Does standardizing technology stifle creativity?

I’ve been talking with a few people recently about COmega, C# 3.0, C# 4.0 and the like. On top of that, I try to get my hands on anything “new” that I can well before it becomes of interest to the general public. I keep getting asked why I like to sit on the razors edge (or at least pretend to). I usually tell them its because its the only way that I can continue to remain creative in this field. The rest of this post articulates my rationale behind this idea.

I’m definitely a child of the PC computing industry. I’ve grown up around computers. I’ve seen one innovation after another. I have to say the most amazing times in my programming life have been spent hunched over a computer all night hacking out a new way to solve a problem. Even later in my professional career, during the “high-tech late 90’s” I had a blast playing with xml data islands before example one hit the list server (wow, does anyone remember learning new concepts on list servers? yikes I feel old). Whatever the case, what was interesting was that everyone was learning something new because everyone was solving technology problems on their own; sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. But every programmer had to learn to be creative to solve problems.

In recent years, the big push is to standardize technologies at the earliest possible moment — locking most programmers into one way to solve a problem. Failing to follow the standard usually lands a host of glaring architect eyes on you. You can bet if you do come up with a new way to do something, someone is already trying to create a standard to the contrary; again, most times for the better and sometimes not. Sometimes those standards, at least initially, fall far short of being a good solution for more than a handful of people (i.e. WSE). But as more people jump on board, those standards morph into something more usable by others (i.e WS-* added to WSE-n). Sooner or later, design-time components are emassed by third-party companies like a bad mildew stain around these standards. We are all sort-of stuck using those tools and those standards until Microsoft decides to devour that component industry and write their own wrappers around the standard.

There are only a handful of people who then have any say on the standard and the self-proclaimed “right way” to do things. Sure, these standards do let us focus more on solving the business problems instead of technology problems, but who wants to do that? We can sit back in our spare time and “play” with our own solutions, but when you get back to work in the morning, its back to WSE-2, RSS, AJAX, and other various paterns and practices.

I do understand the benefits, so don’t get me wrong. I’m so much happier to have a tool generate my WSDL , at least from a starting point, than for me to do it myself. I do get to look at some other cool technologies because I can look past some of those questions that the standards answer for us. However, with all the real benefits that standardizing brings to us, there are times when I miss having the freedom to innovate on my own without looking how everyone else does it first.

That is the treaty that the business folks have signed with us geeks — we get to play with their expensive toys and data centers but only if they get to make us “more productive” with standards bodies.

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