Agile: Creating a Generation of Burnouts

K Hodges
3 min readJul 10, 2019

Like most tech industry medium rants, I’m going to start with an anecdote about a country musician. Willy Nelson started playing guitar at the early years of the Great Depression. His sister, he said in his memoir, was a true piano prodigy and had her genius fostered by their family when they invested what money they had to order her music books all the way from Chicago. Willie would play his cherished Sears Catalog guitar until many years later when he earned enough to upgrade. It wasnt until about 25 years from then that he released his first album. When describing his unorthodox style of singing, he quipped “I got all the time in the world to sing that song".

It shows. Listen to Shotgun Willie, even if you have no taste for the genre. It’s fucking flawless.

I was musing about Willie Nelson on a flight back home to see my family. The trip was in part manager prescribed, I was burnt out. I started doing Agile at the age of 24. Two weeks to ship software features, each ticket carrying a point value that, in a way, measured my value as a human being. Which is fine, because I’m blessed to come from a family that prides itself on work ethic. I was a very valuable human being.

Until I wasn’t, of course. Enough 80 hour weeks trying to close increasingly lofty sprint goals will do that to just about anyone. In modern agile, the numbers grow until you fail to meet them, like a drug addict with a growing tolerance. When you do fail, it might be too late. Your team might already be depleted.

Yet, like music, software is never about quantity. In my experience, those that say it is typically are buried in a sea of tech debt and vulns praying that some book, management technique, or framework will wipe their sins away. It’s easy to say in a medium article, but the truth is that we all have lost sight of this. Brilliant architects, visionary engineers and master craftsman are not born from a climate of wasteful haste, they’re born from people who have the time to digest and smell the roses. Passionate engineers can be seen in their off time looking deep at the minutae of some techno-thing, yet will bang out o(n^2) python to throw a task into review. Let the juniors handle the tech debt next month.

The tech debt carries over. The API you use has tech debt. The framework that is built in has tech debt. The programming language and OS that framework runs on has tech debt. The CPU had tech debt. The age of craftsmanship is over and we are building Pintos and not Cadillacs.

For those unfamiliar, the gist behind the Ford Pinto fiasco was that they exploded sometimes. This was a ‘known bug’ that wasn’t deemed to impact too many consumers. It was left in, because at the end of the day, the engineering hours and costs far outweighed the projected damages. Sound familiar?

The industry will cave under a poorly built foundation, and no amount of management books or kubernetes will save us. The crunch machine must be stopped.

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K Hodges

“Defense Researcher” according to Reuters, Chelsea Manning Fan Fiction Author, Delightful Degenerate