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!

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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.

Taking My New Job By The Balls, Part 1

In April 2014 I accepted an offer and in June I left the company I’d been with for the past 6.5 years (4 years as tester/team lead), and started my new job as a senior testing specialist at another company. These notes/remarks/observations in the upcoming series of blog posts are based on my first 2.5 weeks on the new job. Orderly notes and thoughts are not guaranteed. Also, a lot of the things here may seem very obvious to you (they already start looking very obvious to myself as well…) but that’s OK. I mostly want to share my journey and I want to have at least semi-digested notes for my future self because I have come to appreciate the value of introspection more and more, and the valuable learning I get out of it. And… I’m also seeking the comments and remarks of other testers who recognize the questions I’m trying to answer and the problems I’m trying to tackle.

Some background

Since I’ll be writing a few blog posts about the balls of my new job, I expect most of the details of context and background to emerge from several posts instead of one lengthy intro. However, for the sake of a little clarity, here are some notable details:

  • then: used to test a product 30+ years on the market, 2000+ customers; now: beginning stages of a software project for a single customer
  • then: built a team of testers, 2 of them coached and trained by me as newbies; now: 2 testers plus me on the project team, both have previous experience but have been “lone testers” on projects up until now
  • then: no specs, no business analysts, various people partially filling that role (including testers); now: business analysts and specs and all that jazz
  • then: different in-house teams of programmers specialized in a domain; now: testers, programmers, BAs on one team focusing on the same thing together
  • then: cowboy development; now: planned and organized sprints
  • then: geographically distributed teams across 3 continents; now: everybody’s in the same country but there a few different companies developing parts of the software for the customer

I think this could give some idea about the change I was about to undergo… Add to it the fact that now I’ll be testing a web app which I’ve never done before and you’ll get the picture.

Getting into the zone

So… I step into the office on my first day not sure what is going to happen next. Oh, was I nervous… What really happened was that I got to learn a lot of new stuff. And this. Is. Awesome. I did know something about the project context from the time I was first approached by the company. However, a couple of months had passed, so I figured I wasn’t up-to-date anymore. Well, that hunch got confirmed on the first day.

I had been preparing myself mentally for the context where I was going to do a lot of learning. I’m not very sure how to describe it… I kept having internal monologues about focusing on learning, jumping right in and tackling whatever got thrown at me. I was recycling the learning and thoughts from Rikard Edgren’s tutorial on Test Strategy that I attended at Nordic Testing Days. Somehow it made me feel like I had solid ground under my feet.

I also had quite a few internal conversations/introspections about what I had learned at my previous job, the mistakes I’d made and how I thought about them; what kind of things I’d learned and why I’d learned them (I don’t think all potential lessons stick… or that I’d notice every lesson I could learn); what were my personal goals on the new job; what were the things I’d wanted to try but couldn’t at my old job. I went over the reasons I’d accepted the offer: to learn new things, to push myself out of the comfort zone once again, challenge myself. There were moments were some part of me was thinking “oh shit… how am I going to do this… will I fail?…” but that’s when I told myself this: “Helena, remember what happened the last time you plunged in head first into the unknown 4 years ago? You had no fucking clue what you were going to do but remember the trust you had in your ability to figure things out. If it’s the potential discomfort that makes you edgy, then just lean into it as you have done before. Push through the discomfort as you’ve done before: you know well enough that discomfort is exactly what will make you think of a solution. After all, nothing changes if you’re comfortable. And didn’t you want to purposefully make yourself uncomfortable so that you’d learn new things?”. Or something like this…

Maybe I’m slightly crazy for preparing mentally like this. Maybe. For me it seemed necessary to get really focused, keep my head straight, and “sharpen” my mental state. In hindsight I believe it paid off (and surprised some of my new colleagues :)).

I used to play volleyball as competitive sport back in the day. What I was doing back then before a game and what I was doing recently felt quite similar. You collect your thoughts. You try to identify and tune out the noise (or silence certain damning internal monologues). You try to will your feet move quickly. You observe how the other team warms up, start figuring out strategies… You get ready to do your best!

When I started as tester/team lead 4 years ago, I did no such thing. But then I really had no idea of what was in store for me. Now I had an inkling and I used that as an heuristic to do something differently this time.

The Vast Opportunities for Learning. Great! But…

I believe I’ve been able to establish that I was going to do a lot of learning of different kinds (technical, managerial), on different levels (personal, project-related, professional…). During the first couple of days I observed a few key questions/issues surface. Or rather, these questions had a floodlight pointed at them for me…

Firstly, how to best deal with information in general? How to deal with the information I was given on a daily basis (meetings, discussions, briefs, documents, specs…) or that just landed on my plate? Getting hosed down with a lot of different things from different sources  – how not to lose my head?

Secondly and more specifically, what to learn now and what to learn later? E.g. what kind of information to actively seek myself, what to delegate, what to disregard.

Thirdly, what kind of action to take now and what to postpone?

While untangling the questions from each other and clarifying my thinking, I had these brief deja vu moments. These came about in the form of “oh, this line of thoughts sounds familiar” and “I think I’ve read about/discussed this several times but that’s just been theory so far”. Funnily enough, even though I’ve never been on such a project before and I’ve never had hands on initiating a whole new software project, I almost felt as if I had. There were thoughts and ideas gushing out from the back of my head about how to start tackling these questions. I know I was applying heuristics that I’d “accumulated” over the past years but this library needs to get more organized. To be honest, it was more like a flurry of ideas… which is exactly why I’m now putting myself through the paces and going through the exercise of identifying and thinking about the heuristics I already used during the first days to do the things I did.

The questions I highlighted have formed the trinity I’ve kept revisiting and that I will look at more closely in the following blog posts.

This Year Shall Be Great

I have been pondering this for a while now. To be precise, since I learned about Erik Brickarp’s Skill Development List and since I reviewed his CAST 2013 talk about self-education, the idea of my own  list has been gnawing at me. So I got myself together January 1 and drafted it in my notebook. Then I forgot about it for a while… now I remembered it. And decided to publish it (you know, social accountability and all that).

There you go: Skill Development List 2014.

It is what it is. It’s not about checking all items off. It’s about me following my energy and making myself happy when learning about new things. I’m so done with feeling miserable that I can’t go back 🙂

 

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.

***

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!

The GNIKCUF Awesome conference – Let’s Test 2013

I have studied languages most of my life, yet I’m lost for words.

During the hours between now and the time Let’s Test conference ended (or did it?!), I feel like I am “growing into a very special family”. The reason why Let’s Test feels like an explosion in my mind and soul is that it conflated awesome ideas and passionate testers, and all of it happened in limited space and time. There was a lot of energy in the air (and Huib the Wise said that energy should be followed) that people brought together. And this is how I will remember the conference – not just the tracks and keynotes but the magic that happened at dinner table, sometime between sessions, late at night.

 

Here are my rough (and condensed) notes hot off my red notebook (in the order I took them):

Keynote – James Bach “How Do I Know I am Context-Driven?”

  • Dangers of shallow agreement: it’s important to know WHEN we don’t agree as we need to trust the agreement; debate should be allowed to avoid shallow agreement
  • Aspects of context-driven: community (people, mutual influences), approach (heuristics applied), paradigm (the model for understanding the world)
  • Rephrasing “context-driven” – a humanistic problem-solver is aware of their surroundings

Ilari Henrik Aegerter: The Challenges of Brilliant Observations and the Fallacies of Convincing Descriptions

  • DON’T TRUST YOUR BRAIN (yes, this is exaggerated)
  • Being aware of the “filtering power” of our brain: a number of things can go unnoticed while a lot of things are “helpfully” (re)constructed.
  • Power of priming: it makes it easier for us to retrieve information associated with the “primed” piece of info (priming is a familiar concept to me from psycholinguistics and it got me thinking about priming my brain to find certain kind of issues/info while testing…)
  • Putting the “(re)constructive” power of the brain to a good use: too detailed instructions/descriptions (difficult to follow, probably too much to process) versus too general (too open to interpretation) versus sufficient (enough info so that the rest can be filled in)
  • Tools (eyes) can be poor but the engine (brain) is great

Johanna Rothman: Kick-Ass Manager

  • It was a kick-ass keynote! I would’ve liked to stand up and say “AMEN” a lot (*hears the choir in her head*). I found that I’ve done or tried to do several things that Johanna was talking about.
  • Rejecting victimhood and taking the responsibility were thoughts that resonated with me. It’s easy to become a victim if the going gets rough but trying to keep what I call “productive attitude” is what’s going to get you out of there.
  • Ask questions about the career: what do your team mates want?
  • The importance of one-on-ones: creating a space of trust and openness helps people share their troubles and celebrate their greatness together. I also believe this makes the teams stronger in the end (and I have experienced that myself, too). The most important condition here is that you deeply care about the people you work with.
  • Understand what is important to the business!
  • The chasm between visionaries and pragmatists: what does quality mean to the product?
  • Foster learning: this is how you can grow the people you need.

I am also grateful for Johanna for this piece of advice I got at the breakfast table: “live your values because you have to live them; but see how you could serve your company using those values.” I have been circling around this idea myself trying to meet certain challenges and this provides a great perspective for me.

Maria Kedemo: Hiring to Solve the Puzzle

  • Random thought #42: shirts with studded skulls rock!
  • RISCx3 matrix: a model that helps you remember the important pieces of information/activities (my random thought: helps with “coverage” of the hiring process; helps with comparing applicants across the matrix); the matrix actually needs a longer discussion…

Leo Hepis: Linguistics – On How to Keep Dialogue Constructive

  • I guess I must have pleasantly surprised Leo over lunch when he briefly summarized his talk and I asked “oh, you mean the Grice’s maxims?” 🙂 I am always glad to meet people who pull stuff from “my field”.
  • Since I participated in preparing for the exercise, I don’t know what was the discussion of the maxims like (but since I know what they are anyway, then I guess it doesn’t matter).
  • I liked the idea of setting up a dialogue so that participants could observe the exchange and detect the potential violations of the maxims.

Fiona Charles: Leadership Heuristics

  • Fiona set up a short but productive workshop where the heuristics for leadership were brainstormed. Our group had a great discussion about them and we came up with these: find time to talk/travel to people (the importance of casual conversation); giving trust; short feedback loop (honest, quick, and open communication between a leader and their people). For the heuristics, we also had to think of three conditions/context when they worked and three for when they wouldn’t work. I just hope the photos of the posters will become available…

Tobias Fors: Systems Thinking for the Rest of Us

  • ORG DOODLING! Components: me&the problem; other people; resources, platforms, tools; relations, interactions; problems/pains; joys/strengths; what else is missing. I already showed my doodle to my boss today 😀 See, I already got to use it. I really want to do more doodling to model the issues I am trying to solve.
  • MESS is a system of problems (I love this phrase!).
  • Org doodling is good for finding a different perspective on the problem.
  • Assume that people are rational: if you explore why something is true for other people, you may reveal the unseen structures that previously made their behavior seem strange; but if the structures are visible, the behavior is understood better.
  • Performance is the product of interaction between the different parts of the system. So to “fix” something, don’t focus on the quality of one particular part but focus on the interactions of the parts.

[notes and drawings about some stuff I explained to Erik (@brickuz) – thanks again for listening to the rant! 😀 I guess I’ll write a short blog post on one of those things as it could be useful to other awesome testers, too]

John Stevenson: Information Overload

  • Information overload: available information exceeds the user’s ability to process it (the same thing was happening to me at the time of the presentation… hence my crappy notes)
  • Be aware of being anchored in a particular context or being primed. What to try to shake them off? Try Weinberg’s rule of three and slowing down.
  • Plan making mistakes (maybe this would help to  be less afraid of them as well?)
  • Pro-tip: send your testing notes to yourself at the end of the day and read them next morning (see if you understand them and SPOT MISTAKES).

Steve M. Smith, Debugging Human Interactions

  • To put it shortly, this was an awesome workshop where the participants formed two live super-organisms that interacted with each other.
  • The breakdown of communication helped to see how much actually gets lost (yay for bugs!). Knowing that, you can go back and ask to repeat something.
  • Connection between low self-esteem and defense; the importance of feelings about my feelings.
  • Try to think of more meanings: this means feelings will be activated less.
  • Survival skills: rules about life + metarules trigger certain behavior

Zeger van Hese, Testing in the Age of Distraction

  • Zeger talked extensively about (de)focusing and the presentation was packed with information! What’s not to love!
  • http://coffitivity.com/ – I already found it useful today
  • Procrastination and how to deal with it: I liked the idea of first scheduling things I wanted to do, then things I have to do.
  • Reflect and defocus without guilt – your best ideas won’t come to you when you focus hard.
  • And a lot of other useful stuff.

Scott Barber, Business Value of Testing

  • Man, I was sitting in the first row but was about to be blown off against the back wall by Scott’s energy 😀
  • I learned I’m like coffee in value 🙂 But I can be VERY good coffee (and who wouldn’t hate BAD coffee, eh?)
  • Understand the business and learn to speak business.
  • Understand your primary business mission and forget about being the white knight on a white horse who salvages the world.
  • Goal: become invaluable to the business.

I want to thank everyone that I had the chance to spend time with and talk to. I am very sure I am going to miss somebody because the whole experience is a bit of blur right now (and it’s 2:30am right now, too). But I can’t wrap up without mentioning Huib, Erik, Aleksis, Johanna, Carsten, Ilari, Paul, Simon, Martin (ha, you guess WHICH ones! :D), Leo, Kristoffer… and so on.

Thank you everyone and see you next year!

Planning and managing my learning… at least trying to

The truth is that when I think of all the things I want to learn (or think I HAVE to learn) about testing… then I want to go HOLY CRAP!!!! THERE IS SO MUCH TO LEARN! I FEEL LIKE I HAVE TO RUN IN EVERY DIRECTION!!!!!!!1!!!!

Yes, really.

And of course I’ve realized multiple times that I need to plan my learning and manage it. Somehow.

Tobbe Ryber’s keynote at Nordic Testing Days in June this year about what he did to become a better tester was inspiring. But I also felt ashamed that I actually HAVE NOT transferred my plan from the back of my head into reality. So I vowed myself that after I have been able to catch my breath (I had just defended my thesis in May), I’ll get to work.

It’s freaking October now, and I can’t say I have made much progress.

And then I thought it’s so true that nothing changes if you’re comfortable. I think I should go DIY and make posters with this message, and plaster my home AND my desk at work.

So I can freely admit that I had been comfortable for a while. And tired, too. It’s only recently that I feel like I can probably switch to top gear and do a lot of stuff like I used to. It’s not like I’ve done nothing but if I compare myself to what I was like earlier, I see the difference.

So after Nordic Testing Days I was brooding over where to start. I got involved in some programming (just a bit) and it was very interesting. Even from this bit I learned a lot about my thinking.

I do a lot of thinking at the back of my mind when doing other things… so my brain hasn’t been completely idle.

Then in September I read the post by Rosie at Software Testing Club (http://www.softwaretestingclub.com/forum/topics/self-managed-learning).

The question is simple: what do you do and how you do it?

Now I have my mind set to “do something about it”. But then I got stuck with the the “how”. I know that I have the tendency to overthink things (sometimes :))… but it seems like the execution part IS very important to me to get right. The truth is that I have tried it before. So what I’ve ended up with are:

  • notes about articles in my notebook
  • notes about these articles on the printouts of those articles
  • bookmarks to these articles in my browser
  • some notes on ideas in some file on the hard drive
  • some notes on a random piece of paper
  • some ideas lost…
  • some organized and some disorganized mindmaps
  • files scattered between my work laptop and personal one
  • bookmarks in another browser
  • stuff in Google reader
  • some random Google docs

You get the picture.

I can be systematic and organized with other things…. or maybe this is what I like to think of myself… But here the problem seems to be that there are many different sources of information that it probably takes a lot more discipline to get it organized than I have exercised so far.

What to do about it?

File distribution between computers is not really a problem. I’ve been using dropbox for years, and now there are other solutions available that are even more convenient (such as SugarSync). So I just have to start using it for storing and organizing my files, articles, mindmaps, etc. PERIOD.

Notes are a different matter. I like to take notes while reading but I read online, I read books, I sometimes print stuff out so I can curl up on the couch with it. Soon I’ll have a Kindle, so that will complicate it even further. I guess I should choose one method, and then if I use another one, be disciplined about transferring information.

I have used Notepad++ but then saving the files was uncomfortable and I had to remember where my stuff was. I have used mindmaps but they don’t always work for note taking. I like to scribble things using my pen as I go.

Recently, I have started using Evernote. I like the way I can easily create new notes, I see what I have created and I can switch between them without opening a file from hard drive. I love that I don’t have to worry about saving stuff anywhere. So I guess I will stick with this one for a while unless somebody can recommend me something better.

I’ve also seen people use Sublime Text for note taking. Not a bad idea, actually, considering this example: https://tutsplus.com/lesson/pretty-task-management/ I haven’t used it for notes but I like it in general. I think it has great features (and I like their color schemes for code…).

Bookmarks seem to be a trivial topic and I think I just haven’t researched enough to find a good solution. For some reason, I haven’t used Google Bookmarks so far. I’ve tried Delicious but this wore me out. So now I have looked into some options, and I have started organizing the links in Google Bookmarks by tagging them. Other suggestions are also welcome.

Mindmaps are a tool I like to use for different things… Brainstorming, planning, note taking on some occasions… It’s their vice and virtue that they can be used for so many different things. So I’m thinking it may make sense to use them for specific things such as building a model of something I have thought about but not for note taking so that I could keep my READING notes in one place only.

Blogs are a massive source of information, inspiration, and ideas and I usually keep them in my Google Reader. I suspect I have quite a few links among my bookmarks as well. Sometimes I don’t want to subscribe but just store this one entry, hence the bookmarking. I should also make it a task for myself to comment more on the blogs. Sometimes I read a blog and think “hmmm…. this got me thinking”. But then I’d have to sit on this for a while to be able to think it through… and by that time… I’ve forgotten or I don’t go back. Or I’ve lost the link.

Good old notebook is what I like to use from time to time. Yes, it’s a Moleskine. It’s black. I can take it with me wherever I go. Sure, I have the Evernote app and MS Office on my Windows Phone but you know… sometimes, just sometimes it’s good to be offline and not at your computer. I feel that I should cut the time I spend at laptop. I work hard, and then I need to read about stuff… so it’s easily at least 12 hours a day that I spend staring at the screen.

Also, I like to go to a cafe and sit down with an article or a book on testing and read it, and take notes, sip my coffee and let my mind wander. So my notebook is not going anywhere.

Planning my learning is something for which I haven’t used a specific tool yet. Pekka cut to the chase and created a mindmap: http://how-do-i-test.blogspot.com/2012/06/be-best-known-if-not-best.html

Another pretty cool tool I learned about from a colleague (she uses it for managing the writing of her MA thesis) is Trello: https://trello.com/

So I haven’t decided on this one yet but it would be nice to use something to track the progress (which would allow me to feel good about myself, of course).

Reflection. Thinking about my thinking and discussing it with someone is by far the most important learning activity I can think of. This is what I need to take time for more often. I need to reflect on my experiences, what I do, how I solve problems at my job. My mentor says that I have quite a bit to share. However, I don’t tend to see it that way most of the time as I perceive the things I do as… usual, regular, not newsworthy in general. One of the reasons, though, can be that I don’t distance myself enough from the daily toil. So to reflect, I need to take the time, talk to people, take notes on my thoughts, and I need to blog more often!!!

Anyway, if you got to the end of this rant (thanks for bearing with me), I’d like to hear your thoughts about how you organize your learning.

I think the best thing about writing this blog post is that it enabled me to organize my thoughts and realize that I shouldn’t be sitting on my hands. Even if I feel fed up and tired I should remember that nothing changes if you’re comfortable.