A Talk with Agile Coach and DevJammer David Hussman

Dave Hussman leads DevJam, a local agile production house in Minneapolis. I had a chance at November’s Agile Day Twin Cities to catch up with him and see how his work with DevJam and his life in general relate to other Twin Cities geeks.

Cell phone photo of David holding a Microphone in front of a crowd at Agile Day November 2015

David speaking at Agile Day Twin Cities

Philip Coler (TCG): Can you give a brief description of DevJam for those who don’t know what it is?

David Hussman: DevJam does four things: we build products for other people, we have people out at client sites (we call them dev jammers—most of them are geeks), and then we do coaching and teaching, and I put that last because to me that’s more of how we are defined. One of the things we do are these DevJam “Jam Sessions.” So those jam sessions are ultra geeky; they’re for technology people. The last one we did was on Rust and Elixir. The Rust one was really cool because that’s the first real alternative to C and the way that they are building Rust. It is being built by the Mozilla Foundation here, and the way they are building Rust is fascinating because they are doing edge case interpreting.

The Jam Sessions have always been about full-on geekery. About four months ago we did one on Docker because we were doing this mobile project for this company and we used Docker on it.

At its heart, DevJam is a geek-driven company because that is my background. I was an engineer-programmer for eight years.

TCG: Do you “game” in any way? Board games, video games, anything of that nature?

David: Not as much as my daughter. Her fifth grade report was on Java because I helped her write a Minecraft plugin. Isn’t that cool or what, dude? My little daughter is up in front of her class doing command-line stuff. So she wrote a real rudimentary thing, but she went through, wrote some code, and debugged it, and she gets what happens with the code—that it turns into something intermediate and gets consumed by this virtual machine and that’s what interfaces with the actual hardware.

TCG: Okay, so you kind of helped her through that?

David: Yeah, she has this huge Minecraft computer. So I am not really a big gamer, in fact I am sort of like every gamer’s worst nightmare. I am the worst “pedestrian” gamer. Because the games I like have always been weird—when I was a kid, the video games I liked were Paperboy and BurgerTime. I don’t really know why Paperboy, because the nature of the game was throwing newspapers. I’ve worked a lot with Disney Interactive Media and their gaming group, so I know a lot about the insides of gaming.

TCG: Favorite book, graphic novel, or author?

David: Favorite book out of any context?

TCG: Any context.

David: That’s tough. The books that I really, really like are philosophy and fiction. Because I can’t just read philosophy; it’s too depressing. So I like some pretty dark stuff. I like Franz Kafka. But I also like Milan Kundera, who wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being. In the nonfiction space, Nassim Taleb is just a wonderful author: Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, and the book I mentioned [during Agile Day Twin Cities], Antifragile.

TCG: Do you have any general advice for Twin Cities geeks?

David: Dave Thomas, who wrote The Pragmatic Programmer, said some really good stuff. One of the things he used to say was, “Learn a new language each year.” I don’t really know about that, but I think that it is good to strive as quickly as possible to become a polyglot. You meet dudes who are just Ruby on Rails guys, and that is all they have ever done. They’re like, “Rails Rails Rails,” and then they learn a second language and they learn they are somewhat the same beasts.

But mostly what I would say is at some point, build something you are proud of. You can tell when someone has built something and shipped it. Someone will say, “Hey, look at this thing” and point to something they’ve made.

I wrote Civil War games in BASIC when I was a kid on an IntelliType that talked to the computer at the University of Minnesota, where you had to upload one line of code at a time because there wasn’t an interface. It was this old machine that went dun, dun dun dun dun. It was the sort of thing that if you saw it today, you’d think, “There is no way that’s not an antique,” but it was the nature of thinking in strategy.

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