Agile Open France – refreshingly simple

Does this look like a place of work to you?

Hotel Arnold at dawn

Hotel Arnold at dawn

To me neither. This was my place of work for three days during Agile Open France.  The effect it has on me is hard to explain, I hope the pictures help paint a clearer eh, picture.

I went out after breakfast on the second day, the Alsatian hills were covered with frozen dew. This may not look spectacular to you, but I live in flatland, where the snow had just vanished.



Grapes grow next to the hotel,

frozen vines

Frozen vines

and the wine that results from it was served across the street.

Vinstub - big lunches and dinner with wine from down the street

La Vinstub - big lunches and dinner with wine from down the street

At this conference nobody seemed to be local, so everybody made an effort to get to this lovely middle of nowhere. For me, it was worth driving over six hours, especially during the day it is a lovely drive in the Ardennes over  Belgium, Germany and France. This year I had the good fortune to travel with a passenger – Nynke Fokma was my navigator. We had not seen each other for a while, so the conference already started in the car :)

Nynke Fokma and Emmanuel Gaillot

Nynke Fokma and Emmanuel Gaillot

The car conversation was a bit too good, so I drove past the exit we needed on the French highway. The detour we took after that was extremely scenic, which compensated for the fact that we missed half of the opening. We were in time to put some sessions on the agenda,

Emmanuel Gaillot opens day II

Emmanuel Gaillot opens day II

and I was present at the opening on the Thursday, assisted by a breakfast with unlimited coffee….

The Belgians (Peter Janssens, Patrick Debois en Koen van Exem) at breakfast

The Belgians (Peter Janssens, Patrick Debois en Koen van Exem) at breakfast

which was necessary, because the nights in the Retro Lounge are long, and dinner is ‘heavy’ with a free flow of tasty local wine…. I brought a poker case

the poker game

The poker game

and the game ‘Machiavelli’ with me, for which we translated the game rules while playing from Dutch to French, that was a challenge,


Machiavelli (Photo by Nynke Fokma)

but it worked, so we played it both nights. On thursday night we had too many players, so we paired up. Pair-playing with Emmanuel was fun.

what can I say?

What can I say?

The Retro Lounge is also my favourite spot for daytime sessions, comfy chairs and couches, poker tables for if you want to put up a computer, and when you stand up a view on the hills.

Koen van Exem explains dimensional pull

Koen van Exem explains dimensional pull

This makes for a relaxed setting, in which new and old ideas can be put through the grinder, and experiential sessions blossom. Although projectors seemed forbidden (there was no available) other rooms were suitable for coders’ dojos.

'adventures in lisp' coders dojo

'Adventures in lisp' coders dojo

We used two computers, the network and vnc to learn about lisp in a coding dojo.



The timeline held more than enough topics of interest, even with ‘just four tracks’, there was plenty to choose from in each slot. And there is always the option to butterfly, naturally. For instance by going out in the freezing cold to have a smoke,

Church square at night - Itterswiller

Church square at night - Itterswiller

or take a walk in the dead calm of the village.

Emmanuel Gaillot and Raphael Pierquin

Emmanuel Gaillot and Raphael Pierquin

The organizers Emmanuel Gaillot, Raphael Pierquin, Luc Bizeul and Bernard Notarianni did a great job, with administrative support from Laurent Bossavit at XP-France (now Agile France). Organizing a conference without a program like this can look deceptively simple. I stayed after the closing to witness Nynke facilitate the retrospective.  I expected it to be quick, but I was wrong… Working with a part-time distributed team is often difficult and can easily lead to misunderstandings, though everyone does the best they can. Maybe in a follow up post I’ll have permission to show you the picture of the timeline to explain what happened.

In the end, the conference was a great success for me personally, and for the other participants as well, as far as I could tell. I had a lot of fun, learned a lot and went home buzzing with new ideas, energized to realize at least some of them during the year.

Agile Open Network logo

Agile Open Network

Now I am looking forward to attending Agile Open Belgium, two weeks from now. There might be a few places left, I hope it is going to be as inspiring as Agile Open France. By that time I have carried out some of the ideas from France, so that I have space for some new ones. Instead of a village with local French wine, we will have a city (Gent) with local Belgian beer :)

If you live in the US, I highly recommend Agile Open Northwest, in Portland next week, one of the best US conferences I have attended. Meanwhile, in South America Agile Open Buenos Aires has opened registration for the first time. Having met some of the organisers, and heard about their location and plan it will be spectacular in March. I will not be able to attend either of them, but if I was nearby, I would not hesitate to register.

2 Responses to “Agile Open France – refreshingly simple”

  1. Harald Walker Says:

    So why is it that most of us work in boring office buildings in busy and polluted cities? I wouldn’t mind developing software being surrounded by forests and wine fields.

  2. Willem van den Ende Says:

    I Agree. “A Workstation is where the work stops”, offices often have the same effect. Friends often tell me the work at home part-time so they can get some creative thinking done. Go figure!
    Some of my clients are making an effort to make their office an inviting place for creativity, that helps.
    It seems however, that business are more successful if like-minded businesses and services that go with it, are closely located. Some expect e.g. Detroit to depopulate further, while density of New York City will increase.