Monday, September 20, 2010

Quips from the Mythbusters

Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman came to the area and were interviewed by a local science professor yesterday. A few things they said stuck out. One was that most of the important stuff that happens on the show begins before shooting starts, in their "brain" session. That's where they get together, sort through the myths, and lay out the overall plan for the season and how they'll approach each myth they plan on tackling. Jamie said it was the high point of the process. It reminded me of the way I've seen really good Agile developers work.

I tend to imagine a lot, and sometimes to over-invest my own time in puzzling over things I can't fix. That related to another quip from Jamie -- he mentioned that when they come upon a myth and get stuck on how they would approach it, they put it on the back burner. Again, this is a pattern I've observed in the Agile shop. If you are not making fast progress anyway, procrastination is the better part of valor. Best to expend your effort in an area that will pay back, and push the problem onto a visible project backlog.

One other thing they both mentioned was that they had been jacks of all trades but masters of none. Jamie holds a degree in Russian language. Basically, they go forward and do stuff, regardless of how much they know. In one sense, this is also Agile -- they don't concern themselves about what they don't know, but they try anyway. It also explains their often overly naive approach to science and engineering too though: in some ways they are illiterate enough to reinvent the wheel. They get paid to serve their own sense of curiosity, so why should they bother to think things through?  Serving ones' self may be common among programmers too, but I don't think it is something an ethical engineer should value too highly.

One final thought: Mythbusters is mostly entertainment. While it may be good public relations for S.T.E.M. geeks and nerds, Jamie mentioned how they have also been doing "real world" applications like personnel armor, studying blast effects. Adam mentioned how the "bullet fired up into the air" episode added something new to the scientific literature on the otherwise ignored subject, and how it mean a lot to him. That sense of direction, of serving a purposeful and substantive long term process, is a value that seems curiously missing from many journeymen programmers and expert Agile practitioners alike.
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