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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Mitch Lacey and Paul Hammond on Agile 2014 and 2015 Conferences

Mitch Lacey and Paul Hammond on Agile 2014 and 2015 Conferences


1. Good day this is Shane Hastie with InfoQ. We are here at Agile 2014, and we have Mitch Lacey and Paul Hammond. Mitch is the conference chair for Agile 2014, and Paul is picking up that mantle and will be the conference chair for Agile 2015. Gentlemen welcome. Thank you very much for coming along.Would you tell us a little bit about the wrap up of this conference.

Mitch: Today is Wednesday already the conference has seen over 1900 attendees somewhere around 1925 to 1950 mark, we had over 1100 submissions, great submissions, it was really hard to waddle those down. I am very proud of the content that we have this year, lots of people have approached both Paul and I saying how great it is, how smooth the conference is flowing, purple shirt volunteers are doing a wonderful job as usual and people are learning, they are networking and they are very happy with the keynotes and it’s been a really humbling experience this year so far with the amount of good feedback we have received.


2. Great, so what are some of the things that you are seeing or that you try to plan into the conference that worked really well this year?

Mitch: The stalwarts track that we started in 2012 is continuing to be a success. We did it last year in 2013 in Nashville and continued it this year and I believe we are going to continue that next year. It allows people to meet “industry experts” (if you will) Jeff Sutherland for example, will potentially be invited back to that track, he’s been a participant in the past years, and it’s a nice quaint form that allows people to have conversations, intimate conversations around personal one on one things during a short time at the conference sometimes folks on that track are hard to get access to because there is often a mob around them in the open-jam space. So that’s been going great. The conference venue is fantastic, the layout, the flow has been really nice, really easy, no real major issues this year, it’s been quite nice.


3. Excellent and tell us about some of the keynotes.

Mitch: We had Sam Guckenheimer from Microsoft Visual Studio coming on Monday and unfortunately we had a last minute cancelation due to a family issue with Anis Choper who was the former CTO of the USA under president Obama. Oddly enough next year’s conference will be in Washington DC and maybe Paul will decide to pick him up. We’ll see what happens so he has already told me he is available so that would be wonderful; Sam did a fantastic job giving us a lot of good insight into how Microsoft is transforming into an Agile company and and releasing on what Sam calls a “cloud cadence” once a month type release cycles, which for thousands of developers is quite an accomplishment. We had Diana Larsen yesterday talking about the best job ever and Diana is always a wonderful speaker I love hearing her, and well received; and we have Bearte Bognes speaking tomorrow from Statoil talking about beyond budgeting, and I am really looking forward to that talk, so lots and lots of excitement around those speakers.

Shane: Great. Mitch thank you very much and certainly from what I see this has been a successful conference you have done a great job.

Mitch: Thank you very much Shane, couldn’t have done it without everybody else so I am the choreographer everyone else makes the things happen.


4. And Paul, tell us about 2015, Washington DC.

Paul: Yes we are going back to Washington DC, the last time we were there was 2007 I think so we are looking forward to going back there. It’s another venue run by the Gaylord chain so we are looking forward to having some of the facilities that we’ve had his year that Mitch has mentioned. And when I think about how we take the conference that we have today and we move it forward there is a couple of things to think about: one is it’s actually very successful already so there are a lot of things we want to repeat. So the tracks that we have under the programs that we have, so we have the people program, the process program, the technical program, they work very well and for the tracks that we have under those we get excellent submissions. So I think that for the most part we’ll leave that very much as it is and we’ll take that forward. Mitch mentioned the stalwarts track, there is Agile bootcamp, there are some of the other most specializesdtracks that really help out. A very high percentage of first time attendees, you know we do have a very large percentage of first time attendees, so we need to make sure that we are catering for those folks.

But also we still want to focus on some new ideas, thought leaderscoming along and sharing what is new, how the practice of Agile in software development is really growing up. Being in DC obviously that’s a very government center of the United States, as you can tell I am not from the United States, so that’s just what Mitch has told me. But the location of Washington gives us an interesting additional thought around contract and government type businesses and activities and so hopefully we can encourage some people in that space to come along and I am starting to think if there is a special track for 2015 that specifically deals with government. The other area that I am also thinking about is education, not academia, so we already have a research track and a number of things going on in the Agile Alliance specifically related to academic thinking, but I am more thinking about catching students early and trying to get those folk into the Agile Alliance, into the conference so having some sort of outreach to local universities when we visit particular cities, and seeing if we could include those folks. But to me it’s a case of taking the excellent work that has happened before to create the conference that it is and making sure that it continues to be successful and we continue to add to that.


5. And when is the conference next year?

Paul: So it’s in August, it’s the 3rd to the 7th of August next year and in DC that’s going to be a nice time of year I guess, slightly less hot than it is here.


6. [...]What have you done in your work in the last few conferences to switch that around, to appeal again to the technical people?

Shane's full question: Something that I know has been of interest with the conference over the last recent years, there was a period when people were saying the Agile 20xx conference is no longer catering for that core technical audience. I heard that this has changed a bit, Mitch I know that this has been a particular focus of yours so, what is happening, what have you done in your work in the last few conferences to switch that around, to appeal again to the technical people?

Mitch: The pattern that we took away, that I took away personally around 2010-2011 was that we were missing the technical practices, and this conference was founded on technical practices. Being a nerd myself I like tinkering and playing around with stuff and I know Paul does as well, and we often have discussions around how do we implement classes and do things. So looking at the end of 2010-2011 that content was missing, we felt that the percentage of content was quite low. So in 2012 we set a goal to have twenty percent, I believe it’s what I said ,we did settle on a less number, but a higher degree of technical content, we drove that again with Kent last year in 2013 and we again tried to apply that principle of high degree technical content this year to be able to have that core. A lot of the feedback that I have got this year from folks walking the halls has been the technical people. We have some other folks come by, we have some technical folks, this talk was awesome, I learnt this, I know how to do that, I know understand ways to bring test driven development & continuous integration into my company where two or three years ago we weren’t ready for it and the content wasn’t there and it’s nice to see that awakening, that uprising of the technical practices coming back in and the technical people coming back in. I believe like Paul said that the tracks are working right now and I believe we will hopefully be able to continue this trend moving forward.

Paul: One of the other things I think I have noticed is actually a cross over of technical subjects into some of the other tracks as well so there have definitely been some hybrid sessions, if you will, where you are in the people track you are talking about maybe some form of cultural aspect and the presenter is using a technical practice paradigm to have that discussion. So bridging that gap between business and the technology is becoming more apparent as we work through the stuff.

Mitch: What I see,Shane and I am sure Paul sees this too, I am sure you do as well, I think companies are starting to realize now that even if they aren’t software companies, that they really are software-hardware companies. The Adobes, the Microsoft, the CISCOs they are software hardware companies but like we had Heidi, USAAInsurance they are a software company. I look at USAA as a software company, I look at the American Automobile Association as a software company; you have these companies that inherently don’t provide software services, but they are software companies and I think they are finally starting to wake up to that and say if we don’t get our stuff out there bigger faster stronger, we are going to stay behind, loose traditional customers even though what they are dependent on is software and that’s where these technical practices really come into play, and as Paul said where we start to see this overlap. Every company out there is a software company. Passionate topic.

Shane: Well gentlemen wonderful thank you very much for taking the time to talk to InfoQ today and we look forward to the rest of this conference and we got the party tonight, that’s always a great event. And Paul really good luck with Agile 2015.

Paul: Thank you.

Nov 08, 2014