Paolo Perrotta

nominato in Who is Agile in Italy da:

Alberto Brandolini

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

Paolo -“I’m mildly obsessed by evolutionary science. I think about it more than I think about software development, and I even wrote my own evolutionary simulator (at Any interest feeds into other interests, and when you start thinking about evolutionary processes in software development, you get new metaphors and insights.

For example, you can complain as much as you want about people in traditional enterprise companies such as banks not “getting” Agile – but the fact is, these companies are still thriving, so they must be fit for their environment. Which means that many environments today don’t reward Agility, at least not yet. Once the banking market gets disrupted (which is likely imminent), then those companies will either change or get extinct. But you cannot ask a bank to become Agile before that flex point, just as you cannot ask a brontosaurus to become small and hairy in preparation for the meteor impact.

So, that’s one small insight from that line of reasoning: complaining about people not being Agile is pointless. The question is: why don’t they? What are the forces at work in their environment that penalize Agility? And the ethical question: should we do something about it, or just let nature take its course?”

If you would not have been in your current industry / role, what would have become of you?

Paolo -“I like flow-inducing activities, the ones where you get lost in what you’re doing. Computer programming is a textbook examples of a flow-inducing activity, and so is surgery. So I guess I could have studied to become a surgeon, and I actually considered that at one point.

The main reason why I didn’t pursue a medical career is that I always believed that failure is a necessary part of learning, and I feared the consequences of failure in the medical field. In software development, we’re lucky. When you fail at software, the result is usually a bug or a missed deadline, not a corpse. I guess it takes more than I have to look at a dead person and think: “well, lesson learned”.”

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

Paolo -“I’m like a kid who never wants to go to bed. In a way that sucks, because I live a mostly nomadic life, and traveling and sleep deprivation don’t mix well. On the other hand, I suppose it’s good that I still have enough curiosity and passion to say, hey, just one more Wikipedia page and then I will go sleep. I’m not sure whether that applies to watching fail videos though.”

What drives you?

Paolo -“I like to explain stuff to people. That involves learning stuff first. I see that the people that we cluster as “geeks”, can have wildly different personalities, but there is one trait that is common to each and all of them: they’re curious. I’m definitely proud to be a geek.”

What is your biggest achievement?

Paolo -“Publishing a popular book was on my life list, and I made it. However, when I think of achievements, I immediately think of more personal stuff. For example, I’m happy that I managed to become an “old” developer while still loving the present better than the past. I didn’t go obsolete and start telling twenty-year old developers: “there is nothing you can’t do with Java, you don’t need all this new stuff”. I can talk about how things used to be, and still relate to how things are now.

I hope that in twenty years from now, I will still be able to competently discuss the then-current trends in software development, and not go into lecture mode, where it was all so much better back when I started. In fact, it wasn’t better. It sucked. Things are so much better now.”

What is the last book you have read?

Paolo -“The last one that had a big impact on my thinking was “The Talent Code”, by Daniel Coyle. It’s definitely not a great book. The science is a bit wishy-washy, and the writing is too “self-help book” for my tastes. But it makes a convincing case for a powerful idea – namely, that talent does not exist, and every so-called “talent” is actually an acquired skill.

Even people who’re open to this idea tend to hesitate when faced with the consequences. In software as in many other disciplines, we have this notion that you need to be born for it, you have to be “a natural”. If you’re good at programming, then it’s easy to believe you’re smarter, or more naturally gifted, than the average person.
This books says: no, you just trained more, you were exposed to this craft more than the average person. And as a corollary, anyone who develops a keen interested in programming and is driven enough can become a great programmer. This notion is hard to swallow for many people in our field.”

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

Paolo -“You’re in for a rant. Question: “Why did you stop calling yourself an Agilist?”.

Thanks for interviewing me as an “Agile person”, but matter of fact, I don’t call myself like that anymore. I still have “Agile coach” on my resume, but that’s just marketing. I let my Agile certifications expire, and I don’t think I have any interest in Agile as a movement anymore.

I’d like to tell my friends who’ve been into Agile since the beginning: you can take it easy now. We already won. We went through all the Gandhian stages, from getting ignored to being the new status quo, and now we don’t need to keep beating this dead horse. Agile is not “another way to do software”, it’s just the way we do software today. In the 90s we had competing software methodologies. Today, there is “Agile”, and then there is “I can’t be Agile”, and that’s pretty much it.

So most people do not need Agile consultancy or coaching or the like. They’re already native Agile speakers. The ones that still need help are the laggards: traditional corporate environments, which incidentally is where a lot of the money is. So a lot of people jumped on that bandwagon, doing Agile consulting and the like. But I don’t want to compete with these people. I don’t want to work with laggards, at least not as my main source of income.

I hear Agile people still complaining about “Waterfall”. Waterfall is not a problem and never has been. Waterfall is a straw man. First of all, barely anyone ever delivered software using Waterfall in the first place. It just didn’t work. At least it didn’t work in the strict form they taught us in universities in the 90s. And second, nobody in his right mind would develop software today without incorporating a lot of the ideas that we promoted in the early 2000s with Agile. So I say, let’s bask in the glory of having been right and move on. There is still an awful lot of stuff to fix in the way we do software. Let’s not get too attached to our fifteen-year old ideas.

Thanks for the great question. ;)”

Who do you think we should ask next?

Paolo -“Giancarlo Valente and Max Davoli.”