16 August 2010

Last week I attended the Agile 2010 conference in Orlando. Agile 20xx is the major US agile-oriented conference whose roots go back to XP Universe and the Agile Development Conference. I've not been a regular attender of the main agile conferences, but I did go last year as well. Rather than make an attempt at a consolidated description, here are a few scattered impressions.

  • Attendance was 1400, more than 2009, but around the same as 2008. So although it has been hit by the Great Recession it's weathered it reasonably well.
  • I was delighted to see Elizabeth Hendrickson and Liz Keogh win the Gordon Pask award.
  • My sense was that most people were relatively new to agile, which is in line with my sense in 2009.
  • There was a much higher proportion of women than I usually see at software conferences.
  • There were lots of talks going on, which felt overwhelming to me: 16 stages (tracks) with 214 talks.
  • I was pleased to see the tutorial on Continuous Delivery that Jez Humble gave with me seemed well-received. (We currently have it booked again for QCon and OOP.)
  • Most of the emphasis was on team collaboration and soft skills. This led to some criticism from people on the programming side.
  • My unscientific sample of talks I attended showed a higher proportion of badly presented talks than I would like.
  • It seems there's a movement to re-create XP Universe for next year.
  • I prefer a conference in a real city to one in a holiday resort.
  • This year marks ten years from the first agile-oriented conference.
  • The conference went smoothly - which is a testament to the hard work of all the organizers. This is particularly so since they had to deal with moving the conference after the flooding in Nashville. Thank You.

I have mixed feelings about the complaints on the lack of programming topics. Certainly programming plays a central role in software development and attempts to marginalize it correlate well with dead-ends. But programming is part of a very interconnected system which involves lots of pieces - and making these interconnections work requires exactly these kinds of "soft and woolly" skills. There is a real tendency for programmers to look inward and obsess on technical issues rather than engaging with those outside programming. One of the things I like about XP is that it recognizes this: blending technical excellence with collaboration.

I would hate to see programming detached from the agilexx conference with programmers going to different events. There's a need for places where the intermingling can occur. The JAOO and QCon conferences seem to do a very good job of this - as well as having a better quality control over the talks themselves. Their format isn't universal, and there's room for more options. Our crucial task is to engage in excellence in the programming side without cutting off the essential collaboration.