Live Blog: Jim McCarthy's Keynote Address at 2013 Agile Development/Better Software Conference West

Noel Wurst's picture

I woke up on Thursday and headed downstairs to the last morning keynote speech of the 2013 Agile Development/Better Software Conference West feeling pretty great. I managed to get an elusive good night’s sleep (not always an easy feat in Las Vegas), and I was in a calm, relaxed mood—fully ready for the keynote to remind me about the zen-like nature of agile and the culture of compassion that can flourish in software development, like Dale Emery’s speech had done the day before.

I was not mentally prepared for Jim McCarthy’s eerily accurate George Carlin standup style. It was so passionate, so fiery, at times even shocking—for all I know, Carlin was doing his best McCarthy all those years.

This guerilla-style ranting and raving, and our complete unpreparedness for it, made for an incredible speech and a great way to kick off the day—as I’m sure many others in attendance will attest to.

After unapologetically demanding that everyone in the room move up to fill any empty seats (even refusing to begin the address until they moved), Jim began the keynote with a history lesson on the Greeks, trying to get an answer to how in the world Greece produced so many geniuses. Long after Greece fell, and then Rome, and then the middle ages, today we still find ourselves returning to these same revolutionary, multiple era-defining contributions made by a slew of Greek geniuses who were able to rely solely on a unanimous vote process.

It struck me when Jim reminded everyone in the room that historically, geniuses and the ideas they provide often initially have been met with violent reactions from the public. Jim’s own keynote reminded me of this observation (and maybe that was the point), but as people sat in silence while a few others left, I began to wonder if we were all watching history being made, as it has so many times before, with the same hostility that Jim had just described.

Magnificence, the first world in Jim’s speech, then established itself as the key take-home point. While it’s easy to look at Greece as a time of magnificence (defined by Jim as “an abundance of greatness”), the overall point of the speech became clear: we’re in a time of magnificence right now. But the only way we’re going to maintain that magnificence is by recognizing the value of what we—well, software developers—are doing. After labeling computing power as “the fruit of western civilization,” McCarthy let everyone know (in bluer terms than I’ll use here) that anyone who can’t see the undeniable fact that “truth is beauty, and beauty is truth,” and that software is both of these things can feel free to…well, you get the picture.

From this point on, like a fiery southern preacher at the pulpit, McCarthy repeatedly held his hands to the sky, shouted to the crowd, and proclaimed the gospel of software development and the opportunities to shape the world that developers all have in their grasp every day they show up for work.

When it was all said and done, the applause from the audience certainly proved that even when initial ideas are often met with hostility and skepticism, that period of time is always far shorter than when those ideas are remembered as true magnificence.