A whirlwind trip to San Francisco – notes from SF Agile 2012

So, I just got back from a really intense week in San Francisco, meeting new people, visiting friends and attending the SF Agile conference.

When I flew in I was greeted by my good friend Ros, who moved to San Francisco with her husband Nathan from Sydney just a few weeks ago. Ros and Nathan are really enjoying the San Francisco lifestyle, and as Australians they already know where to find all of the good coffee houses. I barely managed to get any sleep on my 14 hour flight, but that didn’t stop me from making the most of my first day in this great city. We chowed down on some chowder, enjoyed the view over the fog from a high-altitude cocktail bar and browsed a mobile art gallery run by an “Aesthetic Scientist”.

Then Sunday kicked off with a testers’ tea party, where I was finally able to meet some of my favourite online personalities in person – Michael Larsen, Lisa Crispin, Elisabeth Hendrickson, Curtis Stuehrenberg, and a couple of new faces too.

Afterwards I stayed with Marlena Compton and her husband Chris, who became good friends of mine when they lived in Sydney. It was so good to see them again, and this time I even met their beautiful dog Laika.

Then began three days of SF Agile conference goodness. It was a pretty small conference – maybe less than 100 attendees in total – but the size meant that we all got to know everyone else reasonably well throughout the three days. Some session highlights:

Enabling Emergent Betterness Through Lean Procrastination with Olaf Lewitz & Matt Barcomb – Know what your options are and recognise that they have expiration dates. By creating new options while simultaneously evaluating existing options, we can create a continuous flow of opportunity. This takes away the urgency from decision making, thus we can make better decisions via procrastination. I was pretty jet lagged so I’m not sure whether it was the point the presenters were trying to make, but I certainly gained a lot from it regardless.

Pair Programming That Doesn’t Suck with Angela Harms – Apparently pair programming generally sucks when one of the programmers feels insecure about their programming ability, relative to the other member of the pair. If you’re the insecure programmer, then you should assume you’re adding value and not be afraid to say you’re lost and ask to slow down. This was termed “confident humility”. If you’re the rockstar programmer and you’re working with a newbie, then you need to sit on your hands and let the other programmer code.

You Can’t Spell Agile Testing without ET with Matt Barcomb – I came in a bit late to this one but I’d love to get the slides from it. It was a really practical guide to exploratory testing, using charters. I was really interested to hear about teams that had testers pairing with developers during coding of unit tests. Apparently the developers really loved it.

Release your team’s intelligent energy with “pull” conversations with Declan Whelan – Declan outlined a method of communicating that was effective when talking to anybody, really. The idea is that when you disagree on a point, you should ask about the other person’s point of view, listen and put yourself in their shoes, before explaining your own point. I already practice this, but it led to interesting conversations when both parties were consciously trying to communicate this way. It’s not just a way to solve disputes, but also a way to encourage an accelerated flow of ideas. Some of the best conversations I have ever had have emerged because both parties were using this method.

I’ll admit I did sneak out a few times to obtain superior coffee at Blue Bottle Cafe, eat Google’s food with my friend Chris and have coffee with Elisabeth Hendrickson. But I maintain these were all missions of utmost necessity (especially the coffee).

Outside of the sessions, I had some really great conversations with some very smart people. I’d try to list everybody but I will just end up forgetting people. But special thanks go to Adam Yuret, Matt Barcomb, Zee Spencer, Curtis Stuehrenberg and Lisa Crispin for spending an awful lot of time around me and my Aussie accent during this conference. It was a pleasure to hang out with you guys.

The organisers and sponsors were awesome too. Great work all around!