Friday, January 15, 2010

Welcome to the virtual Agile world!

So, today I gave my very first conference presentation. It was really my first presentation outside of my own team or business scope. I gave a talk on "Testing Legacy Apps" with a high-level strategy for how to tackle organizing the testing effort for a legacy (read little to no automated test harnessing) application. I've been on teams undergoing this effort several times in the past few years. Sometimes, it's a company that has never had a test team at all. Sometimes, it's a company that has had testing, but all testing was done manually and there was no automation at all. (In this case, by "automation", I am talking about things like unit tests, automated GUI tests, and/or all of the computer-executed tests in between.)

In any case, the point of this post is to talk about SecondLife, which is where I gave my talk. SecondLife is a virtual world, where people are represented by avatars, and they interact with a virtual world, created by others in that world (or themselves). I've said that I was giving a talk in SecondLife many times in the past few weeks, since AgileBill4D (Bill Krebs) asked me to speak.

The response is always the same facial expression. The look that says "Ohhhhhh, you're living an alternate, orgy-filled, sexually deviant life on the side, eh?" Being me, I do tend to launch immediately into the defense of SecondLife, now that I have been in it. I have to admit that when I first met Bill and he talked about SecondLife, I thought the same thing. But over time, his description of what he was doing in there have kind of grown on me. Let me tell you what Bill is doing there in SecondLife.

Bill has created an entire area in SecondLife for Agile training. He uses the space to hold training classes around the world, where he can create a space that looks much like an ideal immersion space (I'm thinking Agilistry Studios, via Elisabeth Hendrickson). Without having to spend money to travel to client sites around the world, he holds classes in SecondLife and teaches the concepts of agile. With a headset, he can talk as if on a conference call, or even an individual phone call (as if through Skype). With the ability to converse and share things in the virtual world, he can even pair program with someone sitting anywhere else in the world!

This picture shows my SecondLife avatar, TestyDawn Darkmatter, in front of a scrum board at the Agile space.

If I understand correctly, in the text chats, there is a translator available, so that the two people speaking don't even have to be typing in the same language! The translator will translate between the languages, so that each person can type in their native language. I can imagine that this would really help with some common cross-language communication issues!

I understand that some colleges and universities are using SecondLife to teach classes, too. It seems like it's much like the distributed learning classes that I have seen in webinar format, or like GotoMeeting. Since SecondLife offers both text and voice chat, classes can be held to a broad audience. Something I heard today that I had never thought of was that people who are deaf can still participate through the chat portion. It really was great to realize that this virtual world was not limiting to people with disabilities.

The conference looked much like any other small to moderate sized conference. There was a large room with many rows of big blocky black chairs, and a HUGE screen in front. There was even a podium in the corner for the presenter to stand near, all real-life-like.

In preparation for the conference, I became accustomed to how to navigate through SecondLife. It takes a bit to get used to the movements for my avatar versus controlling camera angles and views. You can zoom, pan and tilt the camera in order to get a better look at things. It takes a few hours to get a bit used to it. Someone has also asked me about customizing the avatar, and I'd like to address that as well. When you sign up, you choose a generic avatar to represent you in SecondLife. There are free things you can pick up to customize that avatar, and there is a whole component built in to change the appearance. The appearance covers the actual avatar body -- things like skin, hair, eyes, body type, etc. It reminded me of the Sims, honestly. Then out in the world, you go and find (or buy!) clothes, maybe hairstyles, jewelry, shoes, accessories, etc. This is something that you can spend as little or as much time on as you want to. I did spend a few hours shopping for some professional clothing in order to give my talk.

After a hard evening of shopping, I spent a little bit of time relaxing by the campfire. The crackling of the fire sounded very relaxing.

I am sure that there are places inside SecondLife that are not things I want to see or people I want to interact with (tho I bet it would help if I could find a skirt that actually covered my avatar's tush!). I can say that I have not run into these places or people. I have kept to the Agile space and Rockcliffe University (next door, I think) for the most part (other than clothes shopping), and there is a lot of neat stuff in those places.

As far as giving the talk went, I bet it was very similar to giving an actual talk. I think the major thing I noticed (that made me nervous), was that I couldn't see anyone's facial expressions or body language! Because of that, I had *no idea* if people were paying attention, or interested or not. It made the interactivity slightly more difficult, though it picked up at the end of my talk. I had a powerpoint slide deck, and though Bill made it so I was able to click through the slides, I used Bill's help and just asked him to click the slides for me (I was not confident enough in my camera navigation ability!).

Overall, it was a pretty neat experience and I'd totally be willing to do it again. I suggest checking it out. Look for me (TestyDawn Darkmatter) or Bill (AgileBill4D) for a little guidance if you want.

Here are a few links for some more information:

SecondLife (the software requires a download, but there are multiple platform versions)

Agile Dimensions (in SecondLife)

Agile Bill Krebs (the guy behind the curtain)


Chris McMahon said...

As a dedicated telecommuter, this sort of thing is really intriguing. Right now I'm happy with wiki/chat/IRC/VOIP/agile-dashboard (of whatever flavors you like) but I think this sort of experience is coming up in the the rear-view mirror, so to speak.

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