by Esther Schindler

The Sprint Experience

Jun 25, 20074 mins

Open source contributors largely work alone and remotely. Every so often, though, it’s worthwhile to gather in person. Just as runners “sprint” to cover as much distance as possible in a short period of time, open source developers get together to accomplish a lot of programming in 3-5 days.

This week, in addition to me doing my ordinary duties at, I’m participating in a dual-purpose sprint for the Plone content management system. About half the thirty-or-so participants are working to add more e-commerce functionality to Plone; the rest of us are working on documentation. (I’m an editor, so I’m here to spiff-up the words that others write.) During the week, I post updates about “the sprint experience,” with an eye to showing IT managers what’s involved… and possibly encouraging your company to sponsor a sprint for whichever open source software you use and rely upon. (I hope the info is also useful to plone developers who may be peeking in to see what progress is being made.)

This Plone sprint has several sponsors, the most prominent of which is Google. (I think it’s part of their Summer of Code.) We’re working in a conference room at the Googleplex, with access to their Guest network, eating their catered food. (There were two non-negotiable rules: wear a badge at all times, and no photos of the conference room or of the food. It’s the first time I’ve encountered food under NDA.) We’re scribbling on Google’s whiteboards as well as sharing an IRC channel. I think Google also arranged for a group rate at a nearby hotel (I’m staying elsewhere).

But you don’t need to provide an office to help out a sprint. We have a several cases of Yerba Mate and teas and chocolate from Guayaki, which is hoping to gain visibility in the geek market. (Unlike caffeine, I’m told, yerba mate doesn’t consume your body’s vitamin C, but it’ll give you energy. How appropriate for this week.) But hey, any sponsorship that includes chocolate is fine in my book!

I’m not sure what expectations you’d bring to the idea of “throw a bunch of open source people in a room and see what comes out.” One might be that it’s a set of young college kids with nose rings and a lack of direction. Instead, I’d guess that most participants are in their 30s and 40s, and the developers have a high incidence of balding-on-top with ponytails. (One of them, I should mention for clarity, is my husband… who certainly would qualify for the latter category but has never tied his hair back.) We doc people are not necessarily “techie” writers (one’s a librarian).

There are several local or semi-local participants, but quite a few have come from places as exotic as Oregon, Arizona (in my case), or Hungary. Everyone brought a laptop computer from home, and there’s a mix of Macbooks, Linux laptops, and (very much a minority) Windows systems.

So far, most people are still getting organized. The morning was consumed with introductions, creating a process (what format should we use for the documentation?), who’s working on what (one doc person is creating a lightening talk, another writing end-user How Tos; the developers may be divvying up the work differently). On the other side of the whiteboard partition, I heard someone ask about pair programming (“What? Did you say prayer programming? Is that “Oh, Lord, please make this code work?”)

But it’s getting quiet, the murmur of voices is balanced by the sound of computer keys, I’ve seen at least three structure charts scribbled on the white board, and the status chart is beginning to be updated. Work is underway.

Next sprint post >