Harbinger or Outlier? Scott Berkun’s Keynote at Saturn 2013

Last week I attended Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute’s annual Saturn Software Engineering Conference in Minneapolis. Attendance was a new record high with 208 software engineers and architects from 20 different countries present.  Conference delegates represented countries as dispersed as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Peru, Argentina, and Brazil, as well as Europe, North America, and 19 representatives from South Korea.

The first day afternoon keynote was delivered by tech innovation author Scott Berkun (Making Things Happen, The Myths of Innovation).  He was talking about his new book (coming out in September, 2013) The Year Without Pants:  WordPress.com and the Future of Work (Jossey-Bass).  Here are my reflections:

  • He was the after lunch speaker.  This gets him bonus points in my book.  After a nice big conference lunch many folks are lethargic, or email is starting to pile up, or you need to return phone calls.  All of these factors combine to make it easy to “slip away” or give less than your full attention to the speaker, so Mr. Berkun had the challenge of keeping us all engaged.  He HAD to be entertaining.  I will report that he was enthralling.  He knows how to tell a story.  He knows how to use his visuals properly and professionally (to reinforce the point, but not to provide the full script), and he is a comfortable speaker which makes him easy to attend to.
  • I’m eagerly awaiting his book release in September.  So, given that book promotion is his main reason for speaking about this topic, he did his job.
  • I won’t steal his thunder by giving away his points, but I will give you my list of favorite quotes.  Agree or disagree as you please, they are provocative (another of his stated goals):
    • An excellent talent pool minimizes the need for methodology.
    • Whatever you do last will suck the most.
    • It is a fallacy to assume all developers are equal.
  • In summary, he was speaking at a Software Engineering conference, and telling a story that questions the need for process, methodology, and a lot that Software Engineers hold dear.  I truly cherish this kind of provocative keynote address, one that asks questions that challenge  the attendee’s dogma.  In my experience, it livens things up quite a bit!  Whether you agree or not, it expands the state of the art just to ask and consider such audacious questions.  And, this talk left me wondering if this is an “Après moi, le déluge[i]” moment?

This presentation will join my “Hall of Fame of Provocative Keynotes.”  Bravo Scott Berkum, bravo!



[i] A French quote meaning, “after me the torrent,” from the French Revolution indicating that you are just seeing the first part of the revolution that is about to arrive.

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