How do you do, Head of Testing? vol. 1

Thanks for asking. To be honest, the answer depends on the type of day I’m having. Downward spiraling direction can be found in my days more often than not recently. Ah, I should finally take the lesson from Benjamin Zander about those spirals and ditch them. And also remember rule #6.

A bit more than a year ago I started out with the goal to help testers in the company do a great job. It looks broad and sounds idealistic but it was as good as any mission to take as a starting point. I believed I could find a way to rally people behind initiatives, ignite their belief in change, and help them engage and drive testing and its development. At the same time, I had to figure out what the role of a competence head means…

I couldn’t be everywhere and put my hands into and onto everything, I knew as much. Some groundwork needed to be done or so I thought. Understanding the people and the system, its influences and boundaries was my first goal. So I set out to have long discussions with almost all testers in the company. I didn’t believe in picking and choosing just a few because, naive as I am, I believe all people matter and play some sort of role. So I did that, spent quite a lot of energy and didn’t get much of it back.

I gathered a lot of information in notes, impressions, memories, stories by doing so but then trying to analyze and systematize it ended up being a painful and somewhat confusing process. So I learned that sometimes there can be too many different answers to a limited set of questions. Some patterns may emerge but it may only be your own biases that make you see what is not there. But interpretations you make are very real in your mind. Piecing the information together to describe a big picture of the status of testing in the company through the eyes of testers took me a lot of energy and didn’t give much back.

It also made me think of how I chose the questions. I tried to cover a vast spectrum: understand the person’s history in testing, their knowledge and habits in testing, evolution of testing in this company through their eyes, problems and issues they see, changes they hope for, etc. Looking back, I’d still talk to every single person but be more careful and selective in the questions. I could easily come up with a convincing rationalization why I needed each and every one of those questions, what kind of information they would yield and why I deed this information… My mind is really great at such things. However, excess of stories will make the load heavier than it needs to be. This takes energy and it’s difficult to get it back.

As a systems thinker, I’d been noticing signs of barriers between people. Detecting barriers in an invisible system of people in an organization and off the org chart goes like this: you run face first into something, scream in pain, curse and cuss, and try to determine the culprit. It’s just that you can’t see it but can trace your fingers across air and lightly touch… something. Imagine navigating a glass labyrinth where there are people almost within your reach, only to brush your fingertips against the glass. Some cold drafts sweep past you. Eventually you determine that the actual office layout has an uncanny similarity to the labyrinth. Why, both have glass walls through which you can see people but not interact with them very well. So you turn your back to others and mind your own business with the people next to you. Observing this is emotionally taxing and takes energy that I can’t get back.

So I sketched the organization on paper to visualize issues, and discussed it with some people. In addition to all the other things on my plate, I started trying different things to see what could increases osmosis…

More on that in the future. I’m starting to ramble and wax lyrical about glass walls. That ain’t gonna give me the energy back.

 

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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!

Becoming Healthily Uncertain Doubt by Doubt

Fiona Charles’s workshop “We Can’t Know Everything – Promoting Healthy Uncertainty on Software Projects” at Let’s Test 2014 reminded me of a dusty old idea at the back of my mind…

Once when I was musing about what good has seven years and 2 degrees at the university done to me, I realized that one of the greatest lessons I learned was that I learned to doubt. I learned to be suspicious of quick and definite answers. I learned to deal with not knowing things for sure. I became conscious of how fallible I am.

What did I study that taught me this? I studied English language and literature.

I started out along with a bunch of others thinking that we shall be really good at English, that we shall be experts of sorts. I ended up being an expert doubter scrambling for information from a variety of resources to have some degree of certainty in a specific and limited context. It’s what studying a language teaches you: usually the meaning of words is not straightforward and it tends to depend on context. “No wonder context-driven testing makes so much sense to me,” I thought.

I have discussed the feeling of constant uncertainty with my course mates and they have agreed that it’s one of the most persistent lessons they’ve learned. Conversely, we’ve noticed that it’s not a lesson other people have learned or willingly learn when it comes to language. If I’m asked to translate a word or a sentence, I can rarely offer up an immediate translation, and this is when people express their confusion. “It’s just a word” or “it’s not that complicated” is what I hear.

As a professional doubter, I beg to differ. I need to use several heuristics to determine what could be a suitable word, for example. What is actually meant (use rephrase as a method) and what is the specific context? What is the style? What is the register? Sometimes there may be a few words that look very similar in meaning but may have nuances in the contexts they’re being used. Choosing the right one from that set may take some additional research into the usage of the word. Eventually, I’ll have to make a decision and accept it that I may still be wrong.

That’s how I’ve been exposed to and conditioned by uncertainty in the unexpected event of my becoming a software tester. I don’t know if others have similar experiences from different specialties. Also, I still need to think about if I can find a way to translate parts of my experience into something that can help other people on the software projects.

I still have this question, though… Will long-term exposure to (a certain kind of) uncertainty help to deal with it or can there be short-term strategies that help as well?

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.

t+3: Three Months after Let’s Test

Let’s Test 2013 was a groundbreaking  event for me. When it was over, I realized it was going to change something for me. Therefore, I figured it’s a suitable time now to take a look back to the last 3 months and see what has actually changed.

***

I made my conference debut after Let’s Test but I know it wouldn’t have gone so well if I hadn’t made friends at Let’s Test who helped, pushed and supported me. What makes me even happier is that I can return the favor now and help review a kick-ass presentation.

***

I got over myself and signed up for BBST. Getting excited!

***

I started using unscheduling as suggested by Zeger at Let’s Test. I haven’t been very consistent about it but it DOES help. I am less inclined to think “oh, I’ll read/write/watch that when I get home” and then forget myself in the office. If I know I decided to work on something and unschedule it, chances are much better than before that I will do that. Sure, there are unexpeced events like going to the movies at the last minute or ending up coming home at 5am if you only went out to have dinner with colleagues but hey… that’s life.

***

I submitted another CFP to TestBash.

***

I started reporting risks to decision makers based on test results. Now THIS has been a very rewarding experience.

***

I have been a much happier tester and team lead. Seriously. It has been a complete turnaround from my gloomy spring. I’ve been better at choosing what I want to do or don’t want to do.

***

I have started planning on doing an in-house workshop on testing for our developers.

***

There are days now when I tell myself, “Shit, I’m only getting started!”

***

I’ve expanded my horizon in a new direction: lean. Inspired by Tobbe I also started reading “The Toyota Way”. I’m about one third through it and it’s been a VERY interesting read. I recognized a lot of problems that we’re having with our software development process.

***

I also learned that it’s difficult to actually FINISH a book if you have EIGHT going at the same time. Thankfully, GoodReads helped me realized this, so I need to cut back on books that I start reading. Though I do like to have a couple of books going at the same time, so I can switch.

***

I started practicing sketchnoting. I’ll do a post on that one day. Maybe even show my sketches. Because it’s a lot of fun!

***

I picked up SBTM again and we’re working on it with my team to find how we can implement it in a useful way. We’ve been creeping towards it for a while and in some form we’ve been practicing it all along. But I felt I have enough energy now to jump into it again and also experiment myself. It will be a team learning exercise and a team effort. Sure, I can read the articles and blog posts but I think we need to figure it out as a team, make mistakes together, discuss solutions.

***

My mentor said he’s proud of me and that he didn’t think I’d make it that far in three years. Well… neither did I 😀

***

There maybe things I’ve already forgotten…. Therefore, I should make it a goal that I’m going to keep a better log of the events. Writing something every day or taking notes more is something I’ve been thinking of: I realize how much I can forget and so I can’t recall all interesting cases and examples if I don’t have notes.

 

Anyway, this was more of a personal ramble. But those of you who attended Let’s Test – what has changed for you?