Last of the Immersion

This post is probably going to get a bit happy clappy so if you’re allergic to gushing sentimentality it is probably best to skip this post and come back for some of the more analytic stuff later.

This last week was a lot harder and longer than last week but for all the right reasons. I felt material was coming at us as fast as we could ask for it. The attendees were treated like the intelligent, capable people they are and if we asked for more we got it. For someone with no formal background in Agile it was interesting to be given some theoretical framework to work with.

However probably the best thing about the whole experience was being locked in a room with nine other intelligent, articulate and experienced people and being made to think about the job you are embarking on. A ThoughtWorks Immersion programme is hard to explain through the syllabus material alone. It’s pretty standard stuff and a lot of the time the material is very much the broad view. The trainers we had were good and put the trainees above simple delivery of slides but presentation cannot really explain it either. I feel that it was my fellow attendees that really made the experience something special.

The TW Immersion is multi-discipline and is really focussed on soft skills and Agile practices. It isn’t really about coding and it isn’t about huge org charts. It should really try and explain what we are trying to achieve as a company and what every person within the company does to support their co-workers and thus achieve success as a whole.

The thing that really impressed me was that no matter what someone’s background or nominal job within the firm everyone tackled every challenge or task on the course with enthusiasm and a commitment that held no reservation. At the end of the two weeks I felt that if I had these nine other people with me (who I had never met until two weeks ago) there was no challenge I couldn’t take on.

It is corny but I really mean it, it is a feeling I have certainly never experienced in any other environment. To me it feels like the secret of any collective endeavour is to collect the best people you can find. If you use the best people then you are going to succeed.

But isn’t using a fuzzy term like “best people” just a cop out? What does that mean? TW genuinely has some of the most experienced and talented people who work in IT. Anyone looking to recruit wants to hire the most capable and experienced people they can.

However if you had the choice would you leave it there? If you could hire anyone wouldn’t you also want to employ the people who could work together effectively, adapt to new situations, who could be honest with their colleagues, be willing to take on both risk and responsibility, who would try to succeed for the long-term rather than scrabbling for short-term advantage?

I think you would want to hire those people. I think you would also regard those people as being the best people; people who were good at whatever it is they do and then have all these qualities on top. I think if you were able to recruit those people, bring them together in the right environment and then have them interact and cross-pollinate all their ideas and experiences then I think you would find those people pretty damn inspiring.

I think that is how I feel at the end of Immersion. I may know how TW writes a User Story, uses Mingle or plans a release but all that is really incidental. What I really know is that TW has hired at least nine of the best people and that’s a fantastic feeling.


Halfway through a ThoughtWorks induction

Okay week one is over and what are we thinking at the halfway point. Well I think the abiding impression is that TW lives up to a lot of its hype. The people they recruit are talented, intelligent and, at least in the group I am working with, experienced. Everyone is very enthusiastic and committed to the programme and that really lifts the whole experience. I would not say that I was absolutely fired up about every item on the agenda and therefore it can be really helpful to have someone else kick things off and fuel the fire a bit. I am sure anyone who has been on a corporate training course knows that all these things are not necessarily that common.

Also the course attendees are truly cross-discipline and that is really helping to broaden the perspective of the course. I am not that interested in the sales service (for example) but I am glad that I have had a chance to hear people who are interested in such thing have their questions answered. You should try to avoid staying in your technical ghetto for too long.

TW has a pretty established framework for providing feedback and discussing issues. You do have to invest a little in understanding the rules and it can be hard to resist the rox/sux tendency but I think it pays off. The result is that you tend to give people a reason to try and fix problems and listen to your advice. These rules do actually set TW apart from other IT companies as I am not sure I have seen anything like this elsewhere.

Looking at the more specific circumstances of my course I am very grateful that the course is being held in London. I feel I am meeting a lot more people who will be in the office when I start working from there. It is also great to be able to switch between the course rooms and the office. If you get told to talk to someone you can head over to the office in less than ten minutes and actually talk to them. It also means that people in the office are going to start recognising your face.

The days are also quite long (particularly as you have to tend to prepare more for meetings, feedback and sessions) and therefore I am glad that I am going home for a few hours each day rather than simply drifting back to a hotel. It avoids getting totally fixated on the job. You have to get over yourself and listen to the details of someone else’s day rather than just endlessly dissecting your own.

TW is an organisation that has its own issues and foibles but I did notice that on the last day of the first week a lot of the new starters were starting to talk unconsciously about “we” where they meant TW as an entity. I am not sure I have seen people feel so comfortable with their collective identity at the end of an induction course let alone halfway through and that to me is a testament to there being something “right” with ThoughtWorks. It may be in the recruitment or the training or in the way that ThoughtWorkers are encouraged to think about themselves and the company. I suspect it is probably in all of these.


ThoughtWorks Induction

Well the taxman’s been informed so I don’t see why I can’t publicly say that I am currently joining ThoughtWorks. The first day of the two week induction was today. One of the most interesting things was that the induction was the same as that you would get at most reasonably-sized IT companies. Probably the major difference was that (as advertised) the attendees, while sharing the same broad spectrum of IT employee quirks, were noticeably more… well, intelligent than those at other companies I have worked with before.

People had views, were informed, had opinions; however they were also able to discuss, reason and compromise which I think is much rarer.