TITLE: Coincidence by Metaphor
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: November 29, 2007 4:38 PM
I recently wrote that I will be
in a play
this Christmas season. I'm also excited to have been asked by
to serve on a committee for the
conference, which takes me in another direction with the
performance metaphor. As much as I write about agile methods
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
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
(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.
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
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