It’s This Time of the Year 2013

Since I have the tendency to forget the good and remember the bad, this blog post serves as a future reminder about things that I should be proud of.

Events and such

Let’s Test conference – it inspired and “rehydrated” me in significant ways. Without it, I know I wouldn’t really be where I am now.

BBST 2.0 – I actually did it. I’m still kind of baffled about it but hey, I’ve got proof! I know I need to go back to some of the stuff we covered but I plan on doing this in 2014.

Speaking at Nordic Testing Days – here I’d like to borrow a saying. Proud but not satisfied is what I am. This characterizes me sentiment best.

Interviewing James Bach and Michael Bolton with Simon Knight – a very entertaining and rewarding experience. I wish I could have gone one for a few more hours but well…

Coaching Testers with James Bach and Ann-Marie Charrett – a genuine learning experience topped off by awesome location (Brighton – I’m coming back to you next year!).

Taking a break – well, I’m the kind who takes a break when my body physycially “yells” at me that I should stop (meaning I have low fever which doesn’t go away and I feel like a zombie). So I took this yelling seriously and decided to take a break. After finishing BBST I went traveling (planned not spontaneous). And since then I haven’t really kept track of blogs, or articles or Twitter. I’ve been tweeting some but I’m not pushing myself.

Transpection Tuesdays – my weekly dose of sanity checking and inspiration.

Sketchnoting – not an event but I’m glad I discovered it.

Work

Risk reporting is probably the single most important thing I did. I do have a draft post that I’ve been fidgeting with but haven’t posted yet about what has happened since I started with risk reporting. I promise I’m going to publish it and I hope it’s going to be an interesting read.

People

Erik Brickarp – probably the single biggest influence on my testing life this year.

Huib Schoots – thank you for telling me I’m not crazy (or something along those lines).

Scott Barber who posted the most awesome and inspiring comment on my blog.

And a bunch of others from Twitter and elsewhere (new and old acquainances) that have greatly contributed to my wellbeing with their mere existence (and some kind words) 🙂 I won’t try to list the names for the fear of leaving some people out… this would be worse for me at least.

Things I wished I’d done

Read more books/articles – however, I’m tempted to ask why do I think it’s so necessary to read more. I should figure that out in 2014.

Learn more programming – same as above but I still want to learn more. Maybe next year.

Less obsession over obstacles/bad people – I think I’ve been quite patient with a number of people/issues in our company that have to do with how testing is or isn’t included/regarded. It’s hard for me to tell, though, if my patience is wearing out with trying to get the Titanic on the right track or am I just paying too much attention to things I should shrug off. In any case, this year did have some very tough moments emotionally when I doubted if I’m the right person to be doing what I’m doing or if what I’m doing is the right thing or if I’m at the right place. I’m wired to get my motivation from seeing progress, so if I don’t see it and I feel others drifting back into bad patterns (which pretty much tells me that what I do doesn’t matter), then this is the sure way to kill my spirit. I think I should reframe it better, not think about it too much and talk a walk on the bright side (which is difficult because of my ambivalent brain). End rant.

Lessons learned

Focus! Focus! Focus! Do less, think more, then do even less. I think this is one of the major lessons of 2013. I used to be better at focusing but then the context was different. I feel like my brain has overload most of the time which makes me forget a lot. I mean A LOT. It’s somewhat disturbing as I wasn’t this way before. Still have to figure out what to do about it.

Stuff to look forward to in 2014

Some events: Copenhagen Context and TestBash.  I hope to be able to go to Let’s Test. I’m dreaming of CAST…

I’m on the content team for Nordic Testing Days 2014, so I’m looking forward to that experience (the good, the bad, the exciting…). And I’m looking forward to awesome workshop and track proposals!

Learning from my mistakes and improving myself as a tester and test lead. I have a mental list (which I should write down lest I forget) of things I need to consistently work on, so we’ll see if I can keep at it.

Inspiration. I hope I can keep finding it (or else I’m doomed). If I say this… does this actually mean I need to change something in my testing life? Not sure…

***

If there was something else… I may add it later but this is what I could gather from the scorched field that is my memory if 2013.

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Experience Report on Presenting an Experience Report

Sunny morning. A cup of coffee. Kurt is singing. What else to do than reflect on my first conference talk!

So here goes… Hot off the press, uncut version of my experience.

How I Ended Up at Nordic Testing Days

At the last year’s Nordic Testing Days, I was nicknamed QA – Question Assurance. When I attended a track, everyone was assured that questions would be asked. Back then Raimond said to me that maybe I should present next year. I waived this aside as a joke… Me? Presenting at an international conference? Dude, stop it…

This really looked like a huge mountain to climb. The idea kind of stuck with me, though, and got the cogwheels turning (very slightly…). When it was time to submit a CFP, I had a bunch of loosely related ideas but a skype call with Raimond helped me to find better focus, so I was finally able to put it together. He’s the main reason I was able to present at Nordic Testing Days. so a big “thank you” goes out to Raimond Sinivee!

Getting the CFP together was a slow process because I was undermining every sentence. As always.

But then I got accepted and then… shit just got real!

The Topic

My extra special and awfully long title of the talk:

“Knocking on the Door with Kinder Surprise in Hand: Experience Report on Building and Maintaining Relationships between Testers and Programmers”

Why so long? Well, if you’re an English major, you have a knack for long and fancy titles in two parts.

I wanted to frame the talk as an experience report because I don’t feel like I am in a position to present the little I know as a bunch of universal truths. I also framed it like that for myself so that I wouldn’t go into the lecturing mode. I feel very strongly about bad leadership and lack of integrity (leadership and integrity are essential to building great teams, too) so I can get very agitated and go into lecturing mode. So reminding myself that it is my context and my context only helped me keep the focus where it should be.

I thought that probably I have ideas that I can talk about and explain how and what we have done with my team, and then people can figure themselves if they trust my presentation of those ideas to try some of them out. If there was at least one person who will try something I suggested, I think I have done well.

And what about the Kinder Surprises? This ended up being the twist I added to my talk. But it’s a true story: I have given Kinder Surprises to a couple of programmers who have helped with something. Essentially, in the context of the talk a Kinder Surprise is a symbol for the building blocks (attitude, leadership, humanity) that make up the bridge between testers and programmers.

Knocking on the door? This is a reference to trying to open the door between my team and the programmers to get the collaboration going.

Journey

After my CFP was accepted, I didn’t start working on the talk heavily right away. But what I did was that during my 20-minute walks to work and back home, I thought about the different components of my talk, how to tie them together, how to flesh out the key points in sufficient detail, how to support my points and stories with examples from my experience, and which examples to use. Looking back, I guess I did the majority of the work during those brief walks.

When I was little, I used to enjoy switching on the autopilot on my way from home to music school or volleyball practice. My feet knew where I was going but in my head I was narrating all kinds of stories. And then I was suddenly in front of the music school and had to wake up. So I did the same thing now: walking at a leisurely pace while my mind being focused on the talk. The 20 minutes was enough for getting something done in my head without being exhausted.

My main worry was that it’s clear in my head but not expressed clearly. So I tried to retell a piece of my presentation to myself and then see if the words and phrases I used made sense or if the example I used is properly linked to the point. On the one hand, I think it helped. On the other hand, it kind of hurt me too because I was very critical of most of my content… So it was somewhat painful at times…

The other big problem for me was the lack of belief that the talk would be successful. But let’s not revisit those dark depths of my mind… The short explanation is that getting crap about my background in the humanities has played a role.

Also, throughout April and May I had quite a bit of family drama going on. A couple of my closest family members were hospitalized one after another and I didn’t know how well things would turn out… The future looked very gloomy at times. So the time I had planned to spend on preparing had to spent on other things. In the end things got better but I admit I was drained… depleted.

That’s how I arrived at Let’s Test: in desperate need of something to kickstart me and kick me out of the gloom and doom. I still can’t believe my luck that it happened. The energy I sucked in at Let’s Test helped me over the finish line. Not to mention the people whom I have thanked profusely but whom I need to thank again.

I asked Jari Laakso for help and he engaged in a skype discussion with me. He asked a lot of insightful questions and took me on a rollercoaster ride: a tough question or challenging my points followed by cheering me on. This was a good experience for shaking me up.

My talk needed some polishing so my new friends Erik Brickarp and Huib Schoots  from Let’s Test delicately gave me constructive feedback about my talk. I think the most important thing they helped me with was that I saw my ideas meant something for them, so I truly started to believe that these ideas matter to other people as well. That gave me the confidence and I quit putting out the fire in my heart.

Last but not least – my wonderful team! I’m nothing without them and I’m thankful for their support!

The Conference

I arrived in Tallinn the day before and decided to relax and just hang out. I felt the nervousness build up but when I felt that, I just retold the beginning of my talk to myself. This is a great tip I got from Tobbe Ryber. I did that for a few weeks before the conference already and I found that it helped me deal with the adrenaline rush. I usually get this rush just before I have to speak in public and this is normal. But if it’s too much, the heart starts racing too fast, and then it’s difficult to breath normally, and then it’s difficult to think clearly.  And then I may fumble. And stumble. Forget an important thing to say. Et cetera.

But rehearsing the first minutes of my talk helped me to kind of “relive” the talk beforehand and I maybe signalled my body that there’s nothing to worry about.

Despite that I still jolted awake a few times the night before thinking “OMG! I HAVE TO GIVE THE TALK!” and then dropped back to sleep. So in the morning I slept in on purpose. I just wanted to take it slowly and not put any unnecessary pressure on myself or give rise to anxiety.

At breakfast I managed just a small bowl of cereal but I got to hang out and chat with Tobbe Ryber and Sami Söderblom. They also fulfilled the roles of “familiar faces to rely on in the front row” 🙂

So I got my props, put the mic on, and got on stage after Lloyd Roden’s talk on building great teams. What a coincidence… 😀

I had a bit of trouble with the remote/clicker for switching the slides. I don’t know if the transmitter wasn’t working very well or I didn’t press the button as the designer of the clicker had expected. So sometimes I had to press it several times. However, I didn’t let that disturb me.

The next day I saw how the pros do it: Tobbe had brought his own hardware for the presentation (a clicker with a timer…).

The nervousness had turned into some sort of excited, sparkly, and confident calmness. If this makes sense…

I felt good and remembered to enjoy myself.

I felt good on stage even though the room was fairly large and also full of people. As Sami and Tobbe later commented, this track was more like a keynote 😀

But I kind of felt how the people gave me the energy as I wanted to embrace the entire room.

I know I stumbled with my words sometimes. I don’t like to learn talks by heart, I want to be able to improvise. But this also means that a problem of mine becomes apparent: I start a sentence using one sentence construction but then somewhere in the middle I change my mind (because there are so many wonderful sentence constructions out there!) and I have to stop, and say it differently.

I know I spoke fairly fast (but later Tobbe said Julian Harty spoke even faster :D) but that was because I was worried about the time limit. I forgot to ask someone to let me know the time in 10 minute segments (there wasn’t a clock in sight anywhere…). That would’ve helped me to time the talk better. Or then the clicker with the timer…

I did look at my slides during my speech but hopefully not too much. I tried to face the people as much as I could (except when the clicker didn’t want to cooperate) and also move around the small stage. The stage was placed diagonally on one side of the room and slides were on the other side.

Here’s a very rough sketch of the setup:

confroom

I would have liked to use the full length of the room to walk back and forth but then I would’ve had to get off the stage and people at the back wouldn’t have been able to see me very well. And then I would’ve had to get back on the stage (anybody up for stumbling and falling over in the middle of their talk?).

I looked at some people specifically every now and then to see if their faces go totally “WTF IS that?!” or if they’re engaged. I could improve the eye contact I think.

But in general I remember feeling good about “transmitting” my message. When I used an example from my team then thinking about them made me feel good, too. They ARE my source of inspiration!

And before I knew it, it was over… Question time! I had extra incentives for people (tied to the theme of my talk) and this worked surprisingly well 😀 Namely, I had some Kinder Surprises with me and offered them for each question. All 6 of them were gone!

Sami also asked a question (that I couldn’t fully answer because he asked about what is going on behind the Closed Door) and he got a Star Wars character Count Dooku as the surprise. Well, good karma was instant: his talk was up next but in a different room and basically, he had to get by without slides because he could show us 2 of them before the loudspeakers started banging some techno and the system had to be turned off. So he had attached Count Dooku to his neckstrap and Sami looked for comfort by fiddling with it while giving his talk 😀

I think Sami did an absolutely awesome job! When the projector went crazy, he just picked up the marker and drew models on the flip-over chart. He totally kept his calm. All I could do was sit in the front row and cheer him on.

Of course it’s sad we couldn’t see his wonderful slides. But like Sami later said himself: his topic was exploring the unfamiliar and that he got to do himself during the presentation.

When I thought about this afterwards, I think Sami’s experience is something I will use the next time when preparing for a talk. I will try to do it without the slides entirely and have “back-up visuals” in my mind for when things should go badly.

But I am extremely grateful my slides worked for me 😀

And then I was really tired. So I went to my room for a while because I felt I could fall asleep on spot. But when I laid down, I couldn’t take a nap. So yeah, then it was time for some beer .

We had a great time with some Dutch folks (hello, Iris, Armando, and Bram!) discussing some “interesting Estonian words”. Sami turned out to be very funny as I was in stitches about some of his facial expressions. Too bad he doesn’t remember all those “context-specific” jokes… 🙂 But there’s the next time, and if anyone wants to know the dirty side of Estonian language, have a beer (or two) with me.

***

There you go…

I feel content as I got good feedback also from people I didn’t know and I guess I surprised others and also myself when I considered that this was my first talk given at such an event to such audience. Armando said something about me being famous now but we’ll have to see about that 😀

I also have ideas about how to evolve this talk because there were a bunch of ideas I had to drop (or else people would have to spend two hours with me :D).

I have some public speaking experience but nothing on this scale. Now that I’ve got this talk under my belt I feel like I’m in a different place now in terms of confidence and outlook on my work.

Needless to say, I’m hungry for more now…

My Story

This is a story about how an English major ended up being a context-driven software tester&test manager.

***

After finishing high school, I didn’t spend much time thinking about what I was going to do next. I knew I’d always had a knack for languages, so studying English language and literature was an obvious choice. I enjoyed my studies and I wasn’t particularly worried about the function of my education.

Strangely enough, if you happen to be an English major (or you happen to major in any other language, acutally), you tend to get a lot of crap from people (at least here in Estonia). Anytime an article appears in the press that touches upon the humanities and the “hard sciences”, the comments bash all people in humanities as if they were half-brained idiots doing something completely useless, and praising the “real science” that outweighs everything else.

I’ve never really understood the hostility but I’ve got used to it. I understand the kind of discourse behind this and whatever all the hatred stands for, I think it stems from a quasi-religious (no God around, though) binary world-view (deep belief in science).

So when people asked me the question “What are you going to do?”, they always supposed there are just a couple of paths I could take.

Teacher.

Translator.

(Researcher at the university was the third option)

I never understood why I was only given so few options. I never felt I was limited to these choices.

So I answered that I could do anything I wanted. I meant this. I believed that my major does not define my life forever and always.

Lo and behold… I was right.

***

I was in my third year when an e-mail in the mailing list announced that a software company was looking for a technical writer. They required excellent English skills, some knowledge of HTML and a couple of other things. I figured I could give it a try but I didn’t really hope to get the job. So I got through the interview and I got to do the job evaluation assignment, and I was really surprised to receive the call that I was hired.

I spent the next 2 years writing documentation for the software and I learned a lot about the product, about its quality, the internal processes in our company. I also had to test from time to time because the stuff I had to write about wasn’t always working. Unluckily, there was really noone to teach me how to test, so obviously, I explored what I could find and reported the issues.

I could never not see the issues. I could never not see a sloppy GUI design and I had to get someone to fix it. I felt responsible for the quality of what I was doing and what passed through my hands. I noticed the details and small inconsistencies, usability issues and glaring misconceptions of what the programmer thought the user was thinking.

I was actually nicknamed “The Scare of Sloppy Programmers”. Oh, well… I guess it means they were a little surprised that an English major can do the job.

I can remember that it was quite a learning curve I was on. Writing skill was one thing but extracting information from programmers was a totally different cup of tea. So I learned how to ask the questions about the software and learned to dig in to the background and the integration of the component; I learned how to approach the programmers and how to establish good relationship with them. I learned to analyze the information I got and how to spot the missing pieces. I learned to look for other sources.

This should sound familiar to testers as well.

So after a little more then 2 years as a technical writer, there was some reorganization going on and I was offered the position of team lead. I was supposed to be responsible for testing and documentation.

I said “yes” and I haven’t looked back.

My decision to accept this position might have been a surprise to people (and maybe it was a little surprise to me – I didn’t take any time to think it through whereas I usually weigh my choices). But I know why I did this.

I wanted to make things better. I wanted to improve and fix what I thought needed improving and fixing.  I wanted to contribute what I had (and I knew I had something) and not just look on. I felt like I needed a challenge and so I plunged in. I knew I had to learn a lot (which I took up then and haven’t stopped – I never can) but that didn’t daunt me.

So here I am. I still love the challenge even though it may look awkward (I need to learn testing and leading a team at the same time). But my team has grown (more testers and a new tech writer), so I guess I have been successful so far.

I actually feel that my team is going to take off just now 🙂

Positive Peer Pressure at PEST

A little alliteration doesn’t hurt, right?

The three day weekend which consisted of Rapid Software Testing Management course and the first peer conference of context-driven testers  in Estonia (in other words: Peers of Estonian Software Testing) was awesome. Literally. I went to work today and I was happy and energetic. Despite the fact that the days were intensive, I felt as if I had just come back from vacation. That’s what being around great people can do to you!

Also, everything that I experienced gave me the relevant kick-start to actually post to the blog I had created a while back. So I get to “blame” Oliver Vilson for inviting me to that event and convincing me that I have something to talk about, and James Bach for telling me he wants to hear more from me. The sarcastic part of me asks if this blog post is all about vanity then but it is not so. I’m sincere and I mean every word here.

What does it take to create the magic? Get great and thoughtful people together and have them share their experience with others about something that really matters to everyone involved. I truly hope the magic will last and I hope I can contribute to it as well.

The most important gains for me were

  • the people – I got to know a number of human beings I didn’t know anything about. And I feel lucky now that I do know them.
  • the revitalized self-belief – I had been bogged down by the routine of everyday work; I’d got tired and didn’t have the strength to rear my head and be hopeful. Don’t mock me if I say I feel like I’m breathing again
  • the stories and the ideas – I can’t wait to do great things with my team!
  • the community – if I get tired again or I feel overwhelmed, I know where to go. I am thankful for this.

Special thanks goes out to Rasmus Koorits and Indrek Kõnnussaar for making me rack my brain. It felt great and I realized I had also been losing some of my edge (similar to Rasmus’s experience story except it happened to me at work – so beware!). I also learned something about how the wheels in my head turn.

Eventually, one of the most important thoughts I took with me was about my background and its value. But that’ll be another blog post.