Event: Inclusivity and Innovation in S.African Software

I am facilitating a panel discussion as one of Cape Town’s World Design Capital 2014 events, in collaboration with the IEEE.  Attendance is free.
This is the brief that I have given to the panelists.
Software development in South Africa is still a closed society.  It is also a consumer society.  It is closed because we are not inclusive nor embracing of our cultural diversity.  It is a consumer society because we are net importers of technology, fed by global technology companies motivated by profit in a third world market.  This is the lifestyle of software development – import ideas, import technology, and restricted participation. A desired future state is a lifestyle of software developers where we are net exporters of ideas, exporters technology and encouraging inclusive participation.  In this session, we want to explore why this future state is valuable, and what we need to do to achieve this.
And the panelists are …
  • Philip Copeman of Pink Software.  He is the custodian of TurboCash, most probably South Africa’s most successful open source software
  • Brain Leke of ThoughtWorks.  Brain is a long time champion of equality of demographics in African software communities.
  • Lorraine Steyn of local startup I’m Bored.  Lor has been in the trenches of helping young developers kick start their careers for over 25 years.

When, where …

  • Date: May 20, 2014
  • Time: 12.30PM to 1.30PM.  It’s deliberately being held over lunch, and it’s a free attendance.
  • Where: 3rd Floor, Bandwidth Barn, Woodstock Exchange
  • Address: 66-68 Albert Road, Woodstock, Cape Town (here’s the map)
  • Cost: Free

Why are we doing this?

… because it is an important for the sustainability of software development as a thriving sector, and this spurs further discussion and action too; and to a much wider audience.

… and because we should care.

Why am I poking SUGSA?

I’ve been taking a poke or few at SUGSA on twitter in the last few weeks around the2013 South African Scrum Gathering.  It’s time to put it into perspective.  My proposal to present a session at the conference been accepted and I have declined this acceptance.

This is not news to the SUGSA committee.  I have communicated my
decision and my reasons to the SUGSA committee.  I have also had
one-on-one discussions with a few committee members.  I am satisfied
that the committee has received and digested my reasons.  Individuals on
the committee have assured me that my feedback is in line with their
values and that they aim to address it in the future. 

My poking is just me pressuring SUGSA to recognize a few issues which I believe are important to our community, and to force the committee to address us on their position.  Tell all of us, not just me, of your position and we shall listen.  That is all, no more, no less.

These are the issues that I raised with SUGSA.

  • African conferences need to be representative of our community.  One way is to nominate an African keynote.  It will take a courageous decision but it can still happen.   Agile Africa responded symbolically very late and it was fantastic.
  • We must embrace our diversity and find ways of breaking the polarised community that exists in Cape Town.  I think the people from Cape Town that attended Agile Africa in Johannesburg were surprised by the diversity of speakers and audience at that conference.
  • Be transparent with the review process.  The committee needs to maintain its independence and having committee members occupying several speaking slots sends the wrong message.  I’ve seen that in other communities where the committee became the soapbox for individuals.  If I was on the committee, I would withdraw my proposal on principal.  I know of one committee member that did this.  Thank you for taking a courageous step.
  • I also questioned the expertise within the committee, especially for technical submissions.  That is my perception and there is every chance that I might be wrong.  I welcome the correction. 

This is not a boycott.   I will still attend as a paying conference attendee.  I appreciate the
learning I receive from this community and look forward to more of the

I believe my issues have been heard and my actions, seemingly harsh to some, was necessary.  I still want SUGSA to take a position publicly and I leave it them to figure out when and how.  The SUGSA committee have invited me to discuss this further and  I look forward to that.

Thanks go out to Austin Fagan, Sam Laing and Karen Greaves who gave me perspective to resolve a few internal conflicts, and shape my thoughts on why I am doing this, and what I expect out of it.  Had they not given input, this could have been unnecessarily ugly.

SDTimes, Oredev2011, Rubyfuza2012, AgileIndia2012

Over the next few months or so, I will be quite active in the conference space.  Here’s what’s coming up soon …

  • SD Times’ Leaders of Agile Webinar: This is the fourth or fifth in this series hosted by Kent Beck.  It’s always very engaging for me, and Kent normally asks far too many difficult questions without warning me in advance.  It’s also the third time that I will be working with Henrik Kniberg.  This time we will be talking about Kanban, and should be another really fun 3 hours.  What I enjoy the most is the balance between practical experience, challenging the norm, and always the realisation that I know far too little.  It’s free and you can register at SD Times.
  • Oredev 2011:  I’ve been invited back to Oredev in Malmo, Sweden.  This is always a fun conference and I get some face time with my factor10 colleagues in Sweden again.  On this occassion, I will be giving two talks.  In the first I will explore the messes we make over and over again, yet we are missing some old teachings and learnings consistently.  The second is on the Java track and I will share my experiences on experimenting with Scala and Clojure, more from design and mental mindshifts, instead of the usual language and syntax changes.  Check it out at Oredev 2011.
  • rubyfuza 2012: This is the second edition of the only South African Ruby conference that I know of.  The 2011 edition was well put together with great local and overseas speakers.  Although the program is not finalised, I will be talking about using JavaScript and CoffeeScript to build parsers and grammars.  This is something that I’ve spent a lot of time on recently and it’s changed a lot of my thinking on domain driven design implementation options.  Check out the details at rubyfuza.
  • AgileIndia2012:  This is my first trip to India, and one that I am absolutely excited about.  I will be running two sessions.  One on product ownership which is a slight improvement on the sessions held for SD Times and the S.African Scrum Safari.  The other is a culmination of years of introspection on cultural differences that I face.  I explored this quite emotionally at Oredev last year and will run a more in-depth session for AgileIndia.  Check out the abstracts for my sessions Practical Product Ownership: balancing strategy and development and Collaboration lessons from the Rainbow Nation the early bird program.

Stay in bed or come to SGZA

I will be hosting a 3 hour session at the South African Scrum Gathering titled “Live your principles or stay in bed”.  You can read the abstract here.  In my opinion, there is far too little focus on software development itself in Scrum.  So, this is unashamedly a developer session.  I will be present various snippets of code, and we will “live our principles” to transform the code into something that is less messy.
I often hear developers, and managers too, saying “It’s so much easier without, so why bother?”.  Well, design is hard.  Applying principles for life is harder.  But if you are professional developer and have a conscience about your design, your code, and your product then “an easy life without principles” is not an option.

If you are planning to come along, bring your laptop with your development environment.  I will likely have code samples in Java, C#, Ruby, Javascript, and even, yup, Basic (well, maybe).  All the samples should be very readable and you could easily translate them to something equivalent in your language pretty easily.  Better still, bring some of your own code along, that you want to share.

In reality, this is stuff that Scrum does not teach you, but need to know to avoid Scrum burnout.  Looking back, I should have done something like this sooner.

Upcoming talks

I’ve got a busy few weeks of preparation to get through for a few talks that I will be giving.  In September I will be speaking at the South African Scrum Gathering.  The one talk for Johannesburg is on product ownership and it is a combination of the content that I presented earlier for the SD Times webinars.  The other I hope to keep quite code centric and is aimed squarely at developers and architects.
Then in November, I’ve been kindly invited to speak at Oredev in Malmo, Sweden.  I will be talking on the Java track and Architecture track.  Being in Sweden, I get a chance to get some face time with my Scandinavian colleagues, and lots of offshore geek friends.  If you are a South African looking for a decent developer conference, then consider Oredev.  It has a good vibe and some very good content, and is generally good value for money.

Product Ownership Webinar

On 12 May 2011 I will be joining Kent Beck and Henrik Kniberg in a free webinar hosted by SD Times to take a deeper look at product ownership as described by the Scrum methodology.  I think we all have a lot of questions, especially Kent, but I will also put forward some things that I have tried and some opinions of what I think should be tried. As usual, I welcome critical comment.
For a long time I have been wary of the way product ownership is “taught” in CSPO courses, and the way it is implemented in Scrum teams. I think the fundamental tension of product ownership is not being addressed.  So, at the heart of my talk, I want to explore the tension that a product owner needs to resolve and, maybe, some ways of resolving that tension.

Regardless of whether we offer workable solutions, I think the webinar will raise questions that are well worth discussing in larger groups.

Practical Scrum with Kent Beck

SD Times has started a series of Leaders of Agile webinars.  The last was on Continuous Delivery with Kent Beck facilitating a discussion with Jez Humble and Timothy Fitz.  The next in the series is on Practical Scrum which will, again, be lead by Kent .  I think it will be a interesting perspective coming from the person that brought us Extreme Programming and so much more.
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