Facilitating the Spread of Knowledge and Innovation in Professional Software Development

Write for InfoQ


Choose your language

InfoQ Homepage News Agile 2010: Where Were the Programmer-Focused Sessions?

Agile 2010: Where Were the Programmer-Focused Sessions?


 At the Agile 2010 conference in Orlando last week, Uncle Bob Martin  tweeted about the low number of programming sessions on the conference schedule:

  • < 10% of the talks at #agile2010 are about programming. Is programming really < 10% of Agile?
  • #agile2010 Code is 25% of the manifesto. Code should be 25% of the conference. No?
  • #agile2010 Programmers started the agile movement to get closer to customers not project mangers.

This resulted in a flurry of twitter responses and some ongoing discussion amongst those who were there and those that weren’t.
J. B. Rainsberger was one of those who attended, and blogged on the topic afterwards.
He states:

I just came back from Agile 2010, which I rather enjoyed. We had some intense discussions, and plenty of whining sessions, about the relative lack of content for programmers. I found out that about 1/6 of the conference attendees identified themselves as “developers” and about 1/5 identified themselves as “consultants”. If we suppose that even half the consultants are programmers, then only about 1/5 to 1/4 of the attendees had medium-to-strong interest in deep content for programmers. It turns out that the number of such sessions amounted to about 1/5 of the program, and by all reports, most had lower-than-expected attendance. If the conference offered enough content for programmers, then I have to ask two questions:
1) Why didn’t more programmers attend Agile 2010?
2) Why didn’t more of the programmers who attended Agile 2010 go to the deep technical sessions?

His blog entry garnered more than 20 responses, including the following::

George Dinwiddie
I still consider myself a programmer, though I earn my living by coaching and consulting these days. But I don't go to the Agile conference to learn programming techniques. And I'm not sure that the conference format is conducive to doing so. How much hands-on programming can you do in 90 minutes? I tend to use non-programming simulations, so that the action is more visible, and even that is hard within a 90-minute time-box
The Agile Conference hasn't cast out the programmers. It's not taken over by "them". It's a big tent where we can meet and understand others who come from a different direction with different assumptions.

Mark Simpson 
The reason I did not attend Agile2010 was money; nothing to do with the program. I can't afford such a conference unless my company helps (I did afford Agile2009 - but that cannot be the norm). And i if I had gone to Agile2010 I am reasonably sure I would have gone to plenty of non-programmer type sessions. This is the stuff I have _real_ problems with - I need help on non-programming stuff more than the coding.

Damon Poole
I'll answer with another question. :-) Is the problem with getting more organizations to *actually* be Agile rather than just check the box in an Analyst survey one of individuals coding, or of organizations changing? I'm thinking that while there is more that individual developers can do to be more Agile, the greater problem is at the ecosystem level

Jason Herman(
I am a developer and did attend the conference. There were not too many deep technical sessions that I attended, partially perhaps because there were not too many that were relevant to what I do . . . I suppose to sum it up, the "soft skills" of Agile are the ones that are the pillars on which we stand and will sustain our Agile initiatives for many many sprints to come and I attended those in lieu of some of the deep techie sessions

Liz Koegh(One of the recipients of the Gordon Pask Award at the conference)
I didn't submit any technical sessions because there was only one stage, and I felt I had a better chance of differentiating myself on the other stages. A lot of people had submitted various BDD-related technical sessions and it looked a little crowded. I also feel that at the moment, my biggest challenge as a developer is coding the right thing, rather than coding the thing right.

It felt like the right kind of balance, to me, so maybe it's just that those people who weren't happy with the balance are making themselves heard more than those who were. Corey's Code Retreat afterwards rocked; I would definitely like to see another of those next year.

She went on to blog about the value of the Code Retreat run by Corey Haines  after the conference, which was a deeply technical programmers learning session where programming pairs were focusing on learning and applying new ways of writing code. She points out that this can’t be achieved in a 90-180 minute conference session, it needs intensive concentration in a non-distracting environment to let the ideas flow.  Uncle Bob Martin also blogged on the session and what it was like working with her. 


Another commentator who wrote about the lack of developer focused sessions is Mike from the “A Software Craft” blog: 

What do I see dominating the Agile2010 program? Lots of good sessions on learning, communicating, coaching, creativity, adoption strategies. Sessions that I would probably come out of saying "interesting" and "thought-provoking". But ultimately, sessions that were easy to digest. Not sessions where I encountered concepts that are fundamentally difficult and require hard work to master. Not sessions where I struggled to write good tests and emerged with a determination to rework and discuss the examples over the coming weeks until I finally felt I understood it.


Perhaps I'm a minority. @HackerChick tweeted about a tutorial on TDD where only a quarter of the attendees showed up with laptops, prepared to get their hands dirty. Perhaps Agile2010 isn't the conference for me. A conference where the technical track is only 1/15 of the program. And the technical track includes sessions on "The Butterfly Effect" and how to "Walk and Code". But I worry about another crop of agile converts, filled with all the soft skills and strategies they need to succeed, headed for failure because they don't know about the hard work and dedication needed to build that essential ingredient: the agile developer.

Llewllyn Falco responded to this post with

I deeply agree that there should be more technical talks, but I don't in the least blame agile2010. I was at most of them, and they where not full. I think agile2010 is accurately measuring judging the demand, I wish there were more people showing up wanting to code. of course they could just go to the code retreat afterward on saturday. it's free! if you're are already here it's barely any money at all, and even cheap if you just flew in for the day!

Kurt Häusler also responded with
Also if you think about the stages that developers and organizations go through with agile, they usually start off with the technical practices, which can be learned from books, but proficiency comes with practice. Even then the developers are going to feel much more comfortable exercising their technical skills and making decisions that effect the way things get programmed. The management aspects are however more difficult to grasp. If a manager has been CSPO certified but is otherwise uninterested or unengaged in agile and lean, or thinks it is only something that is relevant to developers, then this is the ideal candidate for visiting a conference like agile 2010 and finding out how his management practices and philosophy can catch up to the technical practices that the developers have already been working with. A conference is ideal for this, as they can talk with others and share knowledge and go into detail on special circumstances.

But it is all a difference of perspective. Apparently a lot of people are involved in situations where management has applied scrum, yet the developers neglect to apply XP practices. I suppose this might be your situation. I have never been in a situation like that, but I have experienced the reverse. Competent developers, that learn and apply the XP practices fairly well, and did so without the help of a conference, maybe even with a basic scrum process, involving only the developers, struggling to make further progress because management are simply not as engaged in agility as the developers.

Cory Foy, one of the stage producers for the Team Room Agile stage, also blogged about the non-programmer focus of the conference, and makes a strong call for a more technical focused conference – bringing back the XP Universe conference which was merged into the Agile 20XX in 2005.  

He announced the intention to run an XPUniverse 2011 conference focused on :

The hands-on practices that enable us to deliver software which provides incremental value in an iterative fashion. And a hands-on conference where you are expected to have your laptop, where you will be taking back practical exercises and practices to your development team. A conference focused on the developers, testers and the customers they love and who love them. A conference focusing on the fundamental principles of XP: Rapid Feedback, Assume Simplicity, Incremental Change, Embracing Change, Quality Work. And a conference small enough (~300 people) to be able to connect, explore and learn.

What do you think – does the world need an XP Universe conference in 2011? Did Agile 2011 have the right mix of technical and non-technical sessions

Rate this Article