My XDC 2019 Feelings

I had a good time. It was as good as you could possibly expect from a programming conference in Miami. I met new friends, old friends, customers, and team Xojo. I walked away optimistic about Web 2.0, excited about upcoming opportunities, and confused about why Xojo is so secretive online.

The truth is time and time again you hear people admire the conversations with engineers and general comradery at XDC. I had good discussions with a few on the team and generally felt like I was a valuable member of the community.

I do struggle in some areas though.

Throughout the conference many raised concerns about the lack of engineers on the team. Geoff was always prepared for the question and was insistent that they are staffed appropriately for their current needs and roadmap. I believe them. Frankly, the roadmap has not expanded, and some items like plugins (built in Xojo) have been completely dropped. I see some efforts to align efforts with reality.

While discussing estimates and why Xojo does not commit to timelines Geoff said they try to “manage our expectations”. I believe Xojo should be releasing numerous builds even in early stages. Monthly alpha builds at a minimum. Soliciting our feedback on the design goals and direction earlier on would be very valuable for us. I don’t pay Xojo to manage my expectations of their product. I pay them to develop it and I would be happier if I knew the direction it was going in.

I wish Xojo was prouder of their third-party ecosystem. The design award to GraffitiSuite was great and deserved and I’m sure MBS has earned them in the past. At the same time outside of a single session I didn’t see a general awareness for the third-party ecosystem. More plugin and providers should be showcased. While self-serving, I wish there was a certified hosting program. ServerWarp would love to be a certified Xojo web host. Someone at XDC mentioned why there was no section for vendors. I whole heartedly agree.

Everyone believes they attempt to do too much.

I think everyone in the conference was in awe at the tremendous effort and progress of the overall platform. However, it is painfully obvious to us that while engineer staffing may be optimal the overall ecosystem is not healthy. Statistics and marketing data presented to us suggests that the number of women and young people has risen. Yet forum participation and general Xojo developer penetration seems flat or worse. It does not seem entirely impossible that perhaps the number of adult males has simply declined. 

During the final feedback session Geoff was great. He talks about vision and opportunity. Yet, I find myself disgruntled because I am convinced the company lacks technical vision. Nowhere in the conference did we see anything awe inspiring or cutting edge from Xojo. Just further iteration on the same old ideas and concepts with the same limitations and caveats. 

Upon later reflection I realized that Xojo has quietly made some very strong and strategic technical choices. For a long time, they suffered from tremendous “not invented here syndrome” and would recreate everything. Custom database server? Check. Custom HTTP socket? Check. Custom web framework? Check.

Yet more and more these items are being deprecated. Engineering efforts now are on pulling in the best and most accessible libraries available and simplifying them for us. The potential output of any given engineer is likely doubled or tripled due to the reliance on more third-party code. The new web framework for example is relying heavily on bootstrap and jQuery and various other user interface libraries. Interops is designed specifically to make utilizing operating system libraries easier so Xojo itself can iterate faster.

I think the keynote was lackluster because they were unable to communicate how much impact the new technical investments are going to have. As soon as web framework 2.0 is done they will be able to create considerably more controls very quickly. Plus, I hope they are dog-fooding their own Web SDK as much as possible. Android even if terrible will open several new doors and channels to insert Xojo into the conversation. 

So now it is more confusion for me versus disappointment. They apparently do have technical vision but are completely incapable or unwilling to share it. No blogs or forum posts about new abilities or plans. No videos highlighting features being copied from other languages and frameworks. You don’t see the passion and drive that fuels this effort, so it feels hollow. Like a grind. And it becomes one for us constantly following along hoping our feedback request gets fixed and our subscription renewal becomes worthwhile once again.

What do I want?

Monthly alpha builds
Certified third party ecosystem for plugins AND services
Less management of my expectations

I think a little more effort into battling the not invented here syndrome when it comes to community and the third-party market would change the game. If you aspire to be more than just a secret weapon you need to shepherd its growth versus dictating it.

XDC is about being a part of the conversation. Being heard. It should not take a physical gathering to keep that spirit alive.