At the very end of yesterday’s post I mentioned Yo Dawg. Yes, Yo Dawg is important, in that it’s a meme.
What’s interesting about these memes on the intarwebs is not just that people see them and laugh – or that they see them, laugh, and forward to friends. It’s that they make /their own copies/ – their own riffs on the idea – and add to a body of knowledge. And, thanks to google, a great deal of them are indexed. Thanks to pagerank, the better ones come to the top.
Ideas in software development are memes. Test-Driven Development is a meme; Context-Driven Testing is a meme. Acceptance Test Driving Development is a meme.
JB Rainsberger isn’t just interesting because he’s contributed to the software development body of knowledge; it’s because he read an XP book, never met the original authors, yet ran with the idea and helped popularize the idea – creating an entire series of events called “XP Day” all over the world. JB was infected by a meme – and took it on enough to make it his own.
Seth Godin recently spoke on Memes at the Business Of Software Conference:
—> For example, the canonical meme from the 20th century was sliced bread. For someone to use the phrase “… the best thing since sliced bread”, implies that sliced bread must be pretty good to start with, no?
Here’s one item from Godin’s message: Some memes are destined to win, regardless of whether or not they work. Test-Automation, for example, is very appealing to developers, because automation is what they do. It’s no surprise, when devs look at testing as a computer science problem, Automation is the first thing to come to mind. So we have generation after generation talking about test automation as the be all and end all of the test process, without ever having actually studied the very human, cognitive and communication process of software testing, nor having done any research on failure modes of software defects.
Thus, after the wild (and deserved) success of test-driven development, we have the acceptance-test-driven-development meme creating immediate success with much less tangible evidence.
This should be no great surprise; for twenty years Westerners have been conditioned to two similar memes – that housing prices always go up, and so does the stock market. These have near-universal appeal. Somewhere out there, right now, an investment counselor is suggesting a couple put away 20% of their income in stocks as a retirement nest egg, and a real estate broker is suggesting another couple purchase the biggest home they can afford, because, after all, salaries go up over time, right?
I believe that the communities I belong to – including the folks who read this blog – have ways to test software that are significantly better than the status quo, and we have ways to communicate them and techniques to teach them. Yet if our testing ideas are memes, we need to think about ways to package and present them to win. I believe research and experience can /help/, but often humans don’t make decision rationally.
I’m not looking for labels. Agile is a label; anyone can claim it. I want memes we can grab, embrace, make our own, and share. So how can we connect our ideas to make them memes that are viral (or perhaps, “more viral”)? This, I believe, is a conversation we should be having.
What are your ideas, and what do you think?
UPDATE: Do you know people who quote “The Holy Grail” from Monty Python for not apparent reason? Maybe you’re one of them? /That/ is a meme
(*) – The idea was popularized, and poossibly coined, by a british gentleman named
Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene.