The Dark Side of Being a Guru
Back in the September 2005 issue of MSDN Magazine, we offered advice to our readers on how to become a guru. Perhaps "guru" is too strong a word, but it conveys the essence of our thoughts on the subject. Development is a unique profession, as it's performed primarily as an individual activity, yet to really be successful you almost always have to work with and contribute to a team effort.
This spirit—individualist yet supportive—is what has always driven the programming community we all belong to. We don't have to be told that we should create ways to share information; it's in our DNA. Of course, so many developers are considered experts by their peers, and they have come to that position through a variety of paths.
In talking to several of these experts, it became clear that with prominence and fame, even moderate fame, comes responsibility. One developer whose name will remain unmentioned (but whose photo is on this page) worked for a midsized software company a decade ago. He walked into a meeting with a software architect, ready to explain how the company could use the newly documented OLE controls technology to improve their product. Instead of the nodding acceptance and adoration he was looking for, he got an earful about how the technology would never work because we've all seen how it can take ten seconds to open an embedded Excel file from a Word doc. Repeated pleas of "but the controls are in-process, not out-of-process" were ignored as the spec was tossed back in a blizzard of letter-size copy paper.
Having advanced knowledge of a particular topic definitely has drawbacks. We asked some of our authors what it's been like advising readers and interacting with members of the dev community, and most of them had good and bad experiences (see the right column).
Maybe you're a guru at work. Maybe you're asked to perform miracles. In fact, we're sure you are. Drop us a line with your stories, and maybe we'll talk about them in a future issue.
"A downside of being an expert in testing is receiving e-mail messages along the lines of, 'mee name is Qzwhtrty and my program it did not working what is wronmg you fix quick thank you very much please.' At the other end of the spectrum are messages like, 'Your supercilious use of the term 'lexicographic' rather than the more canonically correct 'lexicographical' is in counter-juxtaposition to the fifth law of thermodynamics as expostulated by the ECMA799 section 188.8.131.52a.'"
—James McCaffrey, columnist
"I receive a ton of e-mail saying, 'I have a software problem. Please help soon, as I have urgent business to conduct."
—Dino Esposito, columnist
"The thing that makes me most uncomfortable is when people approach me at a show with a scrap piece of paper for me to sign. What am I supposed to write? Should I do like in the movies and ask them what they want it to say? The pressure. I usually serialize some well-formed XML onto their paper, which seems most appropriate."
—Aaron Skonnard, columnist
"I need to check, double-check, and triple-check something before stating it in public, because I need to really understand what I'm saying."
—Christophe Nasarre, contributor
"At PDC two years ago, Jeff Richter and I were walking out of the convention center. A couple of guys came running up, and one of them asked Richter to sign his book. When the guy handed him the book, it was MY book. Richter didn't miss a beat. He opened the cover, signed "Jeff Prosise," and handed it back. People confuse us a lot."
—Jeff Prosise, columnist
"You want to help everyone who asks for aid, answer all of their questions, write that crucial bit of code for which they're searching, and be the hero who saves the day (and their job), but there comes a point when you realize that sleep is sometimes necessary."
—Stephen Toub, columnist and technical editor par excellence
—Paul DiLascia, columnist
Thanks to the following Microsoft technical experts for their help with this issue: Manoj Biswas, Shawn Burke, Mike Clark, Kit George, Eliot Graff, Andy Harjanto, Brian Johnson, Brian Keller, Ronald Laeremans, Steven Lees, Bradley Millington, Craig Skibo, Dave Templin, Weiqing Tu, Maura Van Der Linden, and Scott Woodgate.
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