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Chapter 31. Under Pressure

Lorne, Australia, is the gateway to The Great Ocean Road that winds along some of the most beautiful coastline in the world, past dramatic cliffs, thundering surf, and sugar-sand beaches where you can walk for miles and hardly see a soul. While I was living in Australia, the Victorian Branch of the Australian Computer Society invited me to Lorne for their annual conference. I was to help judge their first Software Challenge, a six-hour application development marathon using the latest in rapid visual development tools to build a truck weighing application for a recycling facility. This was the third such rapid development competition I had refereed, so I was becoming an old hand (see Chapter 30). I had, for example, learned not to groan every time a system GPFed and to keep from hyperventilating as the competitors came down to the wire, still debugging in high gear. I had also learned that I, too, would probably learn something from the competition, even though I wasn't a competitor.

About an hour into the ACS Challenge, I slowly toured the “war room” set aside for the programmers. Spaced around the room, teams of three were coding away in Visual Works and PowerBuilder and SQL for Windows, everybody, that is, save for one group: the cool young men from Ernst & Young. As I looked over their shoulders, I could hardly believe my eyes. The team, led by Craig Bright, was drawing diagrams! Instead of being hunched over keyboards like their competitors, they were gathered around sheets from a flipchart. They had refined the requirements definition and were busy mapping out the architecture of the proposed system. Noting my interest, one of them handed me a copy of their battle plan, a notebook with a scaled-down version of their regular methodology modified especially for this competition. There it was, all spelled out, with staged activities and specific intermediate deliverables—a complete, disciplined, rapid development process. Even in the heat of head-to-head competition, with less than a day to deliver on more than 200 function points, this group was demonstrating grace under pressure, calmly analyzing the problem and designing the solution. I was impressed.


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