Kent McDonald: Tim Lister is the principal of the Atlantic Systems Guild. In the last 18 months, has been consulting in Egypt, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Pakistan, and Florida; Tim Lister.
Tim Lister: Thank you, Kent. I always admire a project manager with a project with a real deadline. You’ve been doing great. Get that last-minute notice that the project is … The conference has been delayed two weeks. Anyway, don’t believe what you read about this talk. This is going to be a little bit different one. I looked and I realized I am the last speaker of the regular day for Wednesday, hump day. My guess would be that I smell fried brains out there by now. You’re just in sensory overload.
What I thought we’d do is, we’d turn the lights down, have … I’ve got my comfy couch, and I’m going to tell you some stories. That’s what we’re going to do for an hour. Under the notion of story-telling, and most of us enjoy telling stories and listening to stories, make yourself comfortable. You don’t have to be in the hotel torture chair. If you trust the cleanliness of the carpet, lie down, it’s okay. If you’re with a friend, you can put an arm around them, maybe put your head on their shoulder. You don’t need to keep your eyes open, it’s just me, but I want to tell you some stories. Before I do that, a long-time friend of mine decided that he’d interject into this conference, and let’s see if this works.
Tom DeMarco: Hi, I’m Tom DeMarco, coming to you from the little town of Camden, on the coast of Maine. Tim asked me to make a video to complement what he’s going to be talking about, and to address some of the subject of our book, “Peopleware,” now in its third edition. I’ll do that, but it also gives me an opportunity to reflect a little bit on the business of the rest of the conference, that is the Agile movement.
I look back at this enterprise with respect and affection, and I have to admit, at least some envy, because I wasn’t part of it. Jim Highsmith called me up at the end of 2000 and said, “Hey, we’re doing this meeting in Snowbird, good stuff’s going to happen, you’ve got to be here. You’ll regret it if you don’t come.” I didn’t come. I had to be in Germany, and the worst of it is I can’t remember what I had to do in Germany. That’s lost in the abyss of time, and I do regret that I wasn’t there.
What happened at that meeting, and in the aftermath, was meaningful. In retrospect, the Agile movement took aim at what had become a virulent and ruinous prescriptiveness, that had crept into the software world. The idea that somehow the meaning of software would be much better if only we told everybody what they had to do each day, every day of their lives, and did that with the voluminous system that they create for documentation, that that is much less true today than it was in, for instance, the 90s. That prescriptiveness has largely gone away.
Tim’s going to talk about some of the things that we added in the “Peopleware” book, but he’s going to talk, I’m sure, about what we took out. What we took out was part of the rant that we had in the original edition back in 1987, against big “M” methodology, and the rant we had at the second edition 10 years later against big “P” process. We toned that way down, because frankly, they had become less of a problem. That is largely thanks to yourselves and your mates, parts of the Agile movement that made this world a much less prescriptive one than it used to be. I thank you for that. That is a great body of work, and the business of software development is a much more sensible one today than it was as a result of that fine work.
Tim will introduce some of the themes of the “Peopleware” book. I want to talk about its major meta-theme. It’s major meta-theme is partnership. The word “partnership,” for me, has near-religious significance. Everything that’s good about my life, my marriage, my community, my work life, has had some aspect of partnership, and has been much better for it.
The surprising thing about partnership, the kind of anti-intuitive thing about a partnership, is that somehow, it feels much more satisfying to have built part of a good work, than it would have if you’d built the whole thing yourself. The satisfaction of being part of a team that puts together a great system, is better than being the sole practitioner that put it all together yourself. Being part of the Pixar team, 1,800 people that made “Ratatouille,” somehow that feels even better than it would have if you could possibly have made the whole thing yourself.
The book “Peopleware” is about partnership, that magic aspect of partnership. It’s also an example of it, because the project that involved the two of us, writing the book, re-writing the book, collecting all kinds of information that came from readers, and doing further investigation as to what the “Peopleware” characteristics of an organization are, that work was a partnership, Tim and myself, and as I look back at it, this is certainly the central piece of my work, the best work I ever did in my life. I look back at that with enormous gratitude, that I can say that I did half of it, not all of it, but half of it. Somehow, it feels better than to have done it all.
With that, I will pass you back to my partner, Tim Lister. By the way, whatever you do, don’t let Tim get away without telling you about “Andronescu’s Paradox”; that’s important. I wish you a great conference. I hope you have all kinds of opportunities to catch up with old friends, and this is Tom DeMarco signing off from Camden, Maine. I hope to see you up here one day in the state of Maine. So long.
Tim Lister: That’s my buddy. I have to tell you about “Andronescu’s Paradoz.” I can’t even say it. I’ve been working with Tom since the late 70s, and he has amazing characteristics. One of his amazing characteristics is, he’ll do work by himself. When he does it, he will not tell a soul on the planet until he thinks it’s done and ready. Earlier this year, Tom calls me up and he says, “You’ve got a Kindle, don’t you?” I said, “Yeah, I’ve got a Kindle.” He goes, “Okay, give me a little while. Go check out, there’s a file I’m going to put in the Dropbox between you and me. It’s a big mother. Put it on your Kindle.” “Okay, Tom, bye.”
I go, and it is a novel by Tom DeMarco, that I never knew he was writing at all. It’s a wonderful novel. He’s written a lot of fiction, and I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it to you. Not so good, okay sometimes, but this is a Tim Lister guarantee. I read this book, and yes, he’s my great friend, but this is a page-turner. This is, Amazon estimates it at 590 pages, and I just went burning through this book. It’s not really science fiction, it’s fictional science. There’s no monsters or aliens, it’s just boys and girls, men and women. I won’t give away the plot, but basically the physicists understand that there’s this mystery, and it’s called “Andronescu’s Paradox” because Andronescu described it many years ago, and no one in physics could explain it.
This famous physicist, the brilliant young PhDs, think they have discovered the answer to the paradox. To do so, they build a machine to prove that they’re right. It turns out, they build a machine and they discover that the machine could have an amazing effect on our planet. I’m going to leave it at that. Here’s the deal, and I’m going to go back to my talk; $2.99. What does that get you, about a third of a beer in the hotel? $2.99, for Christ’s sakes. I’ve got $2 in my pocket. The first person who downloads it while I’m talking, yell “Paradox,” it’s going to be 99 cents for you. I don’t have $3, I’m cheap. I will give you my personal guarantee. If you don’t like this book, you e-mail me and I will send you $2.99.
Speaker 1: “Paradox.”
Tim Lister: You got “Paradox”? Are you downloaded?
Speaker 1: It’s good.
Tim Lister: Officially downloaded? Okay, I’ve got $2, come see me.
Speaker 1: [inaudible 00:09:50].
Tim Lister: Come see me afterwards, I’ll give you $2. A first sale; anyway, it’s a great read, and I hope if you like science fiction at all, send me your feedback, or Tom. It’s a great read to have. Anyway, I’ve never done a talk like this, so this could be the world’s most boring Tim Lister talk. I’m not even sure why I did it this way, but I’m going to tell you nine stories from my life. I want you to listen and put yourself in the story, kind of. The only thing I’ve got over most of you folks, if not all of you, is I’m older.
I’m am 63 years old right now, and I’ve been in this business a little over 40 years. When you talk about “Peopleware,” and the sociological or the human side of system development, I want you to meet a lot of people that traveled with me through time, is the way to put it. Let me tell you my nine stories. Where did I put my cards? I think I am going to sit on the edge of the couch, as no one gets upset.
Story number one is, I go to Brown University. It’s 1968, and I am a freshman. I go to Brown, the freshmen show up a couple days early for freshman orientation, do you remember that? Find your way around, and introduction to the library, and all sorts of exciting things like that, but you’re checking each other out. Brown, in its infinite wisdom, at least at this time, had a whole quadrangle for freshman males. What a dumb idea, geez, but they did.
We’re all there together, and I’m on the fifth floor of a five-story building, in the eaves. There’s seven double rooms and a toilet, a men’s can. Of course, you immediately start talking to the kids on your floor and stuff like that. One night we all go have dinner together, and we’re talking about, “Where are you from?” and all this sort of stuff. There’s this Chinese-American kid, and we’re talking, and he’s from Massachusetts. His name’s Fred. I said, “What’s your last name, Fred?” He said, “Wang.” I said, “Oh,” and we’re talking.
I said, “What’s your dad do?” He goes, “Oh, he’s a scientist, and he’s got a company.” It’s Wang Labs. Old people will know this, young people will not know this. Fred is a real great guy, and we talked, and it turns out intramural soccer at Brown was a big thing. You get your own team, and it’s six a side on a short field. A bunch of us sign up. You could have substitutes, so like 12 of us on a team. Fred and I are on the team. We win as freshman, the soccer intramural championship of the university, beating a fraternity in the finals; oh, was that sweet.
Anyway, I go and classes start. I think it’s like October, and Dr. Wang shows up. Dr. Wang shows up with a couple other guys, and he’s got … I’ll show you what he has. I couldn’t believe I found this picture. You’re going to get a hoot out of this one. He has got the Wang Model 360SE calculator system, and it goes into Fred’s room. This is, I forget, retailing at $7,000 a unit or something at that point. This is the first time I ever touched anything you could call a computer. If you … I don’t know if my laser’s going to work all the way, but that over there, that suitcase is the CPU. Is that cool, or what? It kind of had like a pigeon Fortran you could do.
Fred is like, “Let’s do this stuff.” He’s teaching us this kind of Fortran, and we’re writing code, and it was wonderful. This is a picture of Fred basically now. Sadly, Fred had to preside over the death of Wang Laboratories, and that’s a long story that’s not for today, but I got to actually put my hands on a computer in 1968, which was a very rare thing for a boy to have happen to him. Machines were hidden behind air conditioned vaults, and there’s Fred and the guys up on the fifth floor of Bronson House, and we’re just having a grand old time.
I don’t think I ever remembered consciously, but I just felt, “This is so much fun, and so satisfying. I like this.” At Brown University in ’68, you couldn’t even get a comp sci degree. You’d get an “applied math” degree, but if you looked carefully, you got a math degree. Applied math was kind of like a little side bit of the math department.
I always remember that, and the reason I’m telling you this story is, I started writing code for fun. Every once in a while, you’ll hit older people like me, and younger people, and I think it makes a huge difference. I wasn’t getting a grade. I wasn’t … Fred was my teacher. He’s 18, I’m 18, and right away I got what I called innate pleasure from writing code. There was just happiness there. To this day, I believe it’s true, that if you don’t get innate pleasure out of doing your work, writing, being a dev or whatever, time to move on. You’re going to be one unhappy person soon, trust me.
You can see it, right? Again, you look at people who are really young, and I go into companies, and they’ll be somebody just out of school. You can see the twinkle, or whatever you want to call it, where they’re just like, “This isn’t scary, this is exciting. This isn’t job, this is cool.” Lord knows, we’re not in it for the salary, or whatever.
I don’t know how you started, I just want you to reflect on how you started, and kind of pull back in time and pull that forward. Think about … I will always think of Fred with great love and esteem. He opened … One suitcase opened up a whole world to me. Story two, my first job is I’m rolling up, I have now successfully graduated from Brown University, and I’m thinking of going to graduate school, but no, it’s 1972. By the way, I was going to put 1969, I go to Woodstock, just to impress you. I’ll show you a picture when I was younger, later on.
It’s now ’72, and I get a job at American Express down at Wall Street and Broad Street. This is 67 Broad, my first office was in there. Just so you’ll be all very impressed, I had an office with only one other person to share it. This is amazing. I had a window. Many of you will not understand this; it opened. It was so cool. There’s a story about somebody throwing a listing out the eighth floor window that I won’t tell you, but tomorrow if you want to hear it, I can tell you that one.
I go, and I get interviewed. I had to take a test, and it was basically I guess a logic test, to see if I had the makings to become a programmer. My first job is very interesting to me. Your first job you think, “Okay, this is normal.” One, we all had to wear suits and ties if we were male, and women wore basically suits and they did not wear pants, they wore dresses. You were allowed to take your suit jacket off during the day, but not your tie.
Meanwhile, I had hair like a lion. Most guys, it’s 1972, and I’m living in SoHo. This is heaven, but boy, we had our shirts and ties on. The first thing that happened was wonderful, was we started the first Monday after the Fourth of July, in ’72. I can remember this well. We were in full-time training. There were six of us, four kids just out of college, a guy who had just gotten out of the Army and a tour of Vietnam, who had finished college and gone on tour, and a guy who was actually married and had a job before, the elder statesman of the group.
We spent two months before we did any work. We got full pay, none of that nonsense; full pay, just learning the craft, and proving we learned enough we could be useful. The other interesting thing was, we were not trained by trainers. We were trained by all the programmers downstairs, who we would join. They taught different topics, and came up. The next year, I got to be one of the trainers for one of the topics.
This was assembly language. We had an IBM 360, and rock and roll. We had our green cards, you remember those? If you’re old. It was full-time training, it was wonderful. Basically, we graduated around Labor Day, I think it was. Those were the good old days. I never hear of somebody being paid for two months to get up to speed.
My boss’ boss’ boss is 29 years old. My boss is Nancy Rimkus, and she turns out to be an oddity; it’s a woman. I didn’t know that. I have a mother, I have two sisters, it’s fine. It turns out later on, one of my friends, [Kurt 00:19:42], goes through the directory of American Express. Nancy Rimkus is the second highest-placed woman in the entire company. There’s one woman ahead, who’s a lawyer in the legal department. The world has changed for much the better since 1972 in that dimension. We had some female programmers who were great.
My boss’ boss’ boss, Nancy’s boss’ boss, was [Ron Hester 00:20:09]. I remember him well. He was a big, tall galut of a guy. He went to the University of Nebraska. He got a Marshall Scholarship, so he went off to Cambridge for a while. He was really a fascinating guy. He was a world-class bridge player. He snorted cocaine. He was a repressed homosexual. He later came out, and everybody was not surprised, but he was a guy with an idea.
His basic idea was, get smart people in here, and then you can get them to do … Learn assembly language or whatever. Don’t worry about their backgrounds that much. We can map them in. We had these amazing folks, and Ron was quite a character. Now, Ron does something that again, at this point, I’m whatever I am, 22. I had no idea. He goes to England, and he brings somebody in, and it is Michael Jackson. I get to meet Michael Jackson; not the guy with the glove.
Michael Jackson is working at Hoskyns, and this guy comes in and spends four or five months with us. This is Michael Jackson, the important one to me. This is a more recent picture of Michael. Michael, at this point, was I guess in his early 30s, and he had yet to publish “Principles of Program Design” yet. “Principles of Program Design” comes out in early ’75. This is late ’72-’73 now, when he first comes in. Ron just gives him the reign of all the programming staff, and he starts to talk and teach us design of code. He has guidelines and rules.
I just remember sitting there going, “Whoa.” I put this, and I still mean to this day, this was my first genius mentor. This guy was on a wavelength where we 22-year-olds hadn’t even come close. You talk about smoke out of your ears; the guy knew his stuff. It was fascinating. It was just like, “Oh.” The best part was, [Eli Bock 00:22:42] and [Mike Benson 00:22:43] and I … See, I can still remember these guys’ names … Got picked to work with Michael. What we did is we built recursive control macros for assembly language, so we could do real structured programming. We built loop macros and if/else, and all sorts of stuff. We built it together. We tested it, under the guiding light of Michael. It was amazing. We would work all the time with him.
We’d usually end up going out and have a beer or a bite to eat later on, and we’d want to talk to him, and he would be really tired. We taught him backgammon, and he got crazy about backgammon. He would work with us for a while, and then we’d have to play backgammon with him for like three hours while he figured out how to optimally play backgammon. He became a backgammon addict, thanks to us. I still remember him.
Why did I tell you that story? One is, I said I discover … Discover’s too strong a word. I was a kid. I now realized, I thought “This is really complex, and this is really brainwork. This is not going to be, “Oh, I learned everything there is to learn about programming, and I’m bored and I’m 28, and it’s done.” This is not going to happen that way, at least for me. I also discovered … My dad was a math professor … An algebraic system. Maybe that was because I was thrilled to be around people that clearly knew a ton more than I did. I could just ask them dumb questions, and think about things like that.
I always thank Ron Hester for giving us time to think about our work, and not do our work. I think that’s one of the guiding principles of great software is, you’re not doing software all the time. Some part of the day you’re going, “Why are we doing this? Does this make sense? Could we be doing it a different way?”
The last point here is, this was the first view of what I thought was, “You know what? I might be in a real sweet spot. This is the beginning of software renaissance. This is ’68. It’s governments and giant companies with computers.” You just got the feeling, “This is going to go.” In looking back 40 years, this has been, and continues to be, I would argue, an amazing software renaissance. It’s like, you look back; where else would you want to be, where things have really changed in the world? This is one of the few you can name. There are some others, but boy oh boy, it was a great place to be.
When your boss’ boss’ boss is 29, that tells you something. All that previous years didn’t matter. There was no young age penalty at all, I was going to get swept forward into the future, as long as I could handle it. That’s my story too, and I bet you you might not have as famous a mentor as Michael Jackson, but I want you to reflect back on those people that were ahead of you, and how much excitement there was.
Now, a bad one; Nancy Rimkus leaves. I didn’t realize how bad it was going to be for a little while, but she and her husband moved to London, to work in London for a while. That’s not her, I just picked the picture. She’s much better looking than that lady. Nancy was great. Nancy wrote code some of the time. Every once in a while, she’d chip in. She was kind of sister. She was not a manager manager. She could roll up the sleeves, and she could read your code and laugh at it, and she leaves.
As I said, I learned what it feels like to work for someone who doesn’t trust you. Again, it was my first job, so I had nothing to compare it with. Nancy took us crazy lunatics with hair all over the place, and calmly turned us loose, and every once in a while would box our ears, just kind of get us in line. It was great, and then she left, and a new guy came in, a guy, kind of excited to manage our team.
It wasn’t that he didn’t trust me; he didn’t trust anybody. He was the micro-manager, “I’m going to … Your brain can be in neutral most of the day, son. I’ll do all the thinking, and then you can switch it on when I want you to do a simple task.” When you have joy, when it ends, it’s crushing. I left. I’m a young guy. I think I’m the cat’s meow. Also, in this world at this point, there are jobs all over the place. I’m not married, I don’t have any kids. I’m single, I’m living in the city, and actually I leave, and as I said, I start to get serious about project management. I started to think, “What was it that Nancy did that made it so exciting to work together?” She was almost invisible, but boy, when she went away, it was visible. It was painful. Project dynamics; I started thinking about that.
I got a job, and it was really fun. I got a job where I said to the company … It was another Wall Street company, I wanted to stay in New York, and I said, “Look, I don’t want to be an employee.” They had a specific slot they were looking for. It was basically time leader/designer. I said, “Here’s the deal. I’ll be a contractor. I don’t want benefits, and I will sign for whatever. I will stay until the project’s done, unless you decide I have to leave. Anything short of my sickness or disease, I’m here, and I’m in until we’re done. Then, if you have something interesting, I’ll sign up again. If not, toodaloo. Is that okay?” I guess they really wanted to get the project done, they said “Okay.”
My next one is, I am now a team leader for one year. I’ve got a small team. We’ve got a project, and I’m a shirtsleeve team leader. I’ve got enough design work here and all. This is one of my … Maybe this isn’t funny to you, but I pulled a great stunt. I’m not an employee there, and I need an assembly language programmer on the team. These are finance guys. They’re writing in COBOL and all. We had real macho assembly guys, and I need some guy who really is going to spend some time. I can’t do this stuff, with the other things I have to do.
I go, and I have to go to my boss. My boss goes to HR, and we describe the person we need. It’s a stupid company. I can’t interview this person, because I’m not an employee, so they hire me an assembly language programmer. All I’ve seen is his resume, and so they hire this guy. In typical 1970s, the first day you come, you get your badge. They have you read manuals. It’s just initiation rites for the new guy, just make you miserable.
I’m thinking, “I’m going to show him what a great guy I am. I’m going to grab this guy as soon as he comes out of HR at nine o’clock in the morning, and I’m going to put him to work. I’m going to say, “We can deal with the manuals and all the other shit later. Come on, I need you, buddy. You and me.” I’m figuring, “I would love that if my boss said, ‘Forget all this nonsense. Here’s what I need you to do.’” I sit down with him at nine o’clock, and I start going, “I need some access routines,” and blah, blah, blah. He’s kind of looking at me, and I’m talking and talking. As you can tell, at 25, 24, I was much more excited.
I say, “I’ve got your disk, I’ve got all your stuff ready for you. Everybody on the team’s going to come by. Sit down, think about it, doodle. I’ll come see you later in the afternoon, and we’ll just talk a little bit more of what you’re thinking. I don’t expect massive progress, but I’ll touch base before we go home.” I’m thinking, “It’s great.” I tell the team, “Drop by, say hi, take him to lunch, you guys.” It’s now early in the afternoon. The team guys, a couple come by and go, “Hal wasn’t there for lunch.” I said, “Oh, he must have misunderstood and gone out early or something, okay.”
Hal never comes back. Hal never came back. He didn’t show up the next day. I went to my boss, who went to HR. HR called him and he said, “This is the wrong place for me. I’m terribly sorry, I’m aborting.” It came back to me, and my team never ever let me forget that. “What could you do to make a guy run away in three hours? Tim, you don’t know how scary you are. You frightened that poor guy.”
I think I know what happened is, he was in over his head. His resume was inflated. I wasn’t asking the world of him. Anyway, this is the first time I learn that putting a team together may be the most important part of some projects. It really … This is at the first part, when I start to look at the team and think, “If you’ve got the right team, you can be pretty mediocre, and they’ll cover you.”
Being a New Yorker, there’s this great quote, and I don’t know if it’s apocryphal or not, but Casey Stengel, the old, old manager of the Yankees a million years ago, I think this is documented, he has this great line. He says, “I just know I’m a better manager with Joe DiMaggio in center field.” I love that line. If you’ve got Joe DiMaggio and Hall of Fame baseball players, you can be a pretty mediocre manager and go to the World Series, that kind of thing.
It starts to dawn on me that there are differentiations between developers, and some of them seem to be large. If you can get the right crew together, you’re on the way to victory. If you’ve got a bunch of sluggos, it’s probably not going to happen at all. It is a very human activity. That’s four.
It’s the summer of ’75. Is that a song? It sounds like it should be. The summer of ’75, a bunch of things are happening. Ed Yourdon … I see this article. I’m now the team leader. Ed Yourdon is giving a seminar on structured design, and if you go, you’re going to get a pre-publication of the Yourdon and Constantine “Structured Design” new book coming out. I’m a Michael Jackson disciple, and I’m into this stuff, and Michael hasn’t … Michael doesn’t publish the principles book until February of ’75.
I’ve now read his book, as well as knowing he’s blood, and I go see Ed Yourdon. By the way, if you know Ed Yourdon, that’s him. That’s a picture from the 70s of Ed, straight out of MIT. It’s great. Anyway, I go to the seminar, and of course I’m a wiseass. Most people have no idea what’s going on, and he starts doing things. I’m saying, “You could do it this way or this way.” I’m just a pain in the ass in the back of the classroom for a couple of days.
We talk. He came to me at one of the breaks and he said, “Asshole, where’d you learn this stuff?” I said, “Oh, Michael Jackson, I actually worked with him for a while.” He of course immediately had read Jackson’s book in February. There’s a Glen Myers book, “Reliable Software Through Composite Design.” There’s like three landmark design books, all in ’75.
Ed and I talk, I take the class. It was really good. It was a lot of fun. He gave me a lot of things to think about. I go home, I’m in my apartment in SoHo. The phone rings, and it’s Ed. He’s like, “Okay, kid, you want to work for me?” I said, “I’ve got to finish this project, but the day the project’s done, I’m there.” I end up joining Yourdon as employee number eight in October of ’75, it was.
As I like to say, my life explodes. It was an amazing couple of years with Ed. I’m sure … I hope at some point in your career, your career explodes where all of a sudden you’re around people, and there’s juice and everything. The first thing is, I worked for P.J. Plauger, Bill Plauger, and I don’t know if you know who P.J. Plauger is. He is the first genius programmer I have ever met. He got a PhD in physics at Princeton, discovered that he’d much rather work with software, like he wrote to get his doctorate in actual physics, so he worked at Bell Labs. He worked with Ritchie and Kernighan and those gang. He wrote “Elements of Programming Style” with Brian Kernighan, years ago.
Now, he’s nominally my boss. He’s my mentor, and I report to him. He’s got all the consultants and the whole thing. He is amazing, and he starts to collect people like Tom Hall and all these other people. Tom Hall became a very famous tester. We’re going along, and we’re growing, and all of a sudden, Bill goes over to start kind of a software products group within Yourdon, and who do they pick to run the consulting group? Me.
Now, I go up, but Plauger does the greatest thing. He says, “Look, you’re going to be in the office a little bit more. Every once in a while, come …” He’s building a C compiler and he says, “Come code with me.” Plauger is the first guy who I ever heard about this. We did pair programming. It was not really an even pair. I looked at … I don’t know if you’ve ever seen … I hope this … If you’re a developer, have you ever seen somebody’s code where you’ve never seen anything as beautiful as that? His code was almost crying beautiful. It was like, “Whoa, I’m hearing somebody sing at the Met, and I sing in a barbershop quarter.” It was amazing.
We would sit down and write code together; together, literally, two guys, every once in a while for a little bit in the afternoon. It was kind of my tutorial, I think. Again, it was enormously heartening. Here’s another guy, way better than me, at least right now. I’m not afraid of this, but boy, there’s so much still to learn, that that’s really exciting. Then we built all … The group, this was just inside Yourdon. Steve McMenamin and John Palmer wrote a book called “Essential Systems Analysis.” They were both in their 20s when they wrote it. Steve is one of my partners at the Guild, I’ll introduce him again.
James and James and Suzanne Robertson appear. They’ve written “Complete Systems Analysis,” “Mastering the Requirements Process,” three editions. Matt Flavin, who unfortunately died very young of AIDS, wrote “Fundamental Concepts of Information Modeling,” a terrific guy, amazing guy. Tom, also to people, Three … I met Three’s partner today, out of nowhere, and that made my day. We had this group, and it was a debating society. It was really how to build software, what to do.
I remember, now I’m technically the head. On LinkedIn, they ask you to put your history and your title, so for Yourdon, Inc., my title, I put “stable boy.” I shoveled the shit that these guys put out there, but these guys were wonderful. I’m in San Francisco, with a whole group of them, and I don’t even remember why we’re there. Three, and Brian Dickinson, a couple of those guys, lived there. We went to the Stinking Rose, if you’ve ever been to San Francisco, the garlic restaurant. We all pile into the garlic restaurant, and we drink lots of wine too, but we’re not drunk drunk.
We walk down the street, and there’s a debate about something going on. It’s a New York-style disagreement. They’re yelling, and it’s all about work. It’s all about stuff, and people are walking on the sidewalk and go across the street, because this is a weird bunch of young people speaking in foreign tongues, and vehemently. I had one of those great out-of-body experiences. All of a sudden, I’m above the crowd, and these people are so engaged, they have no idea where they are. They’re just going at it, and I just stepped back, and I went to the hotel and just left them. Evidently, they were out in the street until like 2 a.m., talking. I just thought, “Hey, I’ve got my all-star team. Just keep them fit, keep them happy. They’ll go their way.” I don’t manage those kinds of smart people, I just shepherd them as gently as I can.
Then, my life explodes on the outside. I meet Constantine, Gerry Weinberg, “The Psychology of Computer Programming,” the first person that noticed programmers were human. Really, he was, and he’s still an amazing man. I bump into Gerry all the time. David Parnas, another guy who just boils my brain with information hiding, and his whole rationale for modularity. It’s the direct lineage grandfather of object-oriented programming. If he’s not the direct line, he’s a founding father in there, and he’s also a wild-ass Canadian crazy man. I don’t know if anybody ever met Parnas. He was an interesting, interesting piece of work. Niklaus Wirth; I actually programmed for him. I wrote some modular two code for him in the 70s. He paid me money. I wrote it on a Lilith machine that he had built. It was really … The father of Pascal.
I’m meeting all these crazy people; Harlan Mills. Harlan Mills, you may not know of, but he to me was an amazing guy. I got to know him quite well. Harlan Mills, when I knew him, was an IBM fellow. To be an IBM fellow meant they totally trusted you. They basically said, “Here’s a whole lot of money so you don’t have to worry about that. What would you like to do? You define your job. Anything you want to do, we’ll give you a pile of money every year, keep going. Just do interesting things.”
Mills was one of the first clean room methods for highly reliable software. There are stories later I heard about Mills. Mills was one of the original super programmers. NASA has got to build an enormous amount of code in a fairly short amount of time, and they realized some people are incredibly better at building code than others.
Now, IBM loans Mills to NASA, part of a kind of … To get some code built, but also try to figure out what these people are doing. As part of this “experiment,” they size a piece of work at about 30 work years, and they give it to Mills by himself. They give him something you won’t understand; a secretary. They’re extinct, from the 70s, but secretaries were people who would do all the work that you would normally have to do, but it was work that you didn’t have to have your expertise to do.
Mills was free to be a programmer. Mills never told me this, and this came out later, Mills finished the job in 10 months, and it works. The long and short of it was, they had a few of these guys, these hooks, and as far as they could tell, the key was they made no mistakes, none. They would just write code, it ran. I remember talking to Mills over a beer one night and he said, “As a young man, I used to get furious if anything went wrong.” He said he’d practically go into a snit fit, because it didn’t work, because he expected it to work the first time. He basically wrote perfectly clean code from the get-go.
He was a fascinating gentleman, too. We were at the International Conference in Software Engineering, and my older son was now with me, and my wife came, and he’s like six or seven. We go to D’Oyly Carte, and again, I’m so old; that was the repertory company that did Gilbert & Sullivan. We go see “Pinafore.” We sit down, and my wife wants to sit on the aisle. I’m sitting next to my wife, and [Jeffrey’s 00:44:22] sitting over here, and who sits next to him but Harlan Mills and his wife?
I said, “Harlan,” and he said, “Hey, Tim, how are you?” I introduced [Wendy 00:44:31], and I said, “This is my son, Jeffrey.” He’s in his little blue blazer to go to the theater. Harlan and his wife ignored Wendy and me for the rest of the night. It was great. At interval, they took Jeff up to get something to drink. They said, “Is it okay if we take Jeff?” It was like, “Sure.” Wendy’s like, “You make a big impression, Tim. He likes your son a whole lot better than he likes you, it looks like.” He was an amazing guy.
The other two people I want to point out is, one, I bet you many of you have heard from, because you can’t get away from him; Tom Gilb. Tom Gilb, the one-legged man on a roller skate; he’s half Norwegian and half Californian, I think he is; no wonder he’s crazy. He’s a wonderful guy, and he has more ideas per day than anybody else I’ve ever met. Most of them are useless. He allows you to filter through hundreds of ideas to find the one great one. He has no filter between idea and mouth.
I tell him that. I can see him for about four hours a year, and then I’m exhausted. Gilb, I want to tell you this; Gilb, I don’t think he ever wrote this. He may have written it. He did it in a talk I heard. He goes, “What if you’ve got a project where the sponsor says, ‘I’m giving you money, I’m giving you staff, but I’m not going to tell you when you have to deliver.’ All I’m going to do is say, ‘Someday, I’m going to walk into your office and go, ding, times up, you’re done. I’ll be back in 48 hours to pick … You give me whatever you’ve got.’ How would you run your project?”
He paused and he says, “Why don’t we always run our projects like that?” This is way long ago. I’m not saying … I remember that so vividly because you think, “Why the hell don’t we?” The idea that we had a deadline of seven months, if you’d been around for a little while, you knew that was a joke. You knew someday, somebody was going to come in and go, “Uh-oh, world’s changed, we’ve got five months now.” You know that kind of thing.
I thought, “Wow.” I think I have to credit him for planting the iteration seed in my head. I knew right away that the phased thing was a lie. Nancy Rinkus taught me that. She asked me to come up with a plan for something, and I came up with this plan and I handed it to her and I said, “Here’s my plan, but you know this will never happen.” She looked at me, she smiled and she says, “Right, but let’s just look at what we have to do. It won’t happen, that’s okay. Things come up.” The idea of the phase never made much sense to me. You go into the testing phase, which is there to throw you back into previous phases that you’ve declared closed.
The other guy I want to point to you is Barry Boehm. Barry Boehm is most often remembered for software engineering economics, but get a load of this graph of his. I don’t know if you can read it at all. This is his spiral model of development. It’s not Agile, but it’s on its way. This graph comes from … So old, it’s 1968, before me, even. People are trying to figure it out.
Why I told you this story? One, to name-drop the hell out of all you senior citizens. I thought it was pretty good. This is your family tree. I think I see twinkles in eyes, and I don’t want to take anything away from what happened in 2001 at all. That was a great watershed moment in software development history. Many very smart people were engaged in planting different kind of seeds along the way, well before 2001, and I thank them for that.
Here comes the judge; this is kind of in chronological order, but it’s not, but life isn’t really in chronological order either, if you haven’t noticed. I become a panelist for the American Arbitration Association. I’m an arbitrator, and I’m not a … I’ve never gone to law school. I don’t want to go to law school. I arbitrate software and system disputes only. I tried to get into the baseball resolution, but they wouldn’t let me in.
I become an arbitrator, and you have to get certified and re-certified. A couple of things become clear. One is, an arbitration is a hearing. It’s like a court, and if it’s a lot of money at stake, the American Arbitration Association asks both sides to consider three panelists, three judges. You now have the three judges decide the outcome. Arbitration is not negotiation. It is fish or cut bait. It’s a very intriguing little model. Basically, one side makes their stand, the other side takes their stand, and you must choose one or the other. You cannot cut the baby in half.
One company says, “We’re owed a million dollars,” the other company says, “We owe them nothing.” You pick nothing or a million. You can’t say, “You’re both idiots, $500,000, get out of here,” no matter how much you want to say that. A couple of things come to me, is now I’m watching the underbelly of the software world. I’m looking at puke on the floor. It’s really bad. Fortunately, I’m not doing this exclusively. This is only a percentage of my time. One thing I quickly learn is, there are no good guys and bad guys, in any case I ever had. It usually is a pox on both their houses, and that things go south soon on projects.
I never saw a project where it was fine, fine, fine, then something exploded in last-minute testing, and they went to court, or went to arbitration, that kind of thing. It was festering from the get-go. Some fundamental misunderstandings were happening. The funniest moment in my early days of arbitration is, it’s a Sunday morning and I wake up extra early. It’s summer time, so I quietly get up and make myself a cup of coffee. I’m looking at documents, because there’s a hearing starting later in the week.
I’m looking at documents, and all of a sudden, I hear little feet. It’s my younger son, who’s about six or seven now, in his PJs. He says, “Dad, what are you doing?” I said, “Oh, I’ve got to read these documents.” He says, “For what?” I said, “I’m an arbitrator, and I’m going to be hearing a case.” He said, “What kind of case?” I said, “It’s two companies.” In this case, it was a single arbitrator, because it was only like 1.2 million dollars or something like that.
I basically said, “This company says they delivered software to this client, and that according to the contract, they should get 1.2 million dollars. The company that got it said they can’t use the software they got, and they don’t want to pay anything for that, because they can’t use it.” I’m talking to a six-year-old. He looks for a second and he goes, “You get to decide?” I just starting laughing and I said, “Yes, [Jared 00:52:09]. A person not in either company, who doesn’t know much at all about this, gets to decide.” He just went and got cereal like, “What are these grown-ups thinking?” If you think about it, it is the last stand. You can’t figure out how to get out of your own problem, so you go to a neutral who’s going to arbitrarily say, “Done, get on with your lives.”
The other thing that I want to give to you, because I think we’re in negotiation. We’re in mediation more than arbitration in our business. Mediation is where you’re trying to negotiate, but you don’t have power. I say, as an arbitrator I have power because I can say, “Ruling, done, there you go.” It was maybe the second year I’d been an arbitrator, and I’m in Orlando, Florida, getting recertified. I’m taking a workshop, and I’m sitting next to a gent who is white-haired and a little paunchy. He was me in 30 years, but he was in his 70s or something. He was a retired lawyer, and he’s an arbitrator.
He seemed like a great guy, so we had lunch. We had a little box lunch. It was an all-day workshop, and then an exam in this class. I started talking to him and I said, “Look, you …” He’d been an arbitrator a long time. I said, “Look, I’ve been doing this for 18 months.” At that point, I’d only done three arbitrator panels, where for instance, I’m a specialist, so the center seat as it’s called runs the hearing. Usually, it’s like a retired lawyer or a retired judge. I just sit there and listen and interpret. I said, “I’m really worried. I know I’m going to be an arbitrator either solo, or I’m going to get the center seat soon. I know I have to do that. Help me with running a hearing.”
He had a couple things. It sounded … Just see if it resonates. He says, “It’s always emotional. You’ve got to understand, it’s always emotional. Your job, no matter how you … Is going to be successful if both parties say, ‘I was allowed to speak, I got heard.’ That’s what you’re trying to do as a good arbitrator.” He said, “You know in arbitration, Tim, it’s not strict rules of evidence.” For instance, you can take in hearsay because you’re the judge and the jury. You know hearsay from evidence, and you can discount it, so it’s not strictly like the court of law.
He said, “You will get somebody on the witness stand who will get emotional. There, it’s emotional. They’ll be going down the line of emotion and hearsay, and you’ve got to let them go. You’re going to typically have lawyers, and now the lawyer for the other party is about to leap out of his chair and object. Here’s the trick; keep your eye on the witness who’s talking and getting all excited. Now, the lawyer is about to jump, you go like this. You just hold your index finger up, and if the witness stops you go, ‘Come on, I’m listening.’ You hold it, until out of the corner of your eye, you can see that the lawyer is kind of relaxed, and then you put your finger down.’”
I went, “What?” He goes, “It’s the magic finger. Every lawyer knows, unless they’re an idiot, that the finger means, ‘I know what’s happening here. I’m going to let it go, and when your guy gets on the stage, on the witness stand and starts to cry and yell and scream, you’ll go like that to the other lawyer.’”
I literally, like seven, eight months later, I had a person breaking down, a man crying, he was so angry. The lawyer is doing this, and I went like this, and it worked. I didn’t hear like five minutes of the testimony. I’m going, “It’s working, it’s working.” Some of my customers are here; it works. If you’re in a meeting, and somebody’s starting to get emotional, let them get emotional. If somebody’s getting all worried, just put the finger up. It really works. It’s a great trick.
Why am I telling you this story? For some of you, I’m going to take you back to June 23, 2004, in Salt Lake City, the dead fish, if you remember that. I gave a talk at that Salt Lake City conference, and a dead fish, it’s a pattern. We wrote about patterns. I’ll get to that in a second, and it’s a pattern where a project is doomed to failure from the start. It may deliver, but it will never be a success. It will be way over budget, over schedule. People are going to be deeply disappointed with the outcome. The probability it’s going to be a complete success is zero.
The fascinating thing is, people know it. The dead fish is on the table, and no one says it. You go talk to the team and they go, “Yeah, we’re supposed to deliver in December. Which December?” That kind of stuff, and I’ve watched dead fish forever. A couple more; here’s the Guild, and there’s six of us. We formed in 1983. Ed Yourdon took his company one direction, and we want to go the opposite. We’ve basically formed a partnership. James and Suzanne, I mentioned. There’s Tom.
The people you haven’t met is Steve McMenamin. Steve McMenamin wrote “Essential Systems Analysis.” He is the best manager of smart people I’ve ever met. He’s incredible, and he currently has a really tough job. Even though he’s in the Guild, he’s full-time CIO of Hawaiian Electric. Somebody’s got to do it. He says, “I’m in the office all day anyway, Tim. You can be anywhere.” I say, “Yeah, you’re in the office in a flowered shirt and flip-flops, I’m sure.” He lives in Waikiki, an amazing manager.
Peter Hruschka, who is Austrian, and he lives in Aachen, Germany. He’s written his own books as well. We’re all writers. He translated “Peopleware” into German. He translated “Waltzing with Bears,” that Tom DeMarco and I wrote, into German, and it got called “Bären Tango.” Peter didn’t even tell us that he was changing the name of our book. You’ve got to love a teammate like that. It turns out he says, “Look, in Germany, every child learns to waltz. It’s a safe, simple dance. ‘Waltzing with Bears’ would make no sense. The only dangerous dance known in Germany is the tango. We tango with bears in Germany.”
I wanted to give a plug for his book, in German, and my German is bratwurst mit kartoffelsalat, that’s it. [Ute 00:59:07] can translate, “Agile Software something for Embedded Real-Time Systems Mit der UML,” [German 00:59:13]. He’s a great guy. Anyway, let me press on.
It’s great to have colleagues that have your back. We’ve been together since ’83. I go do a consult by myself. I can pick up the phone. I can skype any one of my mates and say, “Talk to me. Here’s what I saw today, and I don’t know what to make of it,” or “I’m going to scan something and send it to you. Call me when you’re ready.” This is no cost. We work in combinations.
We’re all writers, and we decided to write partially because we like to write and get our ideas out. We thought writing is, in effect, the most effective marketing for us. We’ve come to believe that writing is a great way to really distill your thoughts. One of the things that I want to say to you today is, again on the “Peopleware” things, even if you have no intention of writing something to be sent out, writing before you make a talk is a great way to kind of hone your ideas.
I think writing has kind of lost its place a little bit, and it’s a good … Even if you just write for yourself, just to kind of convince yourself you’ve really got your act together. The process of writing is a great feedback of, “Am I really there yet? Do I really have a fully formed position, or whatever?”
This conference, I would argue, at the meta-level, it’s all about moving an idea from one thick skull to another. Actually, that’s where the Guild is working on it right now, is moving ideas from one thick skull to another. I don’t know if it’s going to be a book or what it’s going to be, but we’ve been talking about it for a while.
I’ve got two more to go, and then we can go have cocktail hour or whatever. In 1992, I get invited to join the Airlie Council. This is an actual picture. I couldn’t believe I found this. This is the meeting room we took on for days at a time, for months at a time, down in Airlie, Virginia. It’s an old conference center. It’s a beautiful place, and you live there, and you live together and eat together, the whole nine yards. This is Department of Defense. It starts off being called the Software Program Managers’ Network, SPMN, and they are supposed to look at the best practices in industry in software development, and bring them into the world of the DOD.
They come up with a list of wise guys you can’t believe. I use “wise guys” affectionately. We’re all wise guys in this room, right? I’m sure you know many of the people on the list. I walk in to the first meeting thinking, “There’s just going to be blood on the floor.” We’ve got 18 prima donnas. Everybody’s used to being on top of everything. It was amazing. We had blood on the floor once.
One, the first blood on the floor was, we refused to let the Department of Defense tell us … Explain best practices. Most of us didn’t believe in the term “best.” It was totally misleading. I wanted pretty good practices most of the time, but I didn’t win. I believe in pretty good practices.
The one that was hilarious, because if you know him it was hilarious, was Capers Jones wanted us to … Demanded that we make function points of best practice. Fortunately, it was not recorded. It was a beaut. I won’t say who said what, but there were some funny lines in there. Nobody is using a Capers; it was wonderful.
Anyway, we went through this whole thing. We came up with a really great product, a whole set of products, and a large team of egomaniacs who worked through their differences, and we worked for a bunch of years. Wouldn’t it have been great to be a fly on the wall at Snowbird? Was it Alistair’s comment, Alistair Cockburn, “I personally didn’t expect this particular group of Agilites to ever agree on anything substantive. Speaking for myself, I am delighted by the final phrasing of the manifesto. I was surprised that the others appeared equally delighted by the final phrasing, so we did agree on something substantive.”
If that team of prima donnas and the 90s team of prima donnas can do stuff, your team’s got a great chance. You’re not a bunch of wise guys. By the way, I just want to point this out; have you ever seen these two men in the same room? Doesn’t he look like Eric Clapton? We have a rock star.
The last one is, God bless the child. I put this talk together before I realized that some of these people who are in this room, this is a company that I work with, and we were trying to figure out when I started. I know I was there in January of 2007, and I was probably there in 2006. These two men gave birth to a child. It’s amazing. Neil Davidson and Simon Galbraith are two guys coming out of Cambridge University in London, and they start a company called Redgate, and Redgate is here. They build non-trivial pieces of software and software tools for the rest of us in the industry.
I don’t want to talk about their products. These two guys boot-strap a company. When I’m first there, I think the entire company is under 40 people. It’s around that size. It is now about 300 people, and you go to this place … I didn’t know they’d be in the audience, but I’m going to say it anyway. You go to this place, and you smile. This is it. They don’t know it, but I’ve been around for 40 years. This is it. This is juicy ideas, people debating, arguing, having fun, getting fully engaged, going crazy, and they’ve got a bunch of nice things going for them.
For the most part, with a few exceptions, they’re all together. It’s face-to-face, arm-to-arm, here we go. They’ve got reasonable proportions, so devs to test are about one-to-one. They’ve got user experience folks. They’ve got technical communication folks. These two guys have built 300 spectacular jobs. If nothing else, you’ve got to say to these two young guys, to Neil and Simon, “Wow, way to go; 300 jobs that aren’t going to blow up the earth or anything bad.” You just see this place, and they are amazing.
I just want to show you one thing. You can go to their Website, and go look at “Our company” or whatever. You can download the “Book of Redbook,” and I just want to show you a page, just to give you a feel for these crazy people. “Don’t be an asshole.” I don’t know if you can read it. “No matter how smart you are, or how good you are at some narrowly-defined tasks, there is no room for you here if you’re an asshole.” I love that.
They’re all wiseasses, if you know what I mean. It’s a fine line between an asshole and a wiseass. I’m a wiseass most of the time. My wife thinks I’m an asshole much of the time. You get the feel for it. If you ever get to Cambridge, go visit Simon and the crew, or go say hi to them. Let me put it this way; I’m sure there are many Redgates out there. I’m hoping more are being born every week. If you’re ever in a place where you cannot have innate pleasure, use your feet. The world is getting better. The world is really getting better. There are places where it’s fun to go there. Life is too short. Make your own career.
One of the things we were talking about at Redgate the last time was, people were kind of worried about their career paths, and being a wiseass. In 40 years, there’s no career path in software. There never was, but look at it; there’s basically no career path in medicine. Practices change in medicine. You continue to learn, but you’re a doctor, and now you’re a doctor, and now you’re a doctor in your specialty.
Your career path is great projects, to me. Find something interesting, something new. Find it with a bunch of people you look and go, “We can do this, folks. We’re going to learn stuff.” That’s how you stay young. If you haven’t noticed, just as soon as you get good at something in our business, you never do it again. You’ve got it, and something else comes on. You’re always on the learning curve, and you’ve just got to smile about that and go, “Woo hoo, this is rejuvenation.” Think about it as your career path.
Here’s my end; Agile’s come a long way from 2001. If you just go back on the time line, it’s amazing. Just look at things that are coming at us. My guess is, it’s got a long way to go. Everything takes longer than you think. Agile’s out in the population as a term, to get it ingrained so it loses its name. This is called a software conference in five years, because there’s no Agile, this is what we do kind of thing.
Is it going to take a long ride? Take the ride, bring your friends. By the way, the ride is long, but trust me, blink a couple times and you’re me. Watch, blink; it’s 1961. That’s me and my dad. I blink again, it’s 1978, that’s me with my family, and my mom and dad and my sisters. Look at me, woo hoo, look at me. I look at that picture, I look, that’s me. I blink again, and it’s 1975, and my youngest son is graduating from Stanford. Blink again, and now we’re all here. The next blink … I just want you to feel the breeze of time. Thanks a lot. Thank you.