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Software Craftsmanship North America

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Software Craftsmanship North America (SCNA) is a one-day conference with the goal of introducing the Agile community to the Software Craftsmanship movement.  Interestingly, SCNA will be at the same time as the Agile conference, in the same city, and have many speakers also speaking at the Agile conference.

InfoQ was able to speak to Dave Hoover, one of the organizers of SCNA to give our readers a better understanding of what the conference is, and who should attend:

InfoQ: What is the goal of the Software Craftsmanship conference?

Dave: Our goal for this year's SCNA is to expose the Agile community to the software craftsmanship movement. When I say "our goal", I'm referring to the goal of this year's conference organizers: Corey Haines, Paul Pagel, Micah Martin, Kat Nelson-Reid, Kevin Taylor, and myself.

InfoQ: Why would one consider attending the SC instead of attending the Agile conference which is at the same time, in the same city?

Dave: One of the current themes in the software craftsmanship movement is getting back to the roots of Extreme Programming. If that rings a bell for you, then SCNA will provide you with some unique learning opportunities. If you're someone who is more interested in becoming a world-class software developer than becoming an agile project manager, coach, or trainer, then SCNA's sessions will resonate with you. We have assembled an amazing lineup of speakers who will help SCNA attendees learn what it takes to master the craft of software development. One of my personal goals for this year's conference is to shed some light on the age-related topics discussed in Programmers: Before you turn 40, get a plan B. I want SCNA attendees to meet and hear from the masters of our field, and see that it's possible to remain technical for one's entire career in software development. I want people to understand that many of the struggles that plague typical software projects simply fall away when you have a master craftsman at the helm.

InfoQ: Who is the target audience? Developers only?

Dave: No, the target audience is not developers only. We will have a session focused on the business-side of software craftsmanship, along with sessions from Richard Sennett and Christopher Avery who are not directly involved in the software industry, but have much to teach us. I believe entrepreneurs, small business owners, development managers, and technology executives could gain some unique insights at SCNA. Software craftsmanship is certainly developer-focused, but has much to say about how to structure teams and projects around small groups of craftsmen. We do expect that the majority of the attendees will be software craftsmen, meaning: people who aspire to master the craft of software development. This mastery requires learning to wear many hats, including tester, project manager, salesman, marketer, and business analyst. Since the fundamental activity of developing software is writing code, these people tend to come from a development background. Therefore, the content of the conference will tend to be geared toward developers.

InfoQ: Are we going to learn to code?  Learn process? or learn meta-process such as values and principles?

Dave: Due to the short time-frame we had to organize the conference, we chose to keep it invite-only for speakers. We think we've assembled a lineup of speakers that are great examples for our community to follow, ranging from masters like Fred George to journeymen like Cory Foy. The speakers get to choose to talk about any topic they'd like during their 30 minute sessions. I imagine there will be a mixture of technical, process, and philosophical talks.

InfoQ: How about some background behind the craftsmanship movement?

Dave: The software craftsmanship movement was spawned by a couple thought leaders in our field. My first exposure to software craftsmanship was in Pete McBreen's book Software Craftsmanship, which I read back in 2002. For anyone interested in achieving long-term success in the field of software development, I believe that book is a must-read. Back when it was written, though, it was sort of a voice in the desert. It felt very idealistic, so while I know that many people found the book compelling, I think there weren't many people who could imagine directly applying its ideals. People like Ken Auer of Role Model Software and Carl Erickson of Atomic Object were some of the pioneers of software craftsmanship, who, even before Pete's book was published, were building their teams and businesses around the principles of software craftsmanship. But the person responsible for continually beating the software craftsmanship drum the loudest is Robert Martin. It was Uncle Bob who, during his Agile 2008 keynote, called for a 5th value of the Agile Manifesto: Craftsmanship over Crap. He has been consistently pushing software craftsmanship since 2005 when he blogged about the Next Big Thing.

After Uncle Bob's keynote last year, the software craftsmanship movement started to pick up some speed. 8th Light, a software development company founded on the principles of software craftsmanship, started organizing a user group, a mailing list, and ultimately in December of 2008, hosted the Software Craftsmanship Summit, where we came up with the material that Doug Bradbury eventually used to write the Software Craftsmanship Manifesto. At the same time, Corey Haines started his Pair Programming Tours, which have helped spread the word about software craftsmanship as he has visited dozens of individuals, teams, and cities. Corey inspired Obtiva and 8th Light to do mini-tours, or craftsman swaps, as a way of spreading knowledge and understanding of how different companies, teams, and individuals in the software craftsmanship community approach our work. This was so successful that we are looking to expand the network of companies willing to swap craftsmen, and are excited that companies like Hashrocket and Relevance have expressed interest. Similarly, Corey has inspired other independent developers to go on mini-tours in order to accelerate their learning and spread their knowledge across the community.

InfoQ: What does this movement add to the Agile community that was previously missing?

Dave: In my opinion, the values, principles, and practices of Software Craftsmanship and Agile Software Development are mostly orthogonal. That said, for many people in the software craftsmanship community, they are closely intertwined. For these people, software craftsmanship is a return to the roots of Agile, when Extreme Programming first came on the scene as a refreshingly developer-focused approach to software development. For me, the power of software craftsmanship the comes from its focus on mastery, and its recognition that we have woefully few master craftsmen to learn from (and need to do something about it). I stumbled into both Extreme Programming and Software Craftsmanship in 2002, and while XP taught me code- and project-level techniques to improve my effectiveness as a programmer and teammate, Software Craftsmanship helped me understand that I was an apprentice, and had decades of learning still ahead of me. Ultimately, my techniques will evolve, but the philosophy that I've learned from software craftsmanship is going to stick with me for a long, long time.

InfoQ: Can someone attend both the Agile and SC conferences? Do they overlap or complementary?

Dave: SCNA is literally across the street from Agile 2009 and is scheduled in the middle of the week. We will likely have people who are presenting at Agile 2009 on the same day as SCNA, attending SCNA. There shouldn't be much content overlap between the conferences, but they are most definitely complementary. Also, one major difference between the conferences is that SCNA is just one day while the Agile conference lasts all week.

The Software Craftsmanship community is growing.  Dave Hoover has given insight into the goals of the conference, some of the history of the movement, and several reasons why many in the community might want to attend this one-day conference.

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