The McCarthy Show

Jim McCarthy at Microsoft Jim McCarthy presenting at Microsoft

If you haven’t seen it yet, go get the videos of Jim McCarthy’s talk at Microsoft from the podcast page of the McCarthy Show. While you’re at it, why haven’t you subscribed to the McCarthy Show, the show where Jim and Michelle McCarthy talk about “Software for your Head“?

Why should you see this presentation? It’s pre-“Presentation Zen“, pre-agile, yet you’ll find many things very familiar.

The talk is about the “23 Rules” of shipping software (back in the time when at least some people within Microsoft knew how to ship…). How many slides does Jim use? 23. Or 24, because there are really 23.5 rules.

Okay, the slides still contain bullets. I’m not too fond of the yellow and white letters on blue background, in the slides. The flow of the presentation is slowed down a bit by Jim going back to the computer to advance to the next slide. He could have used a remote or someone sitting behind the computer, to keep the flow.

But those are minor quibbles. Watch how Jim delivers the talk.

He starts the talk with “This reminds me of a story about Napoleon. Napoleon, incidentally, is a big idol of Bill’s. Big surprise!”. The story is about Napoleon having only one rule for management, a good introduction to the “23 rules” talk.

The delivery reminds me of a standup comedian’s act. See for example Rule #14 “Enrapture the customer”. He illustrates the fact that “most software sucks” with a a few self-deprecating jokes and an anecdote about a woman he met on a plane. Jim goes on a rant how bad Windows, Word and Excel are that this woman has to go to college for two years to learn how to use them. Finally, he gives an example from Visual C++ to illustrate how to listen to what a customer really wants. How to make the user go “Wow!”. Great advice, great passion, great delivery.

I’m quite sure that Visual C++ AppWizard was a “Wow!” feature for those people who didn’t really understand C++ or Windows programming (or even programming in general). I remember one ex-project manager of mine actually go “Wow!” when he ran his first AppWizard-generated “Windows app”. “Hey, this Windows programming thing is pretty simple!“, he said. Needless to say that our first Windows development project had a slightly “optimistic” schedule 🙂

There are other strong points in Jim’s delivery. Watch his timing: he knows when to leave a pause, let the audience laugh, think, catch their breath. Watch how he involves the (large) audience, how he asks them questions, especially “Does this problem sound familiar?”. Watch how he modulates the intensity of his talk, sometimes joking, then ranting, telling stories and anecdotes, giving advice…

Dynamics of software developmentAt the time this talk was given, the first edition of “Dynamics of Software Development” was probably out. I had read the book, but didn’t think that I could apply most of the advice contained in the book.

Things only clicked when I read (AND understood, which took some time and re-reading) “Software For Your Head“. Jim alludes to what was to become the “Core protocols” a few times in the talk, for example when he mentions that his team is experimenting with ways to make the environment safe enough for people to express their best ideas.

The second edition of “Dynamics of Software Development” is out. Time to re-read the book and see all the things I missed first time. But first I have to read a few other books. That’s another story, for another day…

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