Have you noticed that few Agile luminaries earn a living from writing and selling software? Many do write code as consultants. Other are respected authors of non-commercial open-source development tools. Some do work for software companies such as RallyDev or ThoughtWork Studios, though it seems that most visible presenters coming from there are consultants or at least business-facing types. But almost none actually make money directly by doing what they teach others to do.
James Shore mentioned working on his own startup with Arlo Belshee and Kim Wallmark, but that was more than a year ago and we haven’t heard much since. Ward Cunningham is CTO of a website, which come reasonably close to being a software house. In fact, Kent Beck is the only example I know of someone who actually tries to make a living out of writing and selling software (with mixed results). Tellingly, Ward and Kent are not very visible on the conference circuit anymore (though they are certainly interviewed regularly).
This lead to an interesting discussion yesterday on Twitter with Deborah Hartmann Preuss, Alexandru Bolboaca, Willem van den Ende, Brian Marick, and Jeffrey Fredrick (see transcript at the end of this post).
I think most Agile personalities have become addicted to the relatively easy money of consulting. Why would they risk get a software product out in the highly competitive software market? It is so easy to just found your own consultancy. It is probably related to age, too, as you do need to have lots of spare energy for late night coding (Paul Graham once wrote that the ideal age to start a startup was between 23 and 38).
In fact, as I argue below, I do not believe that “being agile” is viewed as a desirable trait for a startup and I’m sure it might even deter some of the most likely candidates to create one, as it is now viewed as a process for medium to large companies. What is viewed as needed is raw hacking powers, even if that means making things hang together with duct tape. Agile techniques might be preferable, but their ROI will become mostly apparent after two years, an eternity for a startup.
So, Agile luminaries are not starting software development ventures, and the founders of successful startups that use Agile techniques probably do not have the time or the will to tell the rest of the Agile world how they did it.
This is regrettable. I wish there was more cross-pollination, like 37signals has done with Getting Real. Where are the others?
Transcript of our conversation on twitter:
- elefevre Wondering why so few Agile luminaries are into the commercial software business.
- alexboly @elefevre I think Kent Beck said it best: “As a business man, I’m a very good software developer” :)
- elefevre @alexboly interestingly, he seems to be the only one actually trying to make a living selling software (seems hard)
- mostalive @elefevre because they are too busy consulting or marketing? want to publish own commercial product? work happens in odd hours -> slow
- alexboly @elefevre As a programmer I would rather live in Castalia (http://goo.gl/AzQn) As a business man, I need to live in the real world.
- elefevre @mostalive sure they do consulting. But if agile dev is really better, then products they would make ought to be better too. => Profit?
- DeborahH @elefevre I guess Mike Beedle (PatientKeeper) is an exception, then. Co-author of first Scrum book.
- mostalive @elefevre Profit yes, and, consulting & product development don’t really mix, as the business drivers point in opposite directions.
- DeborahH @elefevre ken Schwaber came from sw dev company iirc, but perhaps you can’t change the world AND refactor your codebase at once. Or?
- mostalive @elefevre agile tool vendors may be the exception, however their consultants can not recommend the best tool for the context (post-its ;))
- mostalive @elefevre and if a product is successful, it generates so much revenue, that consulting revenue is irrelevant.
- DeborahH @elefevre … Then they wouldn’t be luminaries in the sense of “visible as a teacher, writer” imo: these things are jobs in themselves.
- DeborahH @elefevre though I respect more those who take time for practice as well, it grounds one’s teaching. But usually on s/one else’ project?
- elefevre @DeborahH yes. Maybe if you’re busy developing (not consulting), then you have less time & inclination helping others.
- elefevre @mostalive also, I suspect majority of (or the best known) consultants from Agile Tool vendors are more business-facing type than developers
- DeborahH @elefevre until recently, Jeff was CTO @ PatientKeeper.http://bit.ly/ctQJRb Once yr own house is in order, you gotta get a new challenge?
- elefevre @DeborahH @mostalive @alexboly I think my point could be: are successful/rich developers/hackers really applying Agile techniques?
- elefevre @DeborahH @mostalive @alexboly or is Agile orthogonal unnecessary for a successful startup? (maybe I’ve been reading too much Paul Graham)
- elefevre @DeborahH @mostalive @alexboly I think that, in a startup, techniques might be “agile”, but do not need to be identified as such
- elefevre @DeborahH @mostalive @alexboly while, in a bigger biz, it helps that people can relate to a consensual definition of development process
- elefevre @DeborahH @mostalive @alexboly in our startup, we are 3 former Agile consultants (out of 5 devs), but we take care not to say we’re agile
- alexboly @elefevre @DeborahH @mostalive Agile doesn’t exist. Agile tools exist. Do you need agile tools for a succesful startup? I think you do.
- alexboly @DeborahH @mostalive @elefevre Do you need to call the agile tools “agile” in order do succeed? Of course not. :)
- DeborahH @elefevre “Agile” is a means to an end. You cannot afford to primarily “be agile”n you must be primarily busines owners!
- alexboly @DeborahH @mostalive @elefevre The point was never to “be agile”, it always was to build software in a way that increases the success rate.
- elefevre @DeborahH @mostalive @alexboly there might even be a stigma to calling things “agile” in a startup. Not hip (anymore)
- DeborahH @elefevre surely “hipness” is not more important than profitability? Like “agility”, “hipness” sounds like a red herring, to me.
- alexboly @elefevre @DeborahH @mostalive I’d like to see that people don’t talk about agile anymore but do the right thing. Human nature loves labels.
- elefevre @DeborahH certainly is a red herring. But I do think it’s important for startups, often packed with smug hackers. #overgeneralization
- marick @elefevre I don’t have any good product ideas. I don’t have skills to do it all & it’s a big step from 1-person company to N-person company.
- elefevre @marick my thinking is that the mobile market is more tolerant of seemingly mediocre ideas than the desktop/enterprise space
- DeborahH @elefevre @marick perhaps because in mobile market short release cycles allow products to “grow up” in public?
- elefevre @DeborahH @marick I think it’s because there are fewer high-standard apps, so users tolerate mediocre ones. eg. quizzes, website wrappers
- Jtf @elefevre I think people who are successful consultants are addicted to fast feedback from helping. Products are delayed gratification.