What a long strange trip it’s been

I like to think I roll with changes pretty easily anymore. Even so, there is a change I have avoided for a long time. A few of you know just how long I have been trying to ignore this one. I’m nowhere close to Alan Page‘s level, and since I prefer to get things out of the way early…

After 14 years at Hyland Software, I am leaving. My last day is February 24th.

My time at Hyland has encompassed the vast majority of my time in testing and leadership, as well as the majority of my professional career. I don’t count my time working in the stock room of a Pier 1 Imports in college. I’ve held a number of positions at Hyland (seven in fact) and learned something from all of them.

I may write more at some point to give more backstory, but the short of it is I feel like I need something new. I need a change. Moving to a completely new place, with new people, and new approaches to things will help me continue to grow as an individual.

I am sad to leave. I will miss many, many people, but I hope to stay in touch with the ones I have built the strongest relationships with over the years.

As for me, right now I have a plan, but nothing lined up. I have a few more weeks on the clock, and enough of a buffer to allow some time to figure out what I want, and hopefully find it.

I’m excited at the possibilities I have before me.

Missed Opportunity

I want to say I’m sorry to all of you. I’m sorry that I didn’t research better. I’m sorry I didn’t trust a group of people I knew would pull it off. I’m sorry that I didn’t try to drag any of you within driving distance with me.

A few weeks ago, I went to a testing conference in Columbus, OH. The conference is QA or the Highway. There were over 280 attendees (only 20 no-shows due to the weather). This is only the second iteration of this conference (the first was back in 2010), and the first time it was in a full day format. There were four tracks, two keynotes, ample time between sessions for an unofficial “hallway track” and no forced vendor sessions.

Joe Ours was the conference organizer, speaker, and opening keynote speaker (when Keith Klain had to back out last-minute… yeah he originally had Keith as his opener). There were a number of great speakers as well. Though I didn’t get to see it, I heard Raj Subramarian’s (a Cleveland local) talk on Mobile Web Testing went over really well. David Hoppe did a talk on Disintegration Testing that I missed since it was at the same time as my talk on how I (try to) motivate testers (that I did in a kilt). JeanAnn Harrison did a talk on Mobile Software Test Automation with so much information in it she had to skip over slides to fit as much into her one hour block. I also really enjoyed Hilary Weaver’s  talk on getting along with your developers “I don’t like you. He doesn’t like you either!”. It was funny, informative, and she managed to keep it within her own PG-13 rating. Matt Heusser did the closing keynote titled “Cool new ideas… and some old ones, too”. Most of the presentations are available here. Since I used Prezi and it doesn’t play nice with SlideShare, my presentation is available here.

The single coolest thing about this conference was it’s location. I don’t mean the building, I mean the fact that it took place in Ohio. This conference was a little over two hours south of Hyland. Every attendee got a real conference name badge and a conference branded backpack. I’m not all about the gifts, but it shows a level of maturity that I would not have expected for such a new conference. Put on in Columbus. By a guy who basically decided he wanted a good, local conference in the Midwest.

Next year, I will be promoting this conference heavily; including asking for Hyland presenters to represent (come on, it’s not that scary). We were out done by companies like Progressive and Nationwide who sent groups. More people attended from the Kitchener-Waterloo Software Quality Association (Waterloo, Ontario) than we had from Hyland. I won’t let that happen again.

Manager of Testing – That’s one way to get the QA out of your title.

Some of you were aware that I have been investigating a potential new role at Hyland (*gasp* I just said where I worked!!1!1!!! more on that later). I asked for, and received a flood of ideas, concerns and contacts to reach out to. As best as I can tell, there are too many positions exactly like the one I ended up in. Not that I’m claiming a world first or something, but the role focuses on things that a lot of people (imho) already do, just not as their primary role.

So as of this week, I am officially the first ever Manager of Testing at Hyland Software. No, that isn’t what I was before; that was the Quality Assurance Manager of Workflow. Previously, I managed a team of testers responsible for a portion of the product. Now, well, now I have a giant list of responsibilities that I created. Oh, and instead of testers reporting to me, I have our two awesome internal QA Education team. (I will give you a dollar if either of you see and read this). Luckily, when I wrote my position plan, I didn’t attach time frames to most of these, so I don’t /have/ to get them all done this year.

Here are some of the responsibilities I will be focusing on:

– Study serious issues that make it into production to look for patterns that are correctable or reducible, on the Dev and Test side of things
– Promote testing internally – make our testers aware of the opportunities they have to improve their skills and help them become better testers
– Promote testing externally – continue to build a network of testers locally (and not), by promoting testing in my community, and by working to make Hyland a destination for career minded testers
– Attend conferences and training (at least four a year) – I booked 2014 out before I got this written into my position plan, but having it be “work time” will definitely help
– Review conferences and conference sessions and help choose who gets to go to what, and what they have to do with the things they learn when they get back
– Bring new testing ideas in to the company from conferences,  meet ups, blogs, articles, books, and external training
– Create and run internal training on testing techniques and other needed skills
– Shadow new testers in the department to review their abilities and supply feedback to them and their manager
– Shadow teams in the department to offer feedback on their strengths and weaknesses and suggest or build specialized training for them
– Oh, and did I mention I wrote in 20% time to test?

As of right now, I am super overwhelmed. I haven’t even started yet and I already have a ton of ideas running through my head. First up, I need to create a short talk based on the results of two issues we found recently. Second I need to finish my talk for QA or the Highway (I promise Joe, I’ll have something). After that, it’s full on doing the awesome stuff.

Oh, and with this position change, I will be able to pay a little better attention to Twitter. I really do see that as one of my primary avenues for learning (about) new ideas.

Thank you again to everyone that helped me over the past couple of months. And thank you in advance to everyone that I will be asking for help in the future.

10 years in

Note: Tonight I found this post sitting in my drafts folder. I wrote this back in January, and for some reason I never published it. I’m not sure what made me want to write it back then, but I definitely know that I feel this strongly right now.

Eight and a half years ago, my solitary goal in my career was to be able to write two years on my resume next to a job. Yes back then I thought of it as a job. I had also only lasted 18 or 19 months at my two previous employers before getting downsized (remember when that was all the rage?).

Eight and a half years later, and I am now celebrating 10 years with one company. I like where I work, I like the people and the product, and I can see room for growth and change in the way we do things. Much of the time in the middle, I spent without setting any real goals. Sure, I filled out my S.M.A.R.T. goals on my review each year, but I didn’t have a vision for where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to do. I didn’t see what value I could add to the organization or the people in it beyond accomplishing the tasks defined for me in the goals that were passed down from multiple levels of management.

Today, I stand at the beginning of a new decade. I find myself awakened to what I can and still need to learn, and find myself coming up with ideas of ways I can help educate others. I spent far too much of my past heads down completing tasks, or managing processes. I lost sight of my career; I was fumbling around with no real direction. Now I have it back, and I can see here I want to go.

If you feel lost, or directionless, WAKE UP! Sitting in a chair just to collect a check sucks. Going to work because you are excited to accomplish something is awesome. Basically, DO something. DO something that excites you, that fits with your passions. If you are out of ideas, there are lots of people out there who can give you some (like Pete or Huib or Michael or James or Twitter)

Twitter for Testers

It’s only in the past year that I discovered the benefits of Twitter beyond knowing what random celebrities are doing when they’re drunk. Technically, I set up my Twitter account years ago, only to use it to follow some radio show for a now unknown purpose. My account sat dormant until last summer. That’s when I went to CAST 2012. Over the past year, I’ve learned a fair amount about using Twitter to further my connections in the community and aid in my professional development.

Let’s start at the beginning…

 

Should you be on Twitter?

I feel silly writing this since if you are reading my blog, and you are, I would imagine the vast majority of you found it via Twitter. But, just in case you didn’t, here you go.

The short answer? Yes.

For the long answer, see the remainder of this post.

 

I see Twitter as the primary means of communication between a large number of professional testers, test managers, leaders and those looking to join our ranks. Though many discussions and debates happen elsewhere, Twitter is the easiest place to find information /about/ them.

The Pros

Networking – If you aren’t trying to build a professional network, You can probably close the tab on this post and move on. I spent many years not caring about having a network. The only purpose I saw was for trying to find a job. After attending CAST, I saw the real value in building a professional network. You gain easy access to so many people and resources and ideas that you can’t get to as easily anywhere else.

Camaraderie – Similar to what /normal/ people do with Twitter, you can build friendships with others. If you do this with the people in your network, it helps to build even stronger relationships. Personally, the vast majority of the people I follow are either testers, test leaders, or thinkers of some flavor that I feel are beneficial for me to follow. Finding interesting people and following them is one thing, but communicating with them makes things like meetups and conferences all the better since you can know people before walk through the door.

Access – The vast majority of people in the testing community that I have found on Twitter are accessible. I don’t mean the post-a-blog-entry-once-a-month-then-enter-radio-silence type, I mean the you-can-send-them-a-question-and-they-answer-it type. You can have conversations (or whatever you call the back-and-forth of Twitter) with “big name” testers. The kind of testers whose names appear on books. The kind of testers that run full day tutorials, or multi-day training programs. Where else can you get that? Oh sure, you can go to each of their blogs, and post comments on relevant entries and wait for them to get to reviewing and responding. OR, you could send them something on Twitter and watch the magic happen.

Discourse and Debate – So many (in my mind) great discussions and debates either take place on Twitter, start on Twitter and move elsewhere, or get mentioned on Twitter that it seems foolish to me that more people aren’t playing along.

Learning – Oh the learning. If you are not on Twitter, how do you learn about any of the following?

  • New or existing meetups in your area
  • New or existing testing organizations
  • Events being put on for testers in your area
  • Conferences (big and small)
  • LeanCoffee/Beer/Wings
  • Public training opportunities
  • Blog posts
  • E-books (or the paper kind)
  • Petitions that further the ideal that testers should have brains?

It is possible to learn about many of these things without using Twitter, but I think it is much more difficult. 

The Cons

Time – Yeah so… sometimes you have to get work done. If you are the type who dives headlong into rabbit holes when you see something shiny and new, be careful with the Twitter. My recommendation would be to set your refresh rate to something high (like an hour or two), or if you have the willpower (anyone who follows me can tell I don’t), only look at it during a time you allot each day.

Bitching/Complaining/Shouting – Sometimes, people get poked a little too hard, or had an especially bad day, or in general are not good at debate so they resort to bitching, complaining, shouting, personal attacks, etc. I just ignore those when they pop up. If they bother you, or if you see one person doing it a lot, it’s super easy to unfollow them.

The Format – 140 characters is not a lot. When people try to convey a lot of information, or when a conversation grows beyond four or five people, Twitter falls part. Don’t use it for dissertations. That’s not the point. If you want to write a lot, start a blog. It would have taken three tweets just to get this paragraph out.

Conclusions

Do your own math, but I would highly recommend anyone interested in developing their professional network, advancing their skills, meeting new people and engaging in thought-provoking debates (especially with regards to testing and test leadership) get on Twitter. Decide for yourself, but I say you should do it. Come on. Join already. No one will make fun of you for waiting until 2013 to join Twitter. Seriously.

 

Next up, I will post my own X Testers to Follow on Twitter list, where X is a yet undefined quantity. I have a feeling I will go beyond Matt’s two-year old 29 count, but I have to start assembling it to see how far I end up going. Oh, and I am mentioning it here so people will pester me to finally do it.

Two Easy Steps to Success!

I’m tired of whiners.

I hear people complaining about the way “things” are. They come and vent about how they don’t like something, and then… silence. They just stop talking just when the story SHOULD get good. They don’t have a “and this is what I want to do about it” portion of the story, let alone a “this is what I AM GOING TO DO about it” part. Why is that? Can’t they see that if you don’t try to fix the problem you have, it’s not going to go away on it’s own?

I’m also tired of people half-assing things. If you don’t like where you are, then get yourself to where you want to be. Sounds simple, right? Why would you continue to go somewhere, either to a job you don’t love, or to a company you don’t like day after day?

For the first group, stop complaining. If you actually cared, you would do something about it. For the second group, if you’ve decided you actually want to make the place you’re in better, I came up with a simple two step system that will lead you to success in almost anything.

Step 1: Give a shit

Step 2: Prove it

Now, before anyone gets on my case about how simple these steps are in theory and how hard they are in practice, all I have to say is, I know. If it wasn’t difficult, it wouldn’t be worth it. I’m sorry if that isn’t what you wanted to hear.

These steps must be used together. If you give a shit about something without proving it, you accomplish nothing, change nothing, and only end up annoying yourself. If you don’t give a shit about what you are doing, you have nothing to prove and therefore will likely give up shortly after trying.

Wanting to be good at something, or wanting to change something along gets you nowhere. It affects no change. If you actually want to change something, you need to want it so bad that you DO something about it. In essence, you need to give a shit, and prove that you give a shit to yourself, or others.

But Erik, that still sounds ridiculously oversimplified, this can’t actually work, right? Do you have some examples? Why yes, Erik pretending to speak as a reader, I do.

Fed up with the way testing certifications are pushed on testers and organizations with wild claims of ROI and other garbage? Keith was, and he did something about it.

Think adults should fucking be allowed to talk like adults sometimes? Ilari sure did (and he proved it too).

Want to help disadvantaged people learn skills that can get them a decent job with a future, oh, and maybe turn a few of them into kick ass testers too? Done. (If you’re reading this Keith, Joe or Paul, keep me in the loop about Columbus)

Feel opportunities for testers in your area are lacking? Are you going to prove you care, or just sit there?  How about founding something like this, or coordinating something like this, or planting seeds for things like peer conferences in your area?

Looking for ways outside of the existing, accepted training systems to help raise the skill level of testers in a meaningful way? Matt did, and he proved it.

Are you working as a consultant somewhere and feel you need a desire to influence things outside the scope of your role? Do you sit there and ignore it, or do you do what Pete did and reach out to outsiders who can freely share their perspectives and ideas (because they aren’t on the clock) and possibly help sway things in the right direction?

Do you think kids, especially those with special needs could be represented better at the administrative level? What do you do, sit in your classroom (give a shit) and continue to get annoyed, or do go through administrative training (prove it) so you can get yourself into a role where you can affect change? Sorry no links for this one, but trust me, it happened.

Want me to keep going? OK

Did you just wake up as a tester or test manager with years of “experience” only to find you really don’t know jack crap about testing? OK, don’t hate on yourself too much, it happens. The real question is what are you going to do about it? Are you going to sit there and feel sorry for yourself, or are you going to prove that you give a shit? Here is what I did when I found myself in this place (all since August 2012):

  • Attended CAST 2012

  • Started following key people (now over 400) in the testing industry on Twitter

  • Got Matt Heusser and Pete Walen to come onsite to do training/consulting

  • Started running tester games at work

  • Started facilitated tester discussions at work

  • Gave a lightning talk* at the first ever MMTMD

*I didn’t actually speak per se, but my thoughts were eloquently conveyed thanks to the Android text-to-speech British chap.

  • Started a tester meetup

  • Put together a team to compete in the NRGGlobal tester competition run by Matt Heusser

  • Convinced Paul Holland to bring RST to Cleveland so I (and others in my area) could attend

  • Registered for BBST Foundations this fall

  • Accepted to speak at CAST 2013

  • Registered for CAST 2013

  • Signed up for TestRetreat

  • Promised participation in the AST Leadership SIG TLC event the day after CAST 2013

  • Bugged various members of the Miagi-Do school until one agreed to challenge me at TestRetreat

  • Oh, and I almost forgot, I started a blog

I don’t mean to brag with this list. I am not trying to sound like I am better than anyone but myself.  A year and a half ago, none of these things were even on my radar, let alone things I was thinking of doing “someday”. This is my attempt to show that over the past year, I started to give a shit about my career and education and the growth and opportunities for those around me.

So what is my point with all of this? I have a few. The idea of my two step process has been floating around in my head for a while. The more I thought about it, the more I needed to get it out for my own sanity. I also hope that somewhere in all of this rambling, one person finds something that makes them want to get up and DO something. Oh, and if you are that person, it doesn’t count unless you actually do the thing you want to do.

I Get Interrogated

OK, so interrogated might be a little strong. Phil Kirkham (you all follow Phil on Twitter, right?) asked me to participate in his “Five Questions” blog series, after I said how awesome the series is (see what happens when you speak up?)

You can read my responses, and the rest of the series, here.

The Birth of a Tester Gathering Part 2 – I Finally Get Moving

Part two in my series on creating a meetup is going to cover everything in the past week (since the first post).

I actually wrote the first post immediately after attending Matt Hutchinson’s group in Columbus.  Matt gave me so many things to think about, and lessons he learned from starting his own group, that I found it fitting that I attend his group first.

Matt’s group focuses exclusively on testing, but any one interested in the topic is welcome to attend.  Matt comes up with topics for each session and posts them on the group’s site ahead of time.  From what I can tell from attending one session, Matt’s focus is on the discussion.  He has a minimal number of slides, used to show a brief agenda and to cover introductions, and uses the projector the rest of the time to display sites and information relevant to the topic at hand. Matt’s role is to facilitate the discussion, not run it.  He jumps into the conversation when he has something to add, or when it starts to fizzle out.  The meeting I attended dealt with mobile testing, a topic Matt freely admitted he knew little about.  Despite having little prior knowledge, Matt researched the topic and came prepared with a variety of sites covering information on tools and information that he peppered throughout the discussion.  He has a core group of regular attendees, and a rotating group outside of that.  There were 17 of us (if I remember correctly), and for it being the first meeting in a new location that did not seem like a bad turnout to me.

If you are in or around the Columbus OH area and you are looking for a tester meetup, I highly recommend you hit up the Software QA & Testing Meetup.

Two days later, I met with Jeff ‘Cheezy’ Morgan on the Leandog boat.  I had though about talking to someone at Leandog about the meetup for some time.  When I started fishing for info on Twitter and mentioned I was in the Cleveland area, I received a (small) barrage of messages from Michael Bolton telling me I needed to talk to Leandog. (I listened eventually, see?)  Jeff told me about the various groups that they already run or host, and I explained what I was looking for in a group.  He gave me some great advice on recruiters, sponsorship and location.  Jeff is also the person who got me to just go ahead and post my meetup site now (more on that in a second).  I felt very lucky to get the chance to meet with Jeff (it feels weird to me to call a man cheezy unless he asks me to).  Once I get to the point of setting up my first meeting, I may have to hit him up again about possibly hosting it.  The boat is in a pretty central spot for pretty much anyone around Cleveland.

So I made a page.  I renamed the thing two or three times wavered on some stupid ones, and got a gem of a name (with a handy acronym) from Michael Bolton: Northern Ohio Testers in Collaborative Engagement, or NOTiCE for short.  Cool huh?  Well, I like it, so …

Luckily I got a notice that meetup.com was going to send info about my group out to 73 members of the “community” on Sunday, the day after I finalized the name, and ordered some sweet networking cards (e.g., business cards for use at networking events to promote NOTiCE, this blog, and… oh, they have my Twitter handle too.

So here I am.  The company hosting the site for my group supposedly sent info to some number of people, I posted my first official tweet about it (and already got some MI and NY love!), and I am plotting and scheming about how to get the word out, and make people interested in joining the group.

Based on my readership thus far, most of you reading this right now are in some far off land (like Sweden, New Zealand, Romania, or Canada), or nowhere near Ohio.  BUT, if you happen to be one of the few who are near Cleveland, and you have an interest in meeting other testers here and discussing testing with them, please take a look at my meetup page. Let me know what topic ideas you have, let me know if you have interest in helping me run this crazy thing, or just let me know you would want to show up to >0 meetings.

From here I will be attempting to gather support (or least get people to know the thing exists), probably tweeting the heck out of the page and my new #NOTiCE hashtag (I know, I know it’s not really new since hashtags are case-insensitive when searched, but it looks cool), and I still have the MMTMD session on 03/23/13 where I’m talking about starting a meetup and/or running Zendo with Phil, Matt, Pete, Hilary and others.

I plan one or two more posts in this series, at a minimum.  One to cover the today -> hosting a meeting part, and one to sum up all of my recommendations for anyone else wanting to start their own group.

I want to thank everyone who has offered me guidance, advice, information and ideas thus far.  I know I haven’t named you all, and short of mining Twitter for the past few months, I won’t be able to, but please know that I appreciated whatever it was you gave me.

Hey!  I am now the proud organizer of a group with 2, count ’em 2 members! Yeah, one is still me, and I work with the guy who just joined, but nonetheless, I am not the only one here!

Balance to Avoid Inattentional Blindness

NPR had an interesting piece on this morning about a study of inattentional blindness on radiologists. link

I was a little sad that they didn’t include ‘tester’ of any kind in their short list of professional searchers. It hit me while listening to the story how easy it is to train someone to NOT see potentially important information. Give them too detailed of instructions and most people will do exactly what yo stated, nothing more. Tell them too specifically what they are looking for, and many will miss everything else.

How does this relate to testing? I see it as a divide between two (for purposes of this example, extreme) camps: exploratory testing vs. testing via test plans.

Personally, I like exploratory testing, I find it more freeing, and it allows me to just play with stuff. The downside is, without any structure around it (charters, time boxing, outline of goals, etc) I tend to dive into the minutia of some esoteric part, and I miss important, big things. On the opposite end of the spectrum you have detailed do-this-expect-that type test plans (or scripts if you want to go even further in that direction). These can be beneficial in verifying that a previous error no longer occurs in the exact way it did in the past (if you need to do that), or for giving brand new testers an idea of things to look for in testing. If all you ever do is follow plans though, you will not train your brain to search for anything ‘weird’. You will be repeatedly teaching yourself to only do what the paper says. Machines do that. Anyone else remember these existed?

Balance is the key. Use some sort of frame for your exploratory testing. Don’t just dive in totally free form; create enough structure around what you are doing to allow you to stop and take a breath once  . Coming back to reality will help keep you from getting stuck too far down in the details. If you are tasked with following a plan, stop every once in a while and look at the product. Look at it outside of the context of the expected results and try things. Give yourself a set amount of time and then go back to the plan.

Stop defeating yourself

<02/03/13 Edited for clarity>

What do you do when you are told an idea you had, something you’ve done, or a decision you made was wrong?  Maybe someone told you your idea was not heading in a direction they would have taken? What if your boss tells you you made a choice that they would not have made? What do you do when someone tells you an idea you had, or something you’ve done, or a decision you’ve made is not the direction they would have taken, or not the choice they would have made? Based on my experience, most people do one of two things.

1. They get defeated. They take the criticism to heart and shut down. They drop their idea, or work to undo the work they’ve done. Each time they do this, it destroys a little bit of their will to make decisions for themselves.

This can be somewhat the fault of the person giving the feedback, but it is mostly the fault of the person who let themselves be defeated so easily.

Or

2. They realize that at the end of the conversation, when the smoke clears, that nothing changed. If your supervisor tells you they wouldn’t have done things the way you did, but then DOESN’T tell you to stop, or to undo what you did, who won?  You did!  If you feel strongly that you are doing things the right way, you get to keep doing the right thing.

An even better option (I know, I know, I said there were only two, but it’s my blog), is to win like option two, and then think about the feedback you got. Why did someone tell you they didn’t like your idea?  Could you have communicated it in a better way?  Did you leave out key pieces of information that would have made your idea or decision more palatable to your audience?  Do you need to even share your ideas with that person in the future?

I have watched too many people take negative (non-constructive) feedback that included no consequences as a sign that they should stop thinking or doing like they did. Pay close attention. Even if you feel scolded, if you weren’t told to stop, you just won.

If you really want to do the best you can, you should be looking for whatever feedback you can get. For more on this, please read Keith Klain’s excellent post on scrutiny.