On Point with Julie Lerman
In the world of software development, nothing is certain except death, taxes and data. As MSDN Magazine Data Points columnist Julie Lerman points out: “Nobody can avoid data, so it’s a topic that’s important to everyone.”
Which is why Data Points has been a fixture in MSDN Magazine since John Papa first penned the column back in 2002. Papa launched the column to address what he felt was a shortage of data-related coverage in the magazine (and the industry in general). When he stepped away from the column in 2009 after taking a job with Microsoft, Papa recommended Julie Lerman to take his spot.
I asked Lerman about her experience writing the column and about her thoughts on data and development. As Lerman told me, inspiration is not hard to find.
“I’ve tried to use the column to explain things that either I’m curious or confused about, such as what the heck NoSQL is,” she says. “Or as a way to share answers to questions that I’m asked frequently—for example, about Entity Framework [EF].”
Michael Desmond: The .NET data space has been anything but boring, with plenty of infrastructure work pulling devel-opers in different directions. Have things settled down? Any advice for developers trying to make big-picture decisions about data in 2012?
Julie Lerman: Settled? Ha! I think they’re moving faster. I do think the ORMs [object-relational mappers] are going to settle in as the “classics” for a while, and Entity Framework seems to have become the standard for out-of-the-box .NET data access.
There’s so much innovative work and thinking going on, especially with the focus on big data, NoSQL and CQRS [Command Query Responsibility Segregation], to name a few. But not everyone has to work with the vast amounts of data that comes under that umbrella. I really do think ORM over relational database is the new norm.
How well has EF come together over its brief, if turbulent, run from the first version in 2008 through the EF4 iterations the last couple years, and finally to EF5 today?
EF started as a project of some serious, data-wizard, Ph.D.-level folks at Microsoft Research. But for developers it seemed to be only a partial solution. The addition of POCO [Plain Old CLR Object] support in EF4 was a huge leap forward, and then Code First plus the much-simpler-to-use API [DbContext] changed the broader perception of EF dramatically. It wasn’t until those last two pieces arrived that people at Microsoft who are outside of the data team started paying attention to it. And the developers’ eyes, enthusiasm and excitement followed.
It’s also been fascinating to witness the evolution of how the EF team at Microsoft works. After some challenging interactions with a voluble community that was unhappy with the initial release, they responded with some fantastic changes that made EF palatable to a much wider audience. Now the entire team is focused on responding to community feedback.
I get the feeling that the .NET dev community—the subset that engages with new releases and providing feedback—has a great sense of ownership of EF and is now very supportive of the work the team is doing.
How do you find time to write consistently given the demands of your day job? How does writing help you improve as a developer?
You know better than anyone that my articles are rarely delivered on time. I just steal the time from other tasks and deadlines, so I’m constantly juggling. I also have to steal some of that time from my personal life. I think the fact that my husband and I don’t have kids makes that a bit easier.
The process of writing does indeed have a positive effect on my development skills. I’m reluctant to write something down until I’ve explored it inside and out, which forces me to learn even more deeply something I may already have a great deal of comfort with. I think we have a great responsibility not to misdirect people who depend on us for their knowledge. I’m constantly questioning what I know and how I do things, and I sometimes very reluctantly drag myself through some process of evolution. But it always has its rewards.
Michael Desmond is the Editor-in-Chief of MSDN Magazine.