Monday, April 20, 2015

The First Ever White House Tech Meetup

When Sandi Hoff from the Nashville Technology Council called and asked if I wanted to go to the White House's first ever Tech Meetup, I was very humbled and extremely excited. This was a meeting of over 50 tech community organizers from across the United States getting together with White House officials to talk about how to help bridge to gap between the 500,000 unfilled tech jobs and the vast, under-served population of qualified candidates. It was a great honor to represent Nashville along with Bryan Hunter and Sal Novin.

The Venue: The Eisenhower Executive Office Building

The meetup was held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building right next to the West Wing of the White House. While I was disappointed it was not an intimate chat in the Oval Office, the EEOB is a very impressive building itself. This building contains the majority of the President's staff, the Vice President's office, the Secret Service, the White House medical unit, and more. When you see the President in a room full of people in front of some dark blue curtains announcing some presidential thing or another, he is usually in the rooms we were in for the meetup.

The building has been around since 1871 and is gorgeous. The staircases have over 4,000 individually cast bronze balusters and are capped with domed stained glass rotundas. The Executive Office of the President's Library is also housed in the building and according to Megan Smith it is very "Harry Potter looking." Bryan and I wandered out the east balcony and almost to the doorstep of the West Wing until we were discouraged by armed Marines.

Kicking Off the Meetup

Rafael Lopez, Senior White House Advisor, was our engaging master of ceremonies. He kept things going smoothly along with his army of White House staffers and interns. Megan Smith, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States, was the meetup host and got things kicked off. Megan is energetic and her constant smile is infectious.  She encouraged everyone to work together to see how tech community organizers could create a more inclusive culture in the tech industry for minorities and underrepresented populations. With an impressive resume including a degree from MIT and stints at Google, Megan has tons of geek cred. I was impressed with how much she know about all the different initiatives and meetups when they had everyone get up and introduce themselves.

Jeffrey Zients, Director of the National Economic Council, followed with a pitch to empower Americans with the skills to land any of the 500,000 unfilled tech jobs in the United States. He lamented that many individuals considered these types of jobs out of their reach due to their lack of specific degrees or not being located in a perceived "tech hub." He pointed out that local tech meetups are a great way for these individuals to gain tech skills outside of traditional academic means and find better opportunities.

Scott Heiferman, CEO and co-founder of Meetup, wrapped up the kick off talking about how tech meetups can help make people's lives better by inspiring them, getting the jobs, getting funding for startups, and more. It was interesting to hear how they were surprised and Meetup that certain types of meetups they thought would be very popular never took off and ones they never dreamed of became huge communities. His energy and excitement was infectious as he enthusiastically  described some of the tech meetup organizers attending the event and how their organizations were creating opportunities for people.

Spotlight Sessions

The rest of our morning was spent highlighting some of the great work being done all over the United States by the tech meetup organizers. There were so many great examples but I'll just touch on a few that inspired me personally.

Felicia and Jamal O'Garro were both laid off and decided to start a meetup to learn how to code and find better jobs. They found many others in the same situation and now Code Crew NYC has over 7,000 members and have taught of 1,000 people to code. This was a very inspiring story about alternative methods for teaching people tech skills outside of traditional institutions.

Andrew Coy of Digital Harbor took over failing rec centers and turned them in tech centers where they now serve over 2,500 youth in Baltimore. They help teach them skills in electronics, 3D printing, etc. to help prepare them for better paying jobs in the tech industry.

Denise Ross & Clarence Wardell are using data to improve policing, build trust, and engage the community. This session seemed very timely with all the recent incidents around police aggression and  their initiative was striving to use policing data to help bridge the divide between police departments and the communities they serve.

Laurene McCann gave an inspiring talk about using tech to make a social impact. Here quote "Build with, not for" struck and chord with me and inspired me to come back to Nashville and do more work with our local tech community rather than for it.

Zack Leatherman from the Nebraska JS Meetup said one of the things that inspired him to start his group was the flight of top tech talent from his state to other higher profile tech hubs.

Brett Greene's meetup does a cool thing where they color code attendee badges based on why they are attending the event. They get one color if they are looking for a job, another if they are looking to hire people, another for people seeking funding, etc. I am totally going to steal that idea.

These are just a few of the fantastic people that shared their stories of how their tech meetups are giving people better opportunities. I posted links to all of these spotlight sessions on my Twitter feed if you want to see more of them.

Afternoon Un-Conference

The afternoon was held like an un-conference with two sessions where the attendees submitted and voted for session topics. My first session was centered on filling the pipeline for tech jobs with qualified candidates who may usually be overlooked such as minorities, under-served populations, and people without technical certifications or degrees. There were some great discussions around an array ideas such as early education in grade school (via Kimberly Boyd), people already working in the industry volunteering as technical guidance counselors for high school and college students, and organizations to help provide screening and recommendations to companies on candidates who might not immediately meet their requirements but have great potential (something I do for my company, Holland Square, but would love to see adopted by other organizations). John Fraboni from Operation Spark was worried that our industry while being more open to people without degrees was still hung up on technical certifications.

Our second session was about collecting and analyzing data about under-served children and using it to identify ways to give them better opportunities. Sixto Cancel's organization, Think of Us, is already using videos that present a style of "choose your own adventure" decisions that can be a very engaging way to survey children who may otherwise not respond well to being asked a series of rote questions. I brought up an idea inspired by a social group my autistic daughter belongs to where we create an online community where kids can create their own characters much like a game like World of Warcraft and then participate in any number of different challenges to earn experience, badges, achievements, etc. This would tap into kids natural love for video games and act as a catalyst to get them to be engaged. This could be made into a generic platform that could be used by both non-profits and for profit companies alike (which is also a way to get funding for it!). Shelonda Stokes of was excited by our discussion so much that she is going to seek out organizations to help build that platform.

There were many other great sessions that I did not get to attend but thankfully, Michael Calvert of MongoDB setup a  channel for the White Meetup attendees to continue our conversations.

Wrap Up

It was a long, long day but even though I was exhausted at the end, I left truly inspired. There were so many examples of people in tech communities helping people find better opportunities. It was also amazing to see government officials so engaged and knowledgeable about what we do. I totally would be on board for a Megan Smith 2016 presidential run!

You can see the morning session on YouTube and listen at the 1:25:45 mark for Megan to give a shout out to Bryan's Functional Programming group and my Agile Nashville group. You can also see all my photos from the trip here.

Thanks to Everyone Involved

Thanks to Megan, her team at the White House, and for putting on such a great event!

Thanks to the Nashville Technology Council for recommending me for the meetup, and my awesome management at Holland Square who enthusiastically footed the bill for me to go!

Thanks to Bryan Hunter for being my partner in crime and to Sal Novin for rounding out a kick ass Nashville delegation!

Big thanks to my wife for not killing me when I sprung this trip on her last minute!

Thanks to all the new people I met who inspired me with their stories!

Let's keep this going and hopefully I'll see everyone at the next White House tech meetup!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

BarCamp Nashville 2014 Recap: Pie, chimps, and more!

BarCamp Nashville 2014 is in the books and it was a good one.I personally had a great, very well rounded experience in that I got to attend some great sessions, met and talked to some new and interesting people, gave my own presentation, and then got to cap of the night by jamming at the after party. That was a pretty good day.

I've run a few events and conferences myself so I know how much organization goes into them and how hard it is especially with only volunteers. My hat is off to the organizers for doing such a good job. Here's a quick recap of my experience.

Special shout out to Eric Near, Chuck Bryant, and Audrey Hunter!

The Venue

I was sad about not going back to Sound Check but that is mainly for my selfish reasons of loving to play music there. Deavor was a very cool setting, truly reflecting Nashville's IT community environment. While a little cramped, I think the space was very effectively used. We were lucky with the good weather so that people could mingle and eat outside during breaks and lunch.

I was mainly in the Mud room most of the day and it was a good space for both presenting and attending a session. I was told there are plans to expand that space so that it may open it up more for next year. It would be nice to have some spaces outside of the session rooms for people to lounge and talk (maybe even some white boards and flip charts for some impromptu sessions?).

The Sponsors

With a free event like this, sponsors make it happen and there were some great companies helping out this year. It was nice that it was never an in-your-face sales pitch with any of them. While they all do want to get their brands out there and tell you about their services, they mainly just want to support the local IT community since a rising tide floats all boats.

Special note on the best SWAG of the conference. MailChimp gave away a ton of free knitted monkey caps that were a huge hit. Everyone was wearing them and sharing them on social media. Very well played, MailChimp! Other sponsors should take notice and remember that probably 80% of what attendees get in their bags get's tossed with barely a glance. Be creative in trying to get their attention and you will be surprised how well it can pay off!

The Sessions

One of the things I love most about BarCamp is the diversity of the topics. There is something for just about everyone from hard core coding, web development, social media, product marketing, etc. Tyson Cadenhead did good job showing us how to use Meteor.js and I loved Bryan Huddleston's session on the rising IT sector in Nashville. Unfortunately I had to miss some of the sessions I really wanted to see to get the band setup for the after party, but I heard lots of good feedback about all of the presentations.

The People

Networking and meeting new people is a big part of this conference and this year's was no exception. I think the smallness of the venue actually helped in that respect in that I was often just standing next to a group of people who spontaneously starting chatting.

One great experience was chatting with a guy that had attended one of my presentations about his ideas for a start up and then several people rolling by and adding their own spin to the conversation ranging from VC funding, to MVP, to hiring good developers, to getting your brand out.

I love that most of the people I talked to were starting their own business. I cannot claim to be very entrepreneurial, sticking with being the guy they call to get stuff done, but I have a ton of respect for those who risk it all to get their own idea out there. The variety of ideas was also very interesting from beauty/barber shop management to apps for behavioral change. I wish all of them luck and hope they make millions (just don't forget the guy you talked to when you just started out!). 

A thought I had for next year would be a bulletin board where some of these start ups could post something like "I need help with (XYZ)" and then some open space sessions could be organized around people who have that same need and people who might be able to help out.

The After Party

I was initially worried about the after party in the parking lot due to some threatening clouds (please do not rain on my Fender Stratocaster!), but there was no rain and it was only slightly chilly. The stage was excellent and the food and beer was delicious (Music City Pie's Cajun pot pies rule!). 

A bit of self criticism here in that the band tried some new, lesser known songs in our set which did not get everyone going initially. We will work on that for next year! Once things got going, and the beer started flowing, there were some fun moments with a rousing sing-a-long of the 4 Non Blondes "What's Going On?" and Gaines rapping to Ice Ice baby with Scott Walters laying down the fiddle (where else but Nashville?).

The Wrap Up

BarCamp continues to be a great technology event for Nashville and I am already excited about next year's possibilities. I encourage you to attend, speak (even if you think you have nothing to say), mingle, and have fun!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Interview on

Ben Linders from interviewed me about my "Scrum Fundamentals" video on We covered why we made the video, a few of the topics covered, as well as some other resources to get a basic understanding of Scrum. Check it out here!

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Speaking at Memphis Agile User Group Jan. 30th "Agile Quality Assurance: The Long Ugly Tale of How We Got Better"

I will be speaking at the Memphis Agile User Group on Thursday, January 30th. This is the same presentation I did at the Agile 2013 conference last year called "Agile Quality Assurance: The Long Ugly Tale of How We Got Better" which got a great response. You can register here.

The session covers my experience at a past employer helping them adopt Scrum over the course of 2+ years and all of our trials and tribulations during that transition. I played many roles over that span including developer, QA manager, Scrum Master, and Agile coach and the presentation covers man of those aspects but has a strong focus on QA.

I lived in Memphis for about 5 years in the 90s and always love to go back. Anyone who is up for a trip down to Beale afterwards should let me know.

See you there!

My Scrum Fundamentals Video Goes Live This Week

I recently had the pleasure of working with the crew from Pearson Publishing and created an online training video called "Scrum Fundamentals". If you are a Safari Books Online subscriber you can already access it here, and it is available for purchase on here.

While I have been training, coaching and speaking on Scrum for years now, it was a totally new experience filming a video of this type. My producer Irene Magafan from RHED Pixel was a huge help it getting me through the three day shoot and the rest of the team did a great job filming and editing the final result.

This video has over 3 hours of content from my "Agile Software Development with Scrum" training class we deliver at Holland Square Group and covers the following topics:

  • History of Agile and its values and principles
  • Basics of Scrum including roles, artifacts, and events
  • Starting a Scrum Project
  • Managing your Product Backlog
  • Writing good User Stories
  • Agile Estimation and Planning
  • Prioritizing work
  • Working as a Scrum Team
  • Planning for a Sprint
  • Executing and tracking work in a Sprint
  • Agile engineering principles and practices
  • Integrating QA into Scrum
  • Dealing with bugs
  • Delivering a product increment
  • Inspecting and Adapting your process
I am very happy with how it came out and I think it gives a solid overview of implementing Scrum. It's a great option for educating team members new to Scrum where sending them to instructor led training is not an option. You may also want to incorporate it into your onboarding process and is something you can use with off-shore teams as well.