Sunday, August 27, 2017

Future-Proofing Your Career

As an experienced software tester and a naturally anxious person, I frequently don't feel safe unless I've thought through all of the potential disasters that can occur and mitigate risks of those occurring to the extent possible.

One such disaster would be job loss.  The mitigation for this is to prepare for the job I'd want to get if I had to get a new one.  This is a tough question for me, since I love literally about 95% of my current job. 

But thinking ahead, what are my skills, what do I *like* to do, what does the world need more of from an ethical/moral perspective, where is there going to be a good availability of jobs but not an overabundance of people training for them already?   

Unfortunately, I don't see a lot of growth in the role of software testing as a full time career path, although testing as an activity/mindset will still be needed.  In the six-year-old linked video, James Whittaker points out many demoralizing but logical reasons that we should not be too comfortable with our current skills and approaches.  We need to stay hungry....change or die. 

So what's next? I see a lot of "Should testers learn to code?" discussions out there -- I absolutely don't see why that's a question.  When there's a choice between learning a thing and not learning a thing...always learn the thing!  

I like programming and LOVE the addictive thrill of solving a problem with code.  Though counting on it as a career move, I am not sure how to jump my perception of a chasm between learning the basics and becoming a competent, ready-to-employ developer.  It seems like everyone currently employed as a developer has knowledge of optimization, the ins and outs of multithreading, all the tools, and thorough knowledge of the past and future of computers. It may also be my perception that others are more competent than they actually are...Or I'm actually more competent than I perceive myself.

Additionally, I love isolating problems and breaking them down to core components, experimental design, thinking about thinking, juggling multiple priorities, seeing multiple steps ahead. 

I have PLENTY to learn as a manager. My biggest strength as a manager is awareness of how much I have to learn, such as delegating and teaching and knowing whether to "help" or back off.

Luckily, identifying and enhancing the skills that would help me get a NEW job if I needed one may also assist in keeping me employed in a role that is evolving into something new, and dare I say, exciting. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Burnout: Turning down the flames

The best advice I've read about working extra hours is to "Be a volunteer, not a victim" from Lessons Learned in Software Testing.

I thought I was doing that. But apparently working is a lot like eating; you can only prevent a bad outcome if you stop BEFORE you think you should.

I have experience with burnout; ten years ago, oh man...that was quite a project.  So many long days and weekends, all for an impossible goal.  The lesson learned from it was that no one is going to stop by and pat me on the head and tell me to go home.  I have to take charge of my schedule and life.

Therefore even though it was a project of similar importance, I had actually been treating myself pretty kindly, only working when I had nothing better to do.  I didn't miss any school events for my kid, and I was generally there for my family when it mattered.

But in reality, I was working instead of exercising.  Working instead of *finding* something better to do.

Then when earlier this week, one...two...then three things don't go to plan...I lacked the reserve of patience & understanding to respond proportionately.

So, even more lessons learned.  During crunch times, go home or log off after 9 or 10 hours even when I'm enjoying my work.  Hit the treadmill even when I'm lost in thought.  Don't commit to work I can't do in 40 hours, even though if it doesn't feel like I'll mind.  Extra hours can generally be for catching up on surprise work only instead of surprise work *plus* what may be described as "I'm going to be a hero and try to do everything!" work. 

I can continue getting plenty of things done while ensuring that I have enough bandwidth to be flexible to changes in plans.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Move to Management

I had an unexpected shift in career trajectory resulting from my former manager's retirement at the end of February 2017.

I hadn't really seen myself in management...I'd always preferred the alternative of focusing on my own work as an individual contributor, getting closer to the guts of our program under test, Statistica.  But when presented with the opportunity, it seemed like the right course of action.

A few random realizations from 2.5 weeks:
  • None of us is an individual contributor.  We get where we are based on learning from others early in our career and first few years of tenure at a particular job.  And once we're the senior people on the team, we have a responsibility to be the teachers and guides.  The circle of professional life.  
  • Caring about your team gets you pretty far.  I've already had a few moments where I didn't know what to do, and I half-expected someone responsible to show up and take the decision out of my hands.  But alas, I was the person responsible.   I had a similar feeling about becoming a parent.  You try to prepare yourself, you learn what you can, you care intensely, you do your best, you admit your mistakes and learn from them. 
  • I can't do everything I feel like I could write a Dr. Seuss-like book "Oh the balls you will drop!" I'm such a people-pleaser and I've been described as "helpful to a fault".  I have to get over this! Sometimes things are going to sit as low-priority tasks for a while, and I will have to deal with the feeling that I'm letting someone down.  Sometimes I'm going to hurt feelings or not be strong enough in my email replies since I didn't read over it an obsessive number of times, scanning for alternative interpretations or hedging words.  
Obviously I have a lot to learn, but my team is amazing and I'm getting a lot of support from other managers, so I think everything will be okay :-) 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Gorilla Suit Testing

When I hear talk of testing in terms of requirements, I think of the Gorilla Experiment, which is cited in pretty much every book I've read in the past ten years.

Counting the passes is testing the requirements. Which are indeed important. According to the video's instructions, you had one job, so yeah, you'd better get that right.

But our customers aren't getting a copy of the requirements.  All they see is the video without the instructions, as an analogy.  And when you're not focused on the requirements, gorilla-level issues are pretty obvious.

So, you have to test your product with multiple goals and using various levels of magnification.  Once you've counted the basketballs, watch the video again and take in the big picture with no particular goals, just letting the gorillas make themselves seen.  Watch it again and see if there's anything weird going on with the team wearing black.  Watch it again, why are they in a garage in front of elevators?  Why are there S's on the wall?  Does the basketball ever change into a beach ball?

Once you've tested your requirements, congratulations, but your job is not yet finished.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Remembering Our "Why": Lessons from the Challenger explosion

Photo Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
I always remember the anniversary of the Challenger explosion.

It has stuck with me as a sad day, not just because of the deaths of those on board and the reminder of the darker side of being an adventurous species.  But because there was evidence that they shouldn't be launching at all in weather that cold.

This evidence was presented prior to launch by an engineer, Roger Boisjoly, who worked for a NASA contractor Thiokol.  NPR released an article almost five years ago, shortly after Roger Boisjoly's death.  He and other engineers forcefully argued on January 27, 1986 to delay the launch, but NASA was "appalled" by the recommendation and the Thiokol management overruled the engineers apparently under the pressure from NASA. The launch proceeded as scheduled the next morning.
"Then, a few seconds later, the shuttle blew up. And we all knew exactly what happened."
 A few takeaways from this awful series of events that have impacted my career:
  • Find a place to work where management behaves with integrity
  • Find a place to work where management trusts the expertise of its engineers and will defer to their reasonable recommendations and predictions concerning this expertise
  • We need to be attuned to pieces/features that are subject to failure and creatively think about the conditions under which they are likely to fail, especially when they're similar to conditions that the end user will be experiencing
  • Communicate with my management and other internal stakeholders clearly about risks I see and speak with as much emphasis as I feel the risk is worth.  I do my best to let things go that ultimately don't matter so that I'm more likely to get their attention when it does.  
  • I have never needed them and I don't foresee needing them in my current position, but I have a few extra levels of freakout in reserve for "this could kill people" or "this will likely kill people", where I imagine myself trying to change the minds of those in charge of a NASA launch/no launch type of decision at various temperatures. 
I hope that customers, management, and engineers keep the lessons that can be learned from the Challenger explosion in mind as our work becomes more prevalent in life vs. death situations like driving and medical diagnoses.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A "Post-Agile" Post: "If it works, do it. If it doesn't, don't".

I like simple rules of thumb. I found an article this morning with a very simple approach to the software development life cycle: "If it works, do it.  If it doesn't, don't".

Of course, it's not exactly that simple.  What does "works" mean?

I would define "works" as delivering products that people want to pay money for at a high enough quality to meet the business value of the customer and the ethical standards we should value as technical professionals.

Underlying that is customers are paying enough money in relation to what the software company is paying its workers.  So on the revenue side, we need
  • Good market research people.  
  • Good sales and good marketing people.  
  • Good customer service folks. 
All are making sure that we understand the problems customers are facing and that the customers are and feel valued and heard.
Also underlying the simple approach is we are efficient at delivering the software on the cost side. 
  • Development/QA and product management work super closely together so that there is no question what the customer wants and why. 
  • We only deliver what the customer needs or have strong evidence that they want.  
  • Developers are all focused on current customer needs, paying down any technical debt that's accrued in the past that threatens the current value of the product, or researching future technological trends -- what customers don't need now but will in 1-5 years.  
  • QA is empowered to ask questions from the beginning and in a position to find issues quickly after they're introduced.  This prevents Development/QA from having to spend time identifying, fixing, patching, and retesting issues after the initial release.  
  • Nothing is done without the customer in mind.  No documentation that doesn't directly serve a customer or promote good understanding of the product within the company.
We still need continual, honest assessment of what we're doing that's "working" and what is "not working".  But by taking the simple approach we focus less on blindly following and enforcing specifics of a process (even an Agile process) and more on the understanding and internalizing of what "works", particularly how each of our roles and interactions contribute to the value of the product.

Friday, December 30, 2016


I've been lucky enough to have a nice chunk of vacation time at the end of 2016. 

I had a big list of to-do's piling up -- things that I want to do when I have time. And now that I "have time" they're still not done. 

Because even on vacation, I still feel pulled to do things that don't help me learn new skills or provide service to others.  I do things that are important (take walks with my kid, spend time with friends and family) and those that provide more instant visual indication of progress like cleaning out the junk drawer or a closet.

Hack 1: I need to make seemingly insurmountable things like "remain employable" and "advocate for important causes" more tangible. Something I can look at and admire, like an organized drawer.  So a certificate for a completed online class.  Or keeping a list or log of phone calls I have made or postcards I have sent.

Hack 2: I need commitment or I will find something "more important" to do.  "More important" probably meaning spending time with my kid even though she probably doesn't need as much time as I give her....Or forfeiting my allotted professional development time at work because I'm too busy doing my work tasks. But if I have a friend counting on me being at a meeting or the threat of making a bad grade in an online class, I am much more likely to do what I *say* I want to do in the first place.

In short, time is not what I need.  I need to build a schedule that commits me to doing the things I care about, with adequate slack time so that I can do the important things like cuddle with the dogs.