Archive for the ‘WorkLifeBalance’ Category

These are the slides fro my GrowthHacking presentation about hacking my eduction.

Yesterday the Belgium program Volt had a small item about the walking desk. (Thank you Renaat Toppets for warning me)


Let’s do a perfection game on the program.

What I liked:

  • I learned about a company that is selling walking desks in Belgium
  • they let people of a callcenter, actually use the walking desk
  • they have multiple people talk about their experience.
  • they ask the physiotherapist the advantages and disavantages of a walkingdesk
  • they made the the health issues from sitting 8 hours clear
  • they compared sitting a lot and smoking


What I would have preferred:

  • They would let multiple people use it for a few days.
  • They make it clear how long the people talking used the desk.
  • Also let people who have are actually users of a walking desk. ( instead of the people who sale the walkdesk)
  • use the word walkingdesk (or treadmill desk) like the rest of the world and not use the local brand name WalkDesk
  • When the physiotherapist talks about the height problem, the height of the walking desk is adjusted, so that the desk is at the correct height for Tatyana.
  • some of the footage shows people walking faster then the minimum speed. I walk almost twice as fast as what they see
  • they use a desk with an electronic lift instead of a manual lift to adjust height.
  • Mark Tijsman would know that although the desk is big, he can have a build-in versions.
  • The computer screens where set up higher.

my experiences about my walking desk, can be found here.




While driving back from the first European IgSummit (Innovation Games) I was thinking about what I like about this event and what is my prefered event.

  • A 2 or 3 day event with maximum 200 (preferable 160) people
  • The event happens in a nice environment, not a chain hotel:
    • koningsteen
    • SeminarZentrum Rückersbac
    • the organizers are staying at the hotel(except if they live nearby)
    • I can arrive on the first day and leave on the last day without having to loose another night not at home
    • WIFI is everywhere available for free (except in the restaurant, then people should eat and talk to eachother )
    • Coffee and other beverages are available all the time for free
  • the people:
    • 30% of the people I have never met on or offline.
    • 30 % of the people I only met online and never yet met offline.
    • 30 % I have met before.
    • 30 to 60 % of the participants are female.
    • 30 % of the organizers are female.
    • 30 % of the participants are not from the country the conference takes place.
    • 30 % of the organizers are parents.
    • 30 % of the organizers are single.
    • 30 % of the organizers are new to the organizer team.
    • 30 % of the participants are active developers
  • Start the day with a healthy breakfast.
  • at the start of the conference the law of two feet and other OpenspaceTechnology idea’s are explained and people are encouraged to use it all the time
  • a 30 minutes “keynote” from ThoughtJockeys. I have nothing against thoughtleaders, yet I prefer to learn from people who implement the idea’s from thoughtleaders and mix it with other stuff. Only 30 minutes as this forces people to prepare really well and to concentrate what they want to say. After that I want this keynote speaker to propose a OpenSpace Session in the afternoon, to have discussions about his idea’s.
  • Funny OHMPs (Official Half minute presentations about the talks)
    • a break of 20 minutes.
    • 6 x 15 min talks in 4 break out rooms.
    • announced 5 minutes breaks in between, so that people in the hall ways know when the next talk starts.
    • a one hour walking dinner:

      • that has food for everyone: vegies, carnivors, cheese lovers, allergic people etc…
      • people can take the food from different tables, not one or two lines.
    • a few 3 minutes lightning talks (without slides) in the mainroom.  No talks decided up front, no breaks
    • the rest of the afternoon, open space market
    • the event has a program for the children of the attendees. The childrens program is as much about fun as it’s about learning (just like the adults event)
    • the keynote speaker  of the first day has to deliver a workshop to teach the children what he talked the first day.
    • dinner with a stranger in the evening
    • second day keynote is delivered by a child, paired up with either a parent or another child.
    • rest of the day is like the first day
    • if a 3 day event, the second evening we do 3 hour games night
    • we end the last night (before the last day) with meetup at a karaoke bar where people use text related to the event instead of the original song lyrics.
    • At the end of the event a 30 minute keynote from a thoughtjockey that was at the event all the time and that has created a presentation, mixing thing she learned at the event
    • if the first keynote speaker was female, the closing one has to be male.
    • books:
      • everyone brings one book to the event and that is used in a swashbook reading session
      • a local book shop sells books, with a lot of books available of the speakers and participants
      • Authors offer Faq sesions on their books
    • During the full event an application is being developed that is put into production using contiunous delivery. The developer table is in the middle of the conference and dashboards about the application are visible at every location of the conference.
  • Feedback:



Yes I know this is THE list of the ideal conference for me. I am very well aware this is the blue sky scenario and these are only MY idea’s.
(Hey it is my blog )

One of my main drivers to start my own company was that I wanted more training than my previous employers gave me.
For 15 years I had a rule that I invested 10 to 20% of my revenue in training.
It was a combination of reading books, evening events, conferences, training & coaching.

The last years I have added community activities to that. I have learned a ton from creating

and mostly the teams that helped me with them.

Actually, I learned so much by working with great teams and their trust, that I decided that the next years, I want to experiment with how I will learn new things.

I want to learn by doing, instead of purchasing training. I will be helping multiple teams or organisations for a short while. This means I will contact companies that work in special ways or are doing stuff in a creative way. My current idea is to do actual work for them for a week.

Last week I came up with the name Au-PairCoaching for this and then asked on twitter what that made people think:

Here are the reactions:

Nicole Rauch: To me that sounds as if the coach would move into my house and live with me for a while.


  • Holger Oem: The coach is very young, has no experience on his job but is willing to do anything to help
  • Zurcherart: 19 year old learning a foreign language by coaching your children
  • George Dinwiddie Someone cheap to spend all their time babysitting the children (development team) for years.
  • Leo Exter :  Um. The stuff cheap-and-nasty romance novels are filled with.
  • RonJeffries: A young woman who doesn’t speak my language, won’t watch the kids very well and will get mixed up with my husband.



Nicole reaction, was in sync with what I thought. It’s not moving in in your house, yet moving in with your team/company.

Holger’s reaction is both good and bad.
– Although I still see myself as young, I doubt my children agree with that.
– I do have experience, I actually think I will bring lots of value.
– yes, I come to learn at the same time
– yes, I am willing to anything to help

Steve’s (Zurcherart) reaction makes me think, I burned down my parents’ house at 19. Not sure you want that 19 year old person in your company ;-)
I consider working people as adults, I don’t want to treat them as children.
I want to learn, yet more the company culture then the language.

George reaction: mmm, not really want to be seen as cheap, usually people don’t listen to people they consider cheap consultants.

Leo’s reaction: I wonder if that is good or bad. these novels are popular.

Ron’s answer is really disturbing. (Thanks Ron, I like it when people push me.)
The part about not speaking the language will be true most of the times. I might miss local nuances. (It’s the main reason why we say that a CoachRetreat is done in the local language.)
I really want to do the job well. I wonder, is this the general experience with au-pairs or just rumors?
The last part; it took me 16 years to convince my wife to ask me to marry her. I’m not going to jeopardize our relation buy fooling around. And I doubt that is what au-pairs actually do. (Although It might be a secret wish of some men hiring an au-pair.) I will check with my wife to see if she has some similar concerns.

Do you know of other people doing this?
When I asked for help on the draft of this talk, I learned about a people who did something similar.


So Yves, how is your initiative different, how is it unique?

  • I’m talking about coaching, while most others was about programming
  • I have 3 children (and a lovely wife) that I want to give a lot of love, attention and support. This means I don’t want to go away for months in row. Just like with the training I want to replace, it’s maximum 1 week every 2 months.
  • I will be picky on the companies I pick. I want them to be a-typical. As I will have regular clients at the same time, I can afford that.
  • With that family to support, I won’t work for free
  • I will do paircoaching: One of the things I am really careful about is so called seagull coaching. dropping some shit on a team and moving on without seeing the consequences.
  • I give freelifetime support in this week
  • As I haven’t been part of what the others done, I don’t know, all the differences. I will write about it at the end.


Do you care if people are actually using what you are saying? You said it was about learning, so if you learned something and the company is not taking your advice, are you happy?

Great question.
Yes, it’s about learning, but learning as a coach: when I learn something that clients don’t use, I have not really learned anything. One thing that is constant in my life, is that I want to become more effective. Also  as coach. Not learn fake stuff, this is partly why this works better than training, I still have to be able to use what I learned in real life. In that sense, my learning will also be verifying assumptions that I already have.
or as Nicole rephrased it so nicely:
“Your notion of ‘learning success’ is when you learn something new, apply it and see that the other person reacts in a way that they feel helped. Of course, then you need the other person to be interested in what you are applying.”


You are talking about learning and you still want to earn money with it. Isn’t this some cheesy marketing scheme?

That is a hard question and one I have been struggling with for a while.
Let’s start by making clear, this is not about finding new regular clients. I will keep doing the work I am normally doing. For my clients in Belgium. If this blogpost is related to marketing, it’s about finding companies that I could learn from. The companies I am looking for, are different than my usual clients, if only because they are outside Belgium. For full transparency, the first of these companies I have already contacted and they have said yes. I will be helping them in October. After I come back to Belgium, I will do a retrospective with the coaches I have helped and plan a next iteration with another company.

The money part: can I charge for learning?
When I was at university, I had a friend who was studying at the conservatory. He practised playing guitar on the streets. earning money while he practised. He even told me, it helped him to practise longer and better. As long as he brought people value, they paid. I think that was smart. I’m sure you can find people around you that earn money while this perfecting their craft.
Update: It took me a while to realize his money scheme was different. His “customers” pay after the delivery of the songs. And they decide how much they will pay, after he has delivered. I will experiment with that.


Will you always move to the country, what about distributed teams?
Good question. I just finished reading: A year working without Pants from Scott Berkun. A wonderful book. In 2005 I was coaching an agile team that was distributed : partly in Belgium, partly in Yekatarinaburg. I loved doing that. I am interested in helping out a full distributed team like Berkun did. On top of it, it would be nice if I can work full time on my walking desk.

What do you hope to learn?

  • My current modus operandi; is to do long term assignments. I observe teams for a week and only then start giving ideas. Working for one week, I will need to change that.
  • Most of the companies that are calling for help are companies that want to change the way they are working. You can see it as a therapist helping people in trouble. I want now to work with companies that are doing great and that I will help to become even better.
  • I don’t know what I don’t know…

From the twitter remarks, it’s clear that the name au-pairCoaching is not the best name.
Will you help me find another name?

Current proposals:

  • BYOC (Bring your own Coach)
  • CoachOnTour
  • JourneymanCoach: invented by Olaf Lewitz
  • JourneyCoach: invented by Olaf Lewitz
  • CoachOnJourney
  • Distributed Coach
  • Remote Coach: invented by Olaf Lewitz
  • StageCoach: invented by Martine Vos
  • CollaborationArchitect: now used as part of Innovation Games certifications
  • CollaborationCoach
  • RemoteCollaborationArchitect
  • RemoteCollaboration
  • RemoteCollaborationCoach
  • CreativeCollaborationAgent: this is the name I have been using for a while…

After some soulsearching and discussing with friends. I decide to use Remote Coach. It fits well in all situations.

Do you know companies I should do this with?
Please tell me



Thank you Gino Marckx

With an interesting link between stress and cuddling. They create the same hormone.

People who spend time caring for others (while under stress), showed absolute no increase in dying. Caring created resilience.

Chasing meaning is better for your health then trying to avoid discomfort


From time to time I have friends who become independent and ask questions about what they should learn as an independent.
I actually become independent in 1998 , and created my current company at the start of 1999.  I still remember the feeling. The thrill, the excitement and the fear.

Here is the advice I wrote earlier this year:



Start by adding everyone you know in linkedin. I don’t think that can be wrong.
( I actually hope you have already done that, you did not need to be an independent to do that.)
Update your LinkedIn profile and add you are now freelance, add your phone number visible, so people can contact you directly.
Start giving recommendations on LinkedIn to everyone you can give a real recommendation to. (No fake cheesy ones, people see that) Everyone means your former colleagues too. (Who else can you give recommendations to?)
I assume you now know a lot about the work you do, so this year, only read about the business part.
this is new, give yourself the time to learn.
Make sure you have a coach someone who has a similar business as yours for a few years that you respect and ask her to coach you.  yes, I think everyone should have a coach and especially if your job is coach.
Now as for payment , you can’t afford to pay a coach yet as you did not make any money. You can do the opposite as I do. (which is the same)  offer an hour for an hour.
You help your coach with one hour of other work in return of one hour of coaching.
The only way to get rich or even survive financially, is to spend less then you earn.
That is true also (or even more) as an independent.
As an independent, cash flow is also important. As a result, I don’t spend money if I don’t have it on my bank account. Even if I send out a big invoice today and I need something urgently, I’ll wait till the money is on my account to buy that urgent thing. (You’ll quickly find out, it was not that urgent or even needed.)
If you old employer gave you a car, laptop, cellphone and whatever:
Don’t rush of buying them all new.
See if you can work a while without them: aka that old computer you have, might work for a while .
Most larger clients want you to work on their computer anyhow. Use that to your advantage .
Same for cellphone ,  you don’t need that shiny new iPhone Galaxy 69
A car might be harder if you don’t have any. When I went I depended I bought a very cheap second hand car.
Drove around with that for a year or two.
This does not mean you should not invest in yourself. yet everytime, ask yourself, is this a real investment or just a fancy way to show off. Do you really need that expensive car to score a job. And if you do, is that the jobs you want?
I have no idea what the taxes are in your country, yet make sure you set the right % aside the moment you get your invoices paid. Yes aside means a separate account. Or if it’s VAT, you might pay that directly. I don’t like to prepay my country, yet I prefer this over not having the money around when I need to.

Set aside a % of your income as safety money.
If you can live of 100%, you can live of 90%.
As you have never learned to live of this kind of income , I would advice to set aside a bigger %.
My company, has never set less then 30% aside every month. Not even when I had cheap paying clients. There were event moment my company was setting aside 50% of it’s income.
And that is 30% of revenu after I set aside the tax money.
I set the money on an account I can acces, and it’s temting to use it, especially when the amount becomes large, yet limit the reasons for taking money out of that account.
My main reason is, when I say no to uninteresting jobs. This buffer, helps me to stay honest to myself and my values.
And yes, on already 2 occasions that money was almost reduced to zero. As I really wanted another job.
In both occasions I was right. On both times I got that job I was waiting for  and on both times it was the right job for me at the ime.

This has two advantages:
You learn to spend less on your business.
You set aside a larger amount for a safety buffer when you will be between jobs.
yes, I said when not if.
Yes there will be moments in between. And that is fine. That is ok , I would even say that is great.
Yet you can only enjoy them when you have a buffer aside.
I prefer to have a buffer of at least 6 months to a year.
I wanted to write: learned to spend more is easier then learning to spend less: as I struggle with the First part, it’s probably about as hard, yet I prefer my struggle, it’s less risky for my business
Tell everyone you know, that you are now independent.
Think of something you can send to people to tell them.
The old clients, for who you have not worked in 5 years (aka those you can safely contact without hurting your ex employer ) and that you would love working again?
Send them a book or something else valuable . Show them you still care about them (again only if you do)
(I personally send books on a lot of occasions, even to people I think I will never work for. It my way of telling them I like what they are doing. And I ask them to thank me by paying it forward and send a book to someone else.)
Thirdparty connectors
For some clients you will need to go through third parties.
Find the good ones in your area. ( avoid being hooked up with the bad ones)
And the get into the databases of all these good ones.
For me it took a few years before that actually paid of so start this ASAP.
What area are you looking to work in?
Threat the looking for a client as a job:
Work normal hours, make a personal Kanban board with everything you want to do, and prioritize…
I hope you wil share your knowledge with your community (or create your own communities, like I do)
And most of all enjoy. If you don’t enjoy what your doing. Find a way how you could enjoy it.



I read tons of books.

When people asked me how they could learn to read more, I told them I read X nr of pages a day. When I was 13/14 I actually read 1 book a day. Although it was an unhealthy habit for multiple reasons (I had to repass exams during the holidays to mention one) I learned a lot about creating habits.

When I started to work, I gave myself the limit of 30 pages a day.
When I got kids, this limit became 10 pages a day. A lot less, yet still +3600 pages a year. A lot more then most people I know.

My advice to people these days is to start creating a habit of reading a nr of pages every day, even if it’s only 1 page. 365 pages a year, is one book a year. Better then nothing.

For that I realized lately that there is a better way to create habits. A chain calendar.

This year I participated in a creative initiative, where people are encouraged to create one creative idea per day. ( )
And every day you did that, is counted. When you don’t publish an idea, the next day you start back at 0.

Such a creativity chain is very addictive. The first few days were very easy for me, I had a lot of creative idea’s. By the end, I felt stuck, yet, the fact that I had already such a long chain, I did not gave up.
In the end I published new idea’s for 64 days in a row (The maximum period.) Not because I am a genius. I could do it, because they have put a great system in place.

While I wrote this post, I realized that I have been using similar systems in most parts of my life.

  • Nr of steps I am talking (on my walking desk)
  • the weekly blogging of my who is serie 
  • my weekly republishing of who is agile
  • I think that Foursquare reward system is also a habit creating system
  • My daily tweets at @Retroflection (I hope you agree that 1264 days in row is a nice chain

What habit have you created to enhance your life?


Selecting the last person for volume one was really hard. Do we want a big name? Or a newbie? What about one of the original Agile Manifesto authors? Today our backlog contains 217 people. How do you select “the best person” to end the book with?

While working on one of the previous versions of the book, I asked for help from the Leanpub team. And then it struck me. ‘Who Is agile’ has become what it is today thanks to Leanpub. As an author, I’m in love with the lean publishing service that Leanpub offers.

During the last ten years I discussed the process of book writing with many agile authors. Almost all said that writing a book can not be done in an agile way. I did not want to agree with that. Only when I failed to write the Agile Games book was I ready to agree. And then Elisabeth helped me discover Leanpub. Peter is a great example of a Lean Startup Product Owner. As a user, I get so exited about their product that I keep throwing ideas at them. Peter always answers in a nice way and still he keeps the focus of his team real tight. It’s not that he ignores all the ideas. Sometimes someone on the Leanpub mailing list has a genius idea and within a day the feature is implemented. Yet, for most other ideas, Peter gently explains why the feature is not a priority. So far, I have always agreed with him, though I might not like always it.

His blog post about his desk setup, was the direct push to install my own walking desk.














What is something people usually don’t know about you but has influenced you in who you are?

When I was in university, I did a double-major in Computer Science and Psychology, which is itself an odd combination. However, I spent so much time taking various courses that interested me (Philosophy, Japanese, intellectual history, etc) that I was less than one semester of credits away from 2 completely separate degrees! (I took about 6 years worth of classes for my B.Sc. degree.) I think the breadth of what I studied before choosing Computer Science and Psychology has really influenced me. Also, it was cool to be the only Psychology student I knew in the Faculty of Engineering :)

If you had not been in IT, what would have become of you?

I probably would have gone into graduate school in cognitive psychology, studying brain function.

What is your biggest challenge and why is it a good thing for you?

My biggest challenge is choosing to work on the right things, and in reducing product features to their essence before building those. I have so many product ideas at any given time (both for features of products I’m working on, and for totally new products) that it’s really tempting to get distracted, especially since I work with very talented people who can code almost anything. So I need focus.

This is a good thing for me since, frankly, it’s a luxury. It’s the ultimate example of first world problems. However, it is still a problem and a challenge. And unlike many problems, you do not know (and can never know) if you got the right answer. Even if you succeed in something, you could have been more successful in one of the n other things you didn’t do, or didn’t do as well as you could have. Opportunity cost is expensive!

What drives you?

If I think deeply about some seemingly solved, mundane problem, I typically get really unhappy with the current state of the art in it. Two examples of this are book publishing and project management. Both seemed to be solved problems, and yet both are really broken in many ways. And in both areas you’ve seen a bunch of new startups lately, and the problems are still pretty unsolved! (Of course, hopefully Leanpub solves one of them :)

So, in terms of what drives me, I’d say that I end up getting strong opinions about some problem, and then wanting to build what I consider to be the right solution for it. And if I think that something is broken for me, and if I think I can see a clean solution, then I get motivated.

What is your biggest achievement?

Leanpub is my biggest achievement, but it’s a shared achievement between me and Leanpub’s cofounder Scott Patten, as well as the others like Ken, Len and Steve who are working or have worked on it.

In terms of my biggest essentially personal achievement, it’s my first book Flexible Rails. I was living in the middle of nowhere, working remotely for a Silicon Valley startup, and I had a young son. And thanks to wife’s support and patience, I managed to find the time to write and self-publish it (iteratively, in a very Leanpub style [before Leanpub existed], shipping 23 versions in about 2 years) before having it traditionally published.

Flexible Rails was the first thing that I did–completely outside of any structured environment like university or being an employee–where I had enough courage of my convictions to build and ship something. In school or as an employee you are given objectives and then you try to meet or exceed them. And over the course of high school, university and then being an employee I got pretty good at that. But it’s a very different challenge to do something completely on your own: not only do you need to come up with the idea and be able to execute it, you also need to maintain the self-belief that what you are doing is worthwhile, and that you will succeed. (Incidentally, this external feedback and motivation is, I think, one of the most important aspects of Leanpub.)

What is the last book you have read?

I think the last book I finished was Trevor Burnham’s CoffeeScript book, which was really good. I’m currently reading Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Berlin Johnson.

What question do you think I should also ask and what is the answer?

That’s an interesting question. My guess is you get lots of pretentious answers :)

I guess since Leanpub is bootstrapped by the consulting work of Ruboss, the question would be “Do you have any advice for someone considering bootstrapping a startup?”

My answer would be that doing product development and doing consulting are very different skills, and to not underestimate how much learning is involved in growing a consulting company. (This was also something that I knew very little about when starting Ruboss!) When picking a rate to bill your time at, do NOT assume you can bill 40 hour weeks, or even 30 hour weeks! It turns out that companies have overhead, and that your billable hours are very different than the number of hours you work.

And then once you know how to handle that challenge somewhat, and run a reasonably successful consulting company, the hardest thing is turning down work at your consulting rate in order to do product work. But the product work is the real reason that your company exists, so you need to solve this problem daily!

Part of my solution to that has been to raise our rates until we had enough time, and to focus on our best clients. However, finding a balance is always tricky, especially since you try to be nice and fair to your clients. Also, you need to manage risk, etc…

Whom do you think I should ask next?

I think you should ask:


Peter is the last person added to the global book Who is agile

if you liked his answer or the serie. Please buy the book.
In the book Peter also answer Michael Dubakov’s question: Can introversty be a good CEO?

The agile community in Belgium(Benelux) started somewhere in 2001.
There were three kind of ways we interacted:

  • Pairprogrammingparties: People meeting at the backroom of a café/restaurant, where they programmed the whole evening in pairs.
  • agile evening events: companies that had a problem, provide us with a room, food & beverages and we came with a bunch of people interested in agile. We discussed, played a game …
  • the yearly xpday benelux 2 days event

All that was completely self-organized. We had enough companies interested and we lots of different topics.

Gradually, the focus of the regular people came on the yearly event. I think that pretty quick after the mini-xp days (which is basically a best of the previous xp days) was started, the monthly evening events died.

The nice thing about the Belgium agile community is that every times this happens, there is someone who stands up and starts to organize a new kind event.


Years ago we had Jurgen De Smet launching Agile in Belgium.
A few years back, we had Mark, Bruno & Xavier launching the agile beer drink ups.


My lessons learned:

  • As this was taking place at a customer I am currently helping, I did not really wanted to facilitate. Yet I never really made a clear decision and thus no clear communication. That ended into a lot of confusion for many people. That was a big mistake.
  • I had lots of facilitation stuff in my car, I did not bring it to the office, thinking I will have time. When we have 3 hours and lots of games to play, we can’t loose time. Another facilitation mistake.
    • In XP: the customer is the bottleneck. That was a take away that links two idea’s I like.
    • things to think about:  as part of a debrief we discussed that it’s better to start then to think. Someone repeated that as: in agile there is no thinking.
    • While driving home I realized that as these days I do facilitation most of my days and thus when I go to a local event I avoid more of the same. Ignoring the fact that I learn a lot by doing facilitating my own community.
    • As being an agile adapt for quite some times, I am always looking for new games and things to learn. yet sometimes it’s good to remember that a lot of newbies, don’t know the basics games like the XP game, the leadership game or the bal game.

yes I play these games with almost all my customers, yet I should not forget to play it also for the community from time to time.

  • A few years ago, I have decided to drop out of a lot of evening events, in favor of my family. Last year I realized that this decision made me miss a lot of local agile friends. In return I started having lunch with at least one agile friend a month. Tonight I realized I want to open this up. hence: alunch  short for agile lunch. Watch this blog, my twitter feed for an announcement in the next days.



Aslam was proposed by Henrik and by Maritza.

This is what Karen Greaves says about Aslam:

Aslam is a developer at heart, but able to speak to senior managers to help them solve their problems. He’s most at home pairing on complex problems and helping others learn techniques to take their coding to the next level. But that’s not what I most enjoy about Aslam. For me (and my business partner Sam) he is our business mentor. He is always willing to listen to your concerns and give you open feedback, to help you find the right path. He is humble and doesn’t judge. Every discussion with Aslam, leaves me feeling calm, in control and inspired to try something new. Sam and I have come up with nicknames for Aslam. I call him buddha, and she calls him Yoda. If you meet him you will know it’s not because of his pointy green ears. He definitely deserves to be featured in “Who Is agile”























What is something people usually don’t know about you but has influenced you in who you are?

There are 3 very distinct moments that made me aware of the fragility of life. Strangely, these moments made me realize how small yet significant I am in the big scheme of life.

The first moment was in 1986 when I was in my final year of high school. My older brother was beaten by police and arrested during a political protest against the apartheid government. He remained in detention without trial for 6 or 8 weeks. It was the first time I went through distinct emotional phases of fear, anger, despair and sadness.

In 2000, my wife almost died while being pregnant with my first child. My child was born 2 months premature, spent the first 2 months of his life in an incubator. I recall being told by our doctor that they will save my wife first, then my child. That was surreal, to say the least. Anyway, I became a father, walked into neonatal ICU, peered into an incubator at a 1.2kg human being that looked older than my father. I had no idea what to do, so I went home. It’s insane trying to figure out being a father when you have no opportunity to bond physically.

More recently, my second child suffered a brain hemorrhage at the age of 1 month. She had less than 5% chance of survival. Five days later she awoke and started feeding again. That was scarier than the medical trauma 5 days before. She is now 8 years old, has a terminal liver disease and lives life from a wheel chair. I learnt that “being in control” is an illusion. We can only react to things that happen.

Oh, and what most people don’t know is that I married the girl that I fell in love with in high school, and we have been together for more than half of our lives. If that doesn’t define who I am, then I don’t know what will :-)

If you had not been in IT, what would have become of you?

The obvious candidate would be to be a medical doctor which is the default career in my family. My parents were both doctors and so is my brother and his wife, and there are enough other medics in the extended family to host a conference. But I was quite determined not to be a doctor, so I studied Electronic Engineering. But, my first job was writing software far from transistors and op-amps. So, software development is my alternate career . If I hadn’t done software development, I’ve often thought of going into animation. I think the fluidity of the medium is similar to code – just magical.

What is your biggest challenge and why is it a good thing for you?

Oh no, that’s not a fair question. All challenges are equally big! If it’s not big, it can’t be a challenge, right? Seriously, one of my challenges is trying to be a parent. Oh boy! Just when you think you’ve figured it out, you find something unexpected that humbles you. It’s the mirror of my life with no photoshop effects. Consequently, the challenge I give myself is to understand myself, my behavior and my feelings. A lot of Why did I do that? is asked frequently within me. Right now, for all the questions, in all those contexts, there are a few things that are gaining some clarity. I hope that this clarity changes my behavior so that I am a better person. Ahhh, so that’s my biggest challenge. I take back “all challenges are equally big” :-)

What drives you ?

The notion of something being impossible excites me. Nothing should be impossible. In a pure scientific sense there are things that are not possible, but from a practical sense, even impossibilities can be converted into something that is practically useful, even if it is not ideal. I love the promise of simplification. I guess what ultimately drives me is that I know that it is just a matter of time when the simpler option will emerge. The trick is being patient, that’s a slow feedback loop. So, being patient drives me.

What is your biggest achievement?

I don’t like to rank achievements. I think all achievements should be celebrated equally. I have learnt that even “small” achievements caused big changes in the journey of my life. The frustrating aspect is that I seem to have very little control over the feedback loop from achievement to realization of value. For example, understanding pointers, and pointers to pointers in C resulted in a decade of elegant problem solving, and not to mention the deep appreciation of a garbage collector. Or perhaps that I do understand that multiplication is short-hand for addition and decades later, I can try to find creative ways to help my daughter understand such crazy, abstract concepts as increasing in discrete and exact quantities.

What is the last book you have read?

Fred Brooks’ Mythical Month Essays (again). And also Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. Last night, I finished reading Roald Dahl’s Danny, Champion of the World with my daughter. That’s the best father/child book ever (read it with my son too). At the moment I am reading Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselvessci-fi/fantasy is like mental detox material for me.

What question do you think I should also ask and what is the answer?

If you had a chance to do a heavenly trade-in of Justin Bieber, for whom would you trade him? Bob Marley ‘cos we still need to drive them crazy bald heads out of town.

Whom do you think I should ask next?

Samantha Laing and Karen Greaves of Growing Agile. I have seen them convert their own scary ideas into reality, taking leaps of faith, tripping and getting up – and smiling most of the time. Just insist that they steer clear of that agile games thing ;-)