Sunday, 17 October 2010

Agile Cambridge 2010

Mark Dalgarno, with the support of Redgate Software, is using Software East to do great things for the software community in Cambridge. Software East has been running frequent evening events on topics including Agile and iPhone development and attracted a number of ACCU speakers including Allan Kelly, Pete Goodliffe and everyone's favourite Mac pusher, Phil Nash. Not content with rivalling ACCU London's events Software East has gone further and put on their own Agile conference over two days in the heart of Cambridge. I was pleased to be asked to speak and enjoyed both thoroughly exhausting days. What follows are some of the highlights for me.

Agile Cambridge was the first conference I have attended as a Twitter user. It's an amazing tool for not only communicating with the the attendees and passing on words of wisdom from one session to another, but also for keeping those who could not attend up-to-date and wetting their appetites for next time.

I do not know what it is about the last day of a conference, and it does not seem to matter how long or short the conference is, but I always leave completely spent on that last day. Maybe it is the activities of the night before the last day? Agile Cambridge was no different and I cannot wait to go again next year!

Test Engineering at Google by James A. Whittaker

James Whittaker is the second incredibly enthusiastic and charismatic tester I have had the pleasure of seeing speak this year, following James Bach at ACCU 2010. He took us through the technology of the last twenty years, including a picture of Michael Douglass on a phone about the size of a small loaf of bread and demonstrated how things have changed. He seemed very surprised that a lot of people in the audience still used a paper phone book and this became the subject of a number of jokes throughout the presentation. One of the main points James made was that with a lot of software now being web based, it is no longer cheaper to fix bugs in a product before it ships. He went on to describe the role of a tester as a consultant in a hospital and told us that all software is broken and on life support until the testers can get in and diagnose the diseases.

What Does It Take to be an Agile Company by Allan Kelly

I have seen Allan Kelly speak a few times and have always enjoyed his direct style. He passionately believes in what he is doing and I enjoyed this presentation as well. I think Allan has a very complete view on what agile is, where it came from and where it is going. He explained that he believes that Agile has arrived and is here to stay and that it will only get better. I am very much inclined to believe him. Another of the stand out points for me was that companies should use experimenting over planning and make sure that if and when failure comes, they fail fast and fail cheap. This became a much repeated line throughout not only the presentation, but the whole conference.

Building Effective Habits Through Peer Group Learning & Assessment by Jason Gorman

Jason Gorman has been doing some very interesting work. I think it is best summed up when described as: coaching Test Driven Development (TDD) at the BBC. I still find it amazing that some developers still do not see the clear benefits of TDD and have to be encouraged with incentives. Jason Gorman has been at the BBC teaching and assessing those who have been incentivised and it sounded like very interesting work! He described some of the exercises that the developers went through, their assessment and certification and some of the problems he faced. One of the techniques used was pair programming, where developers would mark off on a sheet which TDD rules their partner had broken, in order to help them learn and improve. At the end of the session he wrote some code and unit tests while the audience marked off the rules he had broken on a similar sheet to demonstrate how it worked. Of course he broke (almost) every rule. This was another very enjoyable session.

Five Years of Change, no Outages by Steve Freeman and Andrew Jackman

Again, I have seen Steve Freeman talk a couple of times before and he has a lot of very interesting things to say. In this presentation Steve and Andrew Jackman described a very successful project that they both worked on at different times. It solved a particular problem that had been attempted by different teams in the past who had failed. The main secret to the project's success was the use of Agile methods, including regular and automated deployments. They described a lot of the methods I am using every day and I am again amazed that more teams do not see the obvious benefits of regular automated deployments. Maybe this is why this sort of conference is needed so much.

Cyberdojo by Jon Jagger

I attended Jon Jagger's Cyberdojo as a participant at ACCU 2010. On this occasion I was delighted to be asked to help out alongside Jon. The setup had changed significantly as Jon has been developing his Cyberdojo since the last time. There was a greater choice of languages and problems to solve; and the teams were not given an objective until part way through. What was most interesting to me was the teams being told that their only objective was to get every team's build to green and the number of them that then proceeded to break their build after having reached green, before the others had caught up. These Cyberdojo's get more and more interesting and I'm looking forward to the next one.

Building Trust in Agile Teams by Rachel Davies

This was one of most enjoyable presentations, not least because I got to take part. Rachel spoke about how important it was for members of Agile teams to trust each other and the ways in which trust could be gained and lost. Rachel has spent many years coaching Agile teams and had a lot of very useful things to say. They certainly made me think about my team in new ways. Unlike ACCU conferences, the Agile Cambridge bunch took a while to start interacting with the speakers. There was plenty of interaction throughout Rachel's presentation and a whole lot of laughter. I am very much looking forward to seeing Rachel speak again soon.

Creating a Development Process for Your Team: What, How and Why chaired by Giovanni Asproni

The final session at the conference was a panel. I really enjoy panels, both as a member of the panel and a member of the audience. You never know quite where it is going to go and by their very nature there is lots of interaction between the audience and the speakers. Those who joined Giovanni on the panel included Allen Kelly, Steve Freeman, Rachel Davies and Nat Pryce. It was a chance for the audience to ask about some of the recent Scrum bashing and get to the bottom of the concerns some of the industry experts have with it. There was a long and very interesting discussion on pair programming and another on how to convince an organisation that Agile was the way to go.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Agile Cambridge: Agile is a journey, not a destination

Although I have done it (tongue in cheek) before, I don't like reviewing my own presentations. So I was delighted when Giovanni Asproni, (ACCU conference chair) reviewed my participation at Agile Cambridge 2010 and was kind enough to allow me to publish his comments:

Rachel (Davies) spoke about building trust in agile teams. Setting aside lots of interesting material about the importance of trust in teams and on various techniques to use or avoid in order to earn trust, the highlight of her keynote was an exercise where Paul Grenyer was volunteered by Rachel to do a stage diving (interestingly enough, Rachel, Allan, Paul and I had talked about it the night before at the pub, but we didn’t think Rachel was going to take the conversation seriously ;-)). He accepted and was caught by a group of six or eight people (which included Jon Jagger and Allan Kelly who joined them to make sure the ACCU didn’t loose one of its most valued members). I’m happy to report that Paul was not hurt during the exercise (neither were Jon and Allan).

Paul (Grenyer) presented a session entitled "Agile is a journey not a destination" where he described his experience in introducing agile development practices at his company. The session was aimed at people trying to introduce agile in their own companies for the first time. Paul presented the material in a clear and compelling way, and, judging from the number of questions at the end, the audience really enjoyed it. Personally, I found the content quite interesting, and I was truly impressed by the way he delivered the presentation.

Agile is a journey not a destination presentation slides available on request.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Zima Blue

By Alistair Reynolds
ISBN-13: 978-0575084551

I loved Zima Blue even more than House of Suns. The standout stories in this collection are those based around the Merlin character. Superb space opera from the master. Not every story is a winner and a couple of them are conduits for explaining science. In some places modified humans are back and there's space travel and extension of the human life span. All the classic Reynolds winners. I only have Terminal World left to read now, so Alistair needs to get on and write something else!