Interview on Agile Thinkers

31 Jan, 2008

Clarke Ching has a new website called Agile Thinkers. It's devoted to interviews with people in the agile community and it looks like it will have some great stuff. (Clarke's already proven the model with TOC Thinkers, about the Theory of Constraints.)

Shane and I are the first ones up. Clarke is putting the interviews up one question at a time--you can either visit the front page and see everything as it comes, or you can jump straight my interview or Shane's interview.

To give you a taste, here's my response to Clarke's first question. There's more on the site.

Q1. Hi Jim, I'm really enjoying your book. I honestly think it is the best agile book I've read - and I've read a good few of them. Good job! Can you tell me a bit about yourself - both personally and professionally? What got you to the point where you could produce such a wonderful book?

Thank you! I should start by recognizing my coauthor, Shane Warden. Shane and I collaborated closely on the book, so that's part of the reason it turned out so well. Another reason would be the sheer amount of time and effort we put into it--I put nearly a year of full-time work into it myself, and that's not counting Shane's effort or the effort of all the people at O'Reilly. I think our open review process helped a lot, too. We put nearly every section of the book online and we got tons of feedback--over 1200 messages were posted to the reviewer list. Our best work started as drafts that got brutal beatings.

So: blood, sweat, and tears. You know, the usual.

As for how I personally got here... you know, it's hard to say. I've always liked reading and writing, even though I was born a hardcore geek. (I placed in my first programming contest at age ten or eleven. I think I would have come in first if my program had actually loaded off the tape drive.) I actually did better on the English portion of the SATs than the Math portion. I also wasted a huge amount of time on Fidonet and Usenet, talking about programming and (in retrospect) being a general pain in the ass. I could spend hours composing careful explanations of why OS/2's Worksplace Shell was better than the Windows desktop. I expended far more effort than the topics were worth, except for two things: I had fun, and I had a lot of practice writing and seeing how my writing was received.

So that's how I learned to write. On the software side, the really core experience was when I had an AppleSoft BASIC program dissolve on me. Applesoft BASIC was old-school: line numbers, two-letter variables, GOTO's, the works. When I was in high school, the complexity of one of the programs I was writing overwhelmed my capacity to keep track of it all. The program just fell apart in my brain. Ever since, I've been fascinated with the human side of programming: if programming is partly an exercise in making the unbelievably complex comprehensible, how do we do that? That led me to structured programming, then OOP, then software engineering texts, then Ward's Wiki, then XP and agile development, and now to questioning what makes software successful. Along the way, I did the same thing I did with writing: I spent hours every day just playing with the ideas, writing programs, writing about programming, and so on. (As well as my professional experience.)

So really, the answer is that, for most of my life, I've had a pretty single-minded dedication to writing, programming, and software development. (The word you're looking for: Nerd.) It's amazing I ever married, let alone reproduced.