Necessity is the Mother of Invention - Agile2020

portrait photo of Brandon Carlson
By Brandon Carlson

The latest COVID-19 casualty was announced this week as Agile2020, the world’s premier Agile conference was officially canceled in its physical form. This news, while disappointing, provides us with a new opportunity. An opportunity to completely rethink the conference experience as we take it virtual. Community has always been important to me and it has been fun to see how our community is responding as we take on this challenge. It reminded me of an interview that I participated in some time ago. In the interview, they talked to me about why I’ve been so connected to this conference over all these years. It has truly been an adventure, and will prove to be even more of one as we prepare to take Agile2020 virtual this year.


Brandon Talks Agile2020

Brandon is a familiar face at Agile Alliance conferences. With close to 15 years in attendance, Brandon has gone from a participant to a key member of the organizing team. Agile2020 is his third year as a program chair, with previous roles as track chair, submissions reviewer, and session speaker. Hear about why he enjoys exchanging ideas and meeting new people year after year.

How did you get started with the Agile conference?

It’s really the premier conference in our industry. I’ve been going ever since 2006. That first year, I went to an experience report on teaching test-driven development because I was doing the same thing at DMACC (Des Moines Area Community College). It turns out I was using a completely different approach than what the presenter recommended. I disagreed so much with their method that I decided to submit my own session on teaching first-year college students the following year. They must have liked my ideas because I was accepted as a speaker. That session was a landmark moment for me. Elisabeth Hendrickson (aka @testobsessed, a leader in the Agile testing space), was in the audience and connected with me afterward. Through her introductions, I got to meet some of the original founders of the Agile movement. I felt like the stupidest person there, but I loved every minute of it! I just soaked up their expertise and wisdom.

Why did you step into a leadership role?

Honestly, it was pretty organic. Every time I was approached about a new way to volunteer, I didn’t think twice about saying yes. It’s always felt natural to give back to a community that has given me so much support. I love learning from other people, and a big part of that is contributing your time and talents in return.

What are your current responsibilities as a program chair?

With a conference of this size, there are two halves of the equation. There’s the actual event planning: securing the hotel, A/V, and such. Then there’s the content side: coordinating speakers, keynotes, and the schedule. As a program chair, I’m on the content side. We have an average of 15 tracks with 200 speakers – one person simply can’t figure out all the content. We have two chairs in charge of every track, and then they’re responsible for putting together the review team. You can see how it starts to add up. That’s where the three program chairs come in – we are in charge of roughly five tracks each. We select the track chairs, help them with volunteers, approve content, review keynote speakers, and manage the schedule. But we also work directly with the conference chair and the event planners to sort out the finer details: air walls, room needs, book store location, and even sampling menu food (trust me, that’s a real hardship!). Once the conference starts, we’re the eyes-and-ears on the ground.

What are you looking forward to about this year’s conference?

There’s a real social component to this conference. It’s like a family reunion every time I attend. In addition to seeing old friends, I also get to build new relationships every year with some of the most passionate agile minds in our industry. It’s the combination of old friends and new faces that keeps me going back.


I think that last question really sums it all up. I love the social component of the conference, learning from old friends and new faces. That’s gonna be the biggest challenge with virtualizing Agile2020, how do we maximize connections made at a virtual conference? I’m not sure yet, but you can be sure we’ll try.

Published: 24 Apr 2020