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You cannot keep coding for too long because your fingers get cold…?

You have to bypass the city centre because of the crowded marketplace…?

You cannot plan Sprints normally because everyone around is going for vacations…?

Well, these are undeniable signs of the Christmas season, which among all the above-mentioned inconveniences will also bring you to the dinner table with IT-ignorants (aka your family) and their hilarious questions like: “So I’ve heard you’re no slouch on computers, hah? Could you take a look at my PC after dinner maybe? It’s getting impossible to shop on AliExpress. I’m sure it will take you only a minute…”

We’ve all been in that position trying to clarify what our work in IT is about, being misunderstood and unappreciated, and there is no escape from it this year again. 

But instead of accepting your bad fortune and agreeing to format the disk, or reinstall Windows XP, or clean up a browser for your aunty without a fight, we suggest making things clear this time. At the end of the day, there is nothing like having rapport and finding common ground with your family (let alone escaping Windows installation 😉 So here you go – explanation of how IT works that even your grandparents will get:

*                 *                 *

Me: So, folks, I guess you all went through the renovation of your house at some point, right? How did you do that?

Grandpa: (sighs in relief) Oh finally you got interested in something besides your computers!

I tried once to renovate the house on my own, but your grandma is so hard to please, that I had to ask your uncle Mike who works in a construction company to help me out. He recommended guys who could change the heating system to more modern and also those who specialize in those fancy-schmancy decoration works. They were renovating the house and Mike – (mumbles irritably) at least something he is suited for – was bringing them lunch and at the same time was keeping an eye on them. 

Me: Okay, so people in IT work in a very similar way, just we call everything funny names. 

The thing we are working on, like the house in your case, we call a Product. The person who is interested in its success, similar to you during the renovation, we call a Product Owner. And the nagging grandma, whom the whole hassle is for and who would scold you severely if something goes not the way she wants, we call a Stakeholder

Similar to you hiring someone to do a renovation in your house, companies outsource or hire developers like me to make software (=products) for them. Some developers work on the core of the product (like heating), they are called backend developers. And others take care of the products fancy facade – we call them frontend developers

And then we also have someone like uncle Mike, whose role is to make developers happy but also keep an eye on their work. If uncle Mike would work in IT, we would call him a Scrum Master or a Project Manager.

Grandpa (chuckles): Mike – a Master? If he is a Master, why can’t he do the renovation on his own?

Me: All developers ask the same question. But who would know without him whether the team works and uses building supplies effectively? 

Grandpa reluctantly agrees.

Me: And how often did you talk to the workers?

Grandpa: Every few weeks we were meeting to see what should be done next (you know, your grandma has new ideas every week) and what materials they need for that. And every morning I was passing by just to make sure they have all they need. Besides, your grandma wanted to see every chunk of work when it was done…

Grandma with displeasure: Why don’t you tell how you were getting drunk with them every second Friday?

Grandpa squirms: These were business meetings. We were checking results and I was showing them how to do things better… 

Me: We work exactly the same way in IT: 

  • We plan and estimate every few weeks, which we call a Sprint.
  • Then every day we quickly meet in the morning for a Daily to be sure everyone in the team has what they need.
  • And after a new chunk of work is done, we show it to stakeholders and call it a Sprint Review.
  • And we also gather for a Retrospective after every Sprint to see how the Sprint went and what could be improved. We don’t drink during the Retrospective though, only smoothies. 

Grandma interferes: I’ve heard that our neighbours did it better. They just went for long vacations, and when they returned – the renovation was done. Why we didn’t do like them?

Grandpa: Oh, please…! Then you would have to live with that olive and not sage green wall colour and would need to accept 1000 other things that you wanted to change during the renovation. You know you cannot change much when the work is done.

Me: Exactly! Working in Sprints and being involved allows you to get exactly what you want in the end or make changes in the process easier (we call it Agile). And this way you can predict better when the renovation can be done, instead of coming from vacation to the windowless house.

I hope it’s more clear for you now what I do for a living?

Aunty: So you say IT is similar to house renovation?

Me (frightenedly): Yeah…

Aunty: I think my PC needs a renovation. Can you come tomorrow and take a look at it?

Me: 

*                 *                *

We hope your story will have a better end. In any case, if you enjoy working in agile and want to learn more about it, check out these (way more serious!) blog posts:

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