Open Sourcing a .NET World: .NET Fringe 2017

Published on 08 August 2017

A Java developer, a .NET developer, and a Node.js developer all walk into a bar. The .NET dev turns to the Java dev and says... No this isn’t the beginning of a joke, it’s actually what happened after a day chock full of insightful and informative sessions at a .NET developer conference. Wait what?!? Yes, that’s correct. Last month, I had the opportunity to take part in what I would call a groundbreaking and forward-thinking conference called .NET Fringe. While it might come as a shock that the conference included topics like Docker on Linux on Windows, Ruby on Rails, and Serverless-Node, it is probably no surprise that this conference took place in the hipster town of Portland, Oregon - where pushing the boundaries of what is “normal” is what they do.

“Pushing the boundaries” is in many ways one of the more difficult things a person or company will do, and it becomes even harder when you have a massive amount of momentum taking you in one direction or another. Some would easily argue Microsoft is an example of this large immobile giant who seems to be caught up in its own momentum, unable to switch gears and make a hard left. Others would jokingly point at Windows Phone as the glaring example of when they tried and failed. Yet, it wasn’t that long ago (in human years, not computer years) that Microsoft was pushing the boundaries constantly and in many ways defined what it looked like to do so.

Open Source Software (OSS) is one such area where, until recently, it was akin to saying “Not Microsoft Software.” For years the Microsoft eco-system was basically closed to the outside world, but now the Cold War of software is coming to an end and the great wall of .NET has finally come down. Yes I know it’s old news, so last year, and yet the excitement from the community is growing. They are embracing open source with a vigor and building new and exciting OSS; not to mention .NET Core is in preview for v2.

The excitement was not lost at .NET Fringe where Sean Killeen showcased a talk on OSS entitled “Casting a Wider .NET: Working Toward More OSS Maturity in the .NET Community.” In his talk, Sean declared that the time is now, that OSS is taking hold and pushing the boundaries of how .NET developers are creating software. He also proposed some ways to help foster the ideas and beliefs surrounding OSS. At the end, Sean launched a new project that centered around OSS awareness and asked the entire community to help him develop it.

I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to invest a ton of time writing a bunch of code, then allowing someone whom I probably don’t know to come in and make changes to MY project in ways I didn’t intend. For me, that is a boundary I constantly find myself pushing against. For others, it’s not so much the my-code problem, but the my-language boundary that must be overcome. I’m C# or I’m Java is a mentality that can seem like a mountain to some. I get it; why would I want to learn a new language when this one does everything I “need.”

It was specifically these boundaries that .NET Fringe was seeking to push against. As a result, I had the fortunate opportunity to spend half a day learning how to use a serverless API called WebTask, where functions written in Node.js-compliant JavaScript can be accessible through a REST API - think AWS Lambda or Azure Functions. Though to be quite honest, I found myself constantly thinking, “am I at the wrong conference? Shouldn’t I be learning about new features in the Windows Presentation Framework or Azure?” Clearly I have a barrier of my own, even though I now spend my days in Java, JavaScript, Node.js, and TypeScript.

Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely plenty of C#, F#, and Azure talks, but it was so much more than that. It was a conference for the new .NET dev that could be summed up in a talk by our own Ted Neward, on the idea that long gone are the days when you can spend your entire career programming in a single language. Much like Martin Fowler, who has been championing the idea of polyglot persistence and using the right database for the right job, Ted has coined the phrase Polytechnical Careering, where it’s not only encouraged, but considered best practice to use many different programming languages - the right language for the right job.

All in all, it was a conference I would be remiss not to talk about. It was in so many ways the type of conference I love to attend. The organizers at .NET Fringe, clearly Portlanders themselves, didn’t care about any real or perceived notions of what a “.NET conference” should be. Whether it was the breadth of talks or the gong of a bronze bowl that made it most memorable, I’m not sure. But if you’re like me and you want to be challenged in what you know, believe, or even currently hold as gospel truth, I’d recommend attending .NET Fringe.