Friday, September 18, 2020

Contractor Life - Part 1

The world of working in software changed with the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic. Loads of people were "made redundant" or "laid-off" or simply fired. Many are having a hard time getting in with their "ideal" gig. Some, some of them being people I know, have simply given up and are doing other things "for now." This post marks the first of a series of posts on my experience working as a contractor - not a consultant. There are similarities but they are decided not the same thing. I will address the differences an up-coming post.

Full Time Employee to Contract: The Beginning

The last six weeks or so, I've had conversations with several former colleagues. These were people I worked with some time ago. A couple were recent, more were several engagements and a few jobs ago. All had been "let go" recently, either the result of the COVID-19 economic downturn, or some organizational restructuring or some other reason. I asked each of them the same basic question...

What kind of gig are you looking for?

They gave answers that could be summed up as "Just like the last one I had." This seemed reasonable, given they had been in their respective roles for some time. It was where they felt comfortable. Each of them added one more thing - the same thing: "I'm not interested in contract work. I want to be a full time employee."

I asked why that was such a hard requirement. The answers could be summed up in a few points.

1. Stability
Each wanted to have some sense of stability in their position. Some had left their last role after a couple of years. A couple had been with their company for 5 to 7 years. One had been there 14 years. "Stability" has a level of attraction which makes sense.

2. Medical Insurance/Benefits
For folks in the US, this is huge. The certainty of quality health care is a massive attraction in a society where most people's health care insurance is provided, or significantly underwritten, by their employer. This might not make much sense to people outside the US, but the simple fact is, for many Americans, if they lose their job they also lose their medical and health coverage. It might not be immediate. It might be a couple of weeks or a month. But sometime soon, those will end.

3. Sense of Belonging
This is the easiest one for everyone to understand. Most people, in my experience, want to believe, or feel, they are part of something bigger than them and bigger than a paycheck. The feeling of being an "outsider" can be hard, particularly in a society where mobility has transported family connections across the continent or the globe. When your identity gets defined by what you do and where you do it, when that ends, what now is your sense of identity?

These are all reasonable expectations. At least, they would have been reasonable 20 years ago. The might have been reasonable 10 years ago. For the situation we are in now? I'm not sure how reasonable it is.

Why Do I Think That?

Over the last 15 or 20 years, I've seen a shift in practices for a fair number of companies. Typically, they had "just enough" software folks to do what they needed to do. They would be able to make tweaks to the existing systems and modifications to what was going on. There was a time when building a website or mobile app would generate a fair amount of excitement among the software folks working there.

Before then moving away from a mainframe and shifting to a client/server environment generated a fair amount of excitement. I remember one place I worked where folks were excited about the shift to the "new language" of COBOL. They were shifting from PL/1. 

Excitement isn't enough to make things happen, unfortunately. Whatever illusions I had about working in software at a single company for my entire career ended long ago. (To be precise, 1985.) I knew I would never work for a company where I'd be presented a gold watch as my grandfather was when he retired. 

For some people, working at a single company for most, if  not their entire career, is normal and wonderful. It is very comfortable. And then it becomes not comfortable.

Stability is a Myth

If you are in the States, and live and work in an "at will" State, I suspect you have less safety and security than you think you do. You can be let go at any time, with or without a reason. Sure, you can collect unemployment for a while, but that is often far, far less than you might think, if you have never been on unemployment before. 

If you, like some of my colleagues, were "let go" because of the downturn from the pandemic, you likely have come to the same realization. Companies will do what they need to do for themselves or their stockholders. A shock to the financial statements might be one thing. There might be warning signs. There might not.

Medical Insurance

In the US, if you are the primary source of insurance coverage for you and your family, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) can help, maybe. You'll need to find some form of insurance to at least cover you for a while, until you "get back on your feet." 

The first time I took on a contract role, I went in well aware of the challenges. I was working as a straight C2C/1099/Self-employed contract person. I was responsible for buying my own health insurance, paying estimated taxes quarterly and paying "full book" for taxes where normally the employer pays half and the employee pays half. It was complex and a challenge in a lot of ways.

Unlike many today, I went into that well aware of what I was getting into and it was my choice.

Things Have Changed

Loads of companies, by no means all, are no longer willing to bring on "independents." They want someone "affiliated" with a company they trust, have worked with before, or at the very least, have heard of.

The result is many ads are being posted for positions by those firms (placement, contract, whatever) to meet their client needs and expectations. These come in several shapes, sizes and flavors. I'll talk about them in a bit.

The biggest change, and most consistent, is how you are working. Instead of being an employee of the client, you may likely be a temporary employee of the firm that placed the notice. The "temporary" part means you are an employee for the duration of the contract. The employee part is they will handle payroll tax withholding. They may also offer some form of benefit package you can choose to participate in.

If you DO choose to participate in the benefits, it may (and almost certainly will) limit what your billable rate will be. Ask. Ask what the costs are to participate in their "benefit program." Then compare that program with what you can find on the market. Your best bet might be to take their program, or it might be something on the open market.

What about stability and job security? Excellent question. There are a couple of ideas in my head around that idea. First, contracts have a fixed duration. They might be 3, 6, maybe months or longer. Usually they can be extended or renewed. 

Much of the time, there are clauses that allows them to cancel the contract. Most of the time, they can cancel at any time for any reason.

If you work in an "at will" state as an employee, this is exactly the same thing that can happen to you. You can be "let go" at any time for any reason. The difference in these two, is an employee may be able to file a claim for unemployment support, depending on things like what state the employee lives in and what reason, if any, the employer gives for you being let go.

Belonging and Community

This is a huge challenge. It will continue to be a challenge no matter if you are an "employee" at a company or a contract worker doing work FOR a company. Many, perhaps most, companies that make software have people working "remote" because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This trend will continue for some time, I suspect. (Last I heard, Uber software folks are not expecting to return to their offices until June of 2021 - at the earliest.)

When you are physically distant, as well as not really being part of the club, there are challenges in keeping and maintaining that sense of purpose and team.

Virtual meetings and "happy hours" don't relieve the strain and in some ways make it harder. These are part of what I see as a response to the pandemic-forced remote work - and not unique to contract employees.

In short, no one has a strong sense of belonging unless they make it for themselves.

Moving to Contracting

There is one consideration I have not mentioned. For a lot of people, even if there was some form of severance package, that money won't last for ever. Unemployment benefits vary by State. It almost never comes close to what your pay was before "the change in circumstance."

The adage about how it is better to be employed and looking than to not be employed and looking still holds true. I'd like to think folks are compassionate these days, considering the number of extremely talented people who find themselves "available" when they did not plan on it - like some of you reading this. 

Taking on a contract of 3 or 6 months might not be what you WANT to do. Still, it will bring money in - and give you a sense of purpose. You also have the sense of being able to provide for you and possibly your family. Loads of people have been talking about their "extra time" since March. I'm not one of those folks. I was busy before COVID - and have been even more busy since mid-March. 

There are some good and bad points to working by contract. There are also some things to remember as you look for the next opportunity. These can help you be successful and thrive while doing contract work - because it is DIFFERENT than when you are an employee. 

These differences are not all one way. Some are good. Some are less-good. I'll look at some of these in the next installment.


Saturday, August 15, 2020

Raising the Shire

This is the final part of this story.
The First Part -
Hobbit Software Testing- is here.
The Second Part -
The Shadow of the Past- is here.
The Third Part -
The Uruk-Hai - is here.
The Fourth Part -
At Bree -is here.
The Fifth Part -
The Road to Rivendell - is here. 
The Sixth Part -
At the Council of Elrond, Pt 1 - is here.
The Seventh Part -
The Fellowship is Formed - is here.
The Eighth Part,-
Many Plans Made - is here.
The Ninth Part -
Journey to the Shire -is here .
This saga continues below.

 At the Golden Perch


The next morning, Elanor told the others she intended to stay another night as she expected the conversation and explanations to go most of the day. Besides, the Golden Perch still had the best beer in all the Eastfarthing. All of them agreed to this excellent idea as it was clear they would talk through the day and well into the night about what they had learned and discovered.


They had a good solid breakfast with eggs and potatoes and rashers of bacon and fresh made brown bread slathered in butter. They washed everything down with large mugs of piping hot tea and felt like they were really home in the Shire.


Then other people began arriving. They sat down near the Travellers, but not too near. The innkeeper arranged a large board covered with paper and writing implements for Elanor and the Travellers to use. When the room was full and every seat taken, people still came in.


The Travellers all looked at each other, a little intimidated. There were more people gathered in this room to talk with them and hear their experiences than they had ever seen before. Amy and Bell looked at each other drinking another mug of tea. Esmerelda nodded and smiled and looked at Elanor and said “Is it time to start this? Do you want to go first or one of us?”


Elanor looked a little uncomfortable. “I’d better start. I think I know what I want to say. Can each of you be ready to jump in?” 


Amy looked at her and laughed. “Of course we’ll jump in. Bell might trip and fall in, but we’ll jump in!” All four laughed. Amy never told jokes. This was unusual for her but set the tone for all of them.


Elanor stood and looked at the room full of people. She took another mouthful of tea and began speaking.


“You might remember a few months ago the four of us were looking for information and ideas around making and testing software. We’ve journeyed long and far and have some ideas now we think might help us. I think they might help us all.


“We started looking for this because we were frustrated. We tried to do things the way we were told to do them. We listened to the experts and the consultants who came in to show us and our managers what we were supposed to do to make good software and do good testing. 


“We followed ‘the rules’ we were told to follow. There were still problems in production. Customers kept coming back reporting things not working right. When we went back to the experts to ask what we had done wrong, we were told we must have misunderstood something. Except we had the same understanding that the developers and designers did. Did all of us misunderstand the same things? 


“We asked what we could do differently and we were told things like ‘work smarter, not harder’ which did not answer any of our questions or help with the problems we were finding. Our managers all said things like ‘There’s your answer! Work smarter!’ 


“Except none of them ever could say HOW to work smarter!” 


Elanor was now warming up. Indeed. She had gotten “hot” as her father Sam would say. She began pacing, and walking around the room. She looked at each person in the room as she spoke and drew each into her story.


“The four of us do not work together. We don’t work for the same companies. We are friends whose parents were friends and we like each other and each other’s company. We began talking. Each of the companies we worked for, each of us got the same answers. All of us were having the same basic problems. 


“Our management all said the same things, except they could not really help us. They could not offer suggestions or solutions. They all went back to the ‘experts’ they brought in to make things better. 


“They were all different experts! They said different things and used different methodologies and approaches! They all said the others would not work!


She paused and looked around the room. She realized she was shouting. Still, she had everyone’s rapt attention. Looks of recognition were spreading around the room. This sounded familiar to every person gathered there.” 


“We began talking with others in software. Some of you here, were some of the folk we spoke with. Some said something like ‘Well, the experts told us we needed to try harder and make sure we did not misunderstand anything. They also said we must have misunderstood something because there were bugs in production.’” 


She stopped as she saw nods around the room. Then she smiled. She knew she was on to something.


“We’re all Hobbits here. We like knowing what things are supposed to be and how everyone will act. We like things to be predictable and comfortable. We all like the idea of a party with friends and we all like the singing of the kettle on the hearth for tea. We like the idea of seed cakes at tea and a fresh loaf of bread with mountains of butter. We like things to be predictable and easy to understand.


“Except we could not understand why these things were happening. We could not understand why the ‘experts’ all had different methodologies to problems that looked much the same to each of us. We could not understand why the ‘experts’ all told us different things.”


She stopped again. She looked at her friends, then looked around the room. Elanor walked back to her chair and said “That is where we began. Things were not right, but we did not know what and we did not know why.”


With that, she sat down. The room was silent. Even the innkeeper and the wait-staff were silently waiting for what would happen next. As unusual as it seemed, this sounded to them like the beginning of a wonderful tale. To the other software folks in the room, this sounded very familiar.


Bell stood up. She smiled at Elanor and Esmerelda, then to her sister, Amy she said “I’ll try and not trip.” As they others laughed, Bell looked around the room.


“Elanor told you why we were looking for something different. We were looking for ideas we could use that would fix, or at least help, with problems all of us were having. So, I’ll tell you about the journey we took.


“We met in Bywater and talked a few times. We decided that since the problems seemed consistent all through the Shire, we’d look for other ideas. We went to Bree, first.”


At that, there was some murmuring. Hobbits visiting Bree was becoming more common, but nothing like what was done in the time of their grandparents and before.


She then told the story of visiting Bree and not finding any answers there. She told the story of the journey to Rivendell. At that, the Hobbits all seemed shocked. To go visit Elves seemed impossible for some in the room, and too much like an “adventure” for most. Hobbits still dislike the idea of an “adventure.” 


She told them of meeting the Elves and Dwarves and Humans there, but did not speak of the Council with Elrond. She said they met Elrond, Galadriel and Gandalf. She spoke of meeting famous folk their fathers knew, Gimli, Legolas and Faramir. 


Then she told a shortened version of the history Elrond gave at the Council and how the struggle against darkness and evil was not ended, even with the downfall of Sauron and Saruman. 


“These are the things Elrond told us all. These are the things most of us were aware of, perhaps a little dimly, but these sounded familiar to us. We then spoke of what needed to be done.”


She sat down. There was silence in the room. Folk looked around, but no one really stirred. No feet shuffled. No one murmured. They waited.


Amy stood. “I’m not really used to speaking in front of groups. I don’t like it much even at work. My sister, Bell, told you of the journey we took. She told you who we met and of the history of how we arrived to this point. She did not tell all of the story. I can tell a little more.


“One evening when we were speaking with Gandalf, we learned something. First, we noticed Gandalf looked older. He had aged. This might not seem like much, but going back through all the stories of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, Gandalf was always there. He always looked much the same. Sometimes he’d appear more careworn than others, but he never really changed.


“That is not the case now. Gandalf has aged. He is getting older. We talked about that a little with him.


“He told us that when the One Ring, the Master Ring of Sauron was destroyed, the other Rings lost most of their power. Much of the strength of magic was diminished. Now, the Rings that remain, the three Elven Rings, are more limited and have less power than they ever did. The strength of the wizards is also dwindling. 


“All the wizards are aging, not only Gandalf. The White Council has served its purpose. Radagast and most of the other wizards have headed to the West, to the undying lands where the Elves travel to. Indeed, Gandalf went there with Elrond once. They returned to help set the change in motion that we are here to talk about.


“Gandalf is now preparing to go West over the sea with the last of the wizards. I believe Elrond, Galadriel and all the rest of the famous Elves will travel with them this time and will not come back. 


“Their time has finally come to an end. They saw us through the struggles of the Third Age of Middle Earth and set this Fourth Age on as good a path as they could. They travelled to help us with what we went to seek.

 

“They helped us by giving information we needed and confirming what rumor had already reported. Now they are leaving again. They will not return.”


She paused a moment and saw how every eye in the room was watching her. She looked at Elanor, who stood and began drawing on the paper behind her. One large circle in the center. Then off to one side, nine interlocked circles. Above the large circle, she drew three interlocked circles. Then she drew seven more circles, also interlocked. 


Amy went on. “By now you have all heard the rhyme about the Rings, yes?


Three Rings for the Elven Kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-Lords in their halls of stone,

Nine for Mortal Men, doomed to die,

One ring for the Dark Lord on his dark throne,

In the Land of Mordor, where the Shadows lie.

One Ring to rule the all, One Ring to find them,

One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them,

In the Land of Mordor, where the Shadows lie.*


There are two things important about that. The first, is the One Ring had dominion over all the others. When that was destroyed, everything made, built or controlled by the others began their decay and decline. The Nazgul, the Ringwraiths who once were Human Men-kings and lords, were alive only through the power of the One. When that was destroyed, their Rings died and them with them. The Dwarven Rings were already destroyed or held by Sauron. Those were also destroyed then. The Elven Rings remain, but with only a shadow of their powers.


“The elven Rings were not made by Sauron or ever touched by him. With his destruction, they also began to decline. But the strength in them was preserved somewhat by the powers of the Elven smiths who made them. We might call them “magic” except they would not describe it so.


“There is another thing which is important. Vitally important to those of us who make or test software.”


Amy looked at Elanor, smiled and sat down. 


Elanor pointed at what she had drawn. In a clear, ringing voice, she said “These are all the ‘Rings of Power’ which were ever made. These are what we would call ‘Magic Rings.’ There are no other true, real, Rings of Power. None.


“Those who claim to be the sole, final authority on software and testing, are not. They are either deceived into believing themselves, or they are themselves deceivers. 


“There are NO TESTING RINGS. There is no magical power that grants all knowledge. There is no source that gives all knowledge of all possibilities. There is no source that tells us everything there is to know about software and testing it. 


“Not even experience combined with study and scholarship can give any person such knowledge and ultimate mastery. Those who tell you there is? Or they know this is always true and that is not? Those who claim that authority? They are nothing more than Saruman was at the end! They talk smooth as silk and sweet as honey and draw you in by fair words until you are trapped. 


“There is no person who knows what is right and perfect for all teams, projects and organizations! There are none who have that power. Those who claim to know what is best are trying to sell you something. That is why no two of them agree!”


Elanor was nearly glowing red. She looked around the room full of shocked and amazed Hobbits. She looked at her companions, all of whom were smiling at her and nodding. Then she sat down.


At that, every person in the room began speaking at once. In the pandemonium of the moment there was shouting and gesturing and much waving.


Esmerelda stood and walked to the center of the room. She was tall for a Hobbit. She looked around the room slowly. Silence seemed to radiate from her and all the voices dropped away.


She spoke quietly, forcing all to listen. “All of you recognize the truth in these words. All of you recognize a few simple facts. The ‘experts’ keep coming back and charging your companies more and more for ‘training’ in the ‘correct way’ to do things. And still, nothing really changes. The ‘experts’ tell us to use their terms because the others are confusing and misleading. No two sets of ‘experts’ agree with what terms are not confusing. 


“The next question is, what can we do about it? I think it is simple. If all that has been said makes sense and rings of truth to your ears, then believe it. We don’t need to change all of our terms to suit some outsider’s definition of what words mean. 


“If your company has a set of terms which everyone understands and agrees on, fine! Use them! If the practices which are being mandated work and no significant problems are found in production and customers do not complain, then GOOD! 


“If the practices being mandated result in problems being found and customers complaining, how long will you wait before saying “This doesn’t work!”

“The EXPERTS don’t have the rings to give them authority. There aren’t any. If they have one, they made it themselves - and their practices are as flawed as their ring-making! Turn them out! Send them packing as Saruman and his ruffians were sent packing! 


“We’re Hobbits! We don’t like change! We like being forced to do things that don’t help others even more! SO CHANGE!


“Our fathers returned from their journey with Frodo Baggins and turned out the ruffians then. We can do the same now! As before, we have been so comfortable, so not willing to change because it might upset things that we have failed to see that things are being upset a little at a time all around us. 


“And because we don’t like upsetting things, we have not said anything for far too long!”

Now her voice rang out. The face of everyone who heard her shone with a light they had not experienced and could not explain. 


“I say ENOUGH! We are simple folk but not stupid! We know what works and does not work! We don’t need people to profit from our struggles and problems by illusions and falsehoods. ENOUGH!”


Someone in the back of the room shouted “YES! ENOUGH! You’re right!” They began cheering. Cheering wildly. The other three Travellers stood and joined her in the middle of the room. Then everyone was standing and cheering. 


Esmerelda stood on a chair and held up her hands. The cheering and yelling died down. She said “I am Esmerelda Took, the daughter of Peregrin Took. These are Amy and Bell Brandybuck, daughters of Meriadoc Brandybuck. This is Elanor Gamgee. She is the daughter of Samwise Gamgee, companion to Frodo Baggins. She is also our leader and the one who inspires us to be better.”


The cheering and applause was thunderous, which is something for Hobbits who normally are quite restrained.


Elanor stood on a chair and held up her hands. When they were quiet, she spoke.


“All of you know the problems found. All of you can study techniques in testing and test design. We can help you with what we have learned. Our lessons might not help you in every instance. But they can help you think about things and learn from them. They can help you learn from each other. They can help all of us be better at what we do.”

With that, she got down from the chair she stood on. The people gathered all talked excitedly about the chance to learn things they could apply as needed, not as they were forced to do. They were excited to find solutions that fit their problems, not ones that solved someone’s problems 20 years ago.


They knew they could be free to find their own path forward.


==


Raise the Shire! Now! Wake all our People!
Shire-folk have been comfortable so long they don’t know what to do.
They just want a match, though, and they’ll go up in fire.**


==

 

* JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, ©JRR Tolkien, 1954, renewed 1982, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, Boston, 2014, p. 49 

 

** JRR Tolkien, The Return of the King, ©JRR Tolkien, 1954, renewed 1982, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, Boston, 2014, p 983

Journey to the Shire

 

This is the ninth part of the story which began here. The second is here.
The third is here. The fourth is here. The fifth is here.  The sixth is here.
The seventh is here. The eighth is here. This saga continues below.

Journey to the Shire


The Travellers awoke before dawn to find Gandalf sitting quietly by the embers of the night’s fire. He was smoking his pipe, as he had been when they went to sleep.


“Good morning!” He said. “It looks to be a beautiful day. Perfect for walking! I believe we should reach Bree today, probably in time for supper!” 


They had a light breakfast and started on the road as quickly as they could. Try as they might, they could not get Esmerelda to say anything more about what she said before going to bed. Instead, Gandalf told stories from long ago, from before he met Bilbo Baggins and the Old Took. Mostly they were about his journeys through this same area and how reaching Bree always seemed to be a treat. The Hobbits listened intently as he spoke. 


His stories were always happy and cheerful. They made the Travellers laugh. The stories shortened the road so before they knew it, Bree was close at hand.


They arrived at the Prancing Pony uneventfully, although many Breelanders started to see Gandalf, let alone four young Hobbits coming from the East. They stayed in the same rooms Frodo and his companions stayed in so many years before. Barliman Butterbur was still the same as he had been for years, only a bit older it seemed. He greeted them warmly and encouraged them to enjoy the common room, where travelers and residents of Bree mingled.


Many remembered their visit some time before, when they headed out in search of information and ideas on testing. They spoke with them on this. Elanor was polite, but evaded their questions, replying only that they had talked with many wise people and had many ideas to consider. 


She said they needed to think about and discuss how they could apply them. The others all agreed and said they needed to think carefully. They were glad they had made the journey and had learned much. Now they needed to see what would work for Hobbits in the Shire.


These answers all resulted in the Bree-folk’s heads shaking and chins wagging. “No good can come of upsetting the right, proper order of things.” A few, however, looked thoughtful.


Gandalf left the Hobbits to entertain questions. He had a mug of beer sitting in a dark-ish corner where he could see the room and listen to all the goings-on without being in their way or the center of attention. Mr Butterbur kept an eye on him, making sure he did not go without.


“Mr Gandalf,” he said at one point. “Have you seen Strider, I mean, the King?” Gandalf smiled, almost laughed. “I have not seen our mutual friend in some time. He has been very busy, you know. I did see some of our other friends who knew I was coming this way. They send greetings. I also asked them to remember both of us to Aragorn when they saw him again. I think you may see some elves come through as well before too long. Elves usually prefer wine but your beer is uncommonly good. They may want that instead.”


“Funny you should mention beer, Mr Gandalf,” Butterbur replied. “It has been uncommon good for some years now. I don’t understand but I’m not one to turn a gift like that away. I’ll make sure to keep plenty of beer and ale in the cellar. Thanks for the warning.”


“Barli. You should know I’m likely not to be by again. It is time for me to head West for the last time. You’ve been a good, honest fellow and I’m glad I could see you and enjoy your inn, one more time. Better times are coming. Not just because the King is making things better. Young folk like these four are working very hard to set the world to rights and make it better than it has been for ages.”


“It has been worse than it is, by a long distance,” said Butterbur. “It has been better of late, of course. If they can make things better still, I’d be happier still.”


With that, he left to attend other customers. Gandalf finished his beer and quietly slipped out for his room. The four Travellers remained for some time. There was no rush and no need to worry. They were nearly home.


The next morning dawned bright and clear. The Travellers met Gandalf for breakfast where they talked excitedly. Butterbur had agreed to lend them ponies who would be returned after they reached their homes, in memory of the ponies he received from Meriadoc Brandybuck, by way of Tom Bombadill, long before. 


They left Bree and headed toward home. When they had gone a few miles, Gandalf said it was time for him to leave them. He wanted to see Tom Bombadill and they were close to his lands. After many words and cheerful encouragement, Gandalf left them, waving before they were out of sight.


They made good time as they rode, talking of all that had happened on this journey. Abby called it a quest. This made them laugh and make jokes that it was anything but a quest. They simply wanted to do good work and wanted to know how to be better than they were.


As they approached the Shire, Elanor said they had gone to learn about testing and how they could do the kind of testing they all knew could be done. “It is simple, you see. We have known all along what the problems are. Everyone knows, if they can admit it to themselves. Most won’t. They are afraid of what that might mean. But I think we have the answer.”


They crossed the Brandywine Bridge and passed through the Gate where they made straight for the Golden Perch in Stock. It was the nearest inn to the Brandywine as the Bridge Inn was still not yet rebuilt. They got rooms for the night and had a quiet supper of good, solid Hobbit fare.


As they sat in the common room talking amongst themselves, they realized the room was nearly full. This was no remarkable thing. Except it was mostly other folk who worked in software. They were watching the four Travellers intently. As they looked around them, the Travellers fell silent and realized nearly everyone there had been listening to their conversation. There were no secrets being told but they found it a little unsettling. 


Finally, someone said “You four came through asking about software and testing and how to do things better some time ago. Then you said you were going to Bree to see if folk there had any ideas. Can you tell us what you found out?”


There was a murmur of agreement from around the room. The Travellers looked at each other.


Then Elanor spoke. “What would you know? We have met with many people and traveled beyond Bree to learn and find answers. What would you like to hear? The adventures of the road? The people we met with? What we have learned? The telling of any of these things will take a long time and we are weary from the road.”

“We want to know everything!” they cried. “We did not want to admit it before but things don’t always make sense! We are told to test for “acceptance criteria” except those keep changing. We are told to test for the requirements being met but no one seems to agree on what that means. Our companies bring in experts who tell us everything we do is wrong, and we can’t figure out what the right way is! None of them agree and all of them say the others are wrong! Can you help us?”


Elanor looked at them all. She heard the familiar pain she had wrestled with. She smiled as she recalled some of these same people telling her to not worry about things so much. She looked at her friends. They all nodded.


So she stood and said “We are weary from the road. We want to share what we have found. Meet us here tomorrow after breakfast and we will talk then.”

The Travellers then stood and followed her to their rooms, where they fell asleep quickly and spent the night undisturbed by anyone except their own thoughts.