2015: A Bipolar Year

I mostly write this review of 2015 for myself because I’m good at forgetting the good stuff. There shall be personal stuff in the post, so you’ve been warned it’s not only about testing.

The Darkness

2015 was a weird year. There were some great things that happened in my (testing) life and career but also some things that really stretched my capacity for grief, that ended some traditions, that ended my family as I’ve known it for a long time. I woke up in New York in the middle of the night after TestBash to learn that I have no more grandmas left. I lost both of them within less than a year. And cancer ate up a close family member. He was a couple of years younger than me. It’s one thing to lose someone suddenly, it’s entirely different to see your loved ones suffer and turn into people you don’t know, to see them in this state and realize their life is over very soon, or hear “there is nothing we can do anymore” from a doctor. I’ve been to many funerals in my life. You’d think it gets easier but it’s tougher in a way because you know exactly how you will feel and you still have to go through it. The nice charts of stages of grief are a load of bullcrap anyway…

The Highlights

There were some great highlights for me in 2015 beside the darkness (which is why I call 2015 a bipolar year).

Work

I started my job as Head of Testing in February 2015. That was a step in a different direction for me as I’ve previously worked as a team lead. So now I’m the competence lead for testing in a 600 people organization.

Conferences

I spoke at Copenhagen Context and TestBash New York.

You can listen to the podcast where I discussed my talk with Mark and you can listen to my talk here: https://dojo.ministryoftesting.com/lessons/the-story-of-a-strange-seed-helena-jeret-mae

I was the program chair for Nordic Testing Days. Technically, I put the program together already in 2014 but I was involved in marketing and different kind of activities behind the scenes up until the conference (and then ran around frantically while my testing friends tried to tell me to calm down). I was a nervous wreck for the fact that quite a few speakers had to be replaced during the months leading up to the conference as they dropped out for one reason or another, and one of them dropped out the night before… I was extremely grateful for having three presenters immediately offer to do a talk, and great kudos go to Katrina Clokie who ended up doing one. In the end I was satisfied with how the program turned out because my goal was to help create a conference that I would like to go to. The theme “Agents of Change” was close to my heart and it looks like it touched other people, too.

Erik and me got accepted to Let’s Test 2016 and we’ll be doing a workshop there!

I attended Let’s Test 2015 which was awesome. After that I visited Erik’s class of future testers in Örebro.

I was invited to TITANconf by Kristoffer Nordström and spent a couple of wonderful days in Karlskrona discussing leadership and testing in the company of a bunch of great testers across Europe. I mean we had a dedicated conference beer! What could be better…

I also attended the fifth PEST (Peers of Estonian Software Testing) where we enjoyed the workshop Kristjan Uba had set up for us. We were trying to figure out if testing craft was social or technical.

Problem Solving Leadership

A very important highlight not only because I met Jerry Weinberg and ravaged the bookshelves in his house (twice!) but because I learned a lot of useful stuff that I keep going back to (this must be the PSL-ers’ mantra). I definitely don’t look at the world the same way after learning from Esther and Jerry.

It’s also no less important that I could attend PSL with my friend Erik. I’m pretty sure we doubled the ROI between the two of us by having discussions and analysis sessions during the workshop. In any case, he’s one of the people who kept me sane last year.

Learning

I learned about how to figure out what my job is supposed to be (a surprisingly unobvious thing that I hope to blog about). I learned that doing research and collecting data can be useful but also incredibly frustrating if you can’t make sense of it, and can’t find a good way to make sense of it. I also learned how it feels to be somewhat afraid of your research results

I learned about designing and carrying out workshops and retrospectives. I ran a couple of workshops alone in the offices where I travelled to. In collaboration with my colleague Siim Sutrop we designed and carried out a workshop for tutors who would be teaching a batch of newbie programmers. We also designed special retrospectives for the tutors and the newbies separately to gather their feedback. And now we are on to designing and testing a framework for helping the tutors to learn to tutor. Since Siim has been experimenting with retrospectives in his team, I got to sponge on his experiences.

I learned how to run a Lean Coffee. I’ve run the events internally and also facilitated the first public Lean Coffee in Tartu.

I learned about change management and change patterns. Some of it I knew, some of it was new. I want to drive some changes, so I need to know how this works. Luckily, I have a new colleague now who is the change management manager and I can learn from hear (trust me, I’m like a sponge now) and we make a great team, too.

I learned to look at testing and testing problems in a 600 people organization spread across 6 countries. I love systems thinking because without it I’d still have blinders on (or maybe I still do, who know…). I’m not sure I advanced my knowledge very much about testing topics this year but I did learn a lot about how testing looks like to a wide variety of people on different places in the hierarchy.

I learned about understanding my skills from Alexandra Casapu in her wonderful workshop at Let’s Test. I had some discussions with her afterwards and shared my thoughts on the workshop. She also created a prototype webpage for building your skills map. I’m planning on creating a similar workshop for testers in my organization.

I learned about career development and job descriptions. It’s difficult. Really difficult. I will have to write about this at some point to explain. When it comes to the seniority levels, my instict says “RUN!” because people are different and “cookie-cuttering” them doesn’t make sense. I don’t personally care for the junior/senior distinction because I’m looking at the content of my work and the value it delivers (and I look the same way at others’ and I don’t care that much about seniority). But it looked like these things are important for other people, so I tried to document the skills and knowledge for each level so that it still makes sense to me. There’s still work to be done.

I learned to hate the word “guidelines”.

I learned about how HR works as I supported them throughout the year.

I learned that (internally) consulting a project that was messy is hard. I need to go back to Weinberg’s “Secrets of Consulting”. I guess the good thing was I was able to identify someone to take the lead in testing matters and help her enough so that she succeeded and is still going strong.

I learned that joining sketchnoting skills and systems thinking can be nifty. I sketched the organization from different angles to explain to C-level where and why I saw problems that they could help to solve.

I learned that I really like to work with people to help them grow. But hey, I actually knew this before 🙂

I observed that if I keep thinking and sharing my thoughts, chances are I will hear them repeated at some point. Not sure what I would learn from this but hey…

I learned… probably many other things but these have already been incorporated with my existing body of knowledge.

Travelling

I travelled to 3 new countries for work purposes (Lithuania, Serbia (2x), Romania (2x)). In Romania I had the pleasure of having some beers with some folks from Tabara de Testare. In Belgrade, I managed to meet Predrag and talk testing next to some great Serbian food. And I guess we’ll have some great Estonian food and beer in Tallinn as Predrag will be speaking at Nordic Testing Days in June.

I travelled to the US twice (for TestBash and for PSL). I also travelled to Denmark and Sweden (Copenhagen Context, TITANconf).

I travelled to 3 new countries for vacation purposes (Slovakia, Austria, Hungary).

And in the process I had layovers in Finland, Germany and Latvia. That makes 12 countries visited… Yes, at some point people asked if I was still working or only flying around because it looked like I was departing somewhere every few weeks. Last autumn it was somewhat true…

Testing Stuff

I signed up with Testlio to do some hands-on mobile testing and to understand how their platform works. That was fun and also allowed me to polish my self-organization skills because one has to be efficient to get the most testing time out of the 1 or 2-hour slot.

Other than that I did very little hands-on testing. Which is why I this part of my brain gets itchy and I need to find some way to scratch the itch this year (and also to not let my skills atrophy too much). Helping other people to solve their testing problems is one thing but I don’t feel like it would keep me very fresh.

I guess that’s it. Sorry for another mammoth post but that’s the way I roll.

Here’s to 2016! I know you will be awesome.

Writing Conference Proposals

I have had some success with speaking at conferences (Nordic Testing Days 2013, Copenhagen Context 2014, TestBash NY 2015). That being said, I’m in no way on the plus side when you deduct the rejected proposals from the accepted ones (and then there are those I was on the brink of submitting but never did). I do have some experience with reading a couple of hundred proposals being part of different program committees. So here are some thoughts on writing conference proposals that I have developed based on the experience I’ve described. I’ve also critically looked back at my own earlier proposals and winced a lot. I hope I can offer some useful pointers to aspiring conference speakers to make something good come out of my wincing wrinkles. I assume you bring good content because I’m mostly going to cover the form.

I feel like I’ve developed some sort of a way of writing conference proposals that I’m comfortable with. It has taken me about 3 years, rejections, self-doubt, and reading a lot of proposals. As far as the latter is concerned, I’ve been lucky to have been on 2 different program committees and I’ve been the program chair for Nordic Testing Days 2015 which has helped me develop some insights that I’ve found useful when writing conference proposals.

Read Fiction

One of the basic premises of learning to write well is to read a lot. Preferably, you should read a lot of fiction, even if you’re primarily writing non-fiction texts such as blog posts, articles on testing, or conference proposals. There are several articles available about the benefits of reading fiction if you look around the internet. In my experience, fiction gives you access to different kinds of worlds which is good for your imagination.

Reading fiction also gives you access to different textual worlds where to pick up subtle cues about

  • style,
  • syntax, and
  • vocabulary.

Of course, it also makes sense to read non-fiction texts. If you read a good article on testing and  an article you don’t fancy so much, try to describe to yourself what you liked or didn’t like, which one flowed better, what kind of weaknesses you noticed.

Read Other Proposals. Many of them.

I feel like reading a large number of proposals has given me a fairly good list of things that make a good proposal and has helped me learn which proposals aren’t convincing. If you’re not on a program committee, you still have access to conference pages where you can read the selected proposals. It’s a filtered pool, of course, but you will still find some proposals to your liking, and also ones that don’t touch you in any way.

  • Can you notice patterns in the proposals you like? What kind of patterns are they? What about patterns in proposals you don’t like?
  • What kind of structure do the “good proposals” have as opposed to the “bad” ones?
  • Can you spot differences in language, idiom and style between proposals you like and dislike?

The questions above are the ones I’ve used when I’ve done close reading of fiction or philosophical texts.

Study the Genre

If you study a set of proposals closely, you will also learn about the genre of conference proposals. I argue that conference proposals could be looked at as a genre within non-fiction texts. Typically, genres (such as science fiction, romance, fantasy, etc) have certain traits that help you differentiate between texts and categorize them.

Some characteristics for conference proposals (according to my unscientific impressions):

  • appellative function – a conference proposal is meant to convince the reader (that this proposal is worth being selected and presented at the conference) and also the participants (to attend the session once the proposal has been selected). I’ve seen proposals where the author must have forgotten about this function and has focused on explaining their idea to themselves not to others.
  • characteristics of content – conference proposals typically attempt to answer the why, what, and how about the talk or workshop and also reference expecred outcomes for the participants
  • structure – a conference proposal tends to have some sort of introductory paragraph, and another paragraph that contains key takeaways (inline list or bulleted/numbered list) or other information

Brevity and Clarity are Your Best Friends. How to befriend them?

Thou shalt not shackle your tidings in the seductive fumes of adulating idioms and menacing metaphors that shan’t betray the apple of your eye for the epochs to come.

Even if you don’t use excessive metaphors, don’t try to sound like one of those LinkedIn titles (“The FIVE THINGS You Are Doing Wrong”, “The Seven LIFE-CHANGING Ideas to CHANGE YOUR LIFE Today”) that give you all the thrills but none of the content. If you’re too secretive about the content of your talk and cannot concisely summarize your key points in terms of content, then all you leave me the reviewer with is the decision between trusting or not trusting the sensationalist claims. Why would the participants trust you and come listen to the talk? People want to know what they can get (for their money). I will write about reliability at another time…

Read your proposal to yourself out loud. If you stumble or stop, that’s a heuristic for a potential problem. Thinking and speaking are related in our brain and actually activating the muscles to form words with your mouth can change how you think and feel about the words and the ideas behind them.

Pitch your talk in a minute. Now pitch it in 30 seconds. A mirror will do and your countenance shall be your partner. That’s how I test the conciseness of my message and the clarity of my thinking.

Getting your proposal reviewed is a good tactics to employ (and a good exercise in getting over yourself). I’ve noticed that sometimes I’ve written the draft in one way but when I show it someone and they ask some simple questions, and I start explaining the content again, I end up with better focus and a better nutshell.

You can use rhetorical questions as a device but don’t go crazy with them and develop a whole paragraph with wandering thoughts peppered with questions. It’s normal to have such a version in the draft form. I typically try to write more at first to clarify my own thinking. However, later it’s time to cut the fat and make it lean. Simplify, refine, and clarify.

Don’t overdo brevity so that your proposal is just three short sentences and I’m left wondering…

“Why” is your “Bestest” friend

Whichever way you start out writing your proposal, at some point you have to address the “why” behind your message. I’ve seen plenty of proposals lacking the clear answer to “why this talk matters to some people” (or even to the author). You can address the “why” in different forms, such as key takeaways.

Copycats?!

This is something you’ve heard before: practice makes (you) perfect great enough. If you study others’ proposals, you may feel like emulating someone’s style when writing your own proposal. Actually, this can be a good idea. Don’t get frightened that you’d be plagiarizing their work – you’ll just be practicing by copying their work. One of my favourite authors Hunter S. Thompson copied “The Great Gatsby” to get the feeling for how it must be to write like Fitzgerald. He also copied Hemingway. There are other writers who’ve done that, too. This is a different kind of practice when you’re developing your own voice and style for writing proposals.

Some Well-worn Advice

Related to copycats, there’s another piece of forlorn well-worn advice: be yourself. Whatever is truly unique about you will shine through the short piece of writing that a conference proposal really is. So you may end up writing proposals that aren’t quite like you because you’re still learning from others or you get affected by your reviewers. But… over time the conference proposals will emerge that look like you, feel right, and, potentially, get accepted (I haven’t talked about the content but have assumed your content is also relevant and interesting). The only way to get there is to keep writing the proposals. Look back on the ones you’ve written, ask for feedback after they were rejected, and see if you can come up with something else.

***

I’m nowhere near scoring a speaking engagement every time I submit but I personally feel like I’m finally getting a grip on how it feels TO ME if I write a proposal that gets accepted. I’ve taken note of how the accepted proposals are different from the rejected ones (both in terms of content and form) and I’ve done it in the ways I’ve described above.

Let me know in the comments if you have some great tips that you’ve found useful. I’m sure I’ve left stuff out as I wrote about things that came to mind right now.

Problem Solving Leadership: An Experience

I’m back from the sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico having spent more than a week with some bright minds to figure out this problem solving business. For me, problems started even before PSL as Lufthansa canceled their flights. James reminded me this could all be Jerry’s doing… Considering it now after PSL I would not be surprised 🙂

Problem Solving Leadership in only one word? Profound.

Although using just one word really isn’t enough to describe the experience PSL provides. It’s a big investment (if you pay your own way like I did) and it’s not for everyone. Why? Because you’ll be somewhat uncomfortable, you’ll have to reflect a lot, you’ll have to go deep, you may be annoyed, you’ll be buried under information and/or feelings… It’s all good if you like it but like I said, it may not be everyone’s taste.

PSL doesn’t give you pre-packaged answers. Sure there are drops of wisdom (or if Jerry gets in the groove, it’s more like being sprinkled). I also think PSL is a very personal experience that is mostly about you and your growth. It’s not like you can’t take anything back to your team from PSL but I feel like the biggest thing I brought back was the change in me. The lessons and thoughts need time to be processed. It will take some time before I have rebuilt parts of my thinking (and myself).

What was my PSL like for me? What did I see? Hear? Feel? Experience?

I experienced one hour of the most exhilirating team work I’ve ever been part of. We needed some Kleenex after that.

I kicked someone in the nuts. Not too seriously but… it was part of the thing we had to do. It was extremely funny, though.

I learned important lessons about separating observation and interpretation. Then I became worried about my interpretations.

I learned that people can make anything into a hard problem. Including myself.

I received valuable feedback about how I behave in stressful situations. I was vaguely aware of it but hadn’t realized the effects fully. I’m extremely focused and get things done but if I’m running at my full capacity, talking to me is an option to be perused carefully.

I had many valuable conversations over meals. Or late into the night. There’s interesting stuff that can happen and much of the time the participants help each other learn in different ways.

I feel more zen and restless after PSL. It’s ambiguous.

I noticed some opportunities where I didn’t chime in because I thought I knew nothing. Hello, impostor!

I learned some things about trust I hadn’t realized before.

Erik and me were finally able to get to the bottom of why we keep doing our Transpection Tuesdays. Or at least we got much deeper than ever before.

I realized I should jiggle and relax more.

I learned to be careful about getting caught up in content and forgetting about the process (and vice versa).

I learned some useful things about “divide and conquer” and how to do it.

I realized I’m a detailed big picture person – I need the big picture to know where I’m going and judging whether what I do on a detailed level makes sense. I need to keep things in the frame.

I learned to give and receive appreciation. This is powerful. It surfaces and heals.

I went to a state fair for the first time and saw rodeo live for the first time. They’re nuts! (I mean both the men and the horses… and the muttons…).

I got to ravage through Jerry’s bookshelves… I love me some books.

I could go on but…

***

I am doing quite a bit of self-reflection on a regular basis (talking to others, journaling) and I feel like the awareness helped quite a bit during PSL. The topics that came up and the lessons I learned connected to what I was aware about already, so it expanded my awareness even more. I also had thought through the reasons why I wanted to attend PSL and had formulated my own learning goals. To my delight, the PSL prework also covered these things. I believe that being aware and having set some goals for yourself, and, generally, having some reason to attend PSL can enhance the experience.

***

This time around there were quite a few people who  knew each other before PSL (a group of testers). Me and Erik, of course, knew each other very well. It was great to get to know these people in more depth. And it also felt great to let them get to know me more. With some discomfort I realized how little I knew about them before (and I probably still know little). But it’s more now!

With Erik we had many conversations and processing sessions on top of those in class. These were some looooong days but I feel like we maximized what we could by spending more time on thinking and discussing. And we were able to arrive on some conclusions that were pretty profound for us and that I suspect we wouldn’t have reached outside PSL context (at least not further in the future).

***

If you go to PSL, do yourself a favor and arrive a couple of days earlier. I had a great time discovering Albuquerque, and we had a really great group hike before the class that somehow helped us get into the groove of things (or maybe it was only me :)).

***

One final question: do I think it’s worth it? (It = the money, the effort, the travel)

It was worth it for me, absolutley. Alas, I cannot speak for you. Talk to people, gather the impressions (I suggest avoiding specific descriptions of exercises because come on, there’s no point in “preparing” this way), look into yourself, and decide.

5 Years in Testing

My life changed 5 years ago today when I started as team lead for the testing and documentation team.

I knew nothing about testing. I had a vague idea about it at best.

I knew nothing about team leading or building a team.

I knew very little about software development in general except for what I observed while working as a technical writer.

My background in the humanities didn’t make it look like I would last for long.

Fast forward 5 years and I’m still here. Who knew? And, more importantly, why am I still here?

***

Well, I guess my to-be boss knew something about me that I didn’t when he asked me if I’d like to take the chance. It seems to be a recurring theme in the past 5 years: people around me point (or push) me to try and do things I didn’t know I could do. Sometimes I kick and scream but when I go for trying something (a peer conference, a test challenge) it usually ends up being rewarding. So I don’t know what’s the real lesson here: should I just think I have a lot of blindspots about myself (in which case it’s great to have smarter people around me)?

I know that the people in the testing community have made a great difference for me by talking to me (even when I was scared to say something for the fear of saying something stupid – I probably have said stupid things along the way), sharing, helping, mentoring in one way or another… I never knew how powerful the connection between like-minded people could be and how it can propel me forward. Now I believe in and advocate for simply bringing people together and supporting their interactions as a way to make things happen. Sometimes you may not know what’s really going to happen but that’s OK. I want surprises.

I’ve learned many things about myself. The environments I’ve been in have brought out the good and the bad in me. I’ve discovered integrity and grit in me that make me push myself to find yet another solution after having tried and failed several times. It has helped me through situations where it would be easier to just do what you’re told but which would make me feel like I would break and be lost forever if I did that. I’ve learned that I’m not good at just following orders: I prefer to think for myself and understand the situation fully, and make my own decisions because I can understand them and can be responsible for my work.

I’ve also discovered that I have a long way to go when handling manipulative people or dealing with certain conflicts in a productive way. I’m very grateful to my manager that was patient when I was sarcastic and ironic, and whom I could observe and learn from as he dealt with similar situations. I’ve learned from other managers who’ve shared their approach and who inspire me with how cool they are with conflict. It’s not about the fight. It’s an opportunity to get somewhere.

I’ve learned to think critically in a different way as compared to what I was taught at the university. It was almost uncanny when I realized how much learning to think like a tester intervened with my “academic” mode of thinking. I somewhat got into trouble with that over my MA thesis… On the other hand, I’ve found useful takeaways from my education to use in the testing field related to doing research and analyzing problems. What I’ve added now is systems thinking and wow, does world make more sense or what… Learning to think like a tester has taught me to think. Period.

I’ve learned that testing is wonderful because of the endless brain-tickling opportunities. I remember that even when I was younger I loved the feeling in my head when the pieces of information clicked together and the world transformed – I’d brought an unknown unknown into my world which made it a known thing for me. And it made the world more exciting. Testing provides such moments all the time for me. There is always something to figure out. There is always the chance you’re wrong, so uncertainty and doubt will be your trusty companions. Since I question myself quite a lot, it kind of fits me… This will keep me thinking, learning, re-evaluating, and searching.

There are many wonderful things humans can do using their skills and tools. Maybe I’m not so good at using a plethora of testing tools but I’ve discovered I’m somewhat good “at people”. I tend to care about them… And I like the feeling of having made a difference. Therefore, human-centric testing gives me plenty of space for helping to solve problems, change something, and learn in the process. It’s a space where the excitement of discovery and learning will be serving a great purpose. Had anyone told me this 10 years ago when I finished high school… It wouldn’t have made sense to me. I mean what can one possibly know about what they could do or are capable of or should do with their life when they finish high school?

I’ve learned that (self-)reflection is a really powerful tool. If you want to double, triple, or quadruple this power, you should reflect with someone together. I’ve always been a person to do this (as long as I can remember myself) but it’s only during the past five years when I’ve seen the benefits of reflecting regulary and with purpose. I won’t be able to discover all my blind spots in the process but I’m getting better and better at it.

In the past 5 years I’ve found that I like to and can be good at training and coaching people. I’d been in testing for a bit less than a year when I had to hire and then train 2 new testers. Whatever I had learned in that year I had to pass on… quickly and effectively. This made me sharpen the focus on how to build the team, how to build skills in the team in a way that would have decisive impact (because ain’t nobody got time to wait until I take my time with it). Building a team for me is about creating the right conditions for people to do their best work. I can be quite protective if someone wants to stop them from doing that (because they have to go over my dead body but I refuse to die or get out of the way).

I also discovered that good leadership and people management is what I’m passionate about. Having reflected on my previous experience and having seen some dire “examples” of mismanagement, I get really fired up when I happen to see one again. I want to help people understand how much impact they actually have as managers and how much awesome it will be if they don’t try to just get by but commit to their team and serve them. I didn’t know I could lead or I would care about this topic so much but I’m glad I know it now. Because now I’m aware and can think of ways how to help. And I believe, maybe naively, that other people can cultivate their leaderhsip skills if they decide they really care.

I used to think volunteers were weird. Why do anything for free and out of your free time? Now I’m a big time weirdo myself thinking, reading, writing, sharing, talking about testing, helping to edit articles, helping to arrange testing events… What I didn’t know before is that if you find something you really like, you want more of it. And you especially want more of it in your free time because… well, it makes you feel awesome.

I guess there are many more lessons (and they would make this post awful long). I’m inredibly grateful for having been given the chance to learn about testing and thankful to myself for having the wits to have taken it. Somehow I’ve made it from a clueless test lead to Head of Testing. I don’t even dare to think of what lies ahead… No, wait! I DO dare to think about it and I will. It would be really weird to find myself in the same place as I am now in the next 5 years… I don’t know where I will end up because I sure as hell didn’t know I would end up where I am.

I want to thank everyone who has helped me in any way, who has taken the time to talk to me, who has had to exercise their patience to talk me into things (or out of things), who has taught me even if they don’t know they have. Thank you.

Here’s to many more!

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.

Skill Development List 2015

Inspired by Erik Brickarp’s Skill Development List, I decided to create my own for 2014. I decided to keep up the tradition and created a list for 2015 as well. Having learned a few lessons, this time the list will be different.

Keywords for 2015: focus and skills

Backlog

  • blog posts: taking the new job by the balls; retrospectives; BBST; sketchnoting
  • testing: focused practice sessions with the goal of being able to explain skills, heuristics and oracles used
  • programming: working through Learn Python the Hard Way
  • life: more yoga and meditation, less wasting of time; figuring out what I really want to do; daily journaling; getting a good routine in place
  • learning: PSL; creating a new workshop; asking for coaching/challenges; BBST Test Design course
  • work: find opportunities for growth, make sure I keep learning new things
  • community: find something new to bring to the table

WIP

  • Transpection Tuesdays