Careers: Interviews
Successful Author, Software Consultant, and Developer

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Mike Gunderloy.

Mike is an independent software consultant and developer and a successful author of numerous books and articles in the area of database and development. He is currently lead developer and president of Larkware, Inc., a prolific author, and a contributing editor of Application Development Trends (ADT) and MCP Magazines and a columnist for MCP Magazine Online. He is owner of Lark Group, Inc., an independent computer consulting group working with many Microsoft technologies.

Mike�s extensive education and background includes a Master of Science in Science and Technology Studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a BA of Science in Industrial Engineering from Northeastern University and MCSE, MCP, MCSD, MCT, MCAD, MCDA certifications. He has worked as a senior computer consultant with MCW, a Microsoft Solution Provider. He has authored/co-authored many books including Upgrader�s Guide to Microsoft Office System 2003 (Que), �Access 2003: Absolute Beginner�s Guide� (Que), �ICDL Review Exercises Exam Cram 2� (Que), MCAD/MCSD Training Guide (70-305) (Que), and �Coder to Developer�. His numerous published articles include those in Access-VB-SQL Advisor,, and He has served as technical editor for Pinnacle Publishing and MCP magazine and as editor for Access Developer News and Smart Access Extra. �He has also contributed to several Courseware including .NET Security, ADTC, 2002 and Developing Databases with Microsoft SQL Server 2000, ADTC, 2000.

His professional website is at To check out life at his farm, see


Q:� Mike, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for us today!

A: No problem. It�s always nice to have an excuse to stop working for a bit.

Q: �Were you always technologically oriented? What triggered your initial interest in computers? Did any particular career decision significantly impact what you are doing today? If you had it to do again.....would you take a different course?

A:� I�m a child of the space age, having been born just about the time that Sputnik went up and grown up in the aerospace culture in Southern California; I used to go watch rocket test firings for fun. My first computers were a CARDiac (cardboard) and Digi-Comp (plastic), when I was still in grade school. From there, they were always part of my world; I took my first computer course in high school, working with a tin can teletype, cassette tape storage, and an extraordinarily primitive microcomputer. I�m not sure I really made any career decisions along the way, but somehow I was always using computers (even when I was publishing a magazine or working as a shipping clerk in a liquor warehouse) and eventually I ended up just working with the computers themselves. Would I do it again? Sure, it�s been fun.

Q: What did you find most useful from your undergraduate and then graduates studies?

A: The most useful thing in my undergraduate career was learning that I didn�t in fact want to be an engineer for the rest of my life. Fortunately I found this out before I took a job in the field. From grad school, I learned that you can buck the system and the system will chew you up and spit you out. But it was still fun.

Q: Specifically what are the trends in application development in the short, medium, and long term?

A: Well, I can�t speak to application development as a whole, only to the little corner that I�m involved in. For the short term, I look for more adoption of things like agile methods, test-driven development, and code generation to allow building most applications with less effort and more efficiency. In the medium term, I expect the efforts of Microsoft, IBM, and Borland to develop suites that unify the end users, developers, and QA folks to pay off in changing the way that we think about the development process. In the long run, I sincerely hope we can stop programming and just let the self-aware computers take over that part of the job.

Q: �What is the most valuable lesson that you have learned from your extensive history of many successes as an author and developer?

A: That working harder really does sometimes make up for not being smarter. It�s not always worth spending the time to find the elegant solution.

Q: Now primarily an author and developer, you have worked in a variety of other areas including publishing and training. What has been your most surprising or �amazing� experience?

A: My most amazing experience was when I was brought in to train staff at a Fortune 500 company in a new programming language so they could undertake a Y2K remediation job, and discovering just how unrealistic the people in management were about what five developers could accomplish. Fortunately I got paid before they came to their senses and pulled the plug on the project.

Q:� As a successful and experienced author of many technical books and articles, share your top five tips for writing technical books and articles.

A:� 1) Either write about something you know, or leave plenty of time to figure it out.

2) Always give editors something to change. It makes them feel useful.

3) Never sign a contract that involves a right of first refusal.

4) Write the code first, and then write about it.

5) If you can�t explain the topic to your dog, you don�t really understand it.

Q: Provide an overview of one of your recent book credits, �Coder to Developer�. What distinguishes your books from other books on the market?

A: As far as I know, C2D is the only book that assumes you already know how to write code, and then tries to teach you the other things that you need to know to successfully develop software. This is the book that I wish I�d had handy to read a decade or so back when I started seriously writing applications.

Q: Provide five tips from the book.

A: 1) Be flexible but cautious about changing the architecture.

2) Write the tests as you go along. Don�t leave them for a �later� that may never come.

3) Maintain a top-five risks list.

4) Set aside time to handle the inevitable overhead of managing a team.

5) Use a build automation tool to make your build process simple and repeatable.

Q:� What is the most important consideration when creating courseware material?

A: Don�t try to cram too much into an hour or a day. If you overwhelm the students early on they�ll be in a fog throughout the course.

Q:� Describe the future of .NET?

A: Well, folks at Microsoft know more about that than I do. I expect to see it a built-in part of the operating system before long. I do think it�s got the potential to be the underpinnings for most of the applications I write in the next decade or so.

Q:� Where is SQL Server heading?

A: It�s no real secret that the next version of SQL Server (due out next year) will have .NET integration. That�s the single biggest change � the ability to write code that runs inside of the server in some language other than T-SQL. Of course there are about a zillion other changes as well, since they�ve been working on this thing for five years. It�s pretty clear to me that SQL Server won�t have to take a backseat to any competition as far as handling large databases and complex problems.

Q:� Can you tell us more about the current state of VB development and its evolution in the next three years?

A: Again, this is a question for Microsoft. Over the next three years, I expect to see most of the remaining VB6 holdouts switch to VB .NET or leave VB development entirely, and to see the next version �Whidbey� penetrate the market. That won�t be revolutionary, just evolutionary.

Q:� What about Office and its future?

A: As far as I�m concerned Office reached the point of making insignificant style changes about two versions back. Just about every part of Office that I use today was already present in Office 2000, and most of them in Office 97.

Q: List the 10 best resources for technology and business professionals.

A: Best? I have no idea. But I can list 10 that I depend on.

1) SlashDot -
2) ActiveWin -
3) -
4) SANS Internet Storm Center -
5) MSDN �
6) CNET -
7) GizModo -
8) Weblogs@ASP.NET -
9) BugTraq �
10) Microsoft Monitor �

There are no print resources on my list because I ditched all of my print subscriptions a year ago. I haven�t missed them. 

Q:� What books can we expect from you in the future?

A: �Well, I�m just putting a book on user interface design for Windows to bed. After that, the next few up will cover software project management, SQL Server 2005, and effective use of FogBugz.

Q: What kind of computer setup do you have?

A: �I�ve got about 15 or 20 machines running, ranging from PII-266 to relatively recent AMD boxes. They�re all networked together, with a batch of KVM switches to get to stuff. It�s overkill, but it sure is nice to have spare machines around when I need to test something.

Q:� You have a successful career and have already accomplished a great deal in regards to your education, career, and experience, which you balance successfully with your life on the farm. Where do you see yourself in ten years?

A: Retired from this stuff, with no computers here at all.

Q: If you were doing this interview, what five questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?

A: Q1: Why do you keep working with a toy language like Visual Basic?
A1: Because it lets me develop working applications faster than anything else I�ve tried (and I�ve worked with a lot of languages). With source code control, unit testing, documentation, and other tools available for VB, this isn�t the old toy language that the VB naysayers are thinking of anyhow.

Q2: What�s it like working from home?
A2: Utter chaos, especially when all three kids are awake. Fortunately, I seem to have a pretty deep stack; I can deal with several emergencies (which kids generate frequently) without losing my place in the code.

Q3: Which of your books should have done better than it did?
A3: ADO AND ADO.NET PROGRAMMING, which was remaindered practically before the ink was dry. Just as well, though; if I were writing the .NET parts over again I�d tackle them quite differently.

Q4: What would it take to get you to take a full-time job with a company like Microsoft or Google?
A4:Bankruptcy. I�ve tried corporate life and I�m congenitally unsuited for it.

 Q5: What do you do when you�re not writing code or books?
A5: Cook, go along to the co-op preschool with the kids, take care of the animals, putter in the garden, read bad novels and good science fiction.

Q: Mike, thank you again for your time, and consideration in doing this interview.

A: No problem.


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