The Roaring Success of the First Ever Transpection Tuesday

I just like hyperboles 🙂

It was the brain that was roaring afterwards unable to flip the “Sleep” switch on. It was a success because I felt it’s going to help solve problems or clarify thinking. It was the first ever for me and Erik to do together. It had elements of transpection in it but the session definitely took its own path(s) (we can always excuse ourselves by saying we’re “young and stupid”… oh wait! We are adenturous and curious instead!). And finally, I chose Tuesday because of alliteration. We can make it a thing like #transpectiontuesday

This blog post explains and reflects on what the hell happened during Transpection Tuesday.

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The What and the Why

Since we chatted on Monday and I had to admit Erik’s insights helped big time to make sense of some stuff, I proposed this: let’s pick a topic and do a Skype session on it to dig deeper, question, learn from each other’s insights and see where we end up. Erik and me spent more than 3 hours discussing various threads that followed from Erik’s topic: why do we self-educate ourselves?

We didn’t set a time limit which is probably the main reason we clocked at 3 hours. The main reason we had to stop was because it was getting late not because we ran out of things to say and reflect on.

The collective notes are here: TTnotesSept102013.

Sure, there were plenty of things we didn’t come up with and the list of additional angles can grow long. But this is not the point… we weren’t trying to cover everything anyway.

As Erik pointed out, we could also try to stick to one topic better next time we do it. But it was fun to explore different threads that stemmed from previous threads that stemmed from preivous… and so on. We also ended up discussing a lot of things that didn’t make it to the notes but were relevant to us (personal experiences, some psychological stuff, giving feedback). So all those pages make up just the skeleton of the session. Since we didn’t record it, we don’t have more meat at this point. But I’m satisfied with the notes as they are.

What It Was Like

We took turns in presenting ideas and used short monologues where one was speaking and putting out ideas about our topic. The other one listened and took some notes, then responded by adding to points or throwing some more ideas on the field of discussion. We asked each other questions but it probably something to focus on more next time.

There were ideas we spent more time on than others and sometimes I felt like we’re moving pretty fast from topic to topic which, on some ways, is exactly the kind of conversation I enjoy. Such a discussion for me is about quickly mapping the terriory.

Erik kept saying” there’s something else”, so this was like a sign for moving on and finding new ideas.

There’s a lot I could say about the experience but I’d end up with a long rambling text. Therefore, I’m just putting down some key points only. I’ll probably have other thoughts on it later which may not make to a blog post so if the list isn’t profound, then let it be known that the cogwheels are still turning.

  • full acceptance of things said is key in order to avoid self-cencorship in discussion – “no bullshit” mode
  • be patient and have fun with jumping from topic to topic
  • somewhat outrageous connections may take place (randomly insert discussion of early Christianity)
  • good collaboration on listening and synthesizing
  • having fun, following the energy
  • quick summaries of “what we have so far”
  • having an “articulate mirror” provides surprising insights
  • ask “why”

Anything good?

Yes. I just feel like the good stuff happened in my head: some things clicked to places. I felt the thinking through of some concerns and problems helped me downsize them for myself. I feel like I have a better grip on the topic than before. Apparently, the results I can describe right now are more of a subtle kind than very concrete. However, in my personal reality, they’re completely relevant.

I’ll take a couple of more days but then take some action on my self-education plan as well.

One thing is certain – we’ll do this again. Excited to explore!

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What I Learned: Coaching Testers with James Bach and Ann-Marie Charrett

Thanks to the ever charitable Rosie Sherry, I was able to attend the course “Coaching Testers” in Brighton earlier this March. I was expecting to learn about the mechanics of coaching and to reframe and reevaluate my previous (practical but mostly intuition-based) experience. In this post I’m going to give an overview of what I learned from the first half of the training (for the sake of my readers and for the sake of me writing shorter blog posts :)).

What I liked about the course was that after a fairly brief introduction about the coach-tester relationship and the coaching space, we got to work and conducted a brief testing session as a student, then reversed the roles. Just 15+15 minutes later I had learned a couple of lessons.

Firstly, even if the coaching session has a relatively “loose goal” at the beginning, it is important for the coach to pick a trail quickly enough to avoid a situation where there are two lambs (not just one) wandering on the meadow. Of course, it is challenging to pick a suitable topic when you hardly know the person and their skills. I’m thinking that even a preliminary coaching session for mapping the student’s skills and building the relationship is a good start.

Secondly, beware of the magic and mechanics of hearing, listening and processing student’s responses. For example, I picked up on a vague explanation my student gave and I wanted him to be more specific. He explained again. I wasn’t satisfied and applied some more pressure. He explained again. Since I had a fairly specific answer in mind and I didn’t hear it, then… well. Luckily, James was observing this exchange and said “oh, but he IS more specific now!”.

I suddenly realized that while trying to process the student’s answer, I was comparing it to my preconceived answer I would have given. This made me deaf to what he was saying. I felt like I had slapped myself. At least I am now a wiser slapped version of myself.

Discussing it later, I was relieved to hear from James and Ann-Marie what I already suspected: improving the process of  listening, processing, and giving feedback is a matter of mechanics and practice.

Thirdly, focus on what and how the student is doing not on how you could do it better. It doesn’t matter. This is the conclusion Anis drew from coaching me (and I share his sentiment). Demonstration and concrete examples are in order if the student is in the state of “spinning wheels” and it seems to be very difficult for him/her to get back on track; or it may be part of establishing your credibility as a coach. But don’t rush it. It’s about the student’s skills.

These lessons I learned nicely fit into the model of the coaching space that James and Ann-Marie introduced. In this model, the coach and the tester bring similar elements to the coaching arena: both have their context, expectations, abilities, etc, yet these may not be shared through joint experiences (though I think that long-term coaching sessions would increase the overlap to some extent). Both share some of each other’s roles: the coach learns from the student, the student can facilitate coach’s learning. On that arena, there is energy (and trust) between the tester and the coach that needs to be managed. If I remember correctly, the managing of energy was initially attributed to the coach. But I think through the discussions we came to an agreement that energy and trust are to be read and managed by both (if we didn’t agree, then I guess this is how I interpreted it). Yet the portion of managing the pressure belongs mostly to the coach. And then there is direction given by the coach which provides the method for the session.

Using this model, I could describe my lessons as follows:

lack of direction on the coach’s part can make the energy wither so that the coach and the tester wander apart and maybe even leave the arena;

abilities and expectations can be different between the coach and the tester but one can find the other as a source for improvement (I can practice and improve a certain aspect of my listening skills);

giving direction should be administered with care and attention so that the coaching session wouldn’t turn into a training session without planning to do so.

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These are some initial thoughts in context… I’m still processing the experience, so more to come.

Nordic Testing Days 2012: Keynote – How to Become a Really Great Tester by Torbjörn Ryber

When checking in to the conference, I was handed Tobbe’s “Essential Software Test Design” along with the rest of the conference stuff. I smiled because I remembered the hours I had spent reading this. It was one of the first books (if not THE first book) I ever read on testing back in the autumn of 2010. This was just a couple of months after I had started as the team lead of the testing and documentation team.

I re-read some chapters several times, I tried out different bug report stuff customizing to my context; I photocopied some sections so I could scribble my notes and go wild with my highlighter (I had borrowed this book from somebody working at a different company) and I shared this with my only tester on the team. Thinking about it makes me nostalgic, actually. I had just started, gone through Rapid Software Testing course, seriously started reading and researching and practicing… I have come a long way since then.

Yet, Tobbe’s keynote reminded me that I have a VERY long way to go. So much for feeling good about myself.

I don’t have many handwritten notes from this presentation because my pen went on strike, so I have lonely words and desperate scribbles in my notes (so I probably have forgotten some punchlines).

However, what I took with me and what stuck with me was the following (Tobbe’s points + my musings):

  • above all, you need to be motivated to become a great tester. One might say it’s a given or stating the obvious. But well, sometimes the obvious things must be stated to trigger recognition. The ever-frequent moment of recognizing old truths is what this statement was good for. And then you have all the more reason to dig into your motivation: what is it that really drives you? If that is not easy to answer, I suggest thinking about what are your values in life. I learned that at a training. Knowing what is important in your life in general also means you know what motivates you (hmm… maybe I should write a blog post about it later…).
  • just wanting to be a great tester is not enough.  You must have a plan. And then you need to execute it. Obviously, execution is the hardest part (no pun intended), and this is what separates wannabes from serious folks.
  • practical stuff: if you delve into something, then a good way to solidify your learning is to write a paper. I am planning to do that. Also, I am planning to ask my team members to organize their learning into papers.
  • I took a note to find out what is effect mapping .
  • I also promised myself that I would create a plan (more on this in next blog posts).
  • Thinking critically is something a tester cannot do without, obviously. I think I’m doing that as I tend to analyze stuff (all kind of stuff) but I think I need to learn to communicate the results of my analysis better sometimes (especially to people who know little about testing).
  • “Say NO to bad stuff”. YES! I want to say “YES” to that. This is something I feel strongly about. When I started, it was one of the first things I had to learn to do. A lot. I agree with Tobbe that it is absolutely necessary because then you have time for the “good stuff”. I’d also add that then you’re going to have time to do what matters, and have an impact instead of doing what you’re told and not being able to apply yourself. However, learning how to say “no” to people you’re working with (in my case, Americans who often misunderstand Estonian bluntness) is also important. I had to learn it the hard way but I have got better at it.
  • “Testing should be fun”. I totally agree and I have tried to make work fun for my team. We actually laugh a lot during the day as jokes fly around about bugs or whatever comes up.

All in all, it’s a keynote I have thought a lot about because it probably put my mind on the right track.

Tobbe’s presentation slides can be found here: http://nordictestingdays.eu/2012/uploads/Presentations/How%20to%20become%20a%20really%20great%20tester%20-%20Torbj%C3%B6rn%20Ryber.pdf