This site is often under construction as it is used to expand my skills by exploring ideas and techniques for .NET, combining ASP.NET, Silverlight applications, web services, and a VB/C# desktop client to access selfsame web services.

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VBA versus .NET

I was recently messaged by someone on LinkedIn, and since my response seemed full enough, I thought I'd share.

I see that you also program in VBA but you have made the jump to .NET. Unfortunately, I have found C#/Excel coding to be quite slow and just wanted to hear about your experiences.
Slow? It depends on what you mean. Honest, I have had to make the pitch when building apps that it should be in .NET rather than VBA for speed. One particular app had a form that needed to fill about 20 dropdowns on load, so using async operations were essential. That same app, while executing one SQL statement in the foreground, also executed 2 background statements that filled panels. It wouldn't have performed well if done in VBA.

If you mean that it takes longer, then yes, but that is a necessity for good code anyway. If you only need a local operation, non-threaded, that doesn't need to be used across the enterprise, VBA can make sense, but with .NET comes numerous benefits that save time and energy. As an example, in a C# solution, the design will likely be model-view-presenter (MVP), that will have a class project, a unit test project, and an Excel UI view project. This can take longer, but there is the benefit of separation of concerns (SoC), and with SoC you can add unit testing. The .NET solution will also be publishable as a desktop application that does not require admin rights, with automatic updates across the enterprise and integrated with source control, in my case TFS/VSTS (now Azure DevOps). Also, if you build libraries for reuse, coding C# become quicker as you can reuse components, but with the benefit of not copy-pasting code around. .NET benefits can be huge if you use them.

BTW, I can still use VBA for prototyping, and since I can simulate threading in VBA, and often work in a class-based model, my designs usually easily transfer to .NET. And yes, sometimes VBA is just the better choice. In other cases, VBA is the choice for rapid development. One solution, while the front-end was VBA and class-based, it extracted data to XML and then used SSIS to process and load files in SQL Server, that then used SP's to turn the code into a cube. There was always the possibility that that VBA solution would be converted to C#, provided the work needed to be better productionized.


A Journey — if You Dare — Into the Minds of Silicon Valley Programmers

My responses in a NY Times comment section for the book, Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the WorldCoders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World by Clive Thompson:

#1 - Link

Although I've been a software developer for 15 years, and for longer alternating between a project manager, team lead, or analyst, mostly in finance, and now with a cancer center, I found it funny that you blame the people doing the coding for not seeing the harm it could cause. First, most scientific advancement has dark elements, and it is usually not the science but how it is used and sold by business people that is the problem. This leads to the second problem, in that it is not coding that is in itself problematic, but specifically how technology is harnessed to sell. It is normal and desirable to track users, to log actions, to collect telemetry, so as to monitor systems, respond to errors, and to develop new features, but that normal engineering practice has been used to surveil users for the purpose of selling. Blaming coders for this turn is like blaming them for the 90s internet bubble. As it is now, it is a rush for profits, not the technology, that is a problem. Many famous historical innovations were driven over the edge by corruption and wealth, not by the people involved in designing and building the systems, although we are so far along in commercialization that it is now part of many developers roles to further the business model.

#2 - Link

@Ben - I completely agree. Most scientific advancement has dark elements, and it is usually not the science but how it is used and sold by business people that is the problem. This leads to the second problem, in that it is not coding that is in itself problematic, but specifically how technology is harnessed to sell.

As for its depictions of coders, I imagine many people not in tech think of coders as young bros' that make apps at cool companies, while in reality, the average is a 38-year old married male with 2 children that makes intranet website and desktop applications for mainstream businesses.

The art aspect if funny, as it is more about soft decision making where one has to weigh the value of one architecture over another, the viability of technology in the future, the ability of coworkers to support and understand the work, the aesthetics and usability of a website. All of these decisions can be made analytically or quantitatively, but more often than not, it is one's sense based on reason and experience.

As for the bug, yes, a missing character might be a problem if I was writing COBOL in 1982 (real story). Nowadays code checking built into IDEs immediately flag such errors, before compilation.

#3 - Link

@Eugene - 10x itself has gained mythical status, but mostly as a misunderstanding, then maybe usurped by an absurd culture of competition.

1 - “In one of their studies, Sackman, Erikson, and Grant were measuring performances of a group of experienced programmers. Within just this group, the ratios between best and worst performances averaged about 10:1 on productivity measurements and an amazing 5:1 on program speed and space measurements!” – The Mythical Man-Month

2 - The original study that found huge variations in individual programming productivity was conducted in the late 1960s by Sackman, Erikson, and Grant (1968). They studied professional programmers with an average of 7 years’ experience and found that the ratio of initial coding time between the best and worst programmers was about 20 to 1; the ratio of debugging times over 25 to 1; of program size 5 to 1; and of program execution speed about 10 to 1. They found no relationship between a programmer’s amount of experience and code quality or productivity.

#4 - Link

I can see that many developers chimed in to complain about the characterization of coding as something that anyone could do, or that coding is primarily syntax. As for myself, I've been in tech for over 30 years and was a CS major in the 80s, learning COBOL, PL/I, and BASIC, but over the years working with numerous scripting languages, and then progressing to using other languages and tools, VBA, SQL, VB.NET, C#, JavaScript, F#, R, Python, as well as numerous related IDEs.

That is one aspect, but behind that is lots of reading, often more articles than books, but covering design (UI/UX), patterns/architecture (GOF), algorithms, database design, best practices, management, social sciences, and operations (Deming to agile). All of this informs the decisions I make when building something for an employer. Granted I am fairly bright, so would have acquired knowledge regardless, but to define coders as simply working with syntax is demeaning. Even people that are deficient in the broader sense of the world can be deeply knowledgeable in their respective domains.