Sunday, February 24, 2013

Artful Vendor Relations


In any business, nobody does all the work themselves. We all rely on outside vendors from such mundane chores as providing the toilet paper up through providing phone lines, tax services, and legal assistance. And here in Information Technology we have our own set of vendors with wonderfully peculiar characteristics.

We group our unique compatriots into three worlds: the language vendors, the software package vendors, and the hardware vendors. We'll get to all three in due time, but today we will chat about the marvelous world of language vendors.

Selecting a language vendor is a lot like choosing a wife. You may not have as much actual contact with the vendor as you would like, but you will get to deal with what she cooks up, and her aesthetic tastes will affect you long after she is gone. Yeah and changing language vendors is as painful as going through a divorce, but that's a story for another post.

So what should you look for when selecting a language vendor? Probably the most important consideration is to perform an evaluation of their openness and how they admit to bugs and problems. Upgrades to language tools are major undertakings and a vendor doesn't take it lightly. So to meet ongoing challenges they should show resolve to provide workarounds.

Languages and development tools constantly change (and I've never seen a version of a language released with fewer verbs than the previous version). To some extent, the vendor is trying to remain competitive by adding the functionality that becomes available in competitors' products or other languages. A software vendor employs a large number of programmers, who need to keep releasing new versions in order to maintain their livelihoods.

So it turns out to be a bit of a balancing act managing your relationship with a language vendor: stability helps your programmers be productive, and yet staying current of tools allows you to incorporate new aesthetics and retain younger talent. If you happen to be in the position of selecting a vendor at the start of a large project you will partly need to use your intuition (and contacts in the industry) to get a better sense of the credibility of the press and of the vendors.

On the other hand, if one of the major vendors announces their plans for their next release of one of their market-leading programming tools, then you would be remiss to overlook its pending availability in your plans. So take your time and be very deliberate when choosing a language vendor, for you will be living with your choice for a long time.