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Lisamarie Babik

October 28, 2002, the light bulb went on. Prior to that, I’d been quite content to suffer creating software in silence.

The Secrets of Software Success

Lisamarie Babik, Menlo Innovations LLC

“There’s no such thing as not enough time, only too much to do.”

October 28, 2002, the light bulb went on.

Prior to that, I’d been quite content to suffer creating software in silence. I worked 60-70 hours a week and I expected the same from my team. They worked with headphones on and doors closed. Everyone was miserable.

I’ve come to a point in my life where I recognize that being laid off from that job is the best thing that could happen to me, and it happened in 2002 – but that’s not what illuminated the bulb over my head.  For that to happen I had to wander through the Ann Arbor doors of Menlo Innovations LLC.

I came to Menlo demoralized and defeated. I’d been laid off and unable to find work for months. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I’d sent Menlo a resume and they sent me an invitation to attend their training for free. It wasn’t an interview or a job offer, but I thought it might be an “in” to the company.

What I experienced was much more than that. The class was called “The Secrets of Software Success” (later re-titled “Agile Explained”), and it covered the basic tenets of agile software development.  The class was a whirlwind for me. I learned about storycards, planning game, show & tell, standup meetings, collocation, the concept of iterative development, and much more. It all seemed like simple common sense. In some respects, it felt like a cruel joke – it seemed I’d been suffering for years for no reason. This whole agile thing seemed to be the answer.

At the end of the day I matter-of-factly declared, “I’ll be back tomorrow.” They thought I was joking, but I knew that I wanted – no, needed – to work there. These people still had the passion for creating great software that I once felt, but had lost long ago.

I showed up and kept showing up, even though they didn’t really know what to do with me at first. I was there to learn everything I could. The more I learned, the more I realized that if I’d known all of these things earlier, I might have been able to apply them and save my team. Sadly, when I visited the last remnants of my previous team (i.e. those who had survived the layoffs) and shared what I’d learned, their response was simple: We don’t have time to change.

In the years since that final conversation with my team, I’ve had the good fortune to work for Menlo in an open and collaborative agile environment on many, many projects and in many different roles. The years of “real world” experience have taught me that agile isn’t a panacea for all the ills of software development, but it does show us all the bumps and warts earlier in the process so we can do something about them.


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