News from SDC 2009

Just returned from a trip to Göteborg, Sweden, for SDC 2009, the first of what the organisers plan to be a regular series of developer events. 450 delegates, mostly Swedish but some from further afield, gathered to hear a keynote from Kent Beck and participate in a densely packed programme, streamed around Java, .Net, IBM System i, development process and methodology, and emerging technologies.

All the sessions were 45 minutes - a tight schedule, but one that kept organisers, presenters and delegates on their toes. Kent his keynote talked about the habits of effective agile teams (thankfully he didn’t call it “The Seven Habits of ….), and in his usual relaxed manner conveyed several very important points: I liked the observation that teams succeed or otherwise regardless of the development skills and experience of their members; the bias toward action of successful teams; and (something that’s been brewing in my mind for a while) the usefulness of appreciative enquiry as a technique to create and support change.

The “bias toward action” linked with one of the insights gleaned from Neal Ford of Thoughtworks in his talk on Ancient Philosophers and Blowhard Jamborees - we can all blame Plato and the notion of idealism for the assumption that we can think our way toward any solution, or out of any problem. I thought the talk lost the thread a little, though, when it veered off into anti-pattern territory (cavil no. 1 - an anti-pattern for patterns is giving them smart-ass, metaphorical or just plain meaningless names. “Clang Bird?” What’s that? If you have to explain the name, I’m not interested in reading the pattern. Go look at Christopher Alexander or the GOF book to see how it should be done. And cavil no. 2 - “meme-wrangler”? Nooooo! So 2000…).

I particularly liked Laurent Bossavit’s session on using systems thinking as a technique for introducing agile practices: in spite of the time pressure he ran this successfully as a mini-workshop. A session from Microsoft’s Don Syme on F# suggests that it might be the language that makes functional programming accessible at last: expressive enough, familiar enough, nice abstractions for lightweight multithreading, good library access and a usable development environment - what a pity it’s a .Net language.

Anders Janmyr took (some of us!) down memory lane on a lightning tour of Smalltalk - language, environment, and some of the more recent ecology of the language, including Seaside (a very impressive web application and service framework, in which the templating language is … Smalltalk, of course, and in which sessions are managed via continuations. Very expressive, very powerful). A talk by Derek Holt of IBM covered the IBM/Rational tools for distributed/large scale agile development: insight for me was that distance and size of team are (of course) only two of the many dimensions of scaling agile practices. I’m still not a big fan of big tools (and I’m afraid that seeing “Rational” in front of anything makes me tremble a little, at the bill if nothing else) but I’ll have a play with Jazz and Team Concert when I get time (and report back here).

I talked about what happens when Agile hits the wall - walls in terms of what happens when teams practising agile come up against the rest of their organisations, but also walls in our community around the spread of agile, and wall sin ourselves when faced with the sorts of challenges that appear at boundaries. Boundaries are, after all, interesting places. I’ll post and comment on the talk separately - watch this space…

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