I was Agile before it was cool

Posted on December 27, 2010.

I totally wasn’t. And the image below proves it:

The award I got for "inspiring" off-spec feature development
The award I got for "inspiring" off-spec feature development

I received this illustrious award after coining the phrase “rogue developer” while on the AOL Explorer project (a surprisingly successful browser AOL launched in the early-mid 00’s). To me, a rogue developer was a software engineer who came up with and implemented their own feature or, at the very least, presented a prototype to the team for consideration.

As the Lead UI Designer on the project, this infuriated me at the time. I took great pride (not to mention time and pain-staking detail) in the thoroughness of my designs and, equally as important, my spec documents. They were pixel perfect and they were 100% correct and rigid. No deviations or the project would slip!

It’s worth mentioning that AOL in the early-mid 00’s was a waterfall shop. Very very waterfall. So waterfall in fact, they should’ve named our conference rooms Niagara and Iguazu. I was only 5 or 6 years into my career and waterfall was all I knew so I followed process. It was no surprise then that when “rogue development” took place it drew my ire.

How could this developer think he knows what customers want? What makes him think he can design an interface? That was MY job and I’ll be damned if someone else took that responsibility away from me.

None of these, of course, were valid concerns. Reading that award now, I am actually proud to have received it. I inspired “undocumented creativity.” 2010 Jeff is very proud of 2004 Jeff for doing that — even if 2004 Jeff didn’t like it very much at the time. I’ve come around to seeing the benefits of working closely with developers (and product mangers, and QA, and marketing et al) on concepting and developing product ideas. Together we create better finished products.

I look forward to inspiring a lot more undocumented creativity in my career.


P.S. – Interesting side note: The junior product manager on the AOL Explorer project was Tim O’Shaughnessy who is now the CEO and co-founder of a little company you may have heard of – Living Social. Nice.