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Agile Training in the new Gift Economy

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An Agile trainer in the Boston area is offering free training in Test Driven Development. Dubbed Pay-What-You-Can, the training is a free gift, unless and until you decide to pay for it. Even when you decide to pay, the amount you pay is something you decide. Welcome to the new gift economy.

Michael de la Maza of Heart Healthy Scrum is a well-known Agile community member in the Boston area. He is fond of wearing pink pointy hats and playing agile games. He pioneered the use of Agile games in the Boston area, is the leader of the Scrum in Schools project, and is now offering training in Test Driven Development-- for free.

Pay What You Can is the training program in TDD where you show up, experience the class, learn TDD, and pay what you are willing to pay AFTER the class is over. You pay by putting whatever you can in an envelope.

According to de la Maza,

Pay-What-You-Can training events focus on keeping costs low by taking place in free or low cost venues and asking participants to bring their own supplies and laptops. Participants are asked to pay what they can for training at the end of the event. The typical language used is: “At the end of the course the instructor hands out an envelope to every participant and the participant pays what they can. ”

There is no explicit obligation to pay even one dime for the training.

The Pay-What-You-Can policy conceived and promoted by de la Maza displays unmistakable features of a gift economy, first popularized in modern terms in Eric Raymonds pioneering Open Source writings. In The Hacker Milieu as Gift Culture , he writes:

Gift cultures are adaptations not to scarcity but to abundance. They arise in populations that do not have significant material-scarcity problems with survival goods. We can observe gift cultures in action among aboriginal cultures living in ecozones with mild climates and abundant food. We can also observe them in certain strata of our own society, especially in show business and among the very wealthy. Abundance makes command relationships difficult to sustain and exchange relationships an almost pointless game. In gift cultures, social status is determined not by what you control but by what you give away.

Are we moving towards a gift-economy economic structure in the Agile community? Is this the ideal way to spread Agile ideas? Are positive derivative effects like reputation enhancement much more valuable in the long run than here-and-now cash compensation?

Are Agile user group meetings a free gift, similar to Pay-As-You-Can? Is paying-it-forward a Lean idea that optimizes the whole?

Gift economies exist in primitive cultures where scarcity is not a problem. There are few primitive cultures left on the planet, and gift economies are not the norm. In systems-thinking terms, the act of gifting a community with a free service is an act that  "optimizes the whole"- a very Lean idea.

de la Maza is known as a brainy, creative, and quirky member of Boston's Agile community. He holds a PhD from MIT, is an author of a book on rapid chess improvement, and an Agile trainer and coach.

When InfoQ asks for a quote for this article, he responds as follows:

When you wish to learn
Without financial burn
Make it your plan
To choose Pay-What-You-Can
We believe in reciprocity
Instead of pomposity
Our focus is trust
Not fake gold dust

The class is scheduled for October 25 in Waltham MA. See the sign-up here.

Admission, by definition, is a free gift.

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