Alistair Cockburn

Name pronounced [Co-burn] the Scottish way ( BruceCockburn is one who still pronounces it that way and is famous enough to help people learn to pronounce my name. In the picture here, MarkSkipper and I are "passing" a set of juggling balls in my front yard (which I try my best not to mow). Note the incredible skill with which we manage to get the blue ball to pass down between us. The photo was taken in my front yard, Salt Lake City, the day Mark visited. Other wonderful computer people who have visited our house, met our kids, and been in the coffee shop(s) where I do most of my writing are WardCunningham, KentBeck, MartinFowler, PeteMcBreen, SteveAdolph, AndyPols?, PaulBramble, LukeHohmann.

Closer up I look like this: or at onetime like this Current Logo:

For reading, see GreatBooksListAlistairCockburn. For commenting, go to the Crystal Wiki,

Unlike BobHanmer, I try to avoid mowing my own lawn. Relatives, teenagers, and now finally my own children are happy to perform this hot, sweaty service for mere money. ("hey, kids, what's with this Pokemon thing? That lawn don't need mowing four times a week?!")My wife has finally recognized that it is generally safer to keep me away from the carpentry and electrical projects.

I'm a poet, but few people think of that as a profession. I recently completed my Dr. Philos. degree at the University of Oslo (2003) on the topic of People and Methodologies in Software Development. A scratch version of it is posted at

Professionally, I'm an OO software specialist and collaboration facilitator, having done hardware design 8 years (real-time flight simulators), software research 8 years, taught consulted in OO technology for 8 years, was in charge of the IBM Consulting Group's object-oriented development work until founding Humans and Technology in Salt Lake City, in 1994.

Busy moving my web site to, or Part of the holdup is finding time to type in all the content!

Books I intend to write "when I have some spare time":-)

One day I'll offer the course

Books I have written include SurvivingObjectOrientedProjects and WritingEffectiveUseCases. I converted SoftwareDevelopmentAsaCooperativeGame into AgileSoftwareDevelopment, and CrystalClearMethodology finally came out (it was drafted in 1999, but the XP book and my use case book and then agile development got in the way, so I had to restart it in 2003). Mostly, I care about whether the team is thriving, and whether the software is coming out the door. Keeping people trained and the process light (MinimalMethodologies) are key to both.

What am I being driven towards? (Feb'00). Answering the question from SoftwareAgeism:

I have my doubts that a 40- or 50-year old programmer can contribute double or triple what a 25- or 35-year old can. But that's what their salary would require. Between that and the next point, I think that drives most of them out of programming. It certainly is driving me out.

Also, I find that older people are fed up with learning every new technology that comes along (and doesn't really simplify life, just changes it). Back in 1975 a middle-aged codger told me, "I just picked the right language (APL) to start with, and I'll wait for you C.S. guys to stop changing your minds, and catch up." I hit that point after I learned my 8th operating system, and ran into Smalltalk. LifesTooShort. -- AlistairCockburn (46)

If I may politely ask, Alistair, to what are you being driven towards, if away from programming? (Hint: I'm looking to compare notes with a kindred spirit)

Toward understanding the NatureOfPeople and how that interacts with their work. As a by-product, improving the environment in which people work, making it more in tune with the people's constitutions. More enjoyable AND more efficient (which, as it turns out, makes it more enjoyable).

I stumbled across the notion of a ConversationYouCantStayAwayFrom. Whenever one of these starts, you pause at the doorway and linger, hoping to take part in it. For me, it started when I was designing hardware (1976) (what a non-human activity that was: just slide the assignment under the door, please, and I'll spend the next two weeks checking the wire list). I went past a doorway and heard/saw them discussing a look-ahead typing interface... I paused and wanted to take part, but had nothing to say. My next chance was some direct manipulation UI design I was doing on a piece of software (1986), where I lingered, making it more pleasant to use.

By 1987 I was in formal specification of communication protocols and had defined my interest as "human interface aspects of formal specification" (self-contradictory though that may seem, it isn't). After interviewing half-a-dozen project teams in 1992, it was clear that the human aspect of running projects was being suppressed but was important, and that CRC cards drew upon unnamed cognitive aspects of people doing design.

Once I left IBM in 1994, and didn't have to apologize any more for what I was doing, I got drawn steadily farther into cultural, sociological and cognitive issues in software development, and enjoyed the conversations steadily more. Every encounter on the street, in the coffee shop, on a project feeds the study. I can't stay away from this conversation, and it gets more interesting as I proceed.

I'm nearly off into esoterica by now (see below), but these each have concrete impact on project outcome. Next on my study list, whenever I manage to crack out the time, are NLP and Cranio-Sacral and related massage therapy techniques. All part of the same game. In the meantime, I still do CulturalBridging translating and facilitating, which is the only thing near as fun as writing software.

I was bred, through the University, as an Engineer (with capital E), and can't exorcize from my system the love of solving design problems, finding a path to a solution that finesses any number of impossible constraints. But it's clear to me, I am not, never was a Programmer (with a capital P); I only ever designed hardware or software as a mechanism to solve some other problem that was on my mind, or simply to exercise the problem-solving. Nowadays I only program enough to keep my reflexes sound enough to be safe on a project. My heart was always in this other conversation. A serious JustaProgrammer is either a person to whom programming is their ConversationYouCantStayAwayFrom, or a person who hasn't yet found their ConversationYouCantStayAwayFrom. LifesJustTooShort, so it is important to discover that conversation and live there. -- AlistairCockburn

I was at NorgesBank, the Norwegian equivalent of the US Treasury and Federal Reserve combined. That was interesting and informative. Periodically, here on wiki, I lose my cookies (pardon the phrase) and so lose my UserName, and then have to figure out all over again how to get my name set up (hint: read UserName).

Feb'00 discovered ConvectionCurrentsOfInformation (which made it into the AgileSoftwareDevelopment book and my OOPSLA '01 keynote). Starting to work on naming barriers, finding examples and making images to convey the cost of impeding the ConvectionCurrentsOfInformation. "Teaming" came up as a word that captures the issues of trust, integrity, cooperation, etc. Looking perhaps for a synonym. Was shocked to discover that LateralThinking plays a key role in ProjectManagement. If I didn't already have 5 books in the pipeline, I'd immediately sit down and write a book called "Teaming and Lateral Thinking as Key Aspects of Project Management" or some such. sigh. add it to the list.


Alistair, check for communities of practice and knowledge? They cover teaming, ontologies, distinctions, sharing knowledge, creating new meaning. -- DenhamGrey

Alistair, I have expressed a hypothesis about evolution of your professional opinions on MethodologyCargoCult. Please take a look and let me know whether I'm an idiot. Thanks, JohnFarrell... (Reply: Interesting that you got that view from reading my UseCase template. sorry about that. I have never subscribed to heavyweight methodologies, so there has been no movement from heavy to light in my case. Evidently, I just didn't do the UC template well. )

Hey, Alistair, is your DayCare paper still up anywhere? -- FrancisHwang (Reply: ''Yes, on DayCare, it's linked to it's original name, which I have come to prefer over the years: )

(Moved here from KeepItInTheirHeads...) Thanks, Alistair, that's it! Your dozen words beat my thousand. You 'da man! -- RonJeffries (Reply: Thanks, nicest thing I've heard all week. Especially from you : )

Alistair, what has happened to your home page? I wanted to look up your excellent use case template (didn't save it locally!). I checked, and that just links back to AOL. Help! -- ShaunSmith (Reply: AOL occasionally hiccups and pretends I don't exist. Page is still there, at It also will eventually move to )

Alistair, I like what you wrote on NonTuringComputing. I watched you say nothing as we took your question to mean something totally different from what you meant. I swear I could hear the whir of gears turning. It's very fun to see what popped out of your brain. I think I like your meaning of the question better. -- WayneConrad

Loved ScreechinglyObviousCode. -- AndyPierce

"crystalmethodologies" - I love it! :)^oo -- JohnHarby

Nice write-up! - Anon

Alistair, I finally got to use your UseCases for real products! Now I work on MobilePhones?. We miss you in Helsinki, Finland, especially when in Kalle -- AlessandroMaccari

One long discussion moved to RespectedExpertsOfAnySort)

Your buddy in 1975 was wrong. He should have said "I just found the last language I'll learn, CobolLanguage". And the sad thing is, he would have been right! :-) -- RonPerrella

Just finished reading ASD, best book I've read in a long time :) and congruent with work I'm doing at the moment on self-organising/evolving methodologies. I noticed your interesting comment about NLP being 'on your list', I'm learning NLP myself and whilst reading ASD I noticed several NLP-like principles in-use/use-of-language/general concepts. I'm wondering whether you've already done some reading on NLP and using some of the toolbox or whether it's a natural example of convergent evolution? -- LondonFox?

Alistair, on KinesisKeyboard you mention wanting a split keyboard with Kinesis-style bowls. If you've the patience, you might check out the ErgoDox? kit keyboard (, the review at has a useful buy-type link). Don't get it confused with the ErgoDex?, which is nearly the same but almost completely different. -- CalebWakeman

For more of Alistair's writing appearing on the Web:

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