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Opinion: Take Agile Off Your Resume

Stevey Yegge is an articulate and prolific writer, author of Stevey's Blog Rants. Yesterday he blogged on problems he sees with Agile methodologies under the title "Good Agile, Bad Agile", covering "Good Agile" at Google, "Bad Agile" almost everywhere else, and offering consultants and job hunters some career advice: "drop the name."
Up until maybe a year ago, I had a pretty one-dimensional view of so-called "Agile" programming, namely that it's an idiotic fad-diet of a marketing scam making the rounds as yet another technological virus implanting itself in naive programmers who've never read "No Silver Bullet", the kinds of programmers who buy extended warranties and self-help books and believe their bosses genuinely care about them as people, the kinds of programmers who attend conferences to make friends and who don't know how to avoid eye contact with leaflet-waving fanatics in airports and who believe writing shit on index cards will suddenly make software development easier...

But I've had a lot of opportunity to observe various flavors of Agile-ism in action lately, and I now think I was only about 90% right.... I'll just go right ahead and tell you about the Good Kind, free of charge.
Presently, Yegge is really enjoying "Good Agile" at Google. He likens Google's style to what's more commonly seen at grad school, on an open source project, or in a startup. What distinguishes Google is how they've managed to keep this style on such a large scale.

Here's a summary of Yegge's observations about Good Agile at Google:

  • The organization's structure does have heirarchy, but in practice it seems pretty "flat" - managers code.
  • People evolve processes as they need to (rather than processes grinding down people).
  • Great discipline is practiced with respect to the codebase.
  • "Slack" is built into the system - allowing developers to explore other ideas that interest them.
  • Incentives are linked to the business value of each project.
  • The organization makes it easy to focus on coding - for example, by providing good tools and free meals.
  • People are treated with respect.
  • Requests are simply queued and prioritized.

His summary of Bad Agile, from his own informal poll of colleagues elsewhere, includes these ideas:

  • "[It] focuses on dates in the worst possible way: short cycles, quick deliverables, frequent estimates and re-estimates"
  • This focus on delivery hurts the overall codebase because folks don't pitch in to help one another, and housekeeping tasks fall by the wayside.
  • They're exhausted by the unvarying pace and the unnaturally regular hours.
  • "They're all new, all afraid to speak out, and none of them are even sure if it's Agile that's causing the problem"
  • Those Agile folks are slippery: "evading criticism by embracing anything good, and disclaiming anything bad."
In a related conversation on, Keith Braithwaite asks: "Who is doing the "bad Agile" that's causing relatively high profile developers like Mr Yegge to write things like this?"

Yegge's blog entry is very long, so long it has chapters, sporting titles like "Emergent Properties versus The Whip" and "The Tyranny of the Calendar".  Sprinkled through it are some interesting questions, such as:
Is it true that this is the only other development process? And is Cowboy Programming actually bad?
Is it any wonder Chrysler canceled the [C2] project?
How do we know [XP] is not more productive?
  He concludes:
I worry now about the term "Agile"; it's officially baggage-laden enough that I think good developers should flee the term and its connotations altogether... And frankly, most Agile out there is plain old Bad Agile.

So if I were you, I'd take Agile off your resume. I'd quietly close the SCRUM and XP books and lock them away. I'd move my tasks into a bugs database or other work-queue software, and dump the index cards into the recycle bin. I'd work as fast as I can to eliminate Agile from of my organization.

And then I'd focus on being agile.

Related content on InfoQ: Do Agile Practices Make it an Agile Project?

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