Monday, November 23, 2015

On Motivation, part 2

As the discussion I was having with the Unicorn at the coffee shop was winding up, a fellow I worked with a few years ago came in looking rather, frazzled. He joined us, although he looked rather askance at the unicorn. We made small talk for a bit. He had been promoted some 6 months before to a manager position and seemed frustrated.

The reason he seemed frustrated eventually seeped out. He was frustrated. He was trying to get "his resources" to "engage" in some new methods of doing things.

About this time, the unicorn bowed out and excused himself. I'm not sure this fellow even noticed him sitting at the table.

When we had worked together, he struck me as one who was perpetually looking to make a mark in some way. He always acted as if he knew better than anyone on the team or in a discussion on addressing any problem. He made sure that he offered advice to team leads and managers on how to address a problem - which normally involved wholesale changes to bring whatever was under discussion to be brought in line with whatever his set of beliefs were at the moment.

Funny though - his "beliefs" tended to shift. I'm not sure why.

It almost was as if he looked at whatever the situation was - and decided it needed to be different. Why things were the way they were or how they got that way did not seem to matter.

He deemed them valueless and needed to be completely replaced.

I got pretty tired of it after a while. When I was moved to a different group following a reorganization (yeah, these guys did that every 6 months or so) I did not miss the turmoil or drama of someone ranting about how screwed up things were.

Back to the coffee shop...

So, the fellow was trying to get "his resources" to "engage" in new methods of doing things. The challenge was that people were pushing back. They had always grumbled. Now, they were refusing "to cooperate."

And he was frustrated.

So I took a deep breath and tilted my head, just so, and asked "The processes that were in place before, the ones you replaced. Why were they implemented?"

I think he wanted to glare at me. Actually, I suspect he wanted to punch me. Instead, he said, "Look. This is stupid. I know what needs to be done and how things should be. And they just don't want to do it."

And I sipped my coffee and asked, "Remember when we used to complain about the 'policy du jour' and every 6 months everything changed, unless a new manager rolled in sooner than that? Remember how we used to kvetch about things changing for no apparent reason?"

He glared at me. Frankly, I think he thought I wanted to hit me. (That is funny to people who have met both of us.) "Look," he says, "the problem is these people just don't want to embrace anything new. It is not me or my problem - it is them."

He left the coffee shop. I suspect it may be a while before he goes to that coffee shop again.

The Problem

I suspect that is a pretty good summation of the view of people - managers, directors, VPs, dictators, whatever - "It is not me, it is them."

The irony is, in my experience, the first and foremost rule of anyone looking to change or improve things is - Learn and Understand how things got the way they are.

It is rarely as straight-forward as some would have it. Problems exist - Processes exist - Processes are normally introduced to address specific problems. Other problems may not be addressed by the changes, but, these are usually judged to be lower priority than the ones that are being addressed.

So, new Managers, Leads, VPs, Directors, Bosses... whatever - Before you make changes, I have found it to be a really good idea to take the time in how the organization got there. Even if you "watched" the "mistakes" happen - it is unlikely you were in the discussions that looked at the needs, the problems and the alternatives that got you to where you are.


If you want your "resources" to "get on the bus" and support you, I suggest you take the time to learn these things. Without doing so, it is almost certain that the people you expect to do the things you are mandating, will give your direction and instructions the appropriate level of effort and dedication.

None at all.

Because, when you move on, all these changes will be changed, and nothing will really change.

So, what is the motivation you have to make changes? Are you trying to "make your mark?" Or are you trying to do what is right for the organization?

Friday, October 30, 2015

On Motivation, part 1

I recently wandered into a neighborhood coffee shop for a little defocusing - and some of their Kenyan roast coffee and a fresh scone. While in line to place my order, my friend the unicorn walked in.

We had not intended to meet, it was just a happy chance. We sat down with our respective coffee and began talking. As happens sometimes, the 'catching up' developed into talking about something of interest. In this case, we found ourselves talking about motivation. We quickly set aside the stuff about "motivating people" and turned to forms of motivation - what motivates, maybe inspires, people to do work.

Most technical people we know who seek advancement and promotion into leadership or management positions fall into a few groups. Now, this isn't a terribly scientific study, just what the unicorn and I have seen.

There are the folks who really don't want to manage people and like having their hands dirty - they like the technical challenges that come with bigger titles and pay-grades.

Then there is the other major group - They want to lead beyond a technical perspective. They want to be "in charge"

The first type - These are the same type you find in very technical enlisted roles in the military - they soar through ranks at lightning speed. They display astounding prowess at tasks that others cannot comprehend. They show others how to do things, then dive in next to them in the doing - teaching their juniors what they are doing, how and why. They leave officers shaking their heads at how astoundingly well they do their jobs.

Until they get to the level where they "supervise" others. Then they don't get to do what they really like doing. Then they watch other people do what they want to be doing. And the longer they are in, the higher the rank they achieve and the further they get from doing what they truly want to do. So they leave - they don't reenlist.

In Corporate-Land, these same people, if they get assigned or promoted beyond "getting their hands dirty" and doing what they like doing, tend to resign and take another job. 

The second type - These are the folks who want to get into "leadership" positions. They are the movers and shakers and the up-and-comers in the organization.

Some folks have a negative view of everyone who is in this second, broad group. Neither the unicorn nor I can really fault people for having ambitions or desires. Nor could we really find fault with people wanting to get ahead and move up the ladder.

After all, if they are reasonably competent in technical roles, maybe - just maybe - they will remember what it was like in those roles as they move up in the organization chart.

For me, when dealing with managers or directors or other boss-types, I find it helpful if they have some appreciation of the challenges of the work done by technical folks, be it developers, DBAs, testers, whatever. While they may not be able to help from a technical perspective, they may be able to offer assistance in other ways, for example, running interference with other, less technical managers or functionaries.

People growing into roles that challenge them is an excellent thing. It is a desirable thing in my mind. Granted, the roles I have moved into have not been management ones. My forays into management have convinced me that I do not have the right "makeup" for managing others.

I salute those who do have that makeup and make full use of it. Indeed, I salute those managers who are motivated to manage others well, and help those they manage discover what it is that motivates them.

A third type - These folks who want to get into "leadership" positions for reasons I find to be less than honorable. Maybe you have heard that "Power Corrupts." I find the question of why one seeks power to perhaps shine a light on just how true that is, or is not.

Some people have something less than altruistic motives. Some desire high rank for achieving their own ends - their own self-aggrandizement. In these instances, I suspect the corruption has already occurred - and the quest for power is, in fact, the motivation.

The unicorn blinked at me.

He said something to the effect that people have their own motivations. He chuckled (a scary sound, frankly) at the thought that some of these sounded like Death Eaters. I did stop a moment and consider.

I was reminded that individual people are motivated by different things and these generally are internal to each of them. Their motivation drives their choices and how they work, just as mine do.

I can accept or reject those motivations and actions based on my values and what I hold important.  I can also choose to not associate with those whom I find I can not support.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

On Service, Servants and Software

A few weeks ago, I was having a glass of wine with a couple of colleagues one evening discussing the role of Software Testers in developing good and well-performing software. There were some of the oft-stated lines about "not running the project" and "not owning quality" and "you can't test quality in" and so forth. We dismissed them as trite and irrelevant.

Where we landed was:
Software Testers serve the needs of the project and support other participants and stakeholders.

This brought up ideas around how the above can be interpreted. One person made an observation of a distinction between "service and servants" - one apparently triggered by something he heard or read and could not recall the source.

This sent us into the question of what "service" meant. Being who we were, we wandered off to distant times to discuss this idea. Of old, the Samurai of Japan were in service to others - at least in theory. In Europe, knights held their position through service to their lords. In both cases, it was possible to lose one's station - that bit often gets left out of the romantic stories. The romantic stories tend to overlook some parts and emphasize others. Reality was never as neat and tidy as stories, books and movies would have it.

Still, we looked at the idea of serving others.

Testers are in service to others. 

Then again, software developers are also in service to others. As are others in the various roles around software development. As are those whom we develop software for. The needs being addressed usually are problems that need to be addressed to support those whom they, in turn, serve.

People serve people who serve people.

Most folks, in their working life, serve someone else. We don't want to admit it, but unless we who are paying others - who serves whom? How do we get the money we earn?

The simple fact is, being in service and serving others are closely linked. I find people who object to being "servants" are people I cannot completely understand. When they object to being "servants" I look to see how they treat those who serve them.

It dawned on me in that discussion that there was much some people could learn about service, servants and servitude from people who are in service. Most Americans don't really know what that means or entails, to be "in service."

Perhaps that is part of the problem.

Some people see people who serve others as some form of lower life than they are. They have adopted a Victorian or Edwardian view of "station in life" - maybe they watched too many episodes of "Upstairs/Downstairs" or "Downton Abbey."

They see the films or shows where the household staff (servants) turn and face the wall when the family in the house, the ones they are "in service" to, pass them in the hall or stairway.

So now these folks treat waitstaff at restaurants as inferiors. They also tend to look down on hotel staff, flight attendants, sales clerks, construction workers, the simple minded, physically (and mentally or emotionally) handicapped, emotionally damaged, traffic cops, TSA agents, teachers, administrative assistants, clerical staff, med techs, nursing assistants, gardeners, Mexicans, Asians, Indians, or any other they see as beneath them.

I suspect, when one has such a superior opinion of themselves and a low opinion on lesser beings, that it is easy to look down on others - that the thought of being looked down on by others is repugnant.

If we, as testers, serve others, does that make us lesser beings?

Does that make us inferior?

Hardly - unless your ego is so fragile that it can't handle the simple idea stated above.

I've been in software for longer than some folks with such attitudes. I know as a developer, business analyst, project manager or software tester, my role exists so I can be of service to... someone else.

As a person in software development, I am a servant to a broader purpose. My purpose is to aid the project, make the software better, and by extension, make the company better.

Yes, Testers provide a service.

We are in service.

We are servants.

We serve for the betterment of our organizations, our craft and ourselves.

We are second to none.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

How Advice to Beginning Pipe Bands also Works for Testers

When I was in demand to teach drumming workshops for pipe bands, I used to wrap up weekend sessions with new, or new-ish, bands with a session for both pipers and drummers. Usually, after they have had a practice together.

The typical format for these workshops was generally straight forward. I'd roll in Saturday morning between 7:30 and 8:00 AM with coffee and a pile of donuts and bagels (something like at "Take 10" from Tim Hortons, where an entire pot is in a take-away box with a stack of cups and sugar, milk, cream, etc.,) and a mix of donuts. People would start showing up a bit later, find coffee ready - at least enough to hold everyone over until a pot was brewed and ready at the venue. I'd set up the materials needed for the day while folks were chatting and drinking coffee, although some opted for power/energy drinks they brought themselves.

We'd work in sections, according to a pre-defined schedule. For example, beginning snare drummers at 9:00, more advanced snare drummers around 10:30. Break for lunch around 12 or 12:30 and back at it again as soon as possible after that. When I finished with each group, they'd head off and work on their assignments/exercises in a corner or a different room. Early afternoon, I'd work with tenor and bass drummers, typically, around 1:30 or 2:00. Around 3:00 everyone would come together and play exercises as a group - and then work on playing music.

We'd break around 5:30 or 6:00 for supper. After that, while officially "done for the day," usually, I'd work with people one or two at a time - if they wanted to. That would be more informal and very relaxed as we were all pretty tired by then.

Sunday, we'd start a little later, depending on venue and the individual band. We'd spend a lot more time working as a full group, working on the music and exercises from the day before. If someone was having a challenge with a passage, I'd spend a little time with them. If they still needed help, I'd send them off with someone who had it right to work on their own. The emphasis on Sunday was to work as a group, together, to make sure everyone was progressing - and to be ready to play with the pipers when they joined the drummers.

Usually the results were pretty good. The drummers were pleased to have made obvious progress. The pipers were pleased to hear the drummers playing with them and sounding good. At the end of the practice, I'd give a wrap up talk and encourage the drummers in particular and the band in general to keep working.

A typical message was something like:

The band has made huge strides. You all have come a very long way from (some point earlier.) This weekend the drummers have worked their butts off trying to get things just right. There has been really good progress, and there is still more work to do.

At the level of band's development and performance, there are a couple of things to think about and a bunch of stuff to set aside and ignore.  Don't worry about wearing the latest style of uniform. If the band can afford only the basics - kilt, shirt, cap - then so be it. If the kilts don't match - so be it. You are starting out. All that stuff will come. Don't worry about designing band cap badges or patches for the shirts or who wears what insignia. Don't worry if the drums don't match in make or color.

All of that will come in time. All of that will come as you get established and play out in public.

Don't worry about anything anyone else says to or about you. Don't worry about the condescending comments that some pipers or pipe bands will make. Don't worry about what other bands have or what attention they get.

Don't worry about seeking the same attention they get.

Work for yourselves. Practice hard and well. Practice individually. Practice with small groups. Rehearse as a band. Play well with the best sound, tone and execution you can achieve.

That will get the attention of people you want to get the attention of. If you are competing, the judges will know you are a new band and will not worry about details like if the kilts don't match. They will be focusing on what you do as a group. They will listen to how you perform. Perform well and the rest does not matter.

Let others worry about the periphery. You worry, and do something about, your task at hand. Let your fingers and hands do your talking for you.
To testers, I'd like to say something similar.

The people shouting for attention and making a big deal about what they are doing - let them. Truth will out, as is sometimes said. Eventually people will figure out if there is something to their shouting or not.

Don't worry about them.

Don't worry about what they say. Really don't worry about what they say about you.

Let them.

Do what needs to be done to support your organization.

Educate over time by doing good work, then explaining the work you do - gently, in language that is understood by the people asking. Work to develop your understanding - and share the understanding you develop.

Share that with developers you work with, other testers, people who ask at the coffee or snack station or cafeteria.

You don't need to be a name at conferences or on twitter to be able to influence other people and help them learn.

Most people doing good work are doing it quietly, getting the job done and moving on to the next item.

The clanging gongs of people shouting about how cool they are are just that. Noise.

Let the work you do, do the shouting for you. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hanging With the Cool Kids and Self-worth

I don't remember what grade I was in while at school that I realized I was not one of the cool kids. I was not one of the guys good at basketball, I was OK at football, but there were loads of folks better. I was slow, had terrible hand-eye coordination (can't be that astigmatism that has been addressed partly with my cataract surgery a few years ago...) - and as sporting ability was one of the defining points for cool-kids at that school, that was a significant handicap.

Then there was "social standing." My parents were nominally "middle class." At one time, they might have been considered "artisans" but to some folks, how much money one makes determines significance in society.

Alas, that seems to have not changed very much in the intervening years.

How much money one makes determines how important one is.

When I was in elementary and high school, that translated into the material goods the kids in school had - the shoes, designer labels, the other sundries students needed or wanted.

I expect that has not changed much either.

Since I was not very good at most sports, and my parents did not have loads of money to throw around - well, that was two strikes against me. So, I carried on as best as I could. I expect most people do.

Some folks made a point of rejecting the cool kids. Looking back, that seems a defense mechanism. "They did not reject me, I rejected them." I've seen it my kids and grandkids. I expect I did something similar.

So, on to college/university and hung with people who worried more about what we did and learned than what our parents did or how popular (and why) we were or who wanted to be seen with us and who we  wanted to be seen with. I guess, the folks I hung with then had an influence on me now.

and now...

I'm not a cool kid when it comes to testing. At one time, I thought "Gee, since testers are not among the cool kids in software, we must be all pretty decent folks."

Then I learned people did not really all think that way. There were folks who had significant ideas what testing was and was not. They were convinced they were right. Those who agreed with them were right also, and were "cool."

Except the folks who disagreed with them were also convinced they were right. The people who aligned with them were "cool."

Except there were levels of "cool" within both groups. There were the ones who leveled everything on a couple of issues or points. Maybe a single issue. If you agreed with them on that issue, you might not be cool, but you were not "misguided" or "wasting their time."

At least, not completely.

They may not let you into their "inner circle" but they'd talk to you at conferences. Maybe. Kind of like the cool kids who knew your name in school and sometimes spoke to you in the hallway.

It became clear to me some time ago that I am not a cool kid among testers.

I thought I wanted to be. I have learned clearly, that I am not. There are people who want to be included with the cool kids, one group or another. There are people who, like the hangers-on at school, want to be included and gleefully repeat the words of the cool-kids and retweet them and, and, and...

And so many people turn off their brains when the cool-kids speak. They so want to be accepted that - yeah - they are good with that. No matter what it is or means. They are fine with that.

Screw the cool kids.

Look to yourself. Look to your own journey. Find the things you think are important and work on those things. If some "major name" won't talk to you because you disagree? Screw them. They are not worth your trouble or effort.

Look to how you can improve the people around you. Help them get better and help yourself continue learning. Sure. The cool kids are all talking about some book. So what? Do you feel compelled to read it or quote it because they do, or because it makes sense and has a bearing on what you are trying to do?

Challenge your beliefs. Do you believe them because the cool kids said this is what you need to believe? Or maybe, you believe them because you have seen how things work in the wild?

Or maybe you reject some idea from the cool kids because you have not found they are true for you.

When you get to the point of thinking for yourself - you will realize that you can redefine what it takes to be a cool kid. Do what needs to be done. Learn what needs to be learned and share it with anyone who will listen, read, whatever.

Then you know what that means?

You are the cool kid.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

On Facing Forward

The lady-wife and I were enjoying a glass of wine in the quiet evening last night. I was relaxing from a crazy-busy week at the day job. She was recovering from her own week of challenges. We both commented on the end of summer.

Mind you, we both can read a calendar and we know when summer "ends." We have had remarkably mild weather the last week or so. For August, it has been very cool. We have had a decent mix of rain and sun. The garden is absolutely loving it.

The squash are flourishing as are the tomatoes and the various plants in the salad garden. The potatoes are looking good as well. Still, the weather has been very cool - more late September than late August. I'm not minding too much, the air conditioner has not been running, so lower electric bills. The rain has been consistent enough where the rain-barrels have not really been empty since mid-July. So, lower water bills from less watering.

Looking Forward

We are looking forward to our annual excursion in a couple of weeks to the Wheatland Music Festival outside of Remus, Michigan. Absolutely massive weekend of music and friends and an excellent way to mark the end summer. We volunteer with the recycling crew, as we have for the last 20 years or so. The lady-wife talks with people about ideas for recycling and projects and simple things that people can do at home that save them money and are good for the environment. I do less of that and more of "immediate need" stuff - like dealing with compost-able materials from the various kitchens and food vendors. Which includes shovels and work gloves and improving the quality of the soil - in a couple of years.

We cold camp among pine trees with friends - play music and share food starting Thursday afternoon (we get up before the festival opens to help get stuff set-up) through Sunday afternoon. Coffee made on the camp-stove, prepared food we heat up and enjoy - along with various adult beverages being passed around and songs and tunes shared all make it a special weekend for us all.

It is something we look forward to all year.

When we first began volunteering, we did what we were told. We did what needed to be done. We shared laughs and, in my case, a fair amount of manual labor. We drank beer and coffee and had a good time. One year, we cooked bacon and eggs Sunday morning in the recycling tent as we had brought way more than was needed - and the food needed to be used. So, we shared.

There were "crew leaders" and "shift leaders" who made sure everything that needed to be done was done - when it needed to be done. Now, 20 years on, we are in those roles. Our "crew" this year includes the kids of people who were our crew and shift leaders when we started. One year, our oldest grandson was part of the volunteer crew.

It is strange, to some folks I expect, that part of what we are doing when working at this Festival, is teaching people what we know about composting, recycling, teaching and learning. We are also teaching people to take over our jobs - to do the things we are doing at some point in the future. 

The work I do at this Festival, really is "young man's work." It is physically demanding - even when you do manual labor on a regular basis. I expect this might be one of the last years where I actually do that level of work, instead of scheduling others to do it - and coach and encourage and cajole.

We do that anyway - it comes with the territory. But, us old folks jumping in and working as hard as the youngsters helps set an example to them, and to the casual observers walking past. I rarely end up with my clothes being anything but filthy at the end of a shift. That may be coming to an end as well.

A lot of things are that way.

In a matter of weeks, I will move from "Member of the Board of Directors of the Association for Software Testing" to "Former Member..." I am in the middle of transitioning away from being the Conference Chair for CAST - and returning to a back-bencher.

Several people at this year's CAST mentioned, off-the-record of course, the energy of the conference. The observation so many people made ran something like "Wow. The energy at this year's conference was amazing. There were loads of people who were eager to talk and share ideas and it was fantastic."

That made me feel very good.

Others commented on something else - "Wow. There were some really fantastic speakers and not very many were 'big names.' There were a few present and the tutorials were fantastic and lots of good ideas were shared. And still, these were not the major names people look for at conferences and they had great information and ideas to share."


That folks, is part of handing things on to the next generation of testers.

The amazing thing to me is that, stepping down as one of the "experienced" members of the board - I am wrapping up 3 years of service. The members who were not up for re-election have all served one year. All are experienced testers. They have management experience - and they are taking up the reins to direct AST.

They have knowledge and ideas.  They have energy and drive.

I am excited for the future of AST.

Getting something into good shape, or the best shape you can get it, so it can be handed off to the next generation is part of what makes the world what it is. It takes people being willing to hand over the responsibility to the next generation. It takes people in the next generation being willing to take on and do the jobs that need to be done.

That is part of people, old guard and new, facing the future together.

Face Forward.

Eyes to the Front.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Creating Spaces for People to Learn - Confessions of a Recovering Jerk

When I was a hard-core competition drummer, an up-and-coming serious competitor who was building a cadre of drummers who could do amazing things, I was a jerk. At least as far as some people were concerned.

I was busy with band practices on Sundays, for 5 hours, and two weeknights - one for my band and one for the student band. Then another night each week, I taught private lessons. Another night every other week, I taught group or sectional lessons. The other night I did yard work, house work, and whatever else needed to be done that I had time to do. Because when weekends rolled around during the "competition season" I was leaving town Friday afternoon for a Games or Festival on Saturday.

All that work paid off. We won a lot of contests, I collected a stack of trophies and, in time, prize money from professional solo contests. People in other bands looked at us and shook their heads in amazement how we could win so consistently. We talked of the hours of practice we put in - individually and as sections and as a band.

As time went on, people wanted lessons from me. If they were not interested in getting up to competition standard then the answer was flat-out "no." I did not have time. My very limited resources were being put into getting people to play very well, very quickly - and maintain my own level of play as well. I demanded much from my students and from myself.

The people who were turned down walked away not understanding why I was not interested in helping people who wanted to play drums, particularly in pipe bands, for fun.  A fair number decided I was not a nice person and rather a jerk. There were other words spoken of and to me, but this is the "G-Rated" version of the story.

As time went on, the workshops blended together. The years and contests and games blended one into another. I made many friends - became acquainted with a fair number of good folk and scoundrels. There were some memorable times - and evenings. Bottles passing around the circle, stories being told. Some of them were true, I suspect.

Some of these good people I still stay in contact with.

When the time came that I hang up my competitive kilt and drum sticks, I found I had time for other things. I took to teaching a broader variety of drumming styles. Jazz, blues, interesting mixes of styles and techniques for people who wanted to learn. I found myself teaching drums at a music shop in town, in addition to the "day job" of software.

Some people were not impressed and moved on. That is normal. Some stayed and took lessons for many years and got very good indeed. I found myself digging into the archives of my memory, finding notes and ideas from my teachers many years before. I passed on techniques to those who could learn and then master them. I did my best to honor the memory of my teachers by sharing their lessons with students born years after my teachers had died.

I did less and less with competitive pipe bands. Time moved on. For several years,  my contact with pipe bands was limited to phone calls or emails from former students calling to share their success at some major contest or other. Part of me missed the comradely good-fellowship. I know my lady-wife missed a fair number of our friends made over the years whom we'd see every weekend - or more often. I did as well.

A funny thing happened.

I found I could work in the garden and enjoy it - without the pressure of getting it done TODAY because tomorrow I was leaving for... somewhere. I found there was a life beyond competition pipe bands.

My lady-wife and I began going to some of the contests and festivals and games just to socialize and see old friends. I rather jokingly became a member of what I termed the "pith helmet highlanders" - the folks sitting around the beer tent at festivals wearing bits of band kit pontificating on how easy bandsmen had it these days... and regaling any and all and sundry with "Back in MY day..." stories.

At one of these local festivals, the lady-wife looked around and asked "Where are all the elders?" We had become the elders. I was now one of the people that young drummers approached with a mix of depredation and awe offering a beer in exchange for a tidbit of advice on how they could get better. I recognized them because I had done the same thing myself many years before.

My students now had students - and they were the ones who came up and asked - "Excuse me, are you Mr. Walen?" "Hi, I'm Pete, who do you play with? I'm very pleased to meet you..."

Now, it has been over a year since I've even been to a festival. And another funny thing has happened. I have people from local community pipe bands asking if I can teach their drummers. Instead of sending them packing, as I would have 15 or 20 years ago, we talk about how many drummers they have and when does the band meet for practices.

It has been several years since I taught at a music store. And I'm back to teaching private lessons one night a week in my kitchen - a classic location for pipe band lessons: the kitchen table.

Except, I'm not working on the fine points of some technique question. I'm not working with students struggling with a phrase in the 4th part of Alex Duthart's score for "Lord Alexander Kennedy." I'm working with people who want to learn the basics of playing with a pipe band so they can play parades and the occasional "Celtic Festival." No competition stress. No emphasizing the need to play scores of a given difficulty.

Instead, I'm helping them reach the goals they have for their drumming - play at a reasonable level of competence and not embarrass themselves in front of other pipe bands. I'm helping them reach the goals they need to reach to be successful in the measures that matter to them and their bands.

Are they ever going to compete at the highest levels of competition for the World Championship title as some of my former band mates and students do? Almost certainly not.

But, they can play at functions for the Legion or FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) and have people thank them for playing and complement them for sounding so good.

In doing so, I am giving them a foundation to grow on - if they choose to. I am giving them the technique and the vocabulary they need to continue their education and development in a manner that makes sense to them.

Along the way, I can gently guide people from "this is how we did it in marching band" (either school or university) to "this is how pipe bands do it and here is how they developed differently, and why."

I give them the context for the differences. I teach them the reasons for the differences in technique and approach - and the history behind how the differences developed. These are not "good" or "bad" approaches. They are different.

A couple of police officers I am teaching drums - part of the fledgling local police pipe band - pushed back at one point. Both had played drums in high school marching band, one with a local university marching band. We talked about the differences and I demonstrated what the differences actually were - One was amazed. He mentioned his instructor and said he had simply said "Do it this way, because this is the right way to do it."

I smiled and said "He was a student of mine several years ago." His jaw dropped. I did not say how sad I was that this student had learned so little from me.

When we do not take the time to explain why we do things the way we do, can we really expect people to take us seriously? Are we not like the people spreading some "teachings" about "This is right and everyone else is an idiot, block-headed, dim-witted and wrong" whether it is drumming, religion or testing?

No matter if it is the 57,356th time we explain something to someone - it is likely the first time they have heard the explanation. Do we not owe it to them to educate and not brow-beat them?

The drumming instructor I am today is more patient than the drumming instructor I was 20 years ago. That drumming instructor self really was a jerk. And a bit of an ass-hat.

I don't need to be that way when it comes to explaining software testing, either.