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Ten Years of Agile: An Interview with Jon Kern

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In this interview, Jon Kern discusses his part in the Agile Manifesto, the evolution of Agile, and what he’s up to now.
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Jon Kern is a consultant and Agile coach, but he also has experience as an entrepreneur (founding or co-founding 5 companies), a business executive, a product evangelist, and an engineer doing R&D on cruise missile jet engines.

In 2001, Jon belonged to a very small group of individuals who were trying to change the face of software development, and was invited to the "Snowbird" gathering in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. This gathering atop Snowbird later because famous for producing the Agile Manifesto for Software Development.

In this interview, Jon discusses his part in the Agile Manifesto, the evolution of Agile, and what he’s up to now.

InformIT: You were a co-author of the Agile Manifesto in 2001. What drew you to the gathering?

Jon: I think Bob Martin contacted Peter Coad regarding Feature-Driven Development. In his stead, Peter asked if I would participate. I had been working closely with Peter throughout the 90s, on books like Java Design and Modeling in Color with UML (where I helped a great deal on the FDD section with Jeff De Luca). In 1999, I joined Peter when we founded TogetherSoft to further promote our UML modeling tool and to extend our reach with Coad-certified mentors--teaching Java, OO, FDD, and kick-starting projects.

InformIT: Ten years ago, what were your predictions and expectations for the Agile movement?

Jon: My recollection was that heavy-weight processes--like RUP and MIL-STD 2167--were more commonplace than I liked. The massive rigor of RUP especially rubbed me the wrong way--and, at TogetherSoft, we were always going head-to-head (and frequently winning) against Rational. But Rational was a huge marketing machine, and people were fawning all over the heavyweight process CDs. UGH.

So we were getting together as lightweight methodologists (in the process sense, not manly-sense <g>), to discuss ways that we work and how we think about projects and process. We wanted to find what--if any--common threads existed among our processes.

Given the strong wills in the room, I was very pleased (and mildly surprised) that we netted out our commonalities down to a handful of bullets. One of my big impetuses was to engender "honesty" in the software development process. Too many projects were being run by Gantt charts with tasks being forever 87% done, but never completed. I wanted to ensure we promoted "Frequent, Tangible, Working Results"--something Peter Coad beat into my head.

However, to your question, I had no expectations. We did not set about to do anything other than meet, learn what we had in common, and share it. I'm not sure anybody thought much of anything would happen. I sure did not anticipate we would start a craze!

InformIT: Since the manifesto was signed in 2001, we've seen the agile movement spawn a dozen conferences, several associations, hundreds of books, and even new movements like Software Craft. How does this differ from your wishes and predictions from ten years ago? In hindsight, do you see any downside to the direction Agile has taken, or do you see more possible benefit had it taken a different direction?

Jon: I'm happy that "agile" has spawned on new ideas. I like rocking the status quo. The only thing that has me mildly torn--and only mildly, because "to each his own" and "what-evs" come to mind--is the craze surrounding Scrum. Scrum, scrum, scrum, scrum. Part of me is happy that there are legions out there turning the sod under, trying to sow the agile seeds via Scrum. Another part of me thinks it is like Corn-to-Ethanol. A waste of energy for the dumbfounded among us, spurred on by lots of lobbying.

InformIT: What do you find to be new and exciting in the world of agile software? Where do you predict the world of software development is heading next?

Jon: I am completely wrapped up in the world of Ruby. (Wishing I had had the time to have listened to and acted on the Pragmatic programmers (Andy and Dave) way back when they mentioned Ruby and wondered if we would support it in TogetherSoft. Too much of a niche back then... If I only knew then what I know now...)

Anyway, for me, Ruby is the closest thing to meet the age-old promise of OO, yet seemingly eluded most of us for decades in various other languages (C++, C#, Java). The constellation of tools and community and what have you, really lend itself to being a very agile shop with very little effort.

InformIT: What advice would your current self give to yourself at that Agile meeting ten years ago?

Jon: Hmmm. Great question. I think it would be to have gone out a few days earlier to have gotten more time in for even more skiing.

InformIT: What are you working on now?

Jon: I have a couple of small companies that I am part of. We are doing development with Ruby, Rails, MongoDB, MongoMapper. The problem domain spaces are:

  • AxialExchange Healthcare (taking in disparate message feeds, HL7, NEMSIS, etc.) and doing useful information processing to keep doctors and other entities informed of various events around patient encounters to help the care follow the patient by breaking down the silos.
  • Blazemark Pre-incident Planning (for fire, police, first responder types). Preplanning buildings to help save lives and property.

InformIT: Where can we go to learn more about those projects?

Jon: Oh, hmmm. Well both products are used exclusively by registered, logged-in users, and neither have the sort of marketing websites they probably deserve (hoping to change that this year). So you can read more at http://getblazemark.com and http://AxialExchange.com. Plus you can often tell what sorts of tech I am trying to learn while doing these projects from my blog at http://TechnicalDebt.com.

InformIT: Thank you for participating, Jon.

Jon: My pleasure. Thanks for caring :-)

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