Joe’s Farewell to the Extreme Tuesday Club

This is my goodbye letter to the Extreme Tuesday Club, my favourite development community. It’s been quite a journey, for both the club and me. This blog post is a bit of a history of XTC, mainly through my eyes, but including hearsay about other when times I wasn’t there. I’d love to hear other stories about XTC for other perspectives, if you care to share.

XTC Genesis

XTC has been going for a very long time before I even heard about it, or had even heard about “agile” for that matter…

It was the tail end of 1999. Kent Beck had visited London, and had given some talks about his strange and controversial “Extreme Programming”, possibly around the time that his book “Extreme Programming Explained” was first published. This had captured the interest and imagination of a number of software development folks working around London. Steve Freeman wanted some help with convincing his team to try it out, and asked Tim Mackinnon, Oli Bye and a few others to meet in a pub to talk about the experiences people had with XP and testing. According to Tim (in a private email), they joked about making it a regular meetup, and Oli blurted out the name “Extreme Tuesday Club”. The next day, they ripped out some letters from Computer Weekly to form the logo, and so XTC was born.

xtc-square

The first meetups were held in a pub near Sadler’s Wells (name now forgotten). It later moved to other pubs, including The Yorkshire Grey (now gutted), the Shakespeares Head, the Old Bank of England, the Butcher’s Hook and Cleaver, the Bishops Finger, and the City Pride (where it is currently being held).

During this time, the club became an institution, a central clearing house of the community of needs surround lean and agile software development. There was (generally) no set topic or agenda, it was just a regular place where people could meet to discuss their problems and successes, and mapping out the tools and working context of these new fangled techniques. Many tools and terms can be traced back to discussions at the club, including mock objects, tracer bullets, extreme lego, gold cards, jester the test tester. Members of XTC went on to start a conference to discuss the topics in a conference format: XP Day (“More than XP, more than one day”).

One of the defining features of XTC was the lack of visible central leadership. It was an emergent property of the shared interests of the people who turned up, and was a powerful signal of shared interests. If you happened to meet someone at work who also went to XTC, you had more confidence that they were engaged with understanding and improving the craft of software development.

XTC Zenith

Personally, my first introduction to XTC came many years after it was well established, and it wasn’t even the Tuesday night meetup: I went to XPDay 5 in December 2005. From reading the blog post I wrote at the time, I was still coming to grips with the agile methodologies, but there was an amazing buzz from meeting the people who turned up, and the topics discussed. It’s also notable how much link rot occurs in 13 years – most of the URLs in that blog post are now dead.

My first introduction to the Tuesday night meetup came in 2006. I had started taking contract development jobs, and wanted to meet more of the London development community. Through 2005 and 2006 I had been going along to the London Java meetup, which was being run by Jez Rayner. During 2006 the London Java meetup was scheduled much less frequently. I still wanted to meet other technologists, and see what I could learn. Remembering my experience at XPDay, I looked up XTC. I blogged about it twice in 2006: Extreme Tuesday Club and XTC and London 2.0. What’s interesting to me is the names that I mentioned back then: Doug Clinton, Jeffrey Fredrick, Patrick Kua, Sam Newman, Jason Huggins, Stephen Taylor. Not explicitly mentioned, but I distinctly remember chatting with Antony Marcano, too. These are people who have strongly influenced my thinking and understanding of software development over the years.

I think this is the time where learned how awesome XTC was, as venue of sharing problems and ideas, and generally meeting some really smart people. On the whole, I didn’t really talk about myself much during this time, I felt overawed by all the people who were coming and sharing bits of themselves. This was the promise of a vibrant and open tech community made real.

Despite my enthusiasm, I didn’t really make it into London that often. I was working in Surrey during the period 2005 to 2010 (variously at Kingswood, Guildford, Woking, Epsom and Croydon). There were some years that I didn’t make it at all. When I blogged about the XTC 10 year birthday celebration, I mention that I hadn’t been in 2 years.

XTC in Decline

The years 2010 to 2014 were generally a downturn for XTC. The number of attendees plummeted, as the original core group of members either moved out of London, or were unable to come along as much. The lack of stable core members actually coming meant that many meetups had no-one turn up at all. There were a number of periods in 2014 where I noticed that there hadn’t been anyone turning up at all for over 3 months.

Personally, in 2010 I started working at TIM Group (then called youDevise), based in the Copthall Avenue in London. This made visits to XTC easier for me, so I had a much closer view of the decline in the times that I turned up. There were still a few notable events. I remember when Ward Cunningham turned up one Tuesday evening, and the upstairs room in the Bishops’ Finger was absolutely packed. However, nights like that were rare, and eventually stopped happening altogether.

I have a couple of theories as to what happened here (though I’m curious to hear what other people think):

  • The core members either moved away, were too busy, or were promoted out of engineering
  • The old EditMe wiki was very hard to use, virtually impossible to do on a smartphone. This wiki was used to allow people to signal that they were coming on a particular night, but most people didn’t bother.
  • Meetup.com made it incredibly easy to find a talk about pretty much anything you wanted on a particular night, and made it easy to discover other events nearby. Better organised communities were able to use this to essentially suck the air out of the traditional XTC member base.

XTC Renaissance

Watching the decline of XTC from the sidelines was upsetting to me. The slow death of something I loved was not something I wanted to see. I decided to take action: just turn up!

Starting from 2014 I made a concerted effort to just turn up to XTC as much as possible. In addition, I started to clean up the EditMe wiki. Later in that year I asked Rachel Davies to let me help with promotion of events, so I took over management of of the @extremetuesday Twitter account.

In 2015, I also talked with some folks about replacing the wiki. It wasn’t fit for purpose, and I think it was actively discouraging people to sign up. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em: we transferred the registration to Meetup.com. XTC stalwart Nader Talai registered the club on the website, and we started organising events through there (the first XTC meetup on Meetup.com appears in November 2015).

Probably the most useful thing we did in these years was holding retrospectives at the end of each year. You can see my write up of the 2016 retrospective and the 2017 retrospective. Based on the points raised in those retrospectives, we made some changes to the way that XTC was run, with some very dramatic changes to engagement and attendance.

I think 2018 has been the most impressive year for XTC in a long time. The list of speakers is phenomenal. From industry movers and shakers (Hi Kent Beck!), to students from Makers Academy asking very smart questions, there is no barrier to someone just turning up and contributing, making a difference, or just sitting back and learning. It’s not quite what XTC used to be. It has changed, but it is still a wonderful thing to have in London.

The 2018 retrospective will be held on the 18th December. I won’t be there, but please come along to share ways to improve.

Joe’s XTC Farewell

At the start of 2018, I announced that I was leaving London, and returning to live in Australia. Although I’ve been a fairly central figure in the organisation of XTC over the last few years, I wasn’t worried that things would regress. I think the club has regained a lot of the momentum it had lost in the years of decline. I did make sure that there was pool of volunteers who where there to make things happen.

Tuesday the 4th December 2018 was my last XTC. At least for now. I didn’t plan anything myself, but I was really touched by the effort many people put into giving me a send-off. I suspect Antony Marcano was likely ringleader, but Steve Freeman, Nigel Runnels-Moss, Andy Parker, and many others were there to wish me well (I was even given a very fancy pen and bottle of whisky). Thanks to everyone!

20181204-XTC-Farewell

 

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