About RoleModel Software

RoleModel Software is a custom software development shop dedicated to delivering high-quality software to its customers while cultivating a work environment where community, learning, mentoring, apprenticeship, and spiritual growth can flourish. Since 1997, we have been industry leaders in agile development, pushing the envelope on software craftsmanship and inspiring others to do the same. Our passion for promoting quality in work and in life is what compelled us to start RoleModel Software Craftsmanship Academy.

The RoleModel Story

After getting a Computer Science degree from a top-notch engineering school Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a couple of interesting co-op internships, Ken Auer reflected on how much he learned about software development from college and how much he learned by just doing it in the real world. Certainly he gained some foundational programming skills in college, but how much did it really help him?

When he began work at Paradyne, he learned about a lot of things that were never mentioned in college. In 1986, a marketing person suggested that his team should build the next-generation network management system with object-oriented programming. All of the Computer Science and Engineering graduates on the team said, "What kind of programming?" That was his first clue that his college education didn't expose him to many things that mattered in the real world. He kept learning concepts and techniques from folks he worked with and when he asked where his mentors learned them, he almost never heard them say that they learned it from college. They almost always learned it from other mentors.

He went to the first OOPSLA (Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, and Languages) in 1986 and found that there was a difference between the academics and the practitioners. After a few more OOPSLAs, a few graduate classes, and a few more years of programming, he was convinced that he would learn a lot more from the best practitioners than the most noted academicians, trusting that the best of the academicians' theories would make its way into the practices of the best practitioners.

In 1988, he ended up at Knowledge Systems Corporation (KSC), working for Reed Phillips and next to Sam Adams. Reed was incredibly others-centered and taught Ken to always seek to help whoever was in front of him, whether colleague or client. Sam was an amazing programmer with an incredible mind and a heart that matched his frame (Sam was about 6 foot 8). He had never studied computer science in college. As the years went by, Ken began to notice that some of the best programmers he worked with also didn't have a computer science degree.

In 1989, Ken saw the incredible effects of a direct apprenticeship on a new programmer. Ivar Jacobson wanted his daughter, who just graduated from a university in Sweden, to see America and learn Smalltalk. So, he worked out a deal with Reed, who wanted to help. Agneta would come live at KSC with a list of tasks to accomplish in order to build a system that supported Ivar's Objectory method. And, she would seek help from the experts at KSC in order to understand the best practices for bringing the desired features to fruition. She paid only a fee to cover some overhead of her being there and the time of the experts dedicated to helping her.

During that time, KSC had been providing week-long classes in Smalltalk to a variety of organizations. The classes had received fairly good reviews, yet these clients always felt they needed much more of people like Sam and the other teachers that KSC provided. They often didn't have much money in their "consulting" budget, but had some in their "training" budget. Reed and Sam had observed how much faster Agneta was learning deeply than those who only completed the classes and stumbled along on their own for a few months. Reed saw the problem, the need and the solution: the Smalltalk Apprentice Program (STAP) was born.

The STAP teamed one of KSC's expert Smalltalk practitioners (and anyone the expert could suck in when stumped) with several developers from a client who had already been through some classroom training. They worked on a client project together, teaching the developers what they were lacking, "just in time", over a several month period. The results were incredible and repeatable. But the Smalltalk industry was having some problems getting accepted by the mainstream and working out the politics of some of the language's key organizations. At the same time, the opportunity of the internet was rising. The decline in the popularity of Smalltalk left many disappointed.

Knowledge Systems Corporation was a special place where some incredible software craftsmen and craftsmen wannabes honed their craft and impacted a lot of others. After watching the company grow from four people to close to one hundred in nine years, with a variety of organizational challenges along the way, Ken was looking for a change. He had seen a lot of the software industry through his career at KSC. He had some opportunities to work with some of the best craftsman in the business. He had also watched organizations that had invested a lot in developing the skills of some special people never see it pay off due to waste caused by politics, unhealthy expectations, short-sighted decision making, and sometimes (in the case of certain clients) outright poor ethical behavior.

Although he had been able to keep his travel to a manageable level, the pressure was on to travel more. He watched many accomplished craftsman lose their families, often due to the travel demands placed on those who were highly sought after.

Ken had gained a lot of experience and wanted something different than the many "opportunities" he saw. He knew he loved to create great software and to serve clients who were trying to turn their ideas into something that makes a positive impact. He also enjoyed helping other developers learn to do the same while keeping their families intact. As much as he loved Smalltalk, he loved these things more, and he decided to hold on to them tightly while he let his firm grip on Smalltalk go.

So, he founded RoleModel Software in 1997. His goal with RoleModel was to build quality software efficiently with integrity and to build a team of software craftsmen that could bring a complimentary diversity of expertise to the table. After proving God would supply his families needs while holding true to his values, in 1998, he began building the first eXtreme Programming Software Studio™, a place where apprentices, journeymen and craftsmen could work together in a highly collaborative environment to meet client goals. For the first two years, we worked out of an attic or at client sites. Then we were able to obtain an office/studio and custom configure it for collaboration. We worked there or at local client sites for the next 9 years, often helping them configure their workspace as we helped them build great software using agile software development. Finally, in 2009, we moved into our own custom-built facility designed with both the current and the next generation of craftsmen in mind.

Along the way, we have helped build some great software and some great software craftsmen. We continue to do so. The Software Craftsmanship Academy is the culmination of many years of preparation. Just as there have been other software craftsmanship shops who were inspired, in part, by what we set out to do when founding the company in 1997, we hope that there will be other Craftsmanship Academies announced and begun over the next few years. We are already in conversation with other leading Software Craftsmen about the formation of an accreditation organization, as well as other ideas for advanced training with much of the same goals in mind: promoting the best practices and developing the best practitioners for the next generation.

Our Mission and Values

Our mission combines our professional goals and the One we believe ultimately deserves the credit for everything good we do:

We bring exceptional value to our clients via project, personal and technical leadership in the development of robust, flexible software assets as we give glory to Jesus Christ our Lord.

"He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?"
- Micah 6:8 (NASB)

Working with integrity

Almost everyone at RoleModel is a follower of Jesus Christ. We're not shy about that. While clients hire us to deliver superior software rather than to preach, we think it's important for our potential clients and coworkers to know how our faith affects our work. We believe it augments our ability to deliver.

The Bible tells us to be diligent in our work, as if we were doing it for God directly (Colossians 3:23-24). We are commanded to be honest with everyone, which includes ourselves and our customers (Matthew 5:37). Part of this is admitting when we are wrong and doing whatever is necessary to correct the mistake. Honesty and humility are the bedrock of what we do (Micah 6:8). In fact, this is one of the things that attracts our people to agile development methods and Extreme Programming. It is an honest way to develop software.

People who work for us don't have to share this faith, but they do have to follow one explicit rule: "We don't lie. We don't lie to each other or to our clients. If you do, it is grounds for immediate dismissal."

Vision for an integrated life

In the early 1990s, Ken's life changed when he had his first child. He realized the responsibilities he had as a husband and father was a full-time job, that his job was a full-time job and that being a light to the world was a full-time job. He realized that our modern culture tries to compartmentalize our lives into competing interests. To get ahead at work, more hours are needed. To have a healthy marriage and train up children, more hours are needed. To stay on top of things and be a learner, more hours are needed. As he studied the Bible, he perceived that there was an assumption that men were not separated from their families day in and day out by schools and workplaces.

When he started RoleModel Software, he decided that rather than succumb to the culture, he needed to be a culture changer. This change needed to start with him. Though he was put here at a time after the industrial revolution that separated men from their families, and then children from their families, he did not need to reject technology as some have done. Rather, he believed, we should have technology serve us instead of allowing it to become our masters. After a year working from home, and the many blessings that came from that first year of homeschooling, he also realized that isolation from the world was not what he was called to and that technology was not a replacement for relationships beyond the family. Though technology can enhance communication and community, it is not sufficient for either.

Over the years, he has experimented with many counter-cultural ideas inside and outside of RoleModel that challenge the status quo of a segregated life. Some have stuck, some have just been learning experiences. Anyone who has worked with RoleModel knows that Ken tries to be true to the name in both the way he conducts himself and his business. They also know that he is human and imperfect and often falls far short of the ideal, yet is always striving to advance forward and humbly learn along the way.

The business currently runs out of a custom-built building, with the business on the bottom floor and Ken's home and an apartment upstairs. The building is situated on a small "campus" with a playground, playing field, wooded trails, streams, waterfalls and more. Ken and others at RoleModel, and some of their family members, were involved in building it. Ken's daughter, Hope, has served in the past as the Communications Director for RoleModel Software Craftsmanship Academy and has given piano lessons to some of the children of RoleModel families. Ken's wife, Carol, has an accounting backgroud and has helped in the finance area. His sons, Caleb and Joshua, have done some office cleaning and grounds maintenance. Caleb also occasionally apprenticed as a designer under Graham Langdon, RoleModel's Design Director. We have had occasional "RoleModel Family Days" when all of our families have lunch or dinner together. We sometimes work with the very young (such as FIRST Lego League teams) and have helped some more mature folks retool after hitting crossroads in their careers. We start most meetings with prayer and care about all of the needs of the folks who work here, the folks we work for and their families and friends. And we produce great software for great clients.

In recent years, we have added remote offices to this facility and, though we value collaboration, even the local folks occasionally work from home. Our goal is to have a small office everywhere we have a Craftsman, with other developers and designers around them, each determining the balance of working from home and working in the same location and/or at client sites. We have a corporate policy of no more than twelve(12) days per quarter of travel, and generally strive for and achieve much less. We feel that our travel policy puts some teeth behind our desire for an integrated life and strong families.

Ken has met many people who have succeeded, in many ways, at having an integrated life and tried to learn from each. Though many had suggested that he had the vision and skills to start a school, he could not see how the modern approach to school melded with the integrated life he sought for himself and sought to encourage in others. However, earlier in 2011, he met Chris Gregory one of the most renowned farriers in the world. Chris and his family started Heartland Horseshoeing School in 1995, which has earned its reputation as the top farrier school in the nation, and perhaps the world. It is an incubator for some of the finest craftsmen in the world of farriery.

When Chris challenged Ken with the same words, "So why haven't you started a school?", and then went on to explain how their school works and that it did not keep him from continuing his craft, it only took a few months to take root and the RoleModel Software Craftsmanship Academy was born.

The Academy is the main avenue through which RoleModel Software grows its Apprentices and prepares them for the "fast track" to Craftsmanship. Though RoleModel also hires people from the outside, we have found that growing Craftsman this way accelerates the process as they start with a firm foundation. Not all people who complete the Academy stay with RoleModel, but the things they have learned at RoleModel stay with them. We have great relationships with all of them and recognize that, though we are growing a business, first and foremost we are growing people and serving people.