The uptake of Agile and Alt.Net practices in places a bit away from the major development hotspots

Last week I got into an interesting discussion via email with Nieve a developer from Lille, France.The chat was on the uptake of Agile and Alt.Net practices in places a bit away from the major development hotspots. We both thought it could make an interesting post so, here goes, starting with Nieve’s first post…..

Hello there,I’ve stumbled upon your blog while googling for the terms yorkshire.I’m a .NET developer working in Paris and living in the north of France (Lille area). Now, the reason I’m writing is that we’re having an lunch next month, and I would like to talk a bit about the differences between the (alt).net communities in france and england. Now since I did my studies in Leeds, the fact that yorkshire and la région du nord are (surprise surprise) in the north (plus a shared history of mines) brought me to google for and yorkshire.Over here in Lille/the north of France the situation is rather grim. job offers that entail agile practices and or tools in .NET environment are as rare as an eclipse, managers and developers alike are literally afraid of any framework/tool that isn’t microsoft yet somehow miraculously written in a .net language. I suppose you get the picture. I was wondering if you would mind sharing with me (and/or others, on your blog) your thoughts on the situation in yorkshire.

My reply

I don’t know if you have heard of Ian Cooper, he was one of the organisers of the ALT.NET events in the UK. Well he just posted on his blog on a subject very close to your question

In my opinion there has not been a drop of in interest over the tools and practices of ALT.NET but it has lost it’s label a bit. Ian is right the main people pushing it have moved more towards Twitter etc. which has reduced visibility if you don’t follow them.

Local groups are still on the go. I myself attend Agile Yorkshire which is a group driven by development process (being JAVA and .NET) but did help organise the ALT.NET in the North event last year. We hope to run something this year, but we doubt it will be under the ALT.NET banner as it was felt this alienated JAVA members

As to who is using the tools, no as many as I would hope. But you find them in surprising places. I found out that a dev teams in the NHS (usually known to be very bureaucratic and fixed management process) are using Kanban, nHibernate etc. and finding them useful. Getting adoption is all down to someone showing there is an advantage, the problem is so few people in our industry care about improving their skills, it all comes back as Ian said to the software craftsmanship movement

Nieve again

First of all let me begin by saying I only wish I could tell you how much I am thankful. Reading Ian’s post was a something of an epiphany moment 🙂 At some points he brought it so close to home that I had to stop and think ‘hold on, is he just talking about software development or is there a hidden message about the state of France..?’ Over here it’s not only the IT industry that breeds this sort of position holders that are fine where they are and just won’t bother changing anything. I always think of it as ‘with all that revolution going on, you don’t get any evolution’; the idea is that everyone here are jumping to their feet and straight to the street to cry against whatever change that is offered, that nothing ever gets to change hence no evolution…

To get back to the issue in question, I think one of the things Ian, and for that matter many of the ALT.NET people, tend to forget or simply overlook is the fact that while at some parts of the world people may think the battle was won, or that it’s about time to wake up from our comfortable twitter hibernation, in some other parts the battle hasn’t even began, which brings me back to my original question. See, you guys up the in England and esp. in the north can be very proud of your community, and not only the development/IT one, but also the local-geographical community. I had to go and look for a job in Paris, which entails a couple of hours on the train each and every day and which is bound to end by leaving Lille (and no wonder I’m considering moving back to yorkshire); Not only developers and managers are afraid of anything that is not microsoft, the actual idea of software craftsmanship is an abnormality in our region. There is a Nord-agile group that works here and have meetings every couple of months and consists of 5 to 7 people, none of them a .net person. And we’re talking about a huge region and one of france’s 5 biggest cities.

With that in mind, there’s also the fact that roughly each and every year a new generation of developers is arriving to the market which makes it even more difficult to those (esp the beginners to senior-juniors) who wants to learn and work on their coding craftsmanship. (I remember I discovered the manifest only a couple of years ago or so, and soon after I remember reading a post of Ayende saying he’s going to give Twitter a shot. Thank god, he’s one of those who never stopped blogging.)

As for Paris, things seem to be closer to what Ian said; there are a lot more job offers that ask for a working experience in NH, MVC, NUnit etc’, however this feels like the new orthodoxy.

… and me again

So to me this shows that the problem we both see are not just down to us at our company/technology/region/country. Craftsman Developers everywhere tend to sit in small isolated pockets, even in large conurbations, and there is nothing to go but to organise locally where you can, go on go for a beer you know you want to, and to join in the virtual communities to get a bigger world view.

Wow, that sounds like a call to revolution, better go into hiding in case the thought people come round, I know I will just have to think I am not in!

London Alt.Net Conference is now full

Wow, the Alt.Net conference in London in August certainly filled up fast. On Friday I went into a meeting before registration opened, and by the time I came out the first wave was full. I now see that the second wave of registration is also full.

Unfortunately I can’t make this one, but I am sure it will be a success. I really like the format that is being tried, a bit for everyone.

Alt.Net UK Conference 2009

Good news, there will be an Alt.Net UK Conference in London over the first weekend of August. Bit of a different format this time:

Alt.Net Beers A social opportunity to discuss Alt.Net over a few beers.
Friday, July 31, 2009 from 6:00 PM until 9:00 PM
82 Dean Street, London, W1D 3HA, United Kingdom

Open Space Coding Day A day of hands-on coding where the attendees choose the subjects.
Saturday, August 01, 2009 from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM
36 Southwark Bridge Road, London, SE1 9EU, United Kingdom

Alt.Net UK Conference The climax of the conference weekend! Share and learn in an Open Space environment.
Sunday, August 02, 2009 from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM
36 Southwark Bridge Road, London, SE1 9EU, United Kingdom

For more details and registration (opening in Thursday the 14th of May) see ‘in the north’ still has some spaces

As I am sure you noticed there was an unfortunate clash of dates between ‘in the North‘ in Bradford and WebDD in Reading on the 18th of April. Well I see that WebDD over the weekend has published it’s agenda, opened registrations and is now full.

So if you are disappointed that you can’t get a place for the WebDD event have you thought of trying an Open Spaces event like We still have some spaces left. The key difference of this type of event, as opposed to the more traditional lecture format of WebDD, is that the attendees decide the agenda when they arrive and most sessions take the format of an open discussion of peoples real work experiences and opinions.

Go on give it a try it might be fun! – the day after

Back home now after a excellent two days at Alt.Net in London. As with the spring conference this was a thought provoking event. I really like the whole open space format, though there were four ‘main sessions’ the event started the night before in the planning session and the bar and carried on without a pause, including the train trip home.

The main sessions can be excellent; but it is usually the chat walking to get a coffee or over lunch was where you get a nugget of information that completes a picture for you. It is great to find out you are not alone in the problems you have and refreshing to hear people speak so openly over the challenges and successes they have had.

The main take away for me were ideas on acceptance testing:

  • The gathering of the tests can be improved by using a three pronged attack using the client (or Business Analyst), the developers and the tester/QA team. It is three pronged as each group has their own view of what the product should do. The client want tests that prove a product meets a business need, the developer will test some edge cases around the business tests and the tester will add tests that just try to break the product. Together this group should provide a reasonable test coverage, not perfect but better than the view of any single group.
  • I also got a number of ideas on techniques for writing the acceptance tests. The most immediately interesting was the idea of using log files via a product such as TestTest. My first thought is that this provides an interesting way to tackle automated testing of Sharepoint Workflows – a current issue for me.

At the event I mention that we at Black Marble were considering hosting a similar event, but I had been worried that there would not be the interest as I perceived the attendees of the London event were fairly London based. I am pleased to say that this does not seem to be the case. And true to the principles of an open spaces event we have to recognise that ‘whoever comes are the right people’. Keep an eye of for announcements of an event in the new year.

So thanks again to Ian Cooper, Alan Dean and Ben Hall for organising the event, I look forward to the next one.

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