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.

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!