My first evening in Beijing my new friends Fred and Pockey took me to a beautiful restaurant on HouHai Lake in the center of Beijing. Very pretty at night with the lights on the water. It was very dark though and we all struggled to read the menus by the light on Fred's cell phone.
So I'm picking out what I want to eat and going through the menu and something stops me in my tracks. A collision between Web 2.0 and food in my first hours of Beijing.
I look down at the menu and say to Pockey, "Okay, I know my Cantonese is barely passable and my Mandarin is non-existent, but you have got to tell me what 303 is."
She says "What number?"
"Sam ling sam"
She finds it and starts laughing.
It is Stir-fried wikipedia.
So, after much discussion, here is what we think happened.
"Hey I'm making the new menu, what's the english name for those flat crispy mushrooms?"
"Um, there isn't one."
"Well what should I put down here?"
"I don't know, look it up in wikipedia."
Wikipedia with peppers looks like this:
And it is delicious.
So, thanks Jimmy Wales, for adding to the experience.
Update: Many people asked what the name of the restaurant was. While I was in China, things were happening so fast that I just didn't notice. But Pockey was quick to tell me. She says:
"South silk road (cha ma gu dao) is the name and its at the (hou hai)"
Sometimes things work out so elegantly. A few weeks ago, I was on-line working late at night. My friend Janelle was on line. She had been living in Beijing so I IM'ed her and let her know I was about to be on my way to her city.
Unfortunately, she's relocated to Guangzhou. But she introduced me to her friends and as soon as I arrived, they took me places. Some places (restaurants), I expected. Some places (Beijing Linux User Group meeting) I was more surprised by.
Their quick and effective effort to welcome me to Beijing and get me involved with local networks was wonderful. Even though Beijing is a huge and rather ungraspable city, it has felt very comfortable to me because of this.
As I write this, I've been here less than 2 days and have eaten in wonderful restaurants, seen the Great Wall, seen the Ming Tombs, been to my conference, met new business partners, discussed new business opportunities in China with my new friends and others, and slept a total of about 8 hours.
There's nothing like doing, like going, like being. In places, with people, in situations. I am a happy camper.
I went to APLN Seattle last week to give a talk and, much to my delight, a conversation broke out. My talk was purposefully vague. I figure that if people weren't into it, no use bludgeoning them with extra stuff they aren't interested in - but if the are, then they will take questions in the direction that most interests them.
My 20 minute talk brought out about an hour of questions.
Among the most excellent barrage were two specific ones I will highlight:
Agile Interviewing: I mentioned that we don't really care about what platforms people have used in the past, because new tech was always coming out. Then I said that we didn't really care about Agile development experience because our tools and processes benevolently dictated Agile practices. So David Anderson said he'd noticed that we tend to interview in Coffee Shops and wondered if that was intentional, he also wondered if our interview techniques has adjusted to find what we were looking for: people who could communicate well and had a history of clean, innovative code.
The answer to those were yes and yes. We always interview in coffee shops - we've found that in office settings people tend to focus on business and their history. ("I did this." "I can do that".) In a coffee shop, people are more inclined to be silly, to have a conversation and to let barriers fall. This is probably true on both sides of the table.
As for questions or technique, it's subtle but it's there. We want to find people who we get on well with and who show interest (even if it's skepticism) in our agile philosophies. By the point we've gotten to the interview, we've already seen past code and know if they write cleanly and consistently. We don't ask the Google-type questions like "How many golf balls could you mash inside Serg Brin?" But we will tell them some of our more bizarre stories with leading beginnings and see where they take things.
Lines of Communication: We have open lines of communication, our clients are partners in the development process. So those clients have direct access to the entire development staff. I blithely said that this was great and worked beautifully and it was basically a big love-fest. That bold statement had a very short lifespan.
People pounced on it quickly, wondering how we dealt with clients who circumvented process or otherwise didn't respect the fact that some coders need to actually write code.
And it is true, it's not always a love-fest and some things have happened. Some clients get on better with some team members than others, so they will tend to call that team member and ask them things exclusively. This creates a de-facto point-of-contact. When this happens, I said, we beat our clients.
Corporal punishment isn't just for political detainees any more.
Or .. maybe we diffuse the situation by discussing the issue and the ramifications with the client. It's an easy formula .. if you talk to much to them, then they not only talk to you, but then they have to debrief the team on what you talked about. That means that they spend 2 to 3 times the length of your chat talking about your chat. And they are billing for that time.
It's much more rewarding to everyone to discuss things with people directly, use the tools for some communications (VersionOne, Bugzilla, etc), or wait until the iteration planning meeting.
While this has happened, it really hasn't been that common, simply because the tools we have chosen to use (like VersionOne and Bugzilla) remove long and possibly easy to misinterpret / misplace verbal instructions from the communication ecosystem. Once clients and team get the hang of them, they really do work.
I was looking forward to geoblogging my China trip, as I've done before to other places. But, as we see here, Google maps doesn't have cities in China. Unless, of course, Shanghai only has 2 streets.
So the services that use Google - like my favorite service, Platial - won't be very useful. So we're just going to have to settle for non-spatial information on this one. If anyone knows of a workaround, I'd love it.
On Sunday I leave for about three weeks in China. I'm going for a conference and a tour of transportation technology facilities and an added seminar, but I'm really going for the food (of course). I'll try to blog as often as I can.
Here's my itinerary:
Oct 7 - Fly out of Seattle
Oct 8 - 14 - Beijing
Oct 14- 17 - XiAn
Oct 17 - 21 - Hangzhou
Oct 21 - 24 - Shanghai
Oct 24 - Fly back home
Unfortunately, I'm fighting a cold at the moment as well, so it's going to be an interesting flight over.
If you are in any of these cities when I am, let me know!
Tonight I will be speaking about Agile Management for Distributed Teams at the monthly APLN chapter meeting. I will describe the experiences we've had managing geographically dispersed teams, working with both contractors and clients who are not used to Agile. The title of the talk is: "I'm Agile, What's Wrong with YOU?!" Apparently, we'll be video taping it, if it's not too embarrassing, I'll post the video ... likely making myself the next Star Wars Kid.
As usual the meeting will be held at Avanade, 2211 Elliott Ave, Seattle, 98121, between 5.30pm and 7.30pm. Hope to see you there.
The talk will be divided into three parts:
EDUCATION getting your team of hired guns and clueless clients to embrace agile collaboration,
EPIPHANY (includes the subsection "OMG! This s*&t really works!"), and
EXECUTION - Dancing's better with the same music.
Each of these sections will describe our experiences, tools, techniques, procedures, pain points, and victories. Most of the presentation will describe a project from Q4 2006, during which not only was our team distributed, but management was also spread between three continents.