“Stars” of Agile20xx

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My previous post mentioned one feature that isn’t yet incorporated in the Conference Archive, but which I experimented with by directly querying the database – finding the “top” speakers (in terms of greatest number of sessions led by the same person) at Agile 20xx. Here they are:

Jeff, Diana and Mary have each spoken over 20 times; the others have between 15 and 20 sessions on record. As I mentioned in the previous post, three things struck me when I saw this list – other than the sheer amount of energy and enthusiasm each of these people put in sharing their knowledge with others. (Note also that the Conference Archive only reflects participation as a speaker – many people including some in the above list have also been taking part in organizing the conference.)

First, of these 10 only Bob Martin is a signatory of the Agile Manifesto (as well as Jim Highsmith, who tied with Bob for that spot). Neither is everyone here is an old-timer; Jean’s first participation was in 2005, David’s in 2006. To the extent that frequent participation in the conference reflects influence or leadership (we could spend a fair bit of time arguing about that), we can conclude that leadership in the community has passed on to a newer “generation”.

Another striking thing is the gender parity – five women and five men. The software industry is unfortunately well known for having a large and persistent gender bias, possibly exacerbated by rampant sexism. One of the things that the Agile community is about, I believe, is not just changing the way people go about the work of software development, but also challenging some deep-seated cultural stereotypes, such as “software developer as a young white male with poor social skills” (which is not exclusive of other stereotypes such as “older bearded white male with eccentric habits and poor social skills”).

For various reasons which I’m not going to attempt to unravel right now, the Agile conference seems to be doing a great job of making women feel welcome, and I think that’s something to celebrate.

Finally, the last thought that came to mind was how much I liked most of these folks.

I met Mary and Scott, and I think Rachel too, at XP2002 in Alghero, Sardinia, the first international conference I’d ever attended. I experienced perhaps the strongest feeling of “this is where I belong” I’d had in my entire life.

Mary had a fantastic session about the parallels between Lean thinking and Extreme Programming; we also had a great discussion by the pool about how thinking outside the box could drastically reduce the amount of code needed to solve business problems, if you made a determined effort to understand the business and capture your understanding in appropriate form. I had a pizza dinner out on the town with Scott and a bunch of others, and had a lot of fun – a great memory even though I haven’t hung out with Scott much since. I went to London some time later to visit the Extreme Tuesday Club and meet up with Rachel and the rest of that crowd again, and later came back a few times for the XP Day conference; that’s how much these first conversations hooked me. I’m forever bumping into Rachel when I travel to a conference, and seeing her always brings a smile.

I missed XP2003, but had a great time at XP2004 where I met David briefly, and had more extensive exchanges with Diana and Linda, which led to my attending the Retrospective Facilitator’s Gathering the next year where I met Jean. That Gathering was a smaller conference – I tend to favor those because, while you meet fewer people and thus get less “networking” return on your time investment, you have a chance to really get to know people. And at XP2005, Emmanuel Gaillot and I presented our experiences with the Coding Dojo at a workshop which Bob Martin attended; he had some nice things to say about the session. (I started attending the US conference from 2006 on. I’ll be missing Agile2012 – with more than a little regret – but I intend to be back next year.)

The point I’m trying to make, hopefully not too buried in the personal reminiscences, is that these people, which some perhaps think of as the “rock stars” of our community, generally behave very little like rock stars. They are as a rule intensely likeable, and in any case quite approachable. Their interests and curiosities are wide-ranging; what they project is a deep-seated fascination for the mysteries of software development and the work of collaborative invention, rather than “I have all the answers” complacency.

As far as I could tell, this goes for a large majority of the other 1400+ speakers who had a part in making Agile20xx over the years; many of whom I could gush on about in the same vein as above.

So, if you are attending Agile2012 or for that matter any other Agile conference, I’d like to encourage you to strike up a conversation with the speakers of sessions you attend; don’t be shy, just walk up to them and ask the questions you’ve been most itching to ask.

This could be not merely informative… but just possibly, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.


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