Mentors. We all wished we had some to help us navigate the challenges of our chosen professions. Unfortunately, most people aren’t lucky enough to get one, even for a short amount of time. In my career I often found myself building a “virtual” mentor by taking bits and pieces of who I wished I had and the kind of guidance they could provide and created an ideal of what I felt a mentor should be.
And then there was David Hussman.
David, known as The Dude in Agile circles, was a coach, speaker, and trainer I first met in the early aughts. Every time I planned to attend an Agile conference I made sure David was going to be one of the guests because I knew whatever he was going to be sharing would make the best sense in a world attempting to launch or fix their Agile practices.
I would come back from conferences with tons of little yellow sticky notes filled with David’s quotes. Those questions that got to the heart of the matter, like “When’s the last time you watched a customer use your product?” and “You don’t need more process, you need more context.” David always knew how to steer you towards what really matters. Every time we connected, either at conferences or via email, he was always encouraging, understanding, and positive.
What I always found fascinating was that David got it. On every level, he got what the challenges were and he was realistic about all the new “facets” of Agile that others were preaching about. In that sense, we were very much alike because he was never swayed by the so-called “latest and greatest” simply due to the fact that his questions always cut to the source. Is this improving your product? Are you wasting time trying to fill in these little boxes vs concentrating on the minimum viable product? One of my favourite quotes of his is “How often are you reassessing where you should go vs. how much you got done?”
During conferences, he would always remind participants that “This whole agile thing isn’t about expertise it’s about experience.” and that “‘Doing’” scrum does not equal success”. We preached the same sermon about what is and isn’t agile, and what every team should be striving for (building the right product) vs following some predefined process. Communication has always been the key. As David explained, “We’re not trying to write better stories, we’re trying to have more meaningful discussions.” He always challenged participants to think.
Year after year and conference after conference, his was still the freshest voice to me. I admit that I was starting to get jaded and as far back as 2013 was asking him “Have we just gotten to be old farts in this game? Is there nothing new under the Agile sun? After 10 years, is it time to move on or take the time to properly train this new batch of folks trying to transition to Agile for the first time?”
Much of what I was telling David resonated with him and he was right there with me in sharing how the spark and creative juices were really happening during “the Open Jam sessions and how so much brainshare was going into it between sessions at previous conferences”. That’s how it was with him. There was always a rainbow on the horizon. There was always something new he was working on or trying out and that excitement shone from him all the time and re-energized me more often than I cared to admit. In fact, it was shortly after that that we were scheduled as guests for a VersionOne Agilepalooza conference. I was stoked to be able to do it and seeing my name next to his on the marquee was an absolute blast. Sadly, the event ended up being cancelled but I managed to still keep a screen grab of the banner as a souvenir.
The last time I saw David, we hung out and chatted like we always did. We spoke about the industry, got excited about the latest tech gadgets, touched on our families, laughed about some musical memory, and chatted about the next big challenges. And then, HE thanked ME. He thanked me for continuing to see him every chance I got even after all those years. I told him how much I respected him and how he was always the highlight of the conferences and how listening to his panels and chatting with him was always inspirational. He laughed it off and we said our goodbyes until the next conference.
I’m so very sad that there will never be another conference.
David passed in late August 2018 from cancer. I’ve been offline for so long concentrating on my family that I only just heard the news this week and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m grateful that there are so many YouTube videos of his many amazing presentations, but that can never replace the off-conference hangouts and being able to just chill with him. Considering he’s only a few years older than me, it also doesn’t make sense in my head that he’s been taken from us already.
I spent the last couple of days re-reading some of the little correspondences I actually have saved from him. The last thing he wrote to me was “Ping me as needed.” I really wish I could do that now, David.
See you again in the next Iteration.
“Bad code never goes away. It just sits in source control and laughs at you.” – David Hussman
(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona still subscribes to the tenets of Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon that Shared Pain is Lessened, Shared Joy Increased. To that end he shares his pain now on the passing of his Spiritual Agile Mentor. His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead, as ironic as that seems at the moment.)