XPDay 5

I went to the first day of XPDay 5 this week, the major London conference on the practice and techniques of agile development (such as extreme programming or scrum).

This was my first appearance among the agile crowd, and I was really interested to see what I could pick up from the speakers and other attendees. Given that I’ve made a couple of appearances at the London Java meet-ups, I thought that there was some chance of meeting someone recognisable.

The first impression I had upon entering was that XPDay is very much a grass roots phenomenon. Our name badges were initially blank, and we simply wrote our names on them. I would guess that more than half of the attendees didn’t mention their company on their badges. They were attending because they were genuinely curious or enthusiastic about the practices at a personal level, not because they were trying to fulfil some sort of training day requirement. I think that this gave a much more accessible and welcoming feel to the whole event, compared to other conferences that I have attended.

The second impression I had was that developers are a pretty uniformly scruffy mob. Actually, this was really the first impression. 🙂

I had some conversations with a few random people in the hall before the keynote. I finally saw one of the few people I had met previously at the London Java meetups: Sam Newman. I had a few brief words, but the start of the keynote meant that I couldn’t have a proper chat.


The first presentation of the day was the keynote speech by Tim Lister. I found Tim to be a particularly entertaining speaker, with an engaging style. It was obvious that Tim was an expert in these types of events.

Tim’s talk was based upon the theme of “Black Swans”, defined as a random event satisfying three properties: large impact, in-computable probabilities, and surprise effect. After the talk, Tim sent me the paper from which he picked the concept: “The Black Swan: Why Don’t We Learn that We Don’t Learn?” by Nassim Taleb.

How many white swans does one need to observe before inferring that all swans are white and that there are no black swans? Hundreds? Thousands? The problem is that we do not know where to start – we lack a framework of analysis to know if our ex ante estimation is appropriate, which is key. The Black Swan is not just a hypothetical metaphor: until the discovery of Australia common belief held that all swans were white; such belief was shattered with the sighting of the first cygnus atratus.

Although a thought provoking talk, there was nothing I would really consider to be explicitly agile in the keynote, although there were a quite a few insider nods to the movement. I thought that the talk was a very good heads up on the issues on software development in general, though.


After the keynote, I started to chat with the chap I had sat next to – Daniel Bradby. I was really chuffed to discover that he was one of the founders of the Subclipse project, a plugin for Eclipse that provides integrated access to Subversion. Since I’m doing so much work with Subversion right now, I was very interesting to chat, and to say thanks for creating such a great project.

Moving to Agile

I was mainly concentrating on the moving to agile stream from the programme. In the end, I went to the following talks:

All the talks were very interesting, and all were oversubscribed – more people turned up than could really comfortably fit in the allocated rooms.


During lunch, I happened to come across Lasse Koskela, which was a name I recognised. I had emailed him about a year earlier when I found his tutorial on using CruiseControl and Subversion, and I was really please to see that he had turned up for XPDay. We ended up sitting together for the final event of the day.

Getting to Know Your Customer

Getting to Know Your Customer. This was an interested talk, as especially hands-on. We were expected to participate in the customer based exercises. We eventually created a marketing box for an alternate reality version of XPDay – an example of the “Product Box” innovation game for requirements elicitation. The innovation games are documented at Enthiosys, if you’re interested.