Are You Actually A Post-Agilist?

Have you heard that term? I happened upon it purely by accident about a year ago and after reading and learning a bit about it I found that I could identify with it quite a bit. You can read Jason Gorman’s post Post-Agilism Explained (Pretentiously) as well as Jonathan Kohl’s massive post – Post-Agilism Frequently Asked Questions for a great discussion of what the post-Agile movement is all about. Jonathan and Jason independently coined the term at about the same time so they are an authority on the term if anyone is. I am going to attempt to give my humble views on the topic and hopefully you will identify with some of what I say.

For those of you who’ve decided to learn about post-Agilism after they finish reading this post (thanks!), post-Agilism is basically a movement in the software development community of people who see themselves as moving beyond Agile methods. They have used Agile and not-so-agile methodologies and have moved beyond both to using an amalgamation of tools and methods that best facilitate them doing their job. Post-Agilism is not about evangelizing a particular process or a set of practices or even the Agile Manifesto, it is about getting to the core of the issues that process in general tries to address and solving them in the best ways possible. At least, this is the way I see it.

Post-Agilism is not about rejecting the Agile practices, it is about not limit yourself by Agile practices. I think the original spirit of the Agile movement has now become the spirit of the post-Agile movement as Agile is becoming less about the spirit and more about pushing a particular Agile process as the best one (there are so many to choose from now). At first it was Agile vs heavyweight; now it is still that, but it is also Agile vs Agile (we are an XP team we are the best, no we are clearly superior for we are a Scrum team!).

I for one get extremely annoyed sometimes at process vs process discussion (be they Agile or not), I see them as completely pointless. One of the core ideas behind Agile which most often seems to be forgotten is the fact that you’re meant to adapt, to ‘bastardise’ the process and practices until you get something that works for you. This makes any kind of process/practice purist argument meaningless. This very agile idea of being adaptable, of chopping and changing to fit your needs is now also at the core of the post-Agile movement.

To me, the most important thing about a process is the ‘spirit’ of it, not the practices. Quite often these days Agile teams seem to loose sight of the agile spirit and I think the post-Agile movement is more about the spirit. When I say spirit I mean things like:

  • respecting the individual
  • communicating effectively
  • doing work (writing code) that you could be proud of
  • not getting bogged down in minutiae
  • having some backbone when dealing with those around your team (i.e. stakeholders etc.)
  • etc.

And all of these at the same time, not one by one.

If these sound suspiciously like the Agile Manifesto, they are meant to, the spirit of the Manifesto is very sound. If some of these sound strangely unlike the Agile Manifesto they are also meant to, the Manifesto is not the be-all, end-all of commandments that we live by.

This I think is also at the heart of the post-Agile movement, it is not about the process, it is not about the practices, it is about the spirit of agile, it is about the ideal. Use your knowledge to select the most appropriate tools, processes and practices, whatever they happen to be. There is no best length for an iteration, there is no best retro format, pick whatever works and discard it if it doesn’t, as long as you stay true to the ideal, you won’t go too far wrong.

Here is an example that might help make my meaning a little bit clearer. I’ve been interested in distributed Agile for a while now. So, what do you do if you ever find yourself working in a distributed environment with multiple teams that are not co-located? Trying to make the best of a bad situation while all the while moaning about how much better things would have been had the teams been located in the same place. That is NOT staying true to the agile spirit (alright, you can moan a little bit, good for the soul and all). Trying to find ways to effectively collaborate, to make things work better, to innovate solutions, to get to know the people on the other teams (rather than complaining about their ‘crappy’ code). That would be living up to the ideal, staying true to the spirit of agile, or post-Agile as the case may be.

I found myself in very strange territory of not being able to find the words to adequately get my point across with this post (I can usually express myself pretty well, and loudly, just ask anyone who knows me). Parts of this post seem overly existential to me while others just seem to tread over the same ground. I guess it comes from trying to express ideas that are almost subconscious for me. Hopefully this will have resonated with people on some level or at the very least given people some food for thought.

Perhaps some comments might help clarify matters for everyone. I’ve tried to explain my thoughts, so what does post-Agilism mean to you? Would you consider yourself a post-Agilist or are you still firmly in the Agile camp (or god-forbid, heavyweight)? Any relevant thoughts would be appreciated.

How NOT To Run A Social Community – Subject Digg


Photo by luisar

When I first started my blog a few months ago, I leaned very quickly (as I am sure many people have before me) that social media was a great way to give a new blog some much needed exposure. Digg, being the undisputed social media leader (at least as far as traffic is concerned), was therefore the natural choice for me to get involved in. It was perhaps a selfish reason to join the community, but that was how I got my first taste of social media.

I soon started learning the ropes and getting more and more involved. I made some friends, started digging more stories and even started submitting some stories of my own. It is perhaps a testament to the shaky foundations that Digg is built on that it didn’t take me long to notice that all was not peaches and cream in the Digg community.

Pandering To The Establishment

As a fairly new Digg user, it was glaringly obvious to me how over-represented the established news sites were on the front page. Digg was never my only source of news, so it was a little bit annoying to come to Digg expecting something different, but seeing the same stuff I just saw on Slashdot, the major papers and a bunch of other places. Perhaps I should have come to Digg first, maybe that was my mistake, but then again maybe the onus should have been on Digg to make sure I did get something worthwhile from my visit.

I certainly get why all the major sites feature on the front page. They are known to be reliable and authoritative, people are happy to vote for stuff they recognise, but that does not mean the content is always what everyone wants to see. Rather than pandering to the establishment Digg should have been coming up with ways to give smaller niche sites equal opportunity to feature. It’s not like people didn’t complain about seeing the same stuff on the front page over and over.

I don’t know what Digg could have done, after all, the community drives the news and if they keep voting, the major sites will keep hitting the front page. However, I could probably come up with some ideas if I think about it and so could the rest of the core Digg community (the active users). Which brings up a good point, nobody asked!

Not Consulting With The Community

It is all well and good to listen to the community, after all you can’t avoid it since they are right there talking, but establishing a dialog with the community is a whole different kettle of fish. I did not see this happening with Digg.

A while after I joined there was a big uproar with some people complaining that others were digging too fast and not clicking through to read the stories. Some of the biggest Digg users were ‘implicated’. Of course the other side of the coin was that people were claiming that Digg was a social community and that in the interests of helping out your friends it is alright to Digg without looking at the story. After all, you trust your friends not to send you dross. This is all just part of how Digg works, right?

Both sides of the argument have some merit and it would certainly have been worth the time to establish a dialog and find a compromise that both sides could have been happy with (or equally unhappy but prepared to live with). Instead, one day, out of the blue, a tacky javascript appeared on Digg that limited the speed at which you could Digg stories. No warning was given of this, and it was implemented badly to boot, with some people being unable to Digg for almost 24 hours.

This was no way to improve the situation, it seemed like exactly what it was, a knee-jerk reaction to some complaining by the more vociferous Digg members. It seems to me that someone with some clout at Digg HQ agreed with one side of the argument, so they decided to do what they felt like to ‘fix’ the situation in their favour. That is not the way to behave in a community, that is a dictatorship!

No Transparency

This one has been an ongoing complaint since long before I joined Digg. Nobody knows exactly how to succeed on Digg. That’s not such a big deal, since people are happy to work the rules out and share with their friends, it can only be good for the community spirit. However, in the case of Digg, the rules seemed to change on the fly. Stories would hit the front page with a pitiful number of Diggs (well under 100), while other would languish in obscurity with several hundred votes under their belt. There are certainly ways to explain this, some people would say, maybe the other story got buried several times and therefore needs way more votes or maybe something else happened.

Well, maybe is the operative word here. Noone know for sure. There is no formula for success, not even a guideline. Quality of content doesn’t matter, you submit a story, you share with your friends, and then you cross your fingers and pray. This actually sounds curiously similar to how the iPhone app store is run, and they’ve been getting loads of positive press lately, right? See what I mean about transparency.

This is not the only problem, for a newbie, even the rules of conduct are unclear. By the time you work out the etiquette, you could easily have been banned or simply made a bad name for yourself in the community. Sure you can read the TOS (not like it is prominently displayed or anything), but not all the info is contained there. Some of it is in the FAQ and who reads that unless they actually have questions, it is not like it’s called README.1st.

Regardless, if you don’t want a confused and angry community with rampant misunderstanding, you need to have more transparency, it is the same in business and it is the same in politics. If you deliberately or accidentally misinform your community or simply keep it in the dark, it will only come back to bite you in the end. But, what does a dictatorship care about what the people think?

My Pet Peeve – No Respect

One day I finished writing what I thought was a particularly nice post on my blog and decided to submit it to Digg. I was only peripherally aware at the time about the ‘rules’ around submitting your own content (good old transparency working like a charm). Imagine my surprise when I get a message on submission telling me that my domain has been banned for violating the TOS. Well I certainly wasn’t aware of violating anything, surely it must have just been a mistake. So, I sent an e-mail to Digg, asking them politely to explain what happened.

Next day I got a somewhat terse reply, telling me that my domain was reported as spam and that in the interests of the community it will not be unbanned. My little blog? Spam? I personally hand crafted every single one of the handful of posts I had on my blog, they most certainly weren’t spam. And what about violating TOS, was someone gonna explain about that? So, sent another e-mail, once again politely asking Digg to please elaborate on how exactly my domain has violated TOS and to please point out to me what part of my blog constituted spam. Maybe I did something wrong unwittingly, who knows?

Well, after waiting for 2 days with no reply, I sent the e-mail again with the same result, no reply. Now, that’s just rude. Firstly a warning about doing something wrong would have been nice. Secondly, is it too much to ask to provide an explanation as to what you did wrong, if only so you don’t make the same mistake again somewhere else? The funniest thing was, my account was not banned, so what the hell was going on.

To this day I am still in the dark. Although getting my blog banned stings a little, what annoys me much more is the way Digg responded to my concerns. It shows a complete lack of respect for the members of the community when e-mails go unanswered. Even if the answer is an auto-response (I can certainly understand being busy), it is still better than nothing. The whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth.

Lessons Learned

Digg was one of the first social media sites, they blazed the trail and tested out the rules. But, that time is long past. The rules have evolved, the people are more savvy and social media is an ever changing landscape. Digg however has become a dinosaur, unable to adjust. It is not at the forefront of innovation any more, the model it operates under is outdated but it doesn’t know how to refresh and become more relevant. Due to all of this it can’t keep up with the younger players. Sure, it is still the biggest and baddest, but the air up there surely must be getting thin by now and soon it’s gonna be hard to breathe.

These days if you want to be successful in the social web, you need to engage positively with your community, that is the essence. I know it sounds like psycho babble, but it doesn’t make it any less relevant. You have to listen to your people but you need to talk to them as well. Nobody wants a faceless overlord, but a charismatic, friendly leader is respected and loved by all. You still have to play nice with the big boys to some degree if you want to succeed, but don’t ignore the smaller players. Everybody loves an underdog, so if you get a reputation for giving the little guy a go, it will only do good things for you in the long run.

You have to make sure the rules are clear from the start. Explain to the people how the system works, a frustrated and confused community is not a happy one. Finally and most importantly, treat your community with respect, each and every individual. No matter what you do, use respect as your motto. Even when you have to ban users, do so with an explanation and do so politely and tell them what, if anything they can do to get into the good books again. Finally, no double standards, treat your lowliest newbie in exactly the same way as you would treat your most active power user. Most people have a pretty finely tuned sense of fair play, don’t try to be too smart for your own good.

Follow these rules and you’ll set a very solid foundation for success for any online social community. The only other things you’ll need are a unique blend of personality and a concept that people just can’t resist. If you have all of that your community is bound to go far. Fail to do any of the above and your community is likely to turn into another Digg and I don’t think anybody wants that, least of all you.

How To Save Money As A Student

money1 My university days are not that far behind me, so before I grow fat off my software developer’s salary (fat chance! – pun intended) and forget what it was like, I though I’d write down some eminently practical advice on how to be more money conscious as a student.

None of this is going to be mind blowing stuff, I am not going to tell you how to make millions so you don’t have to worry about money. Oh alright I will, all you need to do is write the next big social media application and “wham bam thank you ma’am” you’re on easy street. For those of us back on Earth however, I’ll just try to give some tips on how you can hopefully save money and go from being perpetually out of cash to being perpetually low on it (let’s face it there is no tip I can give that will make you perpetually loaded with cash as a student, unless that social media thing works out for you). I am also going to try and make these tips fun unlike some other articles such as this one or this one, which are great but less fun.

Anyway, let’s begin. After careful analysis, study and collaboration with a multitude of experts with impressive titles such as Ph.D. I’ve concluded that 98% of students need more money to do stuff (the other 2% are waiting for their trust fund to mature). Now that I got your attention by quoting respected scienticians and citing highly relevant statistics (they tell me that kind of stuff works on the internet), we can really begin.

It boils down to this. There is only a limited number of things that are important to students/young people, and these are as follows:

  • Alcohol
  • Clothes
  • Cars
  • A Place To Live
  • Getting Home Late At Night
  • Books (textbooks)
  • Fees (you know, all that money your school gouges charges for your education)

Ok , there are lots of other things, but plenty of dating sites/blogs already cover those pretty well, so I won’t be covering that here. We are going to go through each one of the point I mention above and see how to be more money-savvy with each one.

1. Alcohol (also known as Alcamahol)

I am not going to preach about the dangers of drinking and how we should all quit and become missionaries in the jungles of Columbia (help save the drug lords from themselves). Students have always drink, are probably drinking right now, and no doubt will be drinking in the future.

You can however be smart about your drinking. Firstly, drinking less certainly helps, but that’s not for everyone. Therefore secondly, don’t drink while you’re out! Drink before you go out. That’s right, get your drink on at home and then head out all buzzed up and ready to party. The reason you do this is because you can buy alcohol in bulk and store it at your house which comes out a hell of a lot cheaper then getting drinks one at a time in a bar. It’s not rocket science, so why don’t more people do it.

Thirdly, when you’re buying your alcohol in bulk, buy it at the right time. For example, in between holidays and not during holidays. It’s supply and demand, during holidays alcohol is in demand so it will be more expensive, during a holiday lull it will be in less demand and therefore cheaper. So, find these times and stock up. Here are some calculations (I love calculations):

  • 1 bottle of vodka = 24 standard drinks – $40
  • 3 bottles of soft drink (to mix with the vodka) – $10
  • overall you’ll need $50 to have 24 drinks
  • 1 drink at the bar – $6-$10
  • 24 drinks at the bar – $144-$240
  • see the difference?

If you’re REALLY short of money, temporarily cutting alcohol (and other illicit substances) out completely will certainly take you a long way plus your liver will thank you when you’re forty.

2. Clothes

We all want to wear nice clothes, the best brands and all that, especially the metrosexual guys and the girls who like “Sex And The City”. However, the whole point of brands is that you’re paying a premium for the brand name. The quality or the look of the clothes is not necessarily improved by having a brand name attached to it. They are all made in China in the same “factory” anyway.

What I am saying is, you can buy generic brand clothing that will look just as good and will be of the same quality, you just need to shop smart and only buy stuff that you really like (rather than what the cute shop assistant liked). Shopping becomes an even more time consuming process, but you have time, it is money that you’re short on.

However, if you simply can’t deal with not having a cool piece of leather with a funky name stuck all over your jacket, then consider this. There are plenty of little known brands trying to break in to the business, these are once again the same exact clothes (with possibly minor cosmetic differences), but you’ll be paying much less of a premium for the brand name, since it is not very well known. So buying some niche or new brand clothes can save you some cash, plus you can brag to your friends about how you’re supporting up-and-coming young designers.

One last thing, girls, sorry to crush your spirit and all, but guys really aren’t impressed by how expensive and trendy your clothes are or how well the brands complement each other. They really seriously don’t know the difference, if they it seems like they are interested, they are only pretending because they like you, that’s a good thing, but trust me, you’re not wowing them with your fashion sense.

3. Car

Have you considered if you actually really need a car. Cars are expensive, registration, insurance, regular servicing, the costs are ongoing and not insignificant. If you really have a think about how you live your life, you might find that 99% percent of the time, you can get everywhere you need to go by public transport. Sure it is not as comfortable and possibly slower (unless you need to drive during peak-hour), but once again you have the time, you’re short on money.

Getting rid of your car can relieve you of a significant financial burden. Sure sometimes, the car is necessary, but even in most of those situations, you could probably get away with getting yourself a bicycle. Haven’t thought of that one have you? It can be almost as fast as a car in many situation, can take you pretty long distances and as a side benefit get you fit. There is only a very limited number of situations where a car is strictly necessary for a student, the rest are just throwing money away. Consider carefully which group you belong to.

One last thing, guys, sorry to crush your spirit and all, but girls really aren’t impressed by your car,  and how modded it is and which way your rims spin. They really seriously don’t know the difference, if it seems like they are interested, they are only pretending because they like you (which is a good sign, but I digress). So it is not an essential accessory, it is just a mode of transportation, an expensive one.

4. Cabs

When we are students there is one thing we do more than any other. No, it is not studying, it is going out. Parties, events, meeting friends etc., students are always out somewhere. Inevitably these things run late and by the time everyone is ready to go home, the only way to get there, is to take a cab.

Well my advice to you is this, if you want to save cash, don’t use them. Cabs are the devils own transport when it comes to being financially conscious, they don’t run on gas, they run on cash, your cash.

My advice to you is this, if you’re going to be staying out late, either organize somewhere for you to stay where you can simply crawl walk to, alternatively just keep going through the night until you can catch public transport home again. You’ll get a sweet reputation as a party animal and save cash all at the same time. What more need be said.

5. A Place To Live

Just like those dudes in “Braveheart”, we all want out freedom. Students want to be fairly independent or at least want a corner of their own free from people bugging them. This is why many students move out of their parents house – big mistake. Sure it is sometimes unavoidable, many move away when they go to university and surely have to live somewhere. But if you’re not moving away or have close relatives where you’re moving away to. Do seriously consider bumming a free place to live for the duration of your student days.

When you move out, rent is going to be your second biggest expense (after alcamahol), so if you can avoid incurring it, do so at any cost. Not only can you save money on rent if you stay with your parents, but food, bills and a multitude of other miscellaneous things and you’ll get more time to party study, cause you don’t have to rush around trying to switch your electricity back on cause you forgot to pay the bill.

There are downsides, certainly. For example, your mum might find your stack of magazines (by this age you’ll probably have a pretty respectable-sized stack) that your storing for the wonderful article content. But, it is a new age these days, most of those magazines are available online and we can password protect ‘em there – problem solved. All these problems, they are just details, saving a bunch of cash that you can use for more important things, that’s reality.

6. Books

Before internet and Amazon and stuff, they used to have these places where they would store a bunch of books and you could just come and in and borrow some of these books for free, I kid you not. Libraries are sadly overlooked these days. We are constantly bombarded by things we should buy and how we should buy them. Textbooks, don’t have to be one of those things.

You don’t need to buy textbooks, chances are you can borrow the same book at the library if you need it. If you can’t borrow the same one, you can borrow one similar enough that it makes no difference. If you can’t do that you can probably find most of the info online anyway.

You have to really consider if the textbook that is assigned will actually be used to teach the course or will it be used as a reference. I’ve found that no more than 5% of textbooks are actually useful and about 2% of those are strictly necessary.

The key is not to rush, wait and see if the textbook is being used. If it is one of the essential ones then by all means splash out and buy one, otherwise don’t bother. With the amount of money textbooks cost these days, just following this simple tip can improve your financial situation considerably.

7. Fees

Ok not everyone will be able to swing this one, but it makes a tremendous amount of financial sense, if you can get a loan from your parents or relatives interest free, do it and use it to pay your student fees upfront.

The loans that you take out to pay your fees are not the bad thing, the interest is the bad thing, no matter how small. Trying paying your loans back over a decade or two and just watch that tiny interest compound. Paying upfront will save you from that interest, plus you can often get discounts when you pay upfront so it makes even more sense in that regard.

As I said, most people won’t be able to do this one since they don’t have anyone they can mooch an interest free loan off, but if you can find someone, go for it. Many people don’t consider this option even when it is available because they don’t want to place the financial burden on their parents. I say don’t worry too much about it, your parents would probably be happy to take on that burden (cause they hopefully love you and stuff) and when you’re all graduated and earning the big bucks, you can certainly help your parents out without having to worry about interest eating half your wages.

Ok, that’s it. I’ve covered all my points. Hmmm, doesn’t seem like enough does it, lets see, more tips… ummm… work hard, don’t do drugs, obey the law … gee really putting me on the spot here … don’t eat cheese with a little knife that just looks fruity, wear clean underwear if you’re gonna record yourself doing the Macarena and put it on YouTube.  Ok, I am fresh out of tips now.

Just to put on my serious cap for a little while. As much fun as I’ve had with this post, the advice I give is very practical. The things I talk about can be the biggest money sinks for a student if you’re not careful. Therefore, if you remain vigilant with regards to your financial situation and take my tips on board, you can go a long way to keeping your finances in the black. Remember, while you’re “only young once”, you’re also old only once, but you’re a lot less able to handle the stress of living frugally when you’re older than you are when you’re young. The point I am trying to make is that learning to be frugal while you’re a student will not only improve your financial situation down the line, but will also teach you good habits where your money is concerned and that is the one thing that is sure to help you be financially secure throughout your life.