Not many developers have Rob Maher’s geographic diversity. Born in Great Britain, he’s worked everywhere from the Philippines and Singapore to Saudi Arabia and the United States. A self-described “serial conference organizer,” he also regularly oversees Scrum, Kanban and Microsoft-related events in his adopted country of New Zealand.
“Fortunately, my wife and four-year-old son like traveling too,” he says.
All of this comes from being one of the world’s more successful—and unique—Agile trainers. Maher works not only as a traditional trainer but also an embedded coach. He believes that it’s not enough to give a presentation or a week-long training session on Scrum. He’ll teach the basics, sure, but he also hangs around to see the implementation through.
“A lot of people talk at you for two days or three days,” he says, “and people really struggle with how to implement Agile. I teach it and then help people on the ground. If you think about it, you have to get some skin in the game. Once you’ve started the process, you have to help them produce a successful outcome.”
All this started around 2000, when Maher was working at an investment bank in London. Given the competitive and lucrative nature of that business, investment banks tend to be aggressive about finding better and faster ways to do things. At the time Agile was just getting off the ground, and Maher was on a team when the company implemented the process.
“It rang a lot of bells for me,” he says. “I could see that this was the way of the future. And we had some success.”
As Agile gained in popularity, Maher learned more and began to develop a reputation as someone who could not only talk about Scrum, but who was ready get his hands dirty to make it happen.
Perhaps it’s this hands-on approach that makes him less idealistic about Agile processes than some. Too often, he says, people get caught up in what he calls the minutia of Scrum and lose sight of the big picture. Instead, he always advises balancing agile processes with controlling risks, and specifically the risk that you’re wasting money.
“Agile is about delivering while being able to change course,” he explains. “But it’s not about pivoting because you have no idea what you’re going to build. If you do that, you just change your ideas from this to that and don’t get value out of your code. Instead, you have to have strong product ownership and a vision in place, while allowing yourself the ability to change technical direction.”
Not surprisingly, he takes a similarly practical stance on how he approaches his own career. Unlike many trainers, he has never stopped being a developer, and in particular a .NET developer. For at least three months a year, he removes his teacher hat and takes a job as a programmer, often for one of his former clients.
“If you teach too long, what you’re teaching is only current to five years ago,” he says. “No matter how much coding you do in your spare time, you still have to have relevant commercial experience.”
Oddly enough, when he does make it back to New Zealand after one of his far-flung gigs, Maher relaxes by getting outside. He lives within walking distance of two beautiful beaches, so he picks up a towel, takes his son by the hand, and heads for the water.
“I think once you get past 25, and you’ve spent years learning your craft in a dark room, everyone has the craving to be outside as much as they can.”
- Visual Studio ALM MVP
- Rob Maher Consulting