Why I Spent A Day in Örebro (And What I Learned There)

Why spend my free time on preparing for a full day of lectures at some school in Sweden?

Why take a day off work to travel to that school right after an exciting but exhausting 3-day conference?

Because if at least one person in the audience feels inspired to do more, learn more, and become more, it has been worth it.

My friend Erik Brickarp asked me if I was willing to come and meet the students of testing he’s been teaching since last fall. He’s written about the education and the curriculum earlier. The goal of my visit was to share my experience and lessons learned to show what kind of things can happen in your professional career, and what kind of contexts and companies are out there.

Personally, inspiring someone or helping someone to realize they can do more they thought they could is a major source of satisfaction to me. I hold dear the moments when someone lets me know how I’ve helped them. For instance, someone from my team once told me that I’m one of the two women who changed their life (by hiring them, patiently training and coaching them about testing). Recently, another person told me that me joining the company has been one of the best things that has happened to them recently.

Maybe I shouldn’t be living for these moments but in some ways I do anyway. How wonderful is it that my presence and interactions can give a new course to or new perspective someone’s career (in testing)?

So my goal was to be present and share what I’ve learned. And hope something sticks and something wonderful will grow out of it (yes, I can get almost teary-eyed at this point…).

What did I share?

Part 1: I talked about my career and the twists and turns in it, why I took a chance that landed me in testing, and what I learned from it. I talked about what I learned about myself and what I learned about the world of software. I talked about what really made the difference and helped me progress, and that it wasn’t just about me but also the community.

Part 2: I talked about Raintree where I worked both as a technical writer and a team lead. I gave an overview of the product and technology mostly because it’s old, and a bit special. Hearing about such things might be a good thing that broadens the mind because even though it seems like nowadays it’s all about mobile apps and the web, you may end up in an interesting place with old and custom technology. I also talked about the testing challenges and a little bit about how we tried to tackle them.

Part 3: I talked about building a bridge between testers and developers based on my experiences at Raintree where a testing team was injected in the middle of developers, and noone knew how to work together. I gave a talk at Nordic Testing Days in 2013 about it, so I used some of the content. Of course, I looked at my slides and hurtfully facepalmed… What the hell was I talking about anyway…?! Anyway, I guess it was a good thing to realize that I now know better and that I’ve developed in the past two years 🙂 So in some ways preparing my talks for the testing students was useful for my own sake because I had to go over my lessons and experiences again.

Part 4: After lunch, it was time for something else. Erik and me had agreed that I will do an exercise on him using a small “device”. He knew what it looked like, so I invented another surprise for him during the exercise. The main point was that he had to test something, I needed the results quickly, and I ran away into meetings a couple of times which is a realistic thing (the meetings were the surprise moment which also gave Erik time to involve the students by asking them for suggestions to get out of the situation and satisfy the customer). I’m not the “bad cop” type of a person in such situations but can still push it (by saying things like “so are you a philosopher or a tester? Looks like most of what you do is talk and not test!!!”). I think I could’ve carried it out better, so I need to deconstruct what I was trying to do (something for me to learn) but it was quite fun. Students saw their teacher in a pickle – what could be better? 🙂

Part 5: a bit of a high-flying topic but it’s something I feel very strongly about, so I couldn’t leave it out. It’s about leadership and working with people. I titled the section “test leading” and claimed to talk about test management. I also claimed the picture of a big glass diamond with “This is what you made us” engraved in it was my credential from my team that I knew what I was talking about when it came to building teams and leading people. Yeah, Helena got ballsy.

My main point was that for me test management is mostly about managing humans who happen to do testing. Therefore, knowing yourself as a human being, self-reflection, and empathy towards other people come first. Yes, you need to learn about testing, too, but if you hurt people trying to “manage” them, your testing knowledge won’t take you very far (in my eyes). So I ended up talking about how I’ve approached my role as test lead, and what kind of other things people in this role have to deal with besides human beings.

At the end I asked for the one thing they remember or feel like can take away from the day. Someone said that they remembered hearing about how I struggled. It was an interesting comment because I did talk about my struggles a lot. I did struggle a lot but I start to forget the pain little by little.

Someone said they liked to hear that it’s possible to get somewhere and achieve something in IT even if you don’t have a technical background (my rough paraphrase as I don’t remember the exact quote). Someone said they liked the idea behind the Richard Branson quote I used (If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!). And so on. One of the students came to talk to me afterwards and I tipped him off about Weekend Testing. He asked for coaching over Skype. See? Things happen when people talk to each other.

Also, it was great to get feedback from Erik who said I’m much more confident as a speaker than before (he saw me give a lightning talk at Let’s Test 2014), and that the pace was good. Well, that’s great to know and I felt quite good about the overall presentation. It never hurts to get to practices public speaking for a few hours, especially since I’m interested in speaking at conferences.

A Public Speaking Heuristic Discovered

One of the most interesting things was that there was a deaf girl in the class, so what I said in English had to be translated into Swedish Sign Language. There were two interpreters taking turns translating me. So I ended up learning a valuable lesson: having two interpreters depending on me to produce clear and “translatable” sentences makes me a lot more conscious than usual of how I actually say something. I caught myself on the verge of “rambling to mumbling to fading off” more times than I care to remember now. It’s so easy to do. So I forced myself to take a couple of seconds and round up my sentences. I forced myself to adopt a slower pace than my “natural” talking speed. This was quite good for me as I sometimes run out of breath when I get excited and start talking faster and faster (and if I also engage my hands I almost have lift off…).

I mean I had two interpreters sitting within one meter from me and the deaf girl in the first row. There was no way I could ignore their presence and it was a constant reminder for me that kept me in check.

Another related idea: I haven’t really tested for accessibility before. Now it was as if I had to constantly keep tabs on the accessibility of my speech, and the presentation in general because the need was real.

So here’s a public speaking heuristic called “Help the Interpreter” I’ll be using from now on: while giving a talk imagine a sign language interpreter sitting next to you and think of helping him/her do his/her job well.

***

Last but not least, I had a very nice chat with Björn Kinell who drove me from Runö to Örebro. And I got to meet Torbjörn Ryber again and catch up a little bit. So despite being beyond tired afterwards, I still say it was worth it.

So maybe you know of a place where someone teaches software testing. Maybe you could contribute by meeting aspiring testers. If nothing happens, then nothing happens. Make things happen just by sharing your experience.

orebro

Proof that I was there (or in some room somewhere that looks like a classroom)

Transpection Tuesdays Still Going Strong

Since September 2013 Erik Brickarp and me have spent a few hours on (most) Tuesdays to discuss testing or our lives and careers in relation to testing. What started as a spontaneous experiment has turned into a routine, a staple in our lives, a commitment. Erik spoke about Transpection Tuesday at #SWET peer conference (Swedish Workshop on Exploratory Testing), I gave a 99 second talk about it at TestBash last year and a lightning talk at work. We’ve both spoken about it to several people over time. We have tried to demystify Transpection Tuesday as well as we can because we do get questions about how it works and what we talk about, and, probably most of all, why we keep going.

So we ended up doing a kind of retrospective on Transpection Tuesdays a while ago. We attempted to answer questions such as “What kind of specific questions have we tried to answer?”, “Why has it been a good idea to keep going?”, “What formats have we used and how have the formats evolved?”. We also used some elements from the PROOF debriefing mnemonic.

At least one blog post has come out of this retrospection… Maybe there will be more. This one will offer answers for the question:

What are some good reason to keep Transpection Tuesdays going?

A Never-Ending Conference

We met in person  at Let’s Test 2013 and Transpection Tuesday has been a way to keep the conference going. It’s as if it never ended. Conferences provide social learning experiences that can be empowering, energizing and motivating. Discussing and exchanging experiences, letting down your guard and freely exploring ideas (or rather, conferring about ideas) help make sense of your own experience and thoughts, and help look at them from new and undiscovered perspectives. New ideas are necessary for solving problems you haven’t solved yet. The positive “slap on the back” you get after a good and open discussion is just what you may need to turn a new idea into action.

This is very much what Transpection Tuesday is about. Talking face-to-face over Skype is a personal and engaging way of socializing that doesn’t compare to Twitter chatter or emails. It’s a no pressure, no risk, relaxed environment that makes a great weekly conferring session.

A Supporting Structure

We are both driven to become better at testing. We’re passionate about testing. We both see many ways in which we could grow as testers. Having a fellow tester along on the journey has made us braver and more confident to face and take up challenges, and make changes in our professional lives. A lot of the time Transpection Tuesday is about giving and getting support in our ventures.

I feel that the sense of unconditional support that is readily available helps to overcome obstacles faster. There is hardly any need to keep circling a problem alone for a long time or think long and hard about who to talk to or ask advice from. I just have to wait until next Tuesday (or drop an emergency email) to get a problem thoroughly dissected, analyzed and discussed.

There is so much to learn about testing and sometimes it can feel a little intimidating to try to handle it all. Transpection Tuesdays sometimes are about overcoming the fear of complexity and failure in a low-pressure and safe environment. Having experienced dismantling some testing problems together has helped us realize that sometimes we know more than we first thought… or less, in which case we can consciously fix this problem.

A Habit of Keeping an Eye on The Ball

Transpection Tuesday is a way to keep ourselves focused on learning and development by discussing relevant topics regularly. Thinking about and discussing new concepts, revisiting known ideas to explore them further, or reflecting on and making sense of our daily happenings related to testing is a routine for us. It’s like our special tester’s mental floss. We want to floss regularly, don’t we?

We pick topics based on what interests us or what problems we need to solve at work. So one way of looking at it is that we sharpen our focus at work and think whether an idea or a problem would make a useful discussion and learning material. Chances are that we haven’t covered this particular topic or we think it’s worth revisiting to see if and how we’ve changed our thinking about it. This way we scout for interesting things we want to know more about (which keeps us looking) to take to Transpection Tuesdays (which makes us focused).

A Return on the Investment

It’s fair to ask whether one couldn’t just develop their skills and understanding about testing on their own. Why bother with such commitments to someone else but yourself? We find that the time we spend on Tuesdays is a return on our investment. We feel that we’d spend so much longer on our own getting to where we are now. A heuristic I use is that I’ve become more confident in my knowledge and skills thanks to Transpection Tuesdays. This is a major return on the investment for me.

Mentoring Is (Low-)key

We have different experiences, backgrounds (an electronics engineer meets an English major) and careers (a tester turned into a teacher of testing meets technical writer turned into a tester/test lead) which makes it all the more interesting. Mentoring each other isn’t something we try to do on purpose. We’ve just found that it’s something that happens when we discuss topics that one or the other has more experience with. So it’s low-key mentoring.

We nudge each other, give feedback and sometimes say “wow, that was brilliant because…” or “ok, this was a little bit stupid but let me help you…”. We know each other well enough to know when to keep pushing and asking questions and when to pull back or give time to breathe. This is one of the benefits of keeping at it for a year and a half: you know the other person well enough that even if you accidentally push too much they will forgive you.

We Don’t Know Why But We Just Do It

Eventually, when all of the above fails to explain why we keep doing Transpection Tuesday, it may well be because we haven’t fully understood it ourselves or aren’t yet able to express it eloquently enough. We feel like we’re just scraping the surface and that there is some underlying fundamental reason it works so well. Sorry, we’ll try again sometime.