2019. Don’t worry, there’s a happy ending (obviously). I don’t know that I’d call it “rock bottom” but it was definitely a local minimum.

While earlier that month I’d already suspected that I wasn’t as well as I thought I was and resolved to re-engage the mental health system (an epic tale for another day), while idling thinking about something else in the car I remembered that my upcoming birthday on the 12th wasn’t just any birthday; it was my 35th birthday. 35 being a really nice number I got to thinking that that Saturday (said birthday) was something of a natural stopping point. For me. It wasn’t in response to anything. In some ways it was in response to nothing. I just felt like I did some great stuff and didn’t have other imminent plans and it was a solid run. Even now over a year after the fact my hands tremble just thinking about it.

And while my tone now is a bit matter of fact, but at the time I was broken down crying in my car on the side of some street dreading the prospect that the next 3 days of my life would be the runaway part of my brain fixating on that train of “logic” and that the controllable part of my brain which very much terrified about the whole thing would be able to mount no compelling counter argument in that time.

Now, obviously I’m here writing you all, so you know how it worked out. The details aren’t important, but I got two very unlikely(ish) phone calls from my dad and my grandmother (birthday Oct. 9th). They weren’t about what was going on in my head at that moment, in fact neither of them had any idea that half an hour earlier I was—well I told you what I was—they had no idea. My dad just surprised me. I’d asked him for a longshot favor and didn’t at all expect him to say yes but he did, and I was just kind of shocked. And my grandma just gave me a completely different problem to fixate on and an idea on a neat short-term future that got me visualizing myself in a future beyond Saturday.

The point of this dark trip down memory lane is that I was on a kind of high after that for most of 2020. Despite it being a pretty yucky year globally and locally for me it was a sort of “bonus year” in that for a bit there I didn’t expect to have a 2020 so whatever was happening was gravy for me. I’m in a drastically different and better spot now than then though the year was absolutely full of stressors and struggles. It was just a matter of perspective.

Having said that, I think I’ve hit a plateau at least with my meds and occasional therapy sessions (damn you, COVID). I’ve been coasting and I need to take more steps to get further gains.

Quieting the voices

First let me say that for the most part you all in the community have been great this last year. Words of encouragement and comradery on an internet that’s all too often anything but encouraging or … comrader…ly?

ASIDE: Literally just purchased that domain name. Don’t know what I’ll use it for but the first step to building a great app is picking a trendy name! I can’t wait to see whatever that app turns out to be.

I digressed.  With very few exceptions most of the feedback I get is positive. And just know that there are individuals who still care and are working to move the VB community forward is also encouraging. Without any instigation from me I’ve seen a bunch of you all rolling up your sleeves building skills and saying this still matters to you and it really does inspire me.

The problem isn’t exactly the reality but my anxiety. In addition to depression, I have an anxiety disorder. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about potential futures. Many of them unpleasant. I’m also a perfectionist. There are a few reasons I didn’t blog more often in 2020. One is that every time I thought it might be a good time something absolutely horrible happened in the world and I didn’t really feel like it was appropriate or respectful to talk about my normal topic, which while near and dear to me, isn’t terribly important in the grand scheme of things. Another is that I’m super pre-emptively critical of my writing. I spend a lot of time thinking not just about what I want to say on any given day but how it fits together in a larger picture. Whether people will be confused if I don’t say enough or say things out of order, whether they’ll be bored if I say too much, whether they’ll be derisive, whether it’s thematically coherent, disappointing, underwhelming, do I have enough supporting evidence, will anyone believe in anything I’m saying, etc.

I’ve got a content outline/backlog that’s two pages long at least. But I do think a lot about the best way to present it. And while, as I said, the vast majority of feedback has been positive, I’ve occasionally gotten feedback that was just downright infuriating. In 2019 I wrote a series of posts about top-level code in VB across 5 different scenarios. I knew when I started that all 5 scenarios were going to be, and that the payoff was going to be relevant to the top-of-mind issues of web and mobile development. But I didn’t set it up right, I guess, because after my very first post on it some community member sent me a message that was infuriating. I can’t remember who because I deleted the message and all evidence of the message but the gist of it was that it was a terrible idea and a waste of time and that no one anywhere should spend anytime working on or thinking about it and it wasn’t going to help the community and that I was “brainwashed” by my time at Microsoft to focus on unimportant things, or whatever. I think maybe he unsubscribed? Now, obviously I think he’s wrong, but it was still very stressful and maybe I could have forecasted better to keep him from reacting that way.

I think of myself as a very empathetic person, and having a mood disorder, I’m affected by strong negative emotions and panic and chaos from folks, so I usually try to calm the room down when people are yelling “fire” as much for the sake of proceeding orderly as for my own wellbeing. (In hindsight I think I regret trying to pacify fires as often as I did honestly).

And the last reason is just that while I’m better than I have been at times in the last 5 years, I’m not “normal”. I’m not at 90% or 80%. And I prefer to write when I feel … clear headed. At peace. Positive. I want to write so much more than I do. I compose and revise and outline in my head constantly. And every day I think “I’ll write that down when I feel better. I just need to sleep this off. Tomorrow I’ll feel great”. Spoiler, I rarely feel great. Every day I tell myself I’ll be better and honestly most days I fail.

So yeah, I spend a lot of time beyond managing my own personal life thinking about how others will receive what I want to say. Too much time. And I’ve been getting a number of reach outs in the last several weeks to the tune of “So what is `Next`?”  And I realize that while I don’t actually think we’re in imminent danger even now, it’s not helping anybody for me to keep all of my thinking to myself as long as I have waiting until I have the perfect Tolkienesque narrative structure or until I have one of my rare moments of emotional clarity (incidentally I am writing this from such a place). I have to take more active steps to make it happen (in addition to professional behavioral therapy).

To that end, this month I’m testing a hypothesis with some promising results. You see, while I am not entirely in control of my depression/anxiety I have gleaned some insights from my experiences. Others I’ll share eventually but the relevant one today is about that anxiety I mentioned. I suppose there are others who genuinely hear literal “voices” in their head due to their mental health issues. I do not, in that literal sense. For me the “voices” are my own thoughts. My doubts, extrapolations, interpolations, simulations, etc. Irrational but ever present. And not just about this blog or code I write but about all manner of things, politics, economics, social issues, dating, etc. How the world will react to anything I do, anything I say. Friends, family, whatever the topic. It’s like a heavy weight I carry and have been carrying an exhaustingly long time. Very rarely do my fears play out as I imagine. I’m not sure they ever have, actually, but that’s just what my brain does. Foreseeing how things won’t work is actually a good skill for a language designer, but in other domains it can be problematic.

So, I figure if my problem is unrelenting anxiety about feedback from my online audience, if I simply remove all mechanisms to receive any feedback at all, logically I’ll have far fewer scenarios to be anxious about. You can fear what you know to be literally impossible. To that end, as of New Years day this year I’ve suspended virtually all of my online accounts. Facebook, Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram, dating apps, email notifications from GitHub, gitter, Discord. I’ve turned off all comments on my blog and removed the feedback page. I leave Twitter because it’s one way folks are notified when I post, and WordPress does that on its own. I’ve otherwise turned off Twitter notifications. In a sense I’ve cut myself completely off from the online world in one direction (inbound) and mostly in the opposite direction (outbound).

And get this. The very next morning the “voices” in my head were 80-90% quieter. There’s like a tiny little background thread of anxiety that knows I still have a Twitter account and that all hell could be breaking loose there. Anger, confusion, ridicule. But maybe I’ll just never log in again or something. Anyway, my mind isn’t thinking about “what ifs” nearly as much and that development was immediate.

So now, I’m going to try my best to just… dump content here not entirely haphazardly but maybe in what I might otherwise consider a first or second draft state. Maybe my spelling and grammar will be unprofessional and garbage-tier. If it bothers people or is unclear… ok. I’ll never know. It’s “not observable”. I’m sure once I put it all out there, I can look back over it and put together some kind of index page with a recommended reading order and make some retroactive edits or something. But every step of the journey won’t be overshadowed or threatened by how the world does or even might react to that one step in isolation. Sort it out later. There is some precedence for this. My very first blog post here only happened after sequestering myself in my apartment for 5 straight weeks. I should clean more this time though.

And I’m happy to say that a week or two into this experiment I woke up one morning with a new key insight about things that put several other topics I was trying to frame into a much better context. I freely wrote a 2-page outline of topics and points to go over in the coming months that had been bothering me for months. It always amazes me how much you don’t see or how much your creatively drops when you’re steeped in stress.

“Have you considered just… not worrying about any of this stuff anymore? Shouldn’t your health be your priority?”

I imagine this is a question. The short of it is this: I suspect part of my mental distress stems from an inability to self-actualize. That is to say, be exactly who I want to my utmost and do the things that I want to do. I think that the dissonance between where I am/the direction I’m headed, and where I want to be contributes to depression. Giving up things I love or want won’t make me better, it’ll make me worse. I have a vision that’s very different from what I’m seeing elsewhere and realizing that vision, however inefficiently, can only make me feel better about my life. Stripping away what you care about isn’t how you convince yourself to keep living.

OK, so enough about me, what am I working on (VB.NET-related)?

I feel very strongly that through the extensibility mechanisms already present in the various platforms we have all the tools we need to pursue continued innovation for the VB experience. I’m working on my particular vision of what that experience can be. I have to solve a few gnarly design problems before I have something compelling to show (no more prototypes for me!). At some point I’ll reach out to others with expertise in other areas to help out. If you’re feeling restless, seriously, go build your skills in doing anything. Extending anything. Making anything. Code, articles, whatever. Moreover, I think solving our current predicament in the VB.NET community is only 60% doing stuff and 40% psychological. This shift in mindset is long overdue and would have been necessary no matter what happened. My content for now will be about my own journey to discover both what I think the North star could be and my own personal North star as far as what I want for myself programming-wise for the next half of my professional life. I figure I should pull the curtain up sometime between the late-March and any time in May.

Happy 2021,

-Anthony D. Green

Resume Next

I’m always thinking and so of course I’ve been thinking a lot since my last post, though not as much as you might think, and certainly not as much as saying so might imply giving how long it’s been. I could have written this much sooner but against the backdrop of a world in chaos in so many dimensions it never felt like the right thing to be talking about. Economic freefall. Mass quarantine. Tens of thousands sick and worse. Brutality, protest, civil unrest, hope, and uncomfortable conversations. I could share some sensational imagery of smoke plumes over my own home community here on the South Side of Chicago (we’re ok, btw) but you get the idea. Maybe another day.

Today (before the Murder Hornets return), I want to talk about, ironically, a more lighthearted topic dear to my heart: VB. Believe it or not my last words on this subject were actually toned down about 10% emotionally than in the first drafts but in hindsight they were still maybe 10-15% more emotional than I would have liked, in hindsight. Maybe I’ll edit them a little one day. But I stand by my words. That we, the VB community, are in a situation that is unnecessary, inappropriate, poorly handled, disloyal, wasteful, and in contrary to the stated values I would like to believe in, expect, and see. And having said them, they’re said, and I’m not going to say them again really. I’m going to shift to what I think will/should/can happen next.

I’ve actually been thinking about this crossroads for a long time. Definitely since I left Redmond. It wasn’t entirely unanticipated in a broader sense and so I’ve had a lot of time to think about a sort of roadmap (or obstacle course, if you prefer). You see, when I write I usually have some idea of what the end of the essay will be—the message and some major stops along the way. The effort is in the finding of the precise route and the appropriate tone and context. And like my writing I can sort of see the endpoint (at least an endpoint), or at least some major stops along the way and a general flow and some tripwires here and there, but I think we’re all going to be finding the specifics of how and when it plays out over time. I’m actually super hopeful about it.

But this isn’t going to be a happening that unfolds in months, but a journey measured in years. And I’m totally cool with that because I think it matters (more on why in future posts). I absolutely know we’re going to lose a lot of folks along the way; I can’t control that and I don’t really blame them. We’re going to lose people to despair, to other languages, to other industries before it’s all done and that’s ok. If you look at the history of just about any other major language like C++ or Python you’ll see the ebbs and flows and I think we’re in an interesting place with open potential to go in any direction, but it’s not going to come easy or fast.

So, that’s what I’m going to be thinking about and talking about next. I’m going to be talking about next. And I didn’t want any of you reading this to think see any topic as “coming out of the blue” or wonder why or to think it’s just habit, or denial, or anything like that. There’s usually a method to my madness and a madness to my method.

Beyond me, of course, things are already happening. One alternate implementation of VB has been in the works for months already (it has nothing to do with me, I had no hand in it). There will likely be others. There will be forks and efforts and experiments and nothing and no one can stop it and we shouldn’t try. Many will live short lives and a few won’t. And all the while there will be a lot of competing viewpoints and agendas on what VB has been and what it should be and at times there won’t even be a clear and cohesive vision on either as we wander toward a future. So, I’m going to keep doing what I’ve always done: leveraging my years of experience to continue to provide context to our communal conversation.

In a reference to the role of Ender in later books I considered titling this post (and changing my Twitter handle) to “Speaker for the Dead” but I feared it was too morbid. Poetically, “the dead” that Ender first speaks for turn out to not be dead at all (not really a spoiler) but still too morbid.

Two years ago, I had to ask myself about what life after “Program Manager, Visual Basic, Microsoft” meant for some things that had been a huge part of my life for a very long time. So many things I still wanted to say, and do, and share. And I decided that my love of programming and VB belonged to me. It’s a thing intrinsic to my “self”, distinct from my job and I decided that I was not going to give up anything in my life that I legitimately enjoy. It’s mine. It’s me. It’s been a profession, but it’s also been a hobby and for far longer. It’s what I love talking about and teaching and also just how I like approaching everyday problems I run into and how I enthusiastically want to approach new problems. If you were to see some of my comments on VB Facebook groups, poor newbs get hit with a deluge of information because I can barely contain myself! So, once again, after asking myself the same question, I’ve come to the same decision. I’m not going to become less passionate and I’m not going to become passionate about something else because of someone else. My passion continues onward as I continue onward.

I know this is a little bit more rambling than my usual. I think my writing style is going to shift (and shrink) a little in the future. I’m probably going to get a little more personal too. Sorry. But when I start talking about whatever I’m about to start talking about I just didn’t want any of my readers to wonder why. It’s because I want to. It is intentional and very self-aware. It does have a point (or several), though the full picture won’t always or immediately be obvious.

“Is he forking the language!?”

No! And that’s all I’m going to say on that right now.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone who’s sent me an email or left me a comment over the last few months. I’ve seen most of them. Pretty much all positive. I’ve mentioned that I suffer from anxiety disorder and so I spend most of my day terrified of notifications and reading things online but you all have been awesome! You keep me inspired. I don’t always approve the comments right away, or reply, sorry, I will though. The folks on the vblang repo, still stoking the fires, you surprise and inspire me too. The new subscribers to this blog, and twitter, and even my YouTube channel… I’m flattered you assumed you’d hear from me again (you were right) and inspired by your support and interest. Thank you all!

Warmest regards,


Part V: An Open Letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on the Matter of His Words and the Company He Leads

Dear Mr. Nadella,

I should set expectations that I don’t seriously expect you to read everything that I’ve written as part of this response; I don’t want to seem that presumptuous. You’re an insanely busy billionaire CEO of a very large organization focused on a lot of things right now and I’m assuming most of this will be digested by others but I hope you get the summary.

When you took over at Microsoft (I was then an FTE), I remember you saying you would “ruthlessly remove any obstacles that allow you to innovate”. I’ve detailed at length an obstacle to innovation.

This is not one of those situations where an irate customer makes a foreboding pronouncement about the financial direction of the company; you’re kicking ass. But Microsoft is a 1.1 trillion-dollar company with so diverse a portfolio and so extensive a sales pipeline that I genuinely believe you’ll make record profits no matter what. Any of us could cite a top of mind stumble or misstep, large or small, in past years that might have been fatal for another company but none of them, no matter their size, cost, or how humiliating has detracted from reaching that $1T number. So, I’m not going to pretend that doing the wrong thing here will have any impact nor am I going to assume that your continued success will indicate that the right thing must have happened.

Instead, I’m going to focus this letter on the character of your company, independent of its insane profitability, as it relates to your words. And because I have always been inspired by you since I was an FTE and you were leading Server & Tools (my BU), I’ve been paying attention.

In 2015, you inspiringly revealed that Microsoft’s mission was to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more”. It’s a mission I believe in. And in a lot of tech circles for a long time, the name Visual Basic has literally been synonymous with empowerment. Yet, last Wednesday (in the midst of a global pandemic) the VB.NET community was informed specifically that they would not be empowered to achieve anything more at all ever again.

In 2014, you said that a priority for you was “…zeroing in on what [you] can uniquely deliver to customers that is move valuable to them. [Your] goal is to build high value experiences…”. It has been my experience that the choice of programming language is quite possibly the highest value experience to a developer.

I know you care about bringing women and girls into computer science. This month is Women’s History Month (here in the US). This month we should be talking about the rich history of women (including women of color) in many positions of impact, influence, and leadership over the 30-year history of Visual Basic starting from version 1.0 to present and how those women’s participation in building Microsoft’s Developer Tools business should fundamentally alter the stereotype of what the people who create programming languages have and do look like. But that conversation sends a inconvenient mixed message when you’re moth-balling their legacy. Will it be told? These actions are not just about VBs future but in effect are minimalizing and rendering inconvenient a diverse and unique history.

I know you care about racial diversity in tech. I am a 35-year-old African-American male born, raised, educated, and currently residing (by choice) on the South Side of the City of Chicago (yes, that South Side of Chicago). Right now, I should be lining up opportunities to talk to neighborhood high schools (which predominantly serve African-American boys and girls) to talk to them about how the lifetime relationship I built with technology and your company through– and the skills I built from– Visual Basic (4,5,6,.NET) fundamentally changed my life, lifted me out of poverty, enabled me to empower others in my family and community, and led to me ascending to the top of my field as the Lead Language Designer and Program Manger for Visual Basic .NET at Microsoft. That’s the triumphant story I should be preparing to tell students who look like me and haven’t thought about computer science or don’t know if it’s for kids like them and from where they grew up.

But this little announcement, it puts an asterisk on my accomplishments. “I climbed to the top, but don’t get interested in my path too specifically. Maybe look around; don’t try to pick up the product I just told you I helped lead and build because that made you interested. Maybe you can start with it but you can’t go too far”. The one being installed over VB.NET isn’t the glass ceiling I thought I’d have to be talking to Black kids about.

In a time when everyone is trying to attract more people to our industry, to tech, to computer science and no one has really figured it out yet, it should be an all-hands-on-deck moment. Instead, Microsoft is taking players out of the game. Does that make sense?

And not to toot my own horn (I really don’t talk about myself like this much) but I was proud to be one of the few Black language designers of a major programming language let alone the lead one. But technically since the future of language evolution has been unilaterally and universally rejected am I even one anymore since the open source community where I’ve been prototyping and contributing language design proposals in continuance of that rarefied skillset has effectively been shut and myself implicitly disinvited. You can’t be a designer if there’s nothing to design; I think I’m just some guy now.

And I know you care about open source as well, stating in 2018 that Microsoft was “all in on open source”. But even without that quote I know it because I personally know the role you had in open sourcing Roslyn and with it C# and VB.NET. Which is why it is disappointing that this posture of unilateralism from some within Microsoft shows a misunderstanding of the spirit of open source. This “plan” is a violation a fundamental right of the community of an open source programming language to self-determination and is steering one of Microsoft’s earliest high-profile open source projects, the VB.NET language, toward a situation which can only be regarded as a failure of open source.

Is it that it’s a New Microsoft; unless it needs to briefly be the old one again?

In 2015, you said “We want to move from people needing Windows, to choosing Windows and loving Windows. That is our bold goal with Windows.”

So deeply did that statement penetrate my psyche that apparently, I subconsciously extended the spirit of it to a broader mandate that Microsoft wanted to move people from needing Microsoft, to wanting Microsoft, to loving Microsoft, and have remembered it that way since. Fortunately, also in 2015 you said “Customer love” was a better sign of success than revenue or profit so I’m covered.

But why should others seek to love you if we’re now witnessing the natural conclusion of love? If getting people to go from needing Microsoft to wanting Microsoft to loving Microsoft is in fact a goal then right now this plan going in the wrong direction. You have customers who love you already, and they have been wanting you for a while now, but this course of action can only reduce them to a state of resigned need. What comes next?

What’s the value in customer obsession if obsession turns to abuse?

In 2017, you said you came to “… the realization that in many cases, customers have already chosen to work with you and yet you consciously, or unconsciously, abandon them to go work off on the new shiny object is a mistake”. And I have believed that too and I love you for saying that!

But it’s natural for customers to wonder what’s the point in Hitting Refresh when they keep getting the same response.

In 2019, you said success comes from empathy. Customer empathy is a term I’m hearing a lot lately and that’s a great thing!

Having said that, if “The .NET Team” couldn’t see this coming—if they felt that they could make this decision and that the relationship between Microsoft and its VB.NET customers wouldn’t sour, that developer relations would be neutral or somehow improve or just adapt to a new normal, they can’t be said to have customer empathy.

And if they do in fact have customer empathy and did see it coming but then did it anyway, you have a different problem.

And finally, in 2019 you said, “the power law here is all around trust because one of the keys for us, as providers of platforms and tools, trust is everything” and went on to say, “if you have trust, you will have exponential benefit. If you erode trust it will exponentially decay”. Also in 2019 you said, “You can’t claim trust, you have to earn it every day”. You get it—Microsoft Runs on Trust.

But there are a lot of ways customers trust you and it can’t be that trust is just a matter of encryption strength and data privacy policies. Why should customers associate trust with Microsoft when the pervasive narrative that has overshadowed the VB.NET community for 18 years—literally that Microsoft cannot be trusted, that betrayal is coming sooner or later, be afraid, that we should distrust and prepare, is the narrative that’s proving out correct?

So, Mr. Nadella, sir. My only non-rhetorical question to you is this: What are we, the billions of your customers around the world, and your tens of thousands of employees and partners to make of the words; when representatives of your company needlessly and cavalierly undermine the integrity of those words with actions in contravention of everything you and other leaders under you have publicly and internally stated that you value?

With the highest respect and sincerity, and genuine confusion,

Anthony Diante Green
 Former Employee and Current VB.NET Customer

Preface | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V

Part IV: Visual Basic .NET

There’s an interesting linguistic phenomenon that happens when a brand becomes an archetype for a model or class of thing. No, not like “Googling it” but like when you say “The Cadillac of Smart Phones” or “Netflix for Planes” or the “Champagne of Tea”. It means your brand has become so synonymous with a unique quality that things in other categories can be defined in terms of you.

When someone calls something “The Visual Basic of X”, it implicitly sets certain expectations.

And more recently I’ve heard phrases bandied about like “The Visual Basic of Mixed Reality” or “The Visual Basic of Machine Learning”. You may not know exactly what that looks like, but you know what it means. When I say Nintendo’s “Super Mario Maker 2” is the “Visual Basic of 2D Platform Games” you understand how in 11 days it enabled the creation of 2 million levels by its users.

You can’t buy that kind of notoriety.

There is no “The C# of Building a Custom Car” (What does that even mean?)

If I said I was making the “Visual Basic of Small Business Ownership” you’d applaud. If I said I’d created the “Visual Basic of Becoming a Landlord” you’d say right on! If you can make anything The Visual Basic of doing that thing, we understand that to be good.

Well, VB.NET is the Visual Basic of (.NET) programming languages. How does it make sense to just set that brand on fire?

The Role of Women in the History of VB

I wish this had been highlighted sooner or under better circumstances and as I’ve failed to say it before I bear some responsibility for that. Because it feels like it could be the last meaningful opportunity, I’m making sure it goes on record while people are still watching.

Unlike most popular languages, VB doesn’t have any one “designer”, “founder”, “boss”, or “super star” associated with it for all or most of its life. When I hear about other programming languages, I notice that there’s a certain… stereotype to the pivotal and high-visibility people. They tend (there are exceptions) to be older, male, and usually Caucasian.

Because of its history VB (6 and .NET) has been touched in significant ways by a lot of people. And a lot of those people are women. It’s women’s history month, after all. Just an example of the women who’ve been on the VB team and/or had significant impact on its growth or community:

  • Laurie Corrin, Developer, the 3rd person on the VB 1.0 team, made Controls happen. Now Math & CS Educator
  • Nancy Schoeggl, Test Lead, VB1.0
  • Sarah Richie, International Test Lead, VB1.0-4.0, changed localized testing forever
  • Patricia Friel, PM, VBA, refused to go by “Pat” to make her gender ambiguous in emails.
  • DeeDee Walsh, PM, VB6
  • Julia Liuson, Developer -> Development Manager -> Product Unit Manager of VB.NET, now Corporate Vice President @ Microsoft, made language innovations like XML literals possible.
  • Amanda Silver, Lead PM Language, Compiler, Editor, & Debugging, now PM Director @ Microsoft, made LINQ happen
  • Beth Massi, PM, now board member on the .NET Foundation
  • Lisa Cohen (née Feigenbaum), PM, math genius, now Principal Data Scientist Manager @ Microsoft
  • Karen Ng (née Liu), Group Program Manager, Led project Roslyn, most significant investment in VB.NET in modern history -> Chief of Staff of Visual Studio
  • Sarika Calla, IDE Quality Lead
  • Julie Lerman, Programming Ninja, MVP, CS Course Author, DDD SME
  • Deborah Kurata, Rockstar Programmer, CS Course Author
  • Kathleen Dollard, Master Programmer, like 10-time MVP of the year -> PM for VB.NET
  • Richa Saxena Verma, SDET, Roslyn
  • Ying Peng, SDET -> SDE, Roslyn
  • Sophia Salim, SDET, VB10
  • Lakshmi Priya Sekar, SDET, Roslyn

And that’s just the few I could quickly pull off the top of my mind. I don’t have to room to tell the stories of these women and their impact on the team from VB1.0 to VB6 to VB.NET along its whole life. I don’t even have the space to summarize each of them and it would be immoral to bury those stories in the midst of this post. I feel bad only highlighting the roles of a few and really hope there’s an opportunity to tell more of them in a context that is inspiring rather than a painful reminder.

And that’s just some of the women, including women of color, who have held positions of impact, influence, and outright authority in every role on VB over its entire life (and have gone on to do great things since!). We should be talking about them, and not just because it’s Women’s History Month, but because they completely challenge the visuals of what the people who make programming languages and who are rock stars in programming language communities look like. And that history is Visual Basic’s history and it’s such an incredible asset, in my opinion, to showing a diverse world a different perspective on programming languages.

Fertile Soil

I sit in maybe 5-10 Facebook groups for VB users. Everyday I see questions. Questions from new developers. Questions from students. Questions from developers all over the world, many of whom don’t speak English as a first language. If you look at the MSDN forums for VB, you’ll see people asking questions, including rookie questions. Microsoft has stated at least as of 2017 that VB has “twice the share of new developers as it does all developers”. Meaning that even if … oddly, you assume there’s some fixed % of the total potential .NET developer base that’s genetically predisposed to being VB developers and that number just goes up or down, proportional to the total number of .NET developers (no reason to think anything works this way), VB grows faster that that passive increase. Meaning, it’s growing. It has the capacity for more growth.

As I mentioned in Part III, VB could have a higher net promoter score with a fixed perception of being loved so there’s even more growth potential.

My last story on this point. Circa 2016 a man named Matt, who work(ed) at Microsoft somewhere not at all near me, reach out on Outlook. He told me his son, Aidan, who was 11 at the time had discovered VB.NET somewhere, become super passionate about it and he wanted to know if he could bring him round for even more STEM inspiration with anyone on the team who had time.

Mads gave the kid an awesome historical perspective on programming. And I wanted him to meet Lucian, then VB Language PM.

I walk in Lucian’s office, he says (in his English accent) “I’m sorry Anthony, I’m very busy right now I really don’t have a lot of time”. I said, “There’s an 11-year-old boy here who’s started learning Visual Basic and his dad wants him to meet some folks on the team”. And Lucian said, “Give me 15 minutes” and then preceded to give him a kickass demo on GPU-accelerated fractals and high-performance falling sand animations in a Windows 10 app written in Visual Basic.

Then Aidan showed me his code—a Windows Forms app eerily similar in intent to the kinds of apps I was building when I was 13-15 in VB4. He was making similar mistakes to the ones I had made and I left the whole event maybe more inspired than he did.

I’m 35. This narrative that VB is just older persons at the tail end of their careers is not only ageist, non-inclusive, and disgusting but also inaccurate. This idea that there are no new VB developers or no growth potential is observably false if you bother to look.

We have a language whose syntax naturally lends itself to the possibilities of speech-to-text and text-to-speech synthesis that might open up more programming opportunities for the physically impaired and we’re just not even going to explore that… just because?

Even right now, VB.NET is in the Top 10 on the Tiobe index. It’s been in the top 10 pretty consistently. I know there are mixed opinions about the index but it is a thing other developers seem to care about. By contrast, (and I mean no disrespect to these awesome languages) F# is #32. TypeScript is #43. I’m not saying anything about those languages but why is VB.NET perceived as “on its last legs”, “a dying breed”, etc.?

Make no mistake, there is fertile soil here.

Technological assets almost any other language would kill and die for

Visual Basic .NET is a world-class language with such maturity in the infrastructure of the language. Just the overload resolution and type inference alone are worth years of development time. A modern compiler architecture along with an extensible set of platform APIs—Roslyn—built by the most brilliant minds in the industry that cost millions of dollars and 5 years to develop. The parser in VB is designed in such a way that makes certain experiences and features that would be prohibitively costly even in C# relatively trivial in VB. And it’s all open source! VB has a slick IDE, a great debugging experience. These are assets other non-Microsoft languages (and a few academics) would kill to have, other non-Microsoft languages are investing heavily to achieve, and VB already has them.

As a technologist, it is capricious and a criminal waste of innovation and innovation potential to take assets that virtually anyone else would die to have and just say “meh”? Because you can?

All of the ingredients for Greaterness

So, in conclusion: Visual Basic .NET is a world-class, open-source, cross-platform programming language which continues to attract new programmers across all ages, geographies, and genders, which I am consistently told cannot be made to succeed despite having a loyal if not zealous user-base looking for license to love and promote it, having amazing tooling, being on a great platform, from a great company, with consistent top-10 popularity, metonymic brand recognition in the industry for approachability and productivity, a history exhibiting the kind of diversity that documentaries and films are made about, having tons of potential for unique innovation in language and tooling, and being built on top of a brand new multi-million dollar tech stack developed specifically for it by the most brilliant minds over 5 years specifically to enable fluid innovation in language and tooling


-Anthony D. Green

Preface | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V: An Open Letter to Satya Nadella

Part III: From Loving Microsoft, to Wanting Microsoft, to Needing Microsoft, to…?

A Love Story

I have loved Microsoft for most of my life.

(Don’t worry, this post isn’t just a clip show of my life, there’s some good stuff in the middle)

I remember in 1999, I was a Freshman in high school, and I wrote (and read aloud) an essay explaining the superiority of the open Windows hardware ecosystem to that of the proprietary Apple Macintosh. I tried to write a follow-up essay but the class groaned and so I wrote about Shakespeare.

Here’s a picture of me circa 2004—I would have been 19 or 20. I’m wearing a VB.NET “World Tour” T-Shirt. I remember taking about 3 hours of buses and climbing a fence to get from my home to the west Chicago suburb where Microsoft’s local office is to attend the .NET User Group meeting where I got that shirt.

I remember taking personal time to go to the swanky Expression Studio launch event, and the Windows XP Tablet PC event, and a Group Policy Management seminar when I was basically a young kid with barely two nickels in my pocket and no reason to be there. I’ve had a Windows Mobile device or Windows Phone almost exclusively since 2005. People would ask me why and I’d say “I like having a phone I can program”.

I loved .NET, VB, and Visual Studio so much that I begged my uncle to use his credit card to spend the $12.95 to get the 180-day Visual Studio .NET 2003 trial DVD shipped to me and that built relationships with other Microsoft products such as SQL Server, Windows Server, and IIS.

It’s possibly the only company, the only team, and the only project that could get me, a lifelong Chicagoan to even consider moving to the other side of the country, away from my family, for any length of time.

Which is why it’s so painful for me to consider that that love could be the worst decision of my life. Literally all of the pain and frustration I feel isn’t from merely using Microsoft. It’s from loving Microsoft.

And I’m probably not alone. Satya once said he wanted to take people “from needing Windows to choosing Windows to loving Windows”. I guess, in my head I (perhaps wrongly) expanded that to taking people “from needing Microsoft, to wanting Microsoft, to loving Microsoft” but so what? Should I love one part of Microsoft and distrust another? Shall I love your right arm but not your left foot?

In any event it seems like we’re going in the wrong direction. Microsoft has a group of people who fervently love them (and have loved them even when it meant given up other OSes) and it feels like they’re problem solving how to “get them to love us less, they love too much”, “wouldn’t it be great if they loved us less enough to be open to using other tools instead of the apparently addictive substance we make that they want to use exclusively until the end of time”.

And with choices like these those people (like myself) will go from loving Microsoft to just… really wishing for stuff. Not expecting it. But kind of desiring it. And eventually, not even wanting it but just … dealing with what you need because it’s what you have already. And when “The .NET Team” says “We’re not going to evolve the language, enjoy using it as it” they’re in effect saying “We want you in that 3rd bucket of people who just need us”. But what comes next when you don’t need it? Apathy? Hate?

Behavior unbecoming of being loved

There’s a notion I observed while in the halls of Redmond. I don’t know if it’s because the company has so many college hires who have never lived outside of the Microsoft bubble. Maybe it’s an engineering thing. But there’s an assumption (they aren’t conscious of it, I promise) that if you block off certain things to customers you create a path of least resistance for them to do the things you want.

So, for example,

  • If there is no express edition for Windows Desktop, people will make Modern Windows apps.
  • If we take down the WinForms videos, people will start programming using XAML.
  • If Xbox One is online only, people will buy Xbox One and stay online.

The problem with that thinking is that it’s manipulative. Would you ever love someone who curtailed your options in order to get you to behave the way they want?

The basis for this faulting thinking is the belief that you’re entitled to that love to begin with. It’ll just come to you whether you deserve it or not and it’s just about deciding where it goes. Or as PlayStation-fan buddy describes certain Xbox behaviors: “The assumption that all roads lead to Microsoft”.

I’ll give you another example. In 2010 there was a bug in the Visual Basic runtime around the feature that makes it super easy to make single-instance Windows Forms applications in VB. The way it works is that when you open an app it opens a socket and listens and the next instance that opens tries to connect to that port to check if an instance is already running and terminates if it is.

The problem with that approach is that in an untrusted security environment (or, I think, with the Windows Firewall on) this throws exceptions. So, the solution was to use IPC (inter-process communication) rather than sockets.

In 2012 (I was on Roslyn at the time), I remember the team that owned that component deciding not to fix the bug. And the rationale was “Once Windows 8 comes out everyone will just make Windows 8 apps and there won’t be any new WinForms apps so why does it matter?”. They genuinely could not imagine that everyone wouldn’t immediately drop whatever they were doing and run to what was next simply because it was being made. They bet on it. They weren’t malicious. But, is that reasoning becoming of being loved?

I question if the thing that would be best for Microsoft (and I swear, not something they’ve ever uttered even privately that they’re going for) is obedience.

Love is hard. You have to earn it. You have to keep it. You can’t always control it. Obedience is easy. It’s definitely not a universal problem in the company, but what “The .NET Team” is in effect saying is, “Obey or begone”. I do not see how that gets them to love. I do not get how other people love someone who behaves that way to people who already love them.

I really want this company to behave like someone deserving of love, so that others will love them as I have.

The desire to be loved

In 2016, I along with colleagues in the UX research group at Microsoft conducted a study of VB developers. We pulled from a number of sources, sent them surveys, looked at the results, scheduled interviews with a few dozen. One thing we were trying to compute was the “Net Promoter Score” of VB—a metric that was all the rage at the time and tells you how likely customers are to recommend your offering to others. There were a lot of folks who rated 10 “would recommend highly” but also plenty of folks who were what they call “passives”. They were scoring VB just below the point where you’re considered a promoter. And there were a few people who were outright “Would not recommend!”. Looking through the raw survey verbatim feedback of why they said what they said, a majority of respondents who didn’t score 9 or 10 said some variation of “Love it, would otherwise recommend it, but wish Microsoft would show it some love”. In other words, it’s not language instability, or the phase of the moon, or the average IQ of VB developers, or an increasingly git-based world that hurts VBs potential. The most commonly cited reason for not promoting it—for VB not growing faster is Microsoft.

And you’d be surprised how often the word “love” appeared in those verbatims. Many developers either said the loved the language or wished Microsoft would show it more love. Not, “I wish Microsoft would show us a set of stable templates in our core scenarios” but love.

A company should not be its customers biggest problem, perceived or actual, and if you think I’m exaggerating, consider how many problems VB.NET developers had on March 10th this year and how many they had the next day and who was entirely responsible for the delta.

Trying hard to stay on the platform

I’m trying really hard to stay on the platform. Writing this much and prototyping for open source this much isn’t free. This is not about recent events, but for the first time in my life I’m more open than I’ve ever been to the looking at languages beyond VB, IDEs beyond Visual Studio, platforms beyond .NET, and even OSes beyond Windows. But I’m trying.

Right now, there’s a whole bunch of folks around the world that just saw a post on the .NET Blog who just want to keep loving Microsoft. They just want to snuggle up to it, use its stuff, and give it their money.

If someone wants to love you, you should let them.

I want to keep loving Microsoft too. I just wish they’d let me.

-Anthony D. Green

Preface | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V: An Open Letter to Satya Nadella