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Shady Illuminations

My Letter to the Editor

by John Shade

Generic image illustrating the article
  John explains the values and principle on which his writing is based.  


I like to think that by writing this column every month, I am uncovering better ways of writing satirical back-page columns for software development magazines. I hope you agree.

I also hope, as a result of our working together these past two years, that we have come to share some core values. I hope that you have learned to value me and our interaction over my actually delivering the column and putting it in the right format. I hope that you agree with me that delivering a working column, by which I mean enough text to fill at least one page in the pdf version of the magazine, is more important than comprehensively documenting any meaningful topic. I hope that we have come to an understanding that your adopting a collaborative attitude toward my compensation is preferable to the usual boring ritual of contract negotiation. And I hope that I have convinced you that I am always going to react to ever-changing circumstances rather than following any plan you may have for me, and there’s not a darned thing you can do about it.

Good so far? Great, then moving on, I’m sure we can agree on a few basic principles:

Our highest priority for this column, surely, is to satisfy the reader with regular, even if last-minute, delivery of my valuable thoughts. At least one pdf page of them.

We should welcome change, by which I mean that you should be happy when I throw out the column I told you I was going to write and substitute something else at the last minute.

Thirty days is a perfectly reasonable delivery cycle. You really need to get over this idea that you need to see a draft any time before the last possible moment, because, seriously, it’s not going to happen.

It is desirable that you work with me daily throughout the writing of the column, specifically by not bugging me for the column.

Motivated individuals do great work. So send me goodies. I need an iPad. But wait until the new version is out. What I’m saying is, if you give me the environment and support I need, including that iPad, you can trust me to get the job done. So if you want to see next month’s column, you know what to do.

Face-to-face conversation is a highly efficient way of sharing information. If I need any information from you, I’ll drop by your office for a face-to-face. Also if I need an iPad, which I do. If you need something from me, email me. Or just trust that you’ll get it; that would be better.

Clear, unambiguous measures of progress are critical to projects. Filling up that pdf page should be the primary measure of progress on my column.

I guess what I’m doing here is describing a process, although let’s not call it a process, because that’s a bad word. But it’s a process that I believe promotes sustainable column writing. By which I mean, if you let me do it my way, I can keep up the pace indefinitely.

Trust me, Mike, I’m continuously thinking about excellence in my work, even when you think I’m procrastinating. And actually you’re right, I am procrastinating. I’m procrastinating so that I don’t do something non-excellent.

Somewhere I read that simplicity, defined as the art of maximizing the amount of work not done, is essential. I’m so there.

Also, it’s well established that the best work emerges from self-organizing teams, so let’s move beyond this idea you have that you should set my deadlines for me, OK?

Finally, I think you’ll agree that it’s good to reflect periodically on how to be effective at one’s job. And if I can do that while at the same time delivering this month’s column, that’s a win-win, right? It’s—what would you call it? Nimble? Spry? Something like that.


John Shade was born under a cloud in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1962. Subsequent internment in a series of obscure institutions of ostensibly higher learning did nothing to brighten his outlook. When informed that this was our Agile Issue, he said that everything he knows about agility he learned from watching expert practitioners of three-card monte.

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