Lessons From A Software Conference – Part 1 of Several

Agile2xxx is a conference put on the Agile Alliance that has happened every year since 2003 (I think??). This year, roughly 1500 software developers from hither and yon will meet on August 8th at Agile2011 in Salt Lake City to hear colleagues speak, participate in workshops and discuss the next big things in software development. It’s not the only agile conference of the year but it’s a big one from what I understand.

I’ve enjoyed the opportunities I’ve had to present at conferences. But more so than at other conferences, Agile2011 is a chance for an experience that’s quite different. Why you ask? Well at hardware conferences, I talk to my peers–people that do the same things I do (which is mainly hardware verification). Acceptance and feedback can be mixed, but people normally get the gist of what I’m talking about. Compare that to me speaking at Agile2011.

  • Agile2011 is a software conference… I’m a hardware guy.
  • Attendees (I’m assuming ) are experienced with agile… me, experienced’ish.
  • Presenters (again I’m assuming here) are experts with agile… me, not exactly.

Hardly an exact fit. So why then would I submit a proposal? Admittedly, that was a last minute twitter-initiated decision.

Compared to agile software experts, I’d consider myself a rookie. A very enthusiastic rookie with decent experience but a rookie nonetheless. I have a long list of ideas for what should work in hardware development. I’ve done small scale rollouts of some of those ideas that have turned out successful. I’ve put a lot of time into it and because I’ve already given presentations and written about what I’ve been doing on www.AgileSoC.com, I figured I could cobble together a proposal relatively quickly. The submission process was an interesting experience. I’ll get to that in the next entry (spoiler alert: I did submit a proposal and it was accepted).

Back to the why… the first reason for me submitting a proposal to Agile2011 is to get expert opinions from others on what I think should work. I’m convinced that agile can work in hardware development, even though it is relatively unknown. I’ve seen it work on a small scale. The software guys use it so successfully that it’s ridiculous to think that we can’t use some of what they’ve already shown to work. The obvious differences mean it can’t be exactly the same, but the obvious similarities mean it won’t be entirely different either. Presenting my thoughts to a conference crowd gets ideas heard, critiqued and (hopefully) validated.

The second reason (which is where the title of the blog comes from) is that I actually intend to learn something from these strangers from the land of software! From the submission process to the preparation and the presentations, workshops, side discussions and everything else. It’s a different crowd and a different experience so I expect to be bombarded with great new ideas from a few different angles.

Finally, I would hope software developers listening to me talk about agile in hardware development will get something out of it also. If I didn’t think I could pull that off there wouldn’t be much point in me presenting anything!

Agile is big in the software community but relatively unheard of in the hardware community. I think AgileSoC.com has started to change that. I hope a presentation at Agile2011 is a good next step.

Stay tuned for the trials and tribulations 🙂

Neil Johnson

More AgileSoC? Are You Kidding Me?

AgileSoC.com is an idea that Bryan Morris and I started about 2 years ago after a few long conversations at SNUG San Jose in 2009. Bryan had been interested in agile software development for a while, I was completely new to it. Even though I didn’t know anything about agile, it didn’t take long for me to buy into the idea that it made sense. A lot of what happens in hardware development, particularly in the front-end design and verification, is pretty similar to what the software guys do. Sure the packaging and delivery is different (to varying degrees depending on what your target technology is) but there are a lot of day-to-day activities that are similar. In the last couple years, I’ve heard many people say that agile “makes sense”. I think those people are right.

Admittedly, I have a pretty short span of attention so I was interested to see how long I’d stay interested. I figured 6 months or so and I’d start to wear out. Turns out I was wrong.

We presented our first paper titled A Giant, Baby Step Forward: Agile Techniques for Hardware Design at SNUG Boston in the fall of 2009. That was about 90% book report and 10% practice/observation. It was good for a first crack but I think we did better at SNUG San Jose 2010 with Agile IC Development With Scrum. We have video of both presentations here. In between, I did a presentation to a group of software developers at a Calgary APLN meeting in Nov 2009. That was a little stressful because it was my first time talking to people that know and use agile. Since then we’ve had 2 articles posted in the Mentor Graphics Verification Horizons newsletter, Agile Transformation In IC Development and Agile Transformation In Functional Verification. We’ve also had entries in the Cadence community blogs, a nice write up by Richard Goering and a guest entry that I put together.

Time has passed and we have we’ve been writing articles pretty steadily. It’s been 2 years and if anything, my interest has grown. As of now, we have 17 articles posted on AgileSoC.com by 4 authors. The number of articles slowly grows as we stumble into new ideas and find the time to put them together.

And now, for some reason, I think I need a blog so I can spend more time on this stuff. I shake my head as I type that but here I am anyway. My first guess is that this will be an informal dumping ground for ideas and/or experiences that aren’t good enough to support “real” articles on their own. Not entirely sure so I’ll start with that and see where things end up!