Hopes for Jon Udell’s Tenure At Microsoft

I imagine that every single person who reads this blog other than my sister (Hi Donna!) knows who Jon Udell is and knows that he is joining Microsoft. In the small world of “people who make their living by writing about software development,” Jon is clearly the leading light on the technologies collectively known as “Web 2.0.”

Jon has the rare ability to move between high-level conversations with technology business leaders, advocating new ways of sharing information, and demonstrating technical points with his own code. He makes surprising connections between technologies and between technologies and homely matters (LibraryLookup and his walking tour). Typically, he’s constructed these demonstrations with very accessible tools — XML, JavaScript, etc.

There are two things that I worry about Jon’s new position:

  • To what extent will the inherent imperative to advocate MS technologies stifle him?, and
  • Will he be reduced to just a conduit of information (Microsoft’s new A-list blogger) or will he continue to contribute new creations?

Oh, and I’ll throw in:

  • Will direct knowledge of unannounced initiatives keep him quiet on the very subjects on which he’s passionate?

Unfortunately, that last is almost a given. Whether the subject is the way that young people learn programming, design and implementation of dynamic languages, or concurrency, there have been thought leaders at Microsoft who’ve essentially “gone dark.” Presumably, that’s so that they can actually make something rather than talking about it, and I suppose there’s some value in that.

But there’s also value in people who are in the public realm batting around ideas without behing beholden to commercial interest, especially when those people have the rare ability to crank out demoes. One of the most encouraging things to come out of Microsoft in years was Ozzie’s “Live clipboard” — if the boss (or the boss plus a House-like crew of apprentices) produces small conceptual demoes, then one can guess that small conceptual demoes just might be a route to corporate success.

Finally, I have to say that it worries me a bit that Jon is leaving New Hampshire. One of the things that I’ve admired about him is that he showed that a person could have his finger on the pulse of the industry while living in the place that they love — I very consciously took Jon as an example when making the decision to move to Hawai’i.