I stayed to #OnAgile

Agile without the right mindset and practices leads to building big balls of mud. – Declan Whelan, wrapping up OnAgile 2015

Today, I had the chance to go to my very first virtual conference — the OnAgile of the Agile Alliance, which of course means that I stayed at home. Or at least I could’ve, if my domestic bandwidth didn’t turn out to be insufficient, which made me go to University on a public Holliday to attend from the office. Apart from this minor problem, however, everything went smoothly and with much less effort and expenses than traveling to a real-world conference.

Conference Organization

The conference itself was split in two: a main stage and an experience stage. While the first featured the main talks and keynotes, the latter featured shorter talks about real-world incarnations of “agile”. These experience reports were broadcasted multiple times during the day, so that one had the chance to catch each, when the current main talk was less interesting to oneself. The talks from the main stage are available for download for another 90 days. Very nice concept!

Besides the talks, some of which were pre recorded, while others were live, the audience had the opportunity to ask questions in a chat and in a designated Q&A window. After the talks many of the speakers were available in speaker booths, i.e., group chats for discussions with the respective person. And then there was, of course, a general chat room for everybody, many conversations going over Twitter, and probably many other social-media streams that I failed to follow.


Personally, I took much from the keynote held by Martin Fowler and Rachel Laycock, about that “You can’t be agile when you’re waist deep in mud!”. They talked about many an aspect of agile and it’s application in today’s software projects. For me, one of the most important statements from Martin was that if “You want features, you need a healthy code base. These are not things to trade of against each other”. Too well do I know that we tend to trade-of between features and code quality. And too often have I felt that this comes back at us and saves time at best in the very short run.

J.B. Rainsberger gave an inspiring talk about “How TDD Will Save You From Yourselves”. He shared his experiences and success stories with TDD an how applying TDD rigorously impacts software development. Most importantly, he stressed that if we –as developers– do our job right, i.e., avoid all the silly mistakes we ideally wouldn’t make in the first place, we cover the backs of testers, operations, etc. and enable them to do their real jobs, which, in turn, enables all of us to become much more productive.

Woody Zuill gave a great experience talk about Mob Programming, which is basically taking Pair Programming to another level, by working jointly with the whole team. I found this idea very inspiring and plan to give it a try as a team-building measure for working with student assistants in my PhD projects. Woody promised advice in this endeavour, which I’m very much looking forward to.

Liz Keogh talked about Behaviour-Driven Development and how this is really about communication with customers. Unfortunately, the audio quality of the talk was rather bad, so that I had a hard time following. Maybe I’ll give the recordings a try to get more out of it.

Jez Humble talked about how to get Continuous Delivery right. He pointed out that it is really all about separating release from deployment, i.e., to separate the act of making new features available to users from the act of deploying them to the production system. A possible technique to achieve this is, for example, to have several versions run in parallel, so that you can switch between them at any time. This, of course, adds additional complexity to the system, as a trade-in for flexibility. In his experience, delivering late is far more problematic than handling this extra complexity.

In the closing keynote, Uncle Bob gave an interesting and entertaining talk about the history of software development and software developers. He appealed to all of us to become responsible and professional software developers and to the agile and Software Craftsmanship communities to join forces.

Of course there were many more great talks, some of which I wasn’t able to attend, some of which I’m not able to wrap up right now. I will probably blog about more of my takeaways in more detail throughout the next weeks. But for now, I’ll keep it at that. Thanks for staying with me!

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