Fear Driven Development

Accepted Session
Short Form
Scheduled: Thursday, June 25, 2015 from 11:00 – 11:45am in B302/303


Have you ever not made a much-needed change because you were afraid of breaking something? Caution is wise, but too much fear can leave even the most agile of software organizations with a crippling aversion to change. This talk will discuss what makes us scared, why it hurts us, and my experiences helping a team I managed get rid of some of our fears.


Engineering decisions, whether we realize it or not, are often made in response to fear. We remain on old versions of Rails because we’re afraid of what will break when we upgrade. We pervert clean web services APIs to avoid breaking backwards compatibility for an unknown number of users. We delay breaking larger codebases/services into smaller ones fearing the complexity of successfully unwinding dependencies. We deploy less often than we’d like, not wanting to impact performance or stability.

This talk will discuss personal experiences, revelations, and solutions collected through fifteen years of software development, including two years as the engineering manager of a team heavily influenced by fear.


software development, fear, experiences, agile

Speaking experience

I've given this talk twice before -- at Change.org in July 2013 and internally at Yammer in January 2014. The slides for the most recent version are online (https://onedrive.live.com/view.aspx?resid=ECA6A31B860F61D5!327&cid=eca6a31b860f61d5&app=PowerPoint). I've received positive feedback on this talk (as well as suggested improvements and things left out) from people who have encouraged me to present it before a broader audience.

I've given a number of talks on Dropwizard, Yammer's open source framework for building and operating RESTful services in Java:

* Seattle Java User's Group - https://vimeo.com/49822005
* QCon SF 2012 - http://www.infoq.com/presentations/Dropwizard
* Dropwizard SF Meetup - https://vimeo.com/97175334

I've also given a couple of talks on Yammer's use of Berkeley DB Java Edition:

* Basho Chats April 2012 - http://basho.com/berkeley-db-at-yammer/
* Surge Conf September 2012 - http://surge.omniti.com/2012/speakers/kennedy_ryan

And I have co-presented two talks:

* Basho Chats March 2011 w/Coda Hale - http://basho.com/riak-and-scala-at-yammer/
* Papers We Love SF #1 May 2014 w/Anjali Shenoy - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya9X63VPgV8