A couple of weeks ago I attended the Chicago stop of the FogBugz World Tour. If you are not familiar with FogBugz it is a web-based project management tool by Fog Creek Software for enabling communication on development teams. In all honesty, I was only mildly interested in hearing about the software, I really went to the event so that I could see Joel Spolsky of the Joel on Software fame speak. I have to admit that the trip to Chicago was less of a train ride and more of a pilgrimage. I have been reading Joel’s blog since before we actually called them blogs (and before there was a little orange XML thingee on the site). Joel is one of the “Internet Famous” crowd that is well known in the technology circles, but like most famous software people is a relative unknown outside of those circles. I know this for a fact when I tried to explain to some to some non-technical folks who I was going to see the next day: “You know - Joel Spolsky the guy that created the Joel Test!”. Blank stares ensued.

I had a lot of questions going through my mind as I headed towards downtown Chicago. Some of these included:

  • Is this just going to be a sales pitch or will he also impart some of his great wisdom to us?

  • Has Joel really Jumped the Shark as Jeff Atwood has claimed?

  • Was he really serious when he wrote that his product is written in a home grown functional programming language (called Wasabi) based on VBScript?

Well after walking a few blocks to find a Starbuck’s coffee, crossing a picket line of striking hotel workers and getting misdirected to a medical conference by a non-Union hotel worker I eventually sat down to hear Joel speak. There was a small crowd of people at the event - it was about a 50 / 50 split of people who were there to see the FogBugz product and people there just to see Joel speak and there was significant overlap between those two groups. It was a really good group of people who attended the event. Technology people are usually not that talkative first thing in the morning, but there seemed to be a buzz in the air.

Ms Owens all over again

I had a big let down in the fourth grade. I had a teacher named Ms Owens and about 3 months into the school year my family ran into her at a restaurant somewhere. She was smoking at the restaurant, drinking a glass of wine and she was there with a guy! How dare a school teacher act so “normal”. I honestly thought that school teachers went home at night, graded papers, read school books (not watch TV) and maybe they went to church on Sunday, but pretty much focused all their attention on being a school teacher. Ms Owens shattered this belief in one instant and showed me that teachers are just normal people.

I had a similar experience with Joel Spolsky at his event.  Don’t get me wrong, he gave a nearly flawless presentation of his software, which seems to be a very good product for tracking defects, prioritizing request for enhancements in software and estimating the software life cycle. But I used to hang on just about every word that he would write on his blog. If my feed reader showed a new post from Joel, that was the first one that I read. I would quote Joel to other people, I used his techniques for sorting through resumes and even followed his advice on how to interview technical people. But I guess I expected him to get on stage and give a speech worthy of MLK or JFK. Instead he gave a really normal sales presentation and answered some questions by the audience. 

So what about Wasabi?

The burning question that I had was “Joel did you really write your own Language / framework?”. We got our answer when someone asked the question “I see your application runs in ASP, are there any plans to convert it to ASP.NET”. Joel said that the .asp extension on the site was just a semantic of this particular deployment and proceeded to tell us the Wasabi story again. Yes they have written their own language that produces PHP code or ASP code (depending on the platform). He also mentioned that it had been extended with javascript libraries to provide AJAX functionality. He also mentioned that they were considering an ASP.NET version in a future release, since soon ASP.NET would be prevalent on most Windows Servers. So has Joel jumped the shark? Maybe, maybe not. The last software company that created a framework for developing web applications based on the work that they did in a product seems to be doing okay.