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Professional Scrum Trainer Spotlight: David Sabine

August 24, 2023

If you are familiar with, you may associate the organization with Professional Scrum and/or Professional Scrum Training Courses and Certifications. Behind those hands-on training courses are highly qualified Professional Scrum Trainers (PSTs), who go through a rigorous process to take their real world Scrum experience and create value for students. In several episodes of the Community Podcast, our host and CEO Dave West interviews Professional Scrum Trainers about their experiences that led to their becoming a PST and exploring what Professional Scrum means to them. 

 In this episode Dave chats with PST David Sabine about his first experiences with Scrum and his journey to becoming a PST.


Lindsay Velecina  0:03  
Welcome to the community podcast, a podcast from the home of Scrum. In this podcast we feature professional scrum trainers and other scrum practitioners sharing their stories and experiences to help learn from the experience of others. We hope you enjoy this episode.

Dave West  0:20  
Hello and welcome to the community podcast. I'm your host Dave West CEO of here in a rainy and wet Boston, Massachusetts. today's podcast is focused on the journey of one of our professional scrum trainers are PSTs. David Sabine and his journey to becoming a PST but more importantly, his journey to Scrum and then the sort of evolution of that. Welcome to the podcast. David.

David Sabine  0:50  
Thanks very much for having me, David, nice to see you. We haven't seen each other in a while in person. But hopefully I'll be able to travel to Boston in the near future and see you again. Now

Dave West  1:01  
I'm looking forward to that it has been three or so years. But so I guess our listeners would like to know a little bit about you first, where are you? Where are you calling in from David?

David Sabine  1:13  
London, Ontario. It's the other London. So it's in Canada, about two hours away from Toronto. I've lived here with my family since 2018. But I've moved around a lot. That's actually part of my my scrum journey. I think we'll get into that over our conversation. But I've moved around a lot before living here. I was in Toronto for six and a half years. Toronto is Canada's sort of tech hub, one of the tech hubs. Before Toronto, I was out west in northern Alberta. And I grew up in Saskatchewan in the prairies. I've also lived in the United States and which I loved I was in Arizona for two and a half years. And Florida for some time when I was a younger man I worked on on a cruise ship from the from Port Canaveral, Florida to the Bahamas. And so I've had a kind of a wonderful journey. And now I'm in London, Ontario.

Dave West  2:15  
Great, that sounds it just don't have to lean into them. Some of that. But obviously, listeners, David is Canadian. So he's going to be super nice during this present during this conversation. So which is always good to know. All right. Interesting fact, come on. Have you got an interesting fact that our listeners would like?

David Sabine  2:35  
Oh, yeah, sure. I'm, I'm also a musician. I've been a musician. Most of my life, the largest audience I ever performed for it was 26,000 people. I wasn't alone, it wasn't a solo performance. I was with a large band. But that's been pretty wonderful. And I think having been a musician that has led to, let's say, a greater understanding of incremental improvement, which also ties back to the work we do as scrum trainers. So yeah, interesting fact i was i performance for the queen two times, while she was traveling through Canada.

Dave West  3:26  
That's interesting. I've never performed for the queen God rest her soul. But, but that's is super interesting. Wow. I didn't know that. It is though. The amount of trainers that are also musicians, I think there's, you know, there's elements of discipline, there's elements of performance, there's elements of incremental improvement, there's elements of sort of working with others, there's all those things that I think come true, when when, when you as a musician, practicing, practicing our craft, alright, so

David Sabine  4:01  
on that point, I would be also interested to know of all the musicians that have become professional scrum trainers and are associated with And that you talk with frequently, I would be interested to know how many of them are also self taught programmers. That certainly true of myself, I don't know if that's been a pattern you've observed or not.

Dave West  4:26  
I actually don't know if that's very interesting. I, I definitely see a correlation between between people that have got that sort of desire to look at complex problems to break it down to control, you know, that sort of software engineering kind of gene or that engineering gene. And, and then the music music part, you know, the I think there's a very interesting correlation. I don't know how much self taught versus professionally taught. I know that our CTO is self taught software engineer and actually that the reason why he got into software engineering was because he was touring the country in a band, a heavy metal thrash band, which, yes, you do not want to listen to, but the you're very good for scaring scaring your animals. But it's, yeah. So that so that that does support your hypothesis. Right, let's let's let's get into Scrum. Because that's what our listeners are here for, you know? What did you when did you discover Scrum? Where were you when you discovered Scrum? Tell me a little bit about your scrum journey. Trademarked Dave West, by the way, the scrum journey,

David Sabine  5:40  
journey? Yes. 2007. That's when I learned of Scrum. And I think that my path to war, like to that point is interesting. And important. Early 90s, I joined like I enrolled in university, I'd finished high school. So I joined I enrolled in university in 1993. To study music, actually, and to become a music teacher, I thought maybe being a band director in my future would be my path. But in 1993, I also got an internet connection. And right click View Source changed my life. I don't know if you remember, you know, the early web browsers. And I saw HTML. And I thought, well, wouldn't you know, that's really interesting. Some of my assignments throughout university I decided to do as web pages instead of keynote presentations. And I then within a couple of years realized I could do that and make money at it, I could make websites for small businesses around my local, like I was growing up in southern Saskatchewan. And so I became a freelancer. So by the late 90s, early 2000s, I was freelancing, I had written some software that I was selling online. People my age that are listening might remember websites like hot scripts. I, there were a number of others. But this is before the age of GitHub, you know, if you wanted to find software, you were looking for freeware, or shareware. And I hit a wall in about 2005. And six, when I, I didn't, I couldn't scale. My software, I didn't know how to make big software, I was making small database applications and websites for small businesses. So I decided I needed to expand my horizons a bit. And remember, by the, by this time, I was self taught. I had finished my university degrees in music. But I the way I say it is that my computer always paid my bills. And music has always warmed my heart. So here I am in 2006. And I've hit a wall, I don't know how to scale, I don't know how to make bigger software with others, you know, to collaborate with other people. So I joined a college, I got a job in an IT department at a college. And I thought, well, certainly they know how to make big software, you know, they're an enterprise. And what I witnessed, of course, was all of the dysfunction of the enterprise, and realized that they don't have a clue how software is made. You know, they've managed to cobble together the necessary systems, mostly through purchase, you know, student information system, the Library Information System, and Finance Administration systems, HR, these kinds of things. The CTO that I worked for, at the time had the foresight to contact a scrum trainer and fly them from Toronto to northern Alberta. Where are we where the college was? So it was in 2007, that I took a two day scrum training class. And that's how I was introduced to it.

Dave West  9:23  
What did you think when you first met, because you didn't come from a sort of more traditional waterfall, PMI, sort of background, you were just sort of developing projects, see to the pants, you know, working through it, you know, maybe having a bit of a bullet list of a plan, etc. But so you so you were then presented with this thing called Scrum. What did you think?

David Sabine  9:47  
I thought that makes great sense. Like, why doesn't everyone do this? Like really, I really thought that that would be a perfectly sensible way to operate in a In an environment like the college, I also thought, Gosh, every musician should learn this too, because, you know, one of the things musicians struggle with is, let's say the business side of things or how to coordinate and organize. So that's what I thought immediately. I just thought this is common sense. Let's do this.

Dave West  10:23  
Yeah, it's interesting. I, recently, actually a couple of years ago introduced scrum to a veterinarian hospital. And they obviously didn't come from any of the sort of history and, and the, the CLO stroke chief, that or whatever said to me, she goes, Well, how else? This is just so straightforward. How would you work? And and obviously, so they went from chaos to this way? And I very similar, yeah, we could use this everywhere. And suddenly, there was a million backlogs everywhere. And they were like, Well, maybe you don't need quite as many. But it was, it was a very interesting moment. All right. So you discovered Scrum, you were infected with the scrum bug, and said, What makes total sense what happened next, David,

David Sabine  11:08  
two things happened that I think are interesting. One is that we, we returned to our regular office the next day. And I remember we had a meeting in there was a sort of open space where we would gather. And in that meeting, the CTO of course, was there. And he asked us to reflect on this scrum training experience that we had just had. And I remember I put my hand up and said, hey, you know, I think we should try this. And if no one else wants to, I'll happily volunteer to be the scrum master. So that proposal sort of went around the room and everyone thought about it, and, and there was nods, and people were agreeing, you know, visually until I don't remember who called it out. But the decision was made. Yeah, let's try this. Now. We had two distinct sort of operations. One was our help desk, and the other was systems administration and development stuff. So the help desk they weren't entirely on board at first, but the others, including myself, we were, we were a scrum team as of that moment, and I was the scrum master. The second thing that happened was, I got really annoyed actually, because the CTO took to heart right, you know, there's this part of the scrum guide, the end note where the author's remind us that Scrum is immutable. And although implementing parts of Scrum is possible, remote, the results may not be Scrum. The CTO took that to mean appropriately. That if the way we work resembles what's described in the scrum guide, then we can call it Scrum. But if the way we work is likely to not resemble it perfectly, then let's call it something else. So, the CTO, he used he wrote on the whiteboard scrum with a que. So, yes, because because the college where we worked was called Kiana college with a que. And so he said, Let's like we're going to have to adapt this to our environment in Kiana college. So scrum in Kiana will be s Kru. M. And I was annoyed by that at first, because I really wanted to give it a go. And his doing that seem to give everyone permission to break all the rules, not to scrum not not really try it, you know, when it's hard stop doing it, you know? Yeah, in hindsight, I think there was some wisdom to, to that, because the college environment, let's say, even though he was CTO and had positional authority, the work we were doing and the way we were positioned in the in the college, we weren't able to create the kind of disruption that scrum would require or cause in that in that setting. So to fit into the financial governance and some of the, you know, long term planning and so we were then. So let's just say my experience in my journey, I then experienced what is I think a very common situation for people that are trying to use Scrum. And that is that they find themselves in a large environment that is not conducive to to Scrum.

Dave West  15:00  
And then compromise comes. And some of those compromises may be necessary, but many might not be the choices are always hard. Alright, so you've, you've, you're still working on that college, what happens next, David?

David Sabine  15:16  
What happens next is I. So I was in the IT department at the time, and all of a sudden this wonderful opportunity happened where a member of the music faculty at that college left she she resigned her position and moved across the country. And there was this opening in the Faculty of Performing Arts, which as you recall it from my story, I hit

Dave West  15:48  
vocation, that's what you want to see. Right?

David Sabine  15:50  
Yeah. And so I had always wanted to find a way to blend my musical passion with software development and it or technology. And here was this opportunity to join the music faculty. And so I applied and, and I won the position. You know, I had a master's degree in music and lots of experience with technology, and they wanted to create an audio recording program within their performing arts department. So it seemed like a match made in heaven. And it was fantastic. So that happened in 2008. So from that point forward, I started to employ, let's call them agile practices, in my curriculum development and in my classroom. So I was looking at, you know, practices like crystal, and Scrum. There was a practice called Open agile at the time, which was sort of a framework similar to it was like a scaling idea. And I was very interested in how that could help me to organize my curriculum and my classrooms that culminated in 2011 and 12, when two things happened, one was, I was invited to speak at a TEDx conference, given the work I was doing in the classroom to combine agile practices with some gamification techniques with modern curriculum design. And so that led to a TEDx talk. And in the same month that I was invited to speak at TEDx, I was also terminated. Yeah, gosh, because you have to. So let's remember, I'm in northern Alberta at the time. What is the economy of northern Alberta? Oil, right? Yes. So I'm at a college with a thriving, or a liberal arts Performing Arts Department trying to thrive in this environment. And in 2011, following of course, the 2008 financial crisis in 2010, and 11, they could just no longer accommodate the budget for this performing arts program. So the entire performing arts program at the College was was was cut. And so my position stopped. It was It was so bizarre, because I thought there's just so many wonderful things happening, and that the program was on the precipice of something really great. But it ended.

Dave West  18:41  
So you took the skills, and obviously, to your next gig. So what happened next, this is super interesting.

David Sabine  18:49  
So I had to think carefully about and by that time, by the way, I was I had just gotten married, and my wife, and I talked very carefully about what our what should be our next pursuit. And I was disappointed to realize that my particular skills had very limited appeal in northern Alberta. Even let's say, like, I could fall back on technology, maybe look for employment in IT departments, but all the IT departments that are operating the businesses of northern Alberta, they're not located there. You know, Exxon doesn't have which is Syncrude in Canada, they don't have their IT group there, they have it somewhere else. So anyway, I was thinking carefully about where my skills are valuable, and it became obvious that my skills are valuable, where there's a tech, a thriving tech hub, and in Canada that limited my options to Vancouver, Montreal. Well, Toronto perhaps. And so I, I started to look around in Toronto, and connected with a really fascinating company called Myplanet. Digital. They are now rebranded, they're now called orientem, Incorporated. But they were doing some fascinating work building web apps, which is something I had always been comfortable with. And they were building apps for some pretty interesting companies that their, their clientele was starting to include, let's say, fortune 500, enterprises, enterprises with 100 billion dollars in market cap or more. And I joined my planet in 2012, as a product owner for a team called the strategy and support group. So there was an interesting turn that happened there. In 2012, I landed, I would say, from my previous prices, I landed in a great, great opportunity

Dave West  21:03  
and carried on practicing Scrum, I assume,

David Sabine  21:09  
actually, yes. So my planet. And I should give credit to the directors and Jason who, who, who founded the company with a few of his close friends, they created an environment that was thriving, you can imagine a company of Well, when I joined, I think we were 32 people, it grew to its maximum at about 140. But these were, this was a company of teams. And each team had a portfolio of enterprise clients for which they were producing products, applications, mobile apps, or web apps, or other sorts of middleware, or various other things. And each team was given significant autonomy. So a lot of my experience as a scrum trainer, you know, that I bring to the classroom, really, I, I bring a lot of that memory to my classes where I can talk about contracts that are where scope isn't fixed, where instead we would write our, our definitions of done into the contract, which was a product quality promise, no matter what we build for you, because our product backlog is going to be very flexible. We will test every feature in these ways and ensure it's this perfect, you know, this level of performance and this level of quality, and so forth. So agile contracting, working in small cross functional teams with the whole array of skills necessary for product development. So we in our teams, we would have marketing experts, design expertise, coding expertise, the whole gamut from sales, sometimes contracting, support, everything necessary to build and bring products to market.

Dave West  23:04  
That that is unusual. And yeah, definitely leading edge. We obviously all aspire to that it's often a lot harder to break that industrial mindset and really build those cross functional teams. I know we're, we're coming to the end of our time together. So I do want to get to one very important question. Why did you want to become a PST David?

David Sabine  23:30  
Because, as you know, from my story, I, I've always felt it very important to be teaching. You know, I wanted to be a music teacher, for example. And then I did become an instructor at a college. So curriculum design, instruction. Adult Education has always been one of the paths, you know, that I've followed, let's say, and becoming a professional scrum trainer, I think was a great way for me to mix that passion with my interest in Scrum and the experience that I had earned. And I could share that experience with others. So they're, you know, in a nutshell, I think is the reason I wanted to be a PSD also that, that the professional scrum trainers are fascinating. You know, this is a great group of people very intelligent, very interesting, lots of incredible experience and to be, I guess, recognized in, you know, by others in that community as a fellow expert, was quite an honor. And it's, I still feel that honor. Even though I've been a professional scrum trainer now for five years, you know, it's still an honor to be part of this group.

Dave West  24:51  
It's great to have you part of this group and I certainly learned a lot more about your journey today. Which is fantastic. I'm really quite unique. It is interesting what you said about the community and how varied and how, you know, smart, intelligent, whatever that those experiences bring come together your experiences is very unique. And it puts you in a really interesting position when, when working with clients and when teaching this consistent, scalable curriculum that we have. So thank you for being part of this community, David, and thank you for sharing your journey with with with our audience.

David Sabine  25:35  
Well, speaking of clients, I have a wonderful client now that I'm leaving you to go talk with them. Thank you very much.

Dave West  25:45  
Well, thank you. And thank you for our listeners. That was David Sabine. I'm talking to us about his journey to become a professional scrum trainer here on the community podcast. I'm your host, Dave West, and I can't wait to talk to you again on another podcast. Bye, everybody.

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