A One-day Visit at 8th Light

A One-day Visit at 8th Light


December 31, 2014

In early October, Markus Gärtner visited 8th Light's Chicago office to give a presentation on "Testing With A Stranger" for an 8th Light University event. We were very happy to have him spend the day in our office, and the following is a blog post written by Markus about his stay in Chicago. For more from Markus, you can read his personal blog, and follow him on Twitter.

October 3rd marks the Day of German Unity. Since this is a public holiday in Germany, I had an extra day to spend in the U.S. while I was there for some other business in early October, 2014. Having met Doug Bradbury after all these years at the German SoCraTes conference in Soltau, we had also talked about whether I could come over to 8th Light, maybe in the foreseeable future.

I learned a lot that day, and I still digest some of the new insights I had. In order to digest that more, here is a quick recap of my time.


I heard about the handshaking going on in 8th Light's office... mostly from Colin Jones's blog a few years ago. Yet, I was amazed when I experienced it. Everyone naturally came to me, gave me their hand, and asked me whether I was one of the new ones. So, I felt welcomed by essentially everyone in the office. Even though most of the 8th Lighters didn't know me, they still approached me to say hello, and to have a brief chat about what I was there for. This total experience re-engaged me to try that one out back home in our offices as well. It somewhat feels a bit stupid if you're the only one doing that, but over time you get to know your colleagues on a more personal level. I hope I can stick to that for 2015.

Apprenticeships and the foreman concept

Friday is the office day for the folks at 8th Light. Almost everyone turns in to work in the office. In the morning, I had the opportunity to join one apprentice while he was working through his Tic-Tac-Toe program in Clojure. I had wanted to learn more about Clojure for a while already. While pairing, I found that there are subtle differences in how you think about a problem such as Tic-Tac-Toe in a functional language. It was fun to poke around.

While pairing in the morning, I got to know the foreman concept and how it is put in practice at 8th Light. As a starter, you need to know that 8th Light has a weekly open MeetUp in their office space. The general public, including clients, friends, and fans are invited over lunchtime. Before that, there is also a large stand-up that happens together with their office-mates in London over video. For all these things to work, 8th Lighters have a high identification with these events through assigned responsibilities for various topics. There is one person in charge of the lunch, one for beverages, another one for coffee, and yet another one for the video & audio operation. Since the apprentices spend most of their week in the offices, it's mostly the duty of apprentices to organize the Friday event.

The foreman is in charge of assigning all these roles to different folks for the upcoming week—including the job of the foreman. It turned out that I was pairing with the current foreman in the morning, and there were several folks passing by, asking questions like, "We don't have coffee. Can you tell me who's in charge this week?" So, the whole foreman concept inside 8th Light is used so that several employees take over ownership of the Friday meet-up and the office organization in general. That was also when I realized the higher value of such a concept in action.

Stand-Up and 8thLight University

At 11:30 it was time for the weekly stand-up, with all the folks standing in a circle. Since we were on video for the London office, there was a natural talking stick—some of us might call this a microphone.

Everyone briefly noted the project she was currently working in, followed-up by a bunch of shout-outs for when a colleague helped them. This was a quick round of 20-25 minutes, and folks not present were represented by a buddy. Also, the shower of appreciations in that quick meeting helped a lot to get to know all the folks in the room. Of course, they also passed me the microphone, and I thanked all the folks for having me, and my pair partner in the morning, and the guy who got me on the train to get me to the office, and, and... That really felt awesome.

After that was lunch time, followed by a Kata from one of the apprentices where all the visitors also watched. After that, I had a quick run of my session "Testing with a Stranger." These Friday meet-ups are called 8th Light University. The idea is to learn one thing every week—sometimes from 8th Lighters, sometimes from an impulse from outside. Most of these 8th Light University meetings are open to the general public. That made me aware about the degree of alignment with the craftsmanship principle to share what you learned.

Open Source time

In the afternoon was general Open Source time. Every second half of every Friday, 8th Lighters work on Open Source projects. Sometimes they work on their own ones,like the BDD test runner for Clojure, and sometimes they work on a pet project.

Since I needed to travel early in the afternoon, I couldn't dedicate as much time to this. However, I thought about a potential improvement for the Friday Open Source time. I think it would have been helpful to have something like an Open Space marketplace with all the projects that people were going to work on in the afternoon. By then, it would probably be easier to join other folks. We used to do something like that when we met for an internal Slack day at it-agile. At the beginning of the day, we stated briefly what we were going to work on, then found folks who wanted to help us out, and had a quick exchange twice or thrice over the day.

Overall, I was re-energized after that day at 8th Light. Some things, like the morning handshake (or fist-bump if you're afraid of germs), will be something that I will continue to establish at home. Oh, and I need to dive deeper into Lisp and Clojure—one day, maybe.

Thanks to all the 8th Lighers for having me and leading me around at your office. I had a splendid time.

I hope I can come back, maybe in 2015.