An image promoting my improv for developers workshop at Beer City CodeI'm headed back to the Midwest to do some speakerizing again in August 2024.

Beer City Code 24 is in Grand Rapids, MI, on Aug 2-3. I'm super excited to present a workshop, Improv for Developers, which is where we'll do actual improv training and then talk about how those skills translate to software development. It's 6 hours (!!), but it should be a lot of fun!

I'll also talk about greenfield development: specifically, that it doesn't really exist anymore. There are always preexisting considerations you're going to have to take into account, so I'll give some hard-won tips on sussing them out.

DevUp will be held in St. Louis on Aug. 14-16. I'll be talking about greenfields again, as well as reasons scrum-based development tends to fail, and how we can measure developer productivity.

Hope to see you this summer!

YES, AND you also have to write documentation or no one will know what the hell you were thinking when you wrote it.

When I gave my talk, "That's not real scrum: Measuring and managing productivity for development teams" at MiTechCon 2024 in Pontiac, MI, there were a number of great questions, both in-person and from the app. I collected them here, as a supplement to the accessible version of the talk.

Q: What are best practices on implementing agile concepts for enterprise technology teams that are not app dev (e.g., DevOps, Cloud, DBA, etc.)?

A brief summary: 1) Define your client (often not the software's end-user; could be another internal group), and 2) find the way to release iteratively to provide them value. This often requires overcoming entrenched models of request/delivery — similar to how development tends to be viewed as a "service provider" who gets handed a list of features to develop, I would imagine a lot of teams trying to make that transition are viewed as providers and expected to just do what they're told. Working back the request cycle with the appropriate "client" to figure out how to deliver incremental/iterative value is how you can deliver successfully with agile!

Q: How do I convince a client who wants stuff at a certain time to trust the agile process?

There's no inherent conflict between a fixed-cost SOW and scrum process. The tension that tends to exist in these situations is not the cost structure, but rather what is promised to be delivered and when. Problems ensue when you're delivering a fixed set of requirements by a certain date - you can certainly do that work in a somewhat agile fashion and gain some of the benefits, but you're ultimately setting yourself up to experience tension as you get feedback through iterations that might ultimately diverge from the original requirements.

This is the "change order hell" that often comes with client work — agile is by definition flexible in its results, so if we try to prescribe them ahead of time, we're setting ourselves up for headaches. That's not to say it's not worth doing (the process may be beneficial to the people doing the work if the waterfall outcome is prescribed), but note (to yourself and the client) that a waterfall outcome (fixed set of features at a fixed date) brings with it waterfall risk, even if you do the work in an agile fashion.

It is unfortunately very often difficult, but this is part of the "organizational shift" I spoke about. If the sales team does not sell based on agile output, it's very difficult to perform proper agile development in order the reap all its benefits.

Q: We're using Agile well; How do we dissuade skip-level leadership from demanding waterfall delivery dates using agile processes?

This is very similar to the previous answer, with the caveat that it's not on you to convince a level of leadership beyond your own manager of anything. You can and should be providing your manager with the information and advice mentioned in the above answer, but ultimately that convincing has to come from the people they manage, not levels removed. Scrum (and agile, generally) requires buy-in up and down the corporate stack.

Q: What are best practices for ownership of the product backlog?

Best practices are contextual! Ownership of the product backlog is such a tricky question.

In general, I think product backlogs tend to have too many items. I am very much a fan of expiring backlog items — if they haven't been worked on in 30 days (two-ish sprints), they go away (system-enforced!) until the problem they address comes up again.

The product owner is accountable for the priority and what's included or removed from the product backlog.

I kind of think teams should have two separate stores of stories: One is the backlog, specific ideas or stories that are going to be worked on (as above) in the next sprint or two), which is the product owner's responsibility. The second is a brainstorming pool — preferably not even in the same system (because it is NOT the case that you should be just be plucking from the pool and plopping on the backlog). Rather, these are just broad ideas or needs we want to capture so we don't lose sight of them, but from them, specific problems are identified and stories written. This should be curated by the product owner, but allow for easier/broader access to add to it.

Q: Is it ever recommended to have the Scrum Master also be Product Manager?

(I am assuming for the sake of this question that Product Manager = Product Owner. If I am mistaken, apologies!)

I would generally not recommend the product owner and the scrum master be the same person, though I am aware by necessity it sometimes happens. It takes a lot of varied skills to do both of those jobs, and in most cases if it happens successfully it's because there's a separate system in place to compensate in one or both areas. (e.g., there's a separate engineering manager who's picking up a lot of what would generally be SM work, or the product owner is in name only because someone else/external is doing the requirements- gathering/customer interaction). Both positions require a TON of work to perform properly - direct customer interaction, focus groups, metrics analysis and stakeholder interaction are just some of a PM's duties, while the SM should be devoted to the dev team to make sure any blocks get cleared and work continues apace.

But even more than time, there's a philosophical divide that would be difficult to resolve in one person. The SM should be looking at things from a perspective of what's possible now, whereas the PM should have a longer-term view of what should be happening soon. Rare is the individual who can hold both of those things in their head with equal weight; usually one is going to be prioritized over the other, to the detriment of the process overall.

Q: What is the best (highest paying) Scrum certification?

If your pay is directly correlated with the specific certification you have, you are very likely working for the company that provides it. Specific certifications may be more favored in certain industries or verticals, but that's no more than generally indicative of pay than the difference between any two different companies.

More broadly, I view certifications as proof of knowledge that should be useful and transferable regardless of specific situation. Much like Agile, delivering value (and a track record of doing same) is the best route to long-term career success (and hence more money).

Q: Can you use an agile scrum approach without a central staffing resource database?

Yes, with a but! You do not need a formal method of tracking your resourcing, but the scrum master (at the team level) needs to know their resourcing (in terms of how many developers are going to be available to work that sprint) in order to properly plan the sprint. If someone is taking a vacation, you need to either a) pull in fewer stories, b) increase your sprint length, or c) pull in additional resources (if availble to you).

Even at the story level, this matters. If you have a backend ticket and your one BE developer is out, you're not gonna want to put that in the sprint. But it doesn't need to be a formal, centralized database. It could be as simple as everyone noting their PTO during sprint planning.

What's always both heartening and a little bit sad to me is how much the scrum teams want to produce good products, provide value, and it's over-management that holds them back from doing so.

Your frontend is not your backend: Using data transfer objects to keep your code focused

Today I want to talk about data transfer objects, a software pattern you can use to keep your code better structured and metaphorically coherent. It’s a tool that can help you stay in the logical flow of your application, making it easier to puzzle through and communicate about the code you’re writing, both to yourself and others.

The DTO is one of my go-to patterns, and I regularly implement it for both internal and external use.
I’m also aware most people already know what pure data objects are. I’m not pretending we’re inventing the wheel here - the value comes in how they’re applied, systematically.

This is a long 'un, buckle in

Sexism in tech is alive and well

Honestly, I thought we were past this as an industry? But my experience at Developer Week 2024 showed me there's still a long way to go to overcoming sexism in tech.

And it came from the source I least expected; literally people who were at the conference trying to convince others to buy their product. People for whom connecting and educating is literally their job.

Time and again, both I (an engineer) and my nonbinary wife (a business analyst, at a different organization) found that the majority of the masculine-presenting folks at the booths on the expo floor were dismissive and disinterested, and usually patronizing.

Hear the tale as old as time

Also, the sheer number of static code analysis companies makes me thinks there's a consolidation incoming. Not a single one of three could differentiate their offerings on more than name and price.

OK, so it's not exactly "new" anymore, but this is the accessibility talk I gave at Longhorn PHP in Nov. 2023. And let's be honest, it's still new to 99% of you. My favorite piece of feedback I got was, "I know it's about 'updates,' but you could have provided an overview of the most common accessibility practices." Bruh, it's a 45-minute talk, not a 4-hour workshop.

I'll be hitting the lecture circuit again this year, with three conferences planned for the first of 2024.

In February, I'll be at Developer Week in Oakland (and online!), talking about Data Transfer Objects.

In March, I'll be in Michigan for the Michigan Technology Conference, speaking about clean code as well as measuring and managing productivity for dev teams.

And in April I'll be in Chicago at php[tek] to talk about laws/regulations for developers and DTOs (again).

Hope to see you there!

Who holds a conference in the upper Midwest in March???

Hey everybody, in case you wanted to see my face in person, I will be speaking at LonghornPHP, which is in Austin from Nov. 2-4. I've got two three things to say there! That's twice thrice as many things as one thing! (I added a last-minute accessibility update).

In case you missed it, I said stuff earlier this year at SparkConf in Chicago!

I said stuff about regulations (HIPAA, FERPA, GDPR, all the good ones) at the beginning of this year. This one is available online, because it was only ever available online:

I am sorry for talking so fast in that one, I definitely tried to cover more than I should have. Oops!

The SparkConf talks are unfortunately not online yet (for *reasons*), and I'm doubtful they ever will be.