Friday, December 30, 2011

Thank you, 2011

It’s December. That means it’s time to write a long, rambling post looking back on the year. It’s been a very exciting and eventful year for me, so I’m actually appreciating having the time to do this.

Last new year's eve I tweeted the following. And I wasn't wrong.
2011 is gonna be amazing, you just watch!

I’ve changed jobs, moved from Düsseldorf to Hamburg, took part in a lot of conferences and events, organised a few things myself and in all of that met a huge amount of amazing people that truly inspired me. Thank you, everyone! It was an amazing year.

Starting out

At the start of the year I was getting frustrated at work because I was not able to communicate what I thought were some positive and useful lessons. We had a great team and our experimenting with agile methods helped us get better at developing software and at better understanding our customers. But we weren’t able to make these experiences more visible and I grew impatient and unhappy with the decisions made for the rest of the department.

And so, slowly, the decision to look for a new job started to form. I really liked the job and the team and the company but I was scared of losing my enthusiasm and stagnating, which has happened to me in the past. And so I wasn’t eager to just join any other company but rather look for something where I could learn as much as possible. I didn’t want to leave the team before finishing the current set of features that were supposed to go live for an event in May. So I decided to wait until then to start looking for a new job in earnest. It didn't quite go like that.

A week in London

In March my colleague Christian Kellner and I were lucky enough to be able to go to QCon in London. And since I was already in London and somehow got word that the SDT Conference was happening on the weekend after QCon, I took part in that, too. It was a week of intensive learning (and drinking, I guess) and so it was all too much to ever sit down and do a proper write-up, like I did last year. I’ll try and give it a quick shot now.

One overarching theme and notable difference to the year before was affordable internet roaming and thus access to Twitter and Maps. What did people ever do without them? This meant I was able to find interesting people to talk to during the evenings and this made the week a much richer experience.

One of those interesting people was Benjamin Mitchell. He pointed me to the eXtreme Tuesday Club (twice, after me not really getting the “Tuesday” part of it on Monday ☺) where we had an interesting but very confusing conversation. This gave me the incentive to go see his talk later in the week after which a lot of our earlier conversation started to make sense. His talk and my subsequent further reading on ‘that Argyris stuff’ was probably the biggest influence on me this year. It helped me see a lot of problems I have communicating with people. And trying to avoid attributing malevolent intent to people just because they do or say things I disagree with is a very simple but powerful concept and I think that made me a more relaxed and happy person.

QCon London 2011
Me rambling at Torbjörn Gyllebring and Benjamin Mitchell (photo by Peter Pilgrim)

On Saturday evening, after the first day of SDT Conf, some of us, surprisingly, ended up in a pub. Here, Jo Cranford made a very enthusiastic (and ultimately convincing) sales pitch for joining ThoughtWorks. After a few days deliberation I contacted Jo and eventually applied. (I should also mention Marc Johnson and Liz Keogh, who also made me feel like applying might be a good idea.)

The application process took quite some time but was very interesting (but I’ll not go into that now). In the end, I got an offer, quit my old job and started with ThoughtWorks in July. Leaving my old team was very sad but they were very supportive and understanding, which made it even sadder, I guess.

A very busy couple of weeks

As a kind of bookend to my time in Düsseldorf Adrian Bolboaca and myself held a code retreat in May. Andreas Ebbert-Karroum was kind enough to arrange for codecentric to sponsor the location and catering. It was a nice event with a dozen participants and I really enjoyed the opportunity to facilitate together with Adrian. I’m incredibly impressed with the amount of time, effort and skill he puts into helping people become better developers and I hope I continue to keep running into him (which happened surprisingly often, this year). (The same actually goes for Greg Dziemidowicz, where all of this also applies.)

Me rambling at more people (photo by Andreas Ebbert-Karroum)

I took part in a few more code retreats and also the ‘first’ legacy code retreat, held by JB Rainsberger. It’s always fun, it’s always nice to meet and pair with new people and I can only recommend it to anyone. I also hope to be organizing a legacy code retreat in Hamburg some time early next year but more on that later.

With that done it was time to find a new apartment in Hamburg and sort out moving there. This proved to be fairly challenging, as the housing market in Hamburg is insane. ThoughtWorks was helpful and I finally found something just in time before I started work on my first project.

Having all of these things overlap and taking part in four different cities I’m amazed everything eventually worked itself out. I owe everything to my friends & family (especially my brother) who helped me out a great deal. And I was lucky in reading Personal Kanban just in time to find some tools to help me stay sane.

The first project

After a week of induction and a couple of days in Hamburg finding the new apartment I was already off to Berlin. Here, two colleagues and myself joined a newly formed team.

I was excited and curious to see how things were different when coming in as an external consultant. Everyone seemed to have pretty high expectations for us, which scared me a bit. Thankfully, this also meant that there was a lot of trust from the start. And since the team was already doing well in terms of testing and short iterations, this meant that we were quickly off, writing useful code.

My involvement in that project ended just the other day and for me it was a huge success. I immensely enjoyed having been part of that team and so leaving it was yet another very sad moment. In a way, I think I got off to a very easy start. The people on the team were really cool, there was already strong management support for working in an agile way and I got to work on a technology stack I was already familiar with (including more Javascript, which I find increasingly fun to work with). It will be interesting to see how that compares to future projects.

More conferences

In between my time there I also managed to visit two more conferences, Agile Lean Europe in Berlin and Lean & Kanban Benelux in Antwerp. I keep going back to Belgium even now after it’s no longer an easy two-hour car ride from home. This is testament to the quality of the Belgian beer and to the really nice events the guys from Agile Minds keep organizing.

Both conferences I really enjoyed. My highlight from LKBE was a very funny talk from Jim Benson (co-author of aforementioned Personal Kanban). At ALE it was my colleagues’ Barry O’Reilly and Jo Cranford talking about mental models (i.e. more of that Argyris stuff). (The way people and topics intersected throughout the year is something I found really funny. It is a small world.)

An evening at ALE (photo by Marcin Floryan)

ALE was a whole different thing in itself though. The vibe was distinctly different from other conferences, even other un-conferences. There was a lot of positive energy and a sense of hopefulness. Considering there is currently a lot of gloominess in the agile community (with good reason, I guess) it was nice to see people spreading their enthusiasm. Also, I got a random and unexpected hug, which I appreciated more than I would have expected.

Also at ALE, I got the idea for starting xtcBerlin, which I’ve already written about here. There is now a small but steady group of people meeting regularly for beers and shop talk and I’m happy for the conversations I’ve had. I’m pretty hopeful for this to keep on going even after I leave Berlin (in March, I guess?) though I should probably be more aggressive in advertising it.

This might be a good point to say something about Berlin. Eh, whatever…


I’m not going to go into too much detail about ThoughtWorks, as I’m running out of steam writing this. To keep it short: I like it. What really stood out for me was how welcoming every single ThoughtWorker I’ve run into has been. There’s a level of openness and willingness to collaborate that I don’t think is common over such a large group of people.

In summary

It was a very good year. Writing this, the main thing I kept coming back to was how much I enjoyed interacting with so many people. I feel privileged and hope I was able to give back at least a tiny bit of the awesomeness that I received. Again, thank you all very much!

There’s just one other thing that I want to point out, because it is important to me and I want to remind myself of it. All the major decisions I made this year went against my nature and were not always easy or comfortable for me to make. And I regret none of it. I’m richer for all the experiences I’ve made.

Which is to say: leave your comfort zone every once in a while.