A Mentoring Story
In the Spring of 2002, I was enthralled by the software development community that had grown up around the ideas in Kent Beck’s book eXtreme Programming Explained. This was my first exposure to a software development “process”, so I sought out the local XP community to learn more. I quickly found ChAD, the Chicago Agile Devleopers group and started attending regularly. After one of my first meetings, I introduced myself to the group’s leader (with a shaky hand and untold waves of anxiety). His name was Wyatt Sutherland. I offered to help Wyatt with the group, which mostly meant moving chairs and lugging 12-packs of Coke to meetings. A month or two later, I told Wyatt that I wanted to “apprentice” under him. Neither of us really knew what that meant, and I can’t even remember his response. But I do remember that we started meeting for lunch or breakfast periodically after that.
Later that year, I saw an opportunity to convince my employer that we should try an XP pilot project. I told Wyatt about my plan, but admitted that I was in over my head. He reassured me that I could pull it off. This helped focus our breakfast conversations for a while, which was a thrill since this was the closest we ever came to working together. Eventually I pitched the pilot project and it was given the green light. The experience I gained through that project was a result of the confidence Wyatt helped create in me. That experience propelled me into ThoughtWorks a year later, which was my “big break” as a software developer.
A decade later, when I look back on that time with Wyatt, though, the aspects of our relationship that have stuck with me aren’t about software or technology. I saw in Wyatt more than a software developer or community leader. He is a man with a full life. Wyatt is a father of four, a husband, a musician, and a technologist. One of the highlights of my relationship with him was bringing my wife to a string quartet he was playing in. Wyatt is a world-class cellist. Listening to him play that night was inspiring. I arrived with an assumption that Wyatt was a software developer with a cello hobby. I left the concert with a vision for a full and integrated life for myself.
Thanks Wyatt for your encouragement, your example, and for your time.