Agile in Academics – Guest Blog

Please enjoy this guest book from my co-author, Sondra Ashmore.

I have spent my career working in IT for Fortune 500 companies, so it is fair to say that my career has followed a corporate path rather than an academic one. I am happy with my choice, but there has always been a part of me that is fascinated by higher education. I dabble in the academic world by teaching an occasional course, speaking at conferences, writing journal articles and soon publishing a textbook about Agile software development methods with Kristin Runyan. I love to learn, contribute to the knowledge base and help people acquire the skills they need to achieve their goals.

Sondra_Ashmore_headshot_v2In 2009, I returned to school to finish my doctorate. I had been practicing Agile methods at work for a couple years and assumed there would be an Agile course offered at my university. I was surprised to learn that most of my (very technical) professors had scarcely heard of Agile and the thought of teaching an Agile course was not on their radar. I decided to do my dissertation research on Agile methods due to the limited research on the topic. My research encouraged me to network with many local Agile enthusiasts. They complained that there was not a pipeline of students at any of the local universities who even knew the basics of Agile requiring them to do extensive training with all of their new hires. They were desperate to have an Agile methods course taught and encouraged me to sell the idea of an Agile course to my university. I presented the idea to my university and was subsequently recruited to teach because I was the only one they could think of that had any expertise or experience with Agile.

I taught the course and interestingly enough all of the students that enrolled were working professionals. Most of them were either working for a company that was incorporating Agile practices into their software development process or were hearing Agile may be introduced in their organization in the near future. I was happy to work with these students, but I was disappointed that I was not able to reach students who had yet to secure their first job in IT.

My other challenge was that there was not a good textbook on Agile to use with the course. This certainly helped explain why Agile courses were not being taught because the lack of a textbook meant that I had to put together my own reading materials, review questions, exercises and case studies. It is hard for the average professor who teaches several different courses to pull all of this together for a new course, especially if they are not a subject matter expert on the topic. It didn’t take long for me to realize that if I wanted to help solve the bigger problem of Agile not being taught at colleges and universities that I had to stop wishing for a book and instead start writing a book. Writing a book seemed overwhelming (and in actuality it is overwhelming), but luckily the stars aligned and I encountered Kristin Runyan who was also wishing for such a book. The stars continued to align and the first major publisher we pitched the idea to signed with us immediately – clearly this was a sign that we were on the right path.

Fast forward 18 months and I am interviewing college students for a job in my organization. I asked each of the IT candidates if they had heard of Agile methods or had taken a course that introduced Agile tools or techniques. All of the candidates gave me quizzical looks as if I had just asked them a question in a foreign language. I found myself wishing for that Agile pipeline because I knew I would be spending time and money to get whoever I hired up to speed on Agile.

Luckily, I am just days from finishing the final production process with Kristin on “Introduction to Agile Methods” and the book will be shipping in July. I am also starting to hear about more Agile courses across the United States and globally. I am hoping these are signs that during my next rounds of interviews that I might find a resume or two that has “Agile” on their set of skills. Including a course on Agile methods in higher education benefits the students, professors and employers and in my opinion is long overdue.

Sondra Ashmore, Ph.D.
Twitter: @sondra1130


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