Monday, January 17, 2011

Motivation and Passion, or, Don't Harsh My Testing Buzz

So, part of my daily morning ritual is to check email, check logs for runs I may have kicked off overnight, then check the "sanity" file.  That contains links to a few comics on the web.  One is Dilbert (duh, its like computer/engineer/geek/argue-about-best-Star-Trek-series heaven) the other is a web comic called Urban Jungle. 

One of the Urban Jungle comics last week was interesting.  For folks who've done anything for a period of time, the idea of burnout, or "Why am I doing this?" may not be a completely unknown feeling.  Keeping that feeling at bay can sometimes be a challenge.

Now, Lynn McKee has given some really, really good stuff on testers, motivation and passion.  I've attended two session she presented where she has done a fantastic job of moving people, particularly testers, forward to find ways to keep testers, and their leaders, passionate about what they do.

Other folks have made the observation that the problem for many leaders is to avoid de-motivating them.

Generally, I'm in the "You're responsible for finding your own inspiration" camp.  Most of the time I think testers can and should seek out and develop their own sense of purpose and motivation - the drive to become better. 

Now, I know that is not going to happen with every tester.  I've worked with some who learned things thus and see any attempt to change thus as an accusation that doing thus is wrong or bad.  Reminds me sometimes of the quote (I don't recall who said it) that people are more firmly wed to their ideas than to their spouses. 

I also know that some folks will do what they are told to do and figure that the easiest way to get along is to, well, get along and not "make waves."  After all, if you make waves or stick your neck out or do something non-conformist, bad things may happen.

If I were to think seriously about this, I'd suggest folks, managers and bosses and workers alike, think about what they do.  If everything is going great do you need to consider learning something different?  Are there newer skills that you can pick up?  Are there new ideas getting floated around out there?  How about new technologies?

I understand some reluctance on several of those points.  I probably share them.  After all, most folks who have done anything with computers or software for more than a few years have seen ideas bubble up, get embraced as the "next great thing" then fade away into oblivion.  The funny thing is, a few years later a new name will be slapped on the idea or approach and it will be repackaged and rebranded as the "next great thing." 

So what does that mean for you?  Are you so complacent as to rest absolutely assured in what you do that you can wait for the bosses to tell you the next thing to learn?  Are you so certain that what you are doing now will be the way you are doing things in five years?  Really?  Will there be no new ideas that can enter your thinking?  Will there be no new insights to drive your curiosity? 

If you are a testing boss, do you mandate every minute of what your people do?  How about your resources?  Are your people resources, like reams of paper or ink and toner cartridges?  Are your people assets to be developed and nurtured? 

If I was the Universal Lord of Testing, with the authority to mandate one thing to all testing groups and bosses everywhere, it would be this:  Allow some time each week for your people to see if there is something of interest to them that they want to learn more about.  Then, let them learn about that. 

Foster the sense of curiosity and excitement that you felt when you were learning about computers and software and programming and all the way-cool technology stuff.  Even if the first machine you worked on is now sitting in a museum, I suspect you had that feeling once upon a time. 

If you are not a boss and are a tester, I'd mandate this:  Make the time to look for something of interest to you that you want to learn more about.  Even if the boss does not "permit" it, the boss is ignoring the order from the Universal Lord of Testing (me) and therefore that "don't do it" order you get from them is improper and MUST be ignored.  Even if you spend a few minutes at home, you know, your "own" time, surfing the web, looking up on-line testing discussion groups or looking for a local testing group, you may find more rewarding things than you know currently exist. 

As my lady-wife is fond of saying, "In 10 years, you'll be 10 years older whether you do anything to make yourself better or not.  You may as well make yourself better during that time."    She's really smart that way.

So, you take charge of your own career.  Join an association - even if you need to pony up the membership fees yourself.  Buy some books, even if the company won't reimburse your expenses, the read them.  Find someone to share ideas with - or just ask questions of them.  Find something that is of interest to you and learn about it. 

The tricky thing is that it doesn't matter if you're a tester or a boss or, something else.  You can learn and improve and discover things to make yourself better.  If you're a boss, lead by example.  If you're not a boss, check what the boss is doing.  If the boss is always looking for new stuff, new ideas and new thoughts, tune in and see what is happening.  Maybe you'll learn something. 

If the boss isn't doing that, meh, they're a boss not a technician.  You're a tester.  Make yourself better.  Its your career.


  1. Excellent! This is one to share with the team for sure!

    I often find myself getting miffed by the follow the crowd mentality and sometimes find it hard to accept that people genuinely don't want to make waves for fear of upsetting people.

    I have learnt to accept this; I can't change people after all. I just have to work harder to encourage them to be more active in proposing & pushing for their proposed ideas to be accepted, and that's what I try to do now.

    Great stuff, thanks for sharing!

  2. I wish we could make every tester in the world read this. They wouldn't all act on it, but it would sure help us raise the bar in our profession. There is no reason we can't all enjoy what we do, and be great at it.

  3. Wow. Thank you both very much. I spent a fair amount of time learning the lesson that /you/ are responsible for yourself and no one else is. They may help, but you need to take responsibility for /you/. Thanks.