TITLE: Coincidence by Metaphor AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: November 29, 2007 4:38 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I recently wrote that I will be in a play this Christmas season. I'm also excited to have been asked by Brian Marick to serve on a committee for the Agile2008 conference, which takes me in another direction with the performance metaphor. As much as I write about agile methods in my software development entries, I have never been to one of the agile conferences. Well, at least not since they split off from OOPSLA and took on their own identity. Rather than using the traditional and rather tired notion of "tracks", Agile2008 is organized around the idea of stages, using the metaphor of a music festival. Each stage is designed and organized by a stage producer, a passionate expert, to attract an audience with some common interest. In the track-based metaphor -- a railroad? -- such stages are imposed over the tracks in much the way that aspects cut across the classes in an object-oriented program. (At a big conference like OOPSLA, defining and promoting the crosscutting themes is always a tough chore. Now that I have made this analogy, I wonder if we could use ideas from aspect-oriented programming to do the job better? Think, think.) I look forward to seeing how this new metaphor plays out. In many important ways, the typical conference tracks (technical papers, tutorials, workshops, etc.) are implementation details that help the conference organizers do their job but that interfere with the conference participants' ability to access events that interest them. Why not turn the process inside out and focus on our users for a change? Good question! (Stray connection: This reminds of an interview I heard recently with comedian Steve Martin, who has written a biography of himself. He described how he developed his own style as a stand-up comedian. Most comedians in that era were driven by the punch line -- tell a joke that gets you to a punch line, and then move on to the next. While taking a philosophy course, he learned that one should question even the things that no one ever questioned, what was taken for granted. What would be comedy be like without a punch line? Good question!) Of course, this changes how the conference organizers work. First of all, it seems that for a given stage the form of activity being proposed could be almost anything: a presentation, a small workshop, a demonstration, a longer tutorial, a roundtable, ... That could be fun for the producers and their minions, and give them some much needed flexibility that is often missing. (Several times in the past I have had to be part of rejecting, say, a tutorial when we might gladly have accepted the submission if reformulated as a workshop -- but we were the tutorials committee!) Brian tells me that Agile 2008 will try a different sort of submission/review/acceptance process. Submissions will be posted on the open web, and anyone will be able to comment on them. The review period will last several months, during which time submitters can revise their submissions. If the producer and the assistant producers participate actively in reviewing submissions over the whole period, they well put in more work than in a traditional review process (and certainly over a longer period of time.) But the result should be better submissions, shaped by ideas from all comers -- including potential members of the audience that the stage hopes to attract! -- and so better events and a better conference. It will be cool to be part of this experiment. the Agile 2008 Examples stage logo As you can see from the Agile 2008 web site, its stages correspond to themes, not event formats. Brian is producing a stage called "Designing, Testing, and Thinking with Examples", the logo for which you see here. This is an interesting theme that goes beyond particular behaviors such as designing, testing, and teaching to the heart of a way to think about all of them, in terms of concrete examples. The stage will not only accept examples for presentation, demonstration, or discussion, but glory in them. That word conveys the passion that Brian and his assistant producer Adam Geras bring to this theme. I think Brian asked me to help them select the acts for this stage because I have exhibited some strong opinions about the role of examples and problems in teaching students to program and to learn the rest of computer science. I'm pretty laid back by nature, and so don't often think of myself in terms of passion, but I guess I do share some of the passion for examples that Brian and Adam bring to the stage. This is a great opportunity for me to broaden my thinking about examples and to see what they means for the role they play in my usual arenas. In a stroke of wisdom, no one has asked me yet to be on the stage, unlike my local director friend. Whatever practice I get channeling Jackson Davies, I am not sure I will be ready for prime time on the bright lights of an Agile stage... It occurs to me that, following this metaphor one more step, I am not playing the role of a contestant on, say, American Idol, but the role of talent judge. Shall I play Simon or Paula? (Straight up!) -----