Postcard from the Seaside
It’s been 20 years since I was last in Falmouth. I grew up in Cornwall and we used to spend our summer holidays in the city. As kids, my brothers and I would snorkel at Swanpool beach, play ball games in Kimberley Park and watch reenactors at Pendennis Castle. My dad even took us to “Fraggle Rock” Lighthouse once. I remember being disappointed not to see any Fraggles or radishes!
I was back in Falmouth for the Agile on the Beach conference over the 1st and 2nd of September and it was a strange experience returning. So much was the same, and yet a lot had also changed.
There’s a fancy Rick Stein restaurant by the water now and a travel card to get around on the ferries. The view over the beach is the same though; the clanking of masts in the marina and the smell of seaweed. Pendennis Castle still lights up at night and St Anthony’s lighthouse still beams out across the water.
A major change however is that the tech scene in Cornwall has evolved rapidly since I moved ‘up north’ in 1999. When I left there was barely any broadband, but since fibre was installed in 2005 business has boomed.
The Agile on the Beach conference was started 6 years ago by a couple of local business owners and it has grown into an established annual event. Delegates from across the UK and Europe come together for two days of talks and workshops on the subject of Agile.
Agile is a methodology – a way of working that’s proved incredibly popular with software development and has since moved into web development. It focuses on rapid development cycles and client collaboration.
At Evoluted we already use some Agile practices and I attended the conference to learn more about how both our team and our clients could benefit from it.
The conference was held at Famouth College Penryn Campus. It is a stunning location with the campus spread across beautiful grounds.
Upon arrival, I was greeted by the smell of food – a local street food vendor was in charge of breakfast!
The thoughtful planning continued with sun lotion in the goodie bag – the sun was blazing hot at 8:30am so it was needed whilst I chatted with other delegates.
The Keynote on Day 1 was from Linda Rising who had flown over from the States to talk about science and stories. She was keen to impress that stories motivate us people in a way that scientific data and facts don’t, but that we should talk a scientific approach to how we work:
- Experiment, get data, analyse, learn and repeat!
- Use stories to get your message across, be honest and open to change.
- Her inspiring talk was a great start to the day.
The conference had 5 tracks: Software Delivery, Product, Teams, Business and a bonus workshop. I divided my time across the 4 key tracks to get a broad spectrum of talks.
- Jo Cranford talking about the challenges of maintaining high quality code with regular deployments.
- Kat Matfield on how people are irrational and what they ask for isn’t always what they really want.
The sessions I attended were a good mix of talks and hands on group work.
A surprise on day 2 was a session called “Positive Disruption and Agile Trouble Making”, which ended up being a talk where the session leader never spoke.
— Disruptive_Nigel (@nigel_brkr) 2 September 2016
Nigel Barker instead created an environment where the delegates helped each other with goals or challenges in their work. It was a fascinating session and it certainly lived up to its title.
The first day ended with a party on the beach, so the conference lived up to its name. Local food providers cooked a barbecue, shanty singers flash-mobbed the beach and we toasted marshmallows around fires.
Whilst paddling in the sea and breathing in the salty air, I had the chance to digest the information that I’d taken in that day. There are a lot of benefits to the Agile process that I can see, but they aren’t always going to be appropriate for our projects and clients at Evoluted.
A more experimental mindset is required rather than a traditional expectation to wait for the entire site to be finished before it can be launched. Adding features later, changing them later or removing them altogether will be exciting for some and a shock for others.
One of the main things I learned at the conference was that it’s best to start small and test before making large changes – and that this Agile approach applied to business, not just to development.
We can start making small changes to our processes without risk, and ‘revert them’ as necessary. This isn’t a radical insight – we already work this way, but sometimes it’s useful to be reminded.
I’ve come back motivated to help our clients get the sites that meet their needs, but I’m going to have in mind that stories are often the best way to convey information.
The memory of the seaside is going to stay with me for a long time.