Actual Rockstars of Software and Technology

by Michael Szul on

No ads, no tracking, and no data collection. Enjoy this article? Buy us a ☕.

It's been a week since I returned from Seattle for the Microsoft MVP Summit, and although it seems to be an obligatory thing to write a post about one's experiences (especially first-timers like me), I wanted to take a slightly different path, and talk about a few of the people that I met.

Computer science, in general, can be a lonely field filled with introverted keyboard cowboys (and cowgirls) that know how to solve a difficult algorithm, but trip over themselves at company outings. This isn't to say that computer programmers are anti-social, or totally without soft skills. Many of us speak at conference, record podcasts, and the very fact that we were made MVPs means that we've been involved a lot in community teaching and leadership. But being an introvert means that social interaction is taxing, and the amount of energy required to speak, or spend an extended time at conferences is ultimately a drain that causes many of us to quickly crash back at the hotel, or spend a week recuperating.

Programming is hard. Being a programmer in the public eye is even harder--especially emotionally. It's taken my wife almost ten years to realize that it isn't that I don't like interacting with people at events, birthdays, etc., but it's that I have to pick-and-choose my interactions because of how mentally and emotionally draining such interactions can be.

It is with this knowledge, that I have to give a lot of respect for those that are both great programmers and true rockstars.

For those of you that know me, you know that I abhor the terms rockstar, ninja, and any other ill-advised word used in a job posting to hide the fact that the job wants to pay very little for you to do a whole lot. I don't care for rockstars. I like quality programmers just fine.

There are, however, true rockstars in software engineering. I met a few at the MVP Summit, and it was pretty awe-inspiring. First, I managed to run into Richard Campbell of the DotNetRocks and RunAs Radio podcasts. The man is a fountain of knowledge, and to hear him speak on the podcast--whether in an interview, or doing a Geek Out--you have to wonder if he spends every waking moment researching everything he can get his hands on. I often wonder if his co-host--Carl Franklin--feels a little imposter syndrome during recording sessions.

Richard Campbell is a star among geeks, but I walked up to him, shook his hand, had a brief conversation, and walked away. I thought it was a cool situation, but didn't see it as something to write home about. Then I ran into Miguel de Icaza.

Meeting Miguel was surreal. His value to the software industry cannot be overstated. Miguel created Gnome early in his career, which quickly became the standard windowing desktop environment for Linux. He later founded Ximian, and produced Ximian Evolution--a fully-featured email client that was compatible with Microsoft Exchange. This allowed a desktop Linux environment to be viable in the enterprise, and was quite possibly the most advanced desktop software ever built for a Linux GUI. After Microsoft released .NET and the C# language, Miguel went to work on creating an open source implementation called Mono. This allowed .NET applications to run cross-platform. I remember building an HttpModule on top of Mono to produce XML nodes of server variables, requests, and session information, and then piping that through an XSLT file (with an *.xsp extension) to create a form of XML Server Pages where one could do legitimate XSLT programming for the web.

Eventually, Miguel made his way to Novell, and there was a valiant attempt to create a viable Linux desktop solution. Things didn't work out as planned, but Mono became the basis for Mono Touch, which eventually morphed into Xamarin--a solution for building mobile applications across devices/platforms with .NET.

Miguel now works for Microsoft, and is a part of Microsoft's new initiative to server every developer on every platform. Meeting him, I was truly starstruck. I had followed his career probably since the Ximian days, and he is a true inspiration of what can happen when you concentrate on building great software that serves people instead of purely serving the bottom line.

Out of all I did at the Microsoft MVP Summit, and out of all the people that I met, meeting Miguel was probably the best moment, as he continues to be a huge inspiration on my career--even 15 years later.