Mr Jourdain may have been an agilist
Back from vacation.... During the holiday season, I had some time to read a couple of non-IT books, like Le bourgeois gentilhomme (The Middle-Class Gentleman). Molière wrote Le bourgeois gentilhomme in 1670. A key part of the play is when Monsieur Jourdain, the main character, discovers that he has being speaking "prose" all his life without knowing it (verse was more popular than prose at this time).
When I started my career as a software engineer (97), I used to consider myself as a lousy developer. I worked first with C++ and PoweBuilder before focusing on Java projects. No matter what the programming language was, it was always the same story. I had problems writing lines of code based on a written specification, while my colleagues seemed to be very productive. They were spending days coding features with no assistance, without even compiling their code. Remember that we are in 97-98. C++ and PowerBuilder are not interpreted languages, and the software specification is very often a verbose document. And most software development processes are waterfall.
My way of working was quite different. I used to write a few lines of code, to compile and test it immediately in order to verify that......it was not working as expected (usually with some ugly runtime error). Then I was refining the former piece of code to fix the error, and I was repeating this again and again until I was able to complete my tests successfully. Typically, I needed to test and rework my code several times per hours. Comparing myself to my more experienced teammates, I was ashamed of being such an ineffective developer.
Also, it was real difficult for me to apprehend the specification written by the business analysts. I was usually understanding the big picture, but not enough to be sure of the right piece of code to create. At this time, I was convinced that it was a result of my lack of experience. My colleagues seemed to be satisfied with the features assigned to them. They were working in isolation with just a specification document to help them.
Again, I had developed a specific technique to compensate for my inexperience: I was buying coffee all the time to the analyst team. I used to spend a lot of time (and money!) at the coffee spot with them, in exchange for their explanation. It was quite an expensive way of obtaining meaningful input, but I guarantee it helped me decipher the cryptic specifications. And after a few months, my regular “coffee discussions” were far more helpful than any document.
A couple of years later, I realized that my way of working was aligned with some agile practices. Just like Monsieur Jourdain, I was being agile for some time without knowing it. My daily (and expensive!) talks with business analysts, developers or DBAs were actually quite productive. And it was not uncommon to continue the discussion at my desk so that I can demo something. The different stakeholders were all providing early feedback to the feature I was trying to implement. And with my countless tests, I was actually improving the quality of my code, iteratively.
On the other hand, my teammate working in isolation were creating software disconnected from the business needs. End at the end of the time allocated for their development, they have never tested their code. What I was (jealously) seeing as an impressive way of writing code was actually a poor practice.
I am pretty sure that there are a lot of Monsieur Jourdain around us. Practitioners who leveraged agile practices far before agile became popular.
The good thing is that because agile is now mainstream, we no longer have to buy coffee for a discussion with stakeholders. Now it's part of the process, ..... for free.