Dark Matter Developers: The Unseen 99%
In astronomy and cosmology, dark matter is a currently-undetermined type of matter hypothesized to account for a large part of the mass of the universe, but which neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly seen with telescopes. - Wikipedia on Dark Matter
You can't see dark matter, but we're pretty sure it's there. Not only is it there, but it's MOST of what's there. We know it and we can't see it. It never shows up.
My coworker Damian Edwards and I hypothesize that there is another kind of developer than the ones we meet all the time. We call them Dark Matter Developers. They don't read a lot of blogs, they never write blogs, they don't go to user groups, they don't tweet or facebook, and you don't often see them at large conferences. Where are these dark matter developers online?
Part of this is the web's fault. The web insists on moving things forward at an rate that makes people feel unable to keep up. I mean, Google Chrome has upped two version numbers just in the last 3 paragraphs of this blog post. Microsoft probably created a new API and deprecated an old one just while I was typing this sentence.
Lots of technologies don't iterate at this speed, nor should they. Embedded developers are still doing their thing in C and C++. Both are deeply mature and well understood languages that don't require a lot of churn or panic on the social networks.
Where are the dark matter developers? Probably getting work done. Maybe using ASP.NET 1.1 at a local municipality or small office. Maybe working at a bottling plant in Mexico in VB6. Perhaps they are writing PHP calendar applications at a large chip manufacturer.*
Personally, as one of the loud-online-pushing-things-forward 1%, I might think I need to find these Dark Matter Developers and explain to them how they need to get online! Join the community! Get a blog, start changing stuff, mix it up! But, as my friend Brad Wilson points out, those dark matter 99% have a lot to teach us about GETTING STUFF DONE.
They use mature products that are well-known, well-tested and well-understood. They aren't chasing the latest beta or pushing any limits, they are just producing. (Or they are just totally chilling and punching out at 5:01pm, but I like to think they are producing.) Point is, we need to find a balance between those of us online yelling and tweeting and pushing towards the Next Big Thing and those that are unseen and patient and focused on the business problem at hand.
I like working on new stuff and trying to new ways to solve old (and new) problems but one of the reasons I do like working on the web is that it's coming to a place of maturity, believe it or not. I feel like I can count on angle brackets and curly braces. I can count on IL and bytecode. These are the reliable and open building blocks that we will use to build on the web for the next decade or three.
While some days I create new things with cutting edge technology and revel in the latest Beta or Daily Build and push the limits with an untested specification, other days I take to remember the Dark Matter Developers. I remind my team of them. They are out there, they are quiet, but they are using our stuff to get work done. No amount of Twitter Polls or Facebook Likes or even Page Views will adequately speak for them.
The Dark Matter Developer will never read this blog post because they are getting work done using tech from ten years ago and that's totally OK. I know they are there and I will continue to support them in their work.
* These people and companies all exist, I've met them and spoken to them at length.
UPDATE: I found a blog post from John Cook that mentioned Kate Gregory who also used this term "Dark Matter" to refer to programmers. It seems it's an apt analogy!