The (motorcycle) Trials of Software Development

Episode 18 - 13 Jan 2016

As a teenager, I was mad keen on motorbikes. By the age of 14, a group of us had trials bikes, and we set about preparing for our first competition.

Nearly a year later, we entered our first event. Only then did we realise our big mistake.

Teenage Kicks

When I was a teenager, I was mad on motorbikes. There was a group of us that were into "trials" - that's the version where you have to keep your feet off the ground.

Our hero was Sammy Miller.

Our bible was "Clean to the Finish".

Our favourite tv programme was Kick Start

By the age of 13 three of us had trials bikes. We intended to compete, but we knew we weren't ready.

So every weekend, we'd "train" by marking out courses - known as "sections" - and challenging ourselves to ride up a stream here or over a log there.

Dumpy Brown

Occasionally, we’d see another kid with a trials bike. Dumpy Brown.

He was a couple of years younger than us. 11 maybe. He was - as his rather cruel nickname suggests - a little overweight.

It seemed to us that his dad was the one who liked motorbikes. Mr Brown the younger always seemed reluctant to get on his bike.

Once on, his dad would point him at a log - or a rock - or a stream - and tell him to go for it. And he'd fall off. Every time.

The tireless Mr Brown the Elder would pick up the bike, pop his son back on the bike. Rinse and repeat.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

The months went by. We hadn't see the Browns some time. Perhaps they'd given it up as a bad job?

Eventually, we felt ready to enter a real competition.

It did NOT go well.

Learn by DOING

If I could go back and talk to my 14 year old self, I'd tell him two things.

  1. Stop calling that boy "Dumpy Brown". It's cruel.
  2. Enter a competition. Today. Not in eight months time.

My friends and I had read the books - and we'd watched the TV show,

there were 100 things we didn't know about a real competition.

Thing we would ONLY learn by entering.

The training that we'd created for ourselves turned out to be worthless.

The training provided by a real competition - priceless.

A common "cycle"

I've seen the same story play out in software development:

Weeks spent on design... for something that turned out to be impossible to build.

Weeks spent on development... for something that turned out to be impossible to deploy.

Weeks spent on building and releasing... for something that the customer didn't want.

What we need to do for our projects is what Dumpy Brown's dad did for him:

  • Put him on a motorbike... before he was completely ready
  • Point him at a stream... before he was completely ready
  • Enter him for a competition... before he was completely ready


My friends and I didn't make a big impact on the world of trials. I scraped a low ranking award on one lucky occasion. My mates didn't do much better.

Dumpy Brown?

County Champion.