Open Source and Agile – oil and water?

My $DEITY, BarCamps are fun! I spent a great Sunday in Oxford, together with a bunch of fellow Apache-ans and my new colleague: the venue exceeded my expectations by far, with loads of informative content, great fun and amazing views of Oxford during the post-lunch walkabout.

I took the liberty to set up a session to talk about Open Source and Agility, which was actually a lame excuse to drag Marco to the stage and see if we could make sense of what seems to be a conundrum where Agilists and Open Source developers share the same values of openness, transparency and technical merit, yet we don’t seem to be able to come up with a way of working together (as in running Open Source communities with Agile practices, or opening up Agile teams to Open Development processes).

I used to blame Agilists for that, as their strong position on classical unities seems to be one of the major blockers: as long as the team has to be co-located, there goes your clash with any Open Source development model. Co-location has also been a major pet peeve of yours truly, as I believe it’s a model that doesn’t scale and is not fit to today’s work environments who are clearly moving towards asynchronous and disperse teamwork. Thanks Marco for reminding me how I was just being the classical fool that looks at the finger pointing to the moon. In Marco’s words:

I see little value in mapping exercises (being it mapping XP or Scrum practices to CMMi or Open Development or whatnot). I see value in discussing commonalities and differences in values and principles and drive everything else from there.

Or, to put it differently, there is little point in arguing practices and processes, which should always be means to an end. He conceded that I’m actually in good company, though, as a large majority of Agile/XP die-hards have long since been sticking to practices for the sake of practices (“no pair, no party”, anyone?), ignoring the tenets of Shuhari, where practices are considered drills you should adopt and rehearse so that you can pick, choose and evolve on what works best for you. With this in mind, it might be a good time to see what are the commonalities in the “ends” and if there are incompatible differences.

Marco points out how the biggest problem might be the lack of a customer to satisfy in Open Source communities, something I could subscribe to but only if I’m allowed to note how there are usually many customers around a successful Open Source project, with every member of the community reporting to a different patron – herself included – with different needs and different priorities. The standard Open Development response to what could potentially be a serious stopgap in terms of different interests acting in the same project and pushing in different directions is clear, though: on one hand, do-ocracy and his French-speaking twin JFDI does the trick, and on the other keeping discussions and basing decisions solely on technical matters help tremendously as well. At the end of the day, this means that the customer is there – it just happens to coincide with the community as a whole.

Is that enough? Not sure, but I subscribe to what Ross Gardler writes on slide 26 of his thorough Agile and Open Development wrap-up. There just has to be a way to make Agile and Open Development sing in harmony: Agile has enormous potential to deliver, and Open Development can provide amazing peer review and long-term sustainability. Losing either would be just foolish: as long as there is room for middle-ground, openness and flexibility, I’m sure we can make it happen. More to come.

Software sustainability – the tour

A couple of weeks ago I was having an absolute blast in a small-yet-packed room at ApacheCon Europe, where I presented on software sustainability, a topic that’s very close to my heart. Slides are embedded below (and available here), even though chances are you won’t make a lot of sense of them (I hate bullet-point slideware with a passion). Don’t worry though, as I will have the very same talk modulo a few updates at the first edition of Better Software in Florence, May 6-7. See you there?

Hiring better than myself

While I have mixed feelings about Guy Kawasaki, I find some of his advice absolutely crucial to running a successful company. One of my mantras has always been the “hire better than yourself” motto, and this pragmatic yet effective advice guided me into building an incredible team in Sourcesense, where I am constantly amazed by the quality, diversity and general coolness of people involved. The side effect is that I am the crappy one, but I can live with that. :-)

The very latest example is our new hire, who has just been announced. I knew Marco Abis as one of the founders of the Italian Agile Movement, the father of the Italian edition of the Agile Day and a guy who successfully managed to climb the ladder to directorship at nothing short than ThoughtWorks: an amazing set of credentials indeed. I had the pleasure of meeting him in person one year ago during my shorter-than-expected London stay, and I was thoroughly impressed.

Fast forward a few months and when he approached me early this year asking some information about Sourcesense and how we are building a great stance in the Agile community, I just couldn’t resist pitching him a position in London as I was convinced he would be the perfect fit to take over my interim position as the next person in charge for the UK market. We soon found out we spoke the same language and actually didn’t have to bother speaking too much as we had a lot of shared neurons. I am now just overjoyed in seeing him sitting beside me as the brand new Managing Director for Sourcesense UK: we are now going through an impressive list of business opportunities which will keep him busy for years to come, yet I’m positive Marco will do a lot more good to this company than just business.

I will be spending the whole month of April in London with Marco, visiting existing and new contacts, recruiting new staff and making sure he’s able to hit the ground running. If you’re about, we will be both available not just for business meetings: lots of beers and party will be in order!

A blast!

I’m slowly resurfacing from the Sourcesense day, our first (and highly overdue!) all-company meeting where we celebrated our third birthday and took the chance to finally put names to faces, enjoying an off-site day with presentations, brainstorming sessions, great food and a wine tasting contest, a big party in downtown Milano with many friends showing up, and a hackathon day in the Milan office which has been extremely productive in mixing together our impressive set of expertise and skill, learning from each other and finding lots of common ground.

Adrenaline has been keeping me up to what have been two very intense and gratifying days and, as any organizer, I have been completely blown up by the end of the meeting, looking forward to a week-end full of sleep to recharge batteries. I’m still in recovery mode, but I would do it again tomorrow and I am indeed looking forward to the next venue; I think I have learned more from these mere two days than in three years’ worth of hard work in creating a diverse, international and kick-ass team. It was just amazing to see how people coming from different backgrounds have been able to come up with a common vision, a set of shared values and a clear direction for the future.

The Sourcesense management will have a lot to digest in the upcoming weeks to keep up with the very high expectations from the team (my plate is now full with many action points), yet I’m confident this meeting has been a turnaround point to all of us, and a way to sit down and admire the impressive achievements we managed to score during the past three years. I still don’t know – though I’m going to find out soon – what parenting means, but I have to note how filled with pride I have been in seeing how we managed to grow from a guy, a rough plan and a DSL line to a room packed with people coming from all over the world and working towards a common goal.

Thanks to all who attended: it’s been a real blast, and I can’t wait to do it again.

La Divina Commedia – geek style

Much like Dante, I now know what Heaven and Hell feel to a poor geek like myself.

Hell: I was in Oxford to deliver a talk at an outstanding event. Woke up early and refreshed, enjoyed a great breakfast, finished up my slides, put my computer to sleep and walked to the conference. Went to the podium to test my Mac with the projector.

Opened the lid, it didn’t wake up.

Hit a few keys, still no joy.

Oh well, that happens, just reboot the thing and move on.

Not really, it doesn’t boot up.

Cold shivers run through my spine as I extract the battery, to no avail.

It gets scary when the PRAM/NVRAM reset doesn’t seem to help, nor does it doing the same to the PMU: all of a sudden, I realize my Macbook just turned to the most expensive brick ever, the only good news being how incredibly helpful are people at the Oxford Computing Centre: minutes before my presentation starts, my machine has been disemboweled, the hard disk ripped off and put in an external enclosure connected to an iBook G4. Luckily enough, a somewhat dated PDF version of my slides is there, so my talk can proceed.

I still have to manage two days away from home, without a computer, uncertain about what’s left on my data and even unable to recharge my iPhone as the machine is so screwed up the USB plug doesn’t get any juice. If it wasn’t for the great guys at OSSWatch letting me borrow their workstations and notebooks, I’d be probably hanging from the Radcliffe Camera.

Heaven: mortal remains of my laptop are sitting in my bag when I get the following e-mail from the awesome Slicehost team:

At approximately 21-Oct-2008 00:00 GMT the server your slice is on stopped responding to our monitoring systems. After several attempts to powercycle the server it became necessary to fully swap out the server hardware. Your slices are now running on new hardware. We apologize for the trouble, contact us with any questions.

All of a sudden, I start to think how I would feel if I still had to manage my own hardware – that frantic feeling of whether we will find the culprit, find someone who is able to take a day off and drive to the colo, install the spare parts, hoping backups will work. All this now turns into an email along the lines of “your server b0rked, it’s now fixed”: long live the Cloud! If only we could do that for laptops…

SpringSource on a slippery slope

This just in, thanks Bertrand:

Rod Johnson: “Anyone who refuses to compile an open source project under any circumstances doesn’t really believe in open source: they believe in other people working for them for free.”

I couldn’t agree more, but that’s not the heart of the problem. I actually happened to agree with Mark Brewer when he was explaining me the new SpringSource policy in Paris, yet I’m afraid they completely lost me if it’s true – as Steve notes – that they are keeping SCM build tags secret. What’s the next step? Taking the build files away? Introducing a voluntary typo in the code so that you actually have to fix it manually to recompile? I can somewhat understand software packaging as value you might sell a customer into, but Rod and friends are just about to cross the line with this decision.

SpringSource is running the serious risk of making some aggregators very happy or – worse – to see their code undergoing a community fork. For sure, community love is going down the drain, then we’ll see. All this to secure what, in the end?

Europe and US: the impedence mismatch

Another great Think Tank has come and gone, and needless to say $DAYJOB kept me from writing a report. Luckily enough Larry Augustin beat me to it and came up with a post that’s nothing short of wonderful, the quintessence of it being how Europe and the US are barely speaking the same language when it comes to Open Source. My somewhat oversimplification to Larry’s synopsis:

  • Europe tends to consider dual licensing as “fake Open Source”. That quote alone, coming from a prominent guy from the French Public IT sector, made my day.
  • The sales model in Europe is heavily driven by VARs and SIs. Yours truly is not surprised, as that’s the very reason for giving birth to Sourcesense, but it was good to see our business model validated and blessed throughout the event.

Fabrizio, a true European despite his brand new US passport, adds some interesting comments, noting how you need to be in the US if you want to create a successful software company, so much that a number of Europeans actually crossed the Ocean and went to the valley. Can’t argue with that, but at least now we know the reasons why, and it’s probably a good time to ask ourselves if software companies are the way to go anyways. It has been pointed out at the event how the VC model helps building product-oriented businesses in the US, yet what I’m questioning with my European hat on is whether the venture attitude is building value for customers: yes, it’s a rhetoric question as you should know by now that my answer is no. Finally, I won’t miss to address in a future post the objection from Fabrizio about the “services don’t scale” mantra (should you unsubscribe now, know that the answer is they do scale, and they scale sustainably).

This Think Tank wrap-up wouldn’t be complete without noting how I had a wonderful time in Paris, and how it’s hard to give enough kudos points to Andrew Aitken of Olliance and Alexandre and Celine Zapolsky from our fellow colleagues of Linagora. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to meet all the Think Tank folks in Napa next year. And you should be there as well.