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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Agile Roots Celebrates Utah’s Software Development Community

Aug 01, 2015 11:07AM ● By Pat Maddox

In February 2001, 17 software practitioners gathered at Snowbird ski resort to find common ground among their working methods. Together, they produced the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development”, which has served as a framework for organizations and teams whose goal is to produce better software.

Why Snowbird? Kay Johansen, a software developer from Lehi, said, “The Agile Manifesto was created here in Utah, because [co-creators] Alistair Cockburn and Jim Highsmith lived here, and they didn’t want to go to Chicago in February.” Jonathan House, a software developer from Cottonwood Heights, added, “I heard the Caribbean was ruled out too because it was too difficult to travel there — so, Snowbird and skiing.”

Given Agile’s Utah origins, Salt Lake City was a natural choice to host an Agile-related conference. In 2009, Johansen worked with Salt Lake City software developers Nate Jones and Andrew Clay Shafer to create the first Agile Roots conference. Explaining the conference’s name, Johansen said, “We want to stay true to the roots of Agile, we believe that the Agile Manifesto, while not an end-all-be-all, was a marvelous creation at the time that it was created as a way to change the industry in a specific way, that the industry needed at that time.”

Agile Roots ran for the fifth time from June 18 to 20, something the organizers never would have predicted. “We never imagined that we’d do another one after 2009,” said Johansen. “We didn’t plan for that at the beginning.” House then joined as a conference organizer, to help make the event happen again in 2010. “I really enjoyed the conference as an attendee,” said House, “and I said, ‘Hey I wanna help.’”

Agile Roots differs from larger conferences in that speakers travel from all over the world; most of the conference attendees are local. “For me the intention is to make this conference as an opportunity for the Utah software community,” said Johansen. “One of the speakers asked me, ‘What percentage of your attendees are local?’ and I said ‘all of them’. He was just totally shocked, because most conferences are about people traveling in.”

The people who do travel to participate in Agile Roots feel the local element. Diana Larsen, a software and organizational consultant from Portland, Ore., said, “It very much has the flavor of being of the community, for the community, and that comes through loud and clear. There’s a devotion here, back and forth. The participants come, really wanting to help make this a really good conference, and the organizers are clearly putting their heart and soul into it.”

Hosting Agile Roots in Utah has made it attractive to conference speakers for more reasons than just technology. Mark Pearl, a software developer and coach, traveled from Johannesburg, South Africa to participate in the conference - and to see Utah. “I come from an LDS background,” said Pearl, “so it was interesting from a religious side just to kind of combine the two and see what’s happening on this side.” Pearl got the chance to reconnect with people he hadn’t seen in years. “The guy I’m staying with actually was the guy that brought me into the church,” said Pearl. “It’s been a little surreal, seeing people that introduced me to the church and that I was companions with.”

Although Agile software development has no religious affiliation, its Utah origins may be reflected in Agile values. Pearl sees a connection between LDS church values and Agile values. “I think the one thing that I’ve learned in Agile is, particularly when people are going through a hard time, they have unlimited potential,” said Pearl. “Don’t give up, keep working, keep doing what’s right — and that for me is kind of the parallel with the church.”

Agile Roots draws its strength from the local community’s strength. “Everybody always pitches in,” said Johansen. “The speakers come, the volunteers work their butts off — everybody pitches in. The organizers, the attendees, they all show up.”

While they didn’t plan to host the conference a second time, the organizers now intend to keep it going. “I didn’t expect the feeling of gratitude that I would have,” said Johansen. “The conference is a lot of work, and I always ask myself why do I keep doing it, but the feeling of gratitude is amazing.”

For more information on Agile Roots, see                      λ