Mechanical Orchard: A New Company With a Long History

Mechanical Orchard: A New Company With a Long History

January 10, 2023

By Kent Beck

Mechanical Orchard starts with a straightforward premise: the vintage programs at the heart of your business can be reborn safely, straightforwardly, and in good time. Those programs can then be operated efficiently and evolved steadily by the same team that brought them back to life.

How is it that a brand spanking new company can make such an audacious claim? We’ve all heard of gigantic projects, multi-year projects, with hundreds of programmers failing to replace those vintage programs.

How can Mechanical Orchard make these claims? Because it’s not a brand-spanking-new company.

I’ll introduce myself: Kent Beck, Chief Scientist at Mechanical Orchard. I’m perhaps best known as an original signatory of the Agile Manifesto (the first signatory, ahem, alphabetically). I pioneered software patterns with Ward Cunningham, who later invented the Wiki. I wrote JUnit and inspired today’s programmer-centric test tools with Erich Gamma. I rediscovered Test-Driven Development. I invented Extreme Programming and authored 2 award-winning books on the subject.

In 1996, though, most of this was in the future. I was a Smalltalk programmer. Objects were hot. Smalltalk was hot stuff. Smart programmers were flocking.

Rob Mee was one of those smart young programmers. He took to Smalltalk quickly. Best of all, he had a knack for explaining and leading that helped programmers get over their fears and try new stuff. We began talking.

Folks running large projects with these new technologies frequently asked me for consulting help. As a natural “tree shaker”, I needed someone to do the day-to-day work of leading teams while I did the “seagull” part of the engagement.

This led to us working on several projects together: a container shipping scheduler, on-line life insurance, re-architecting one of the largest e-commerce sites of the time.

I took these experiences and formulated Extreme Programming from what had worked well for us. Rob took his skill, knowledge, and vision and founded Pivotal, a new kind of contract development company. Instead of developing a system and tossing it to the client, Pivotal developed with the client, teaching them sustainable and effective techniques.

Pivotal’s model proved a big success. In the end, more than 3000 engineers, designers, and product folks became Pivots. Pivotal branched into cloud tools (Pivotal Cloud Foundry) and project management tools (Pivotal Tracker).

Cutting a long story (for another day) short, Pivotal was acquired by EMC, spun out, and IPO’d, achieving a market capitalization of more than a billion dollars.

During COVID, Rob’s team replaced a creaky legacy system for a state department of health. The client didn’t want to run the software, having little operations experience, so Rob’s team accepted responsibility for operation and evolution. And thus was born the Mechanical Orchard business model.

And so here we are today. Mechanical Orchard is not 20 people and 2 months old. We are the re-emergence of software philosophy and practice involving thousands of people over decades.

The Mechanical Orchard you see today is the tip of an iceberg: the knowledge of how to effectively build, operate, and evolve large, complex software systems.

The opportunity has grown and so have we. We are ready to talk with you about the vintage programs at the heart of your business.

Contact us.

Your new legacy starts here.

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