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.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011: A Look Forward

On SQA Forums, someone posted a question about "New Year Resolutions."  There were many of the usual suspect types of responses, e.g., get in shape, lose weight, gain training, learn something new...

I posted that some years ago I resolved not to make any "resolutions," as in commitments to myself, that I knew I would most likely not be able to fulfill.  Yeah, a little snarky, but it was also pretty honest. 

Therefore, as my last post was a look back on 2010, as I was sipping a brandy last night chatting with my lady-wife as she knitted and some show was on television, I had some thoughts running through my head.  Pretty sad, eh?  The days of running off to the local Scottish Society's Hogmanay are distant memories.  Most of our friends we'd get together and play music to welcome the new year are now widely dispersed.   I wonder if that makes us "old" - Hope not. 

Ah yes, my thoughts.

Some of this I actually started thinking about late last year.  I sent some emails to a handfull of people asking them for assistance.  In some ways looking for advice, and in otherways, to be sounding boards for my thought processes.  There are changes coming that I've been pondering. 

For most of my career in software, I've worked for someone else.  For most of that time, it was working for companies where producing software was to support their primary business.  The software was not their product, it supported the product or its delivery.  To be honest, working on the product the company makes is fun.  It can be frustrating when I don't have the option of actually talking to the people who asked for a change or enhancement, and I speak with people who may understand what the people who asked for they really mean.

The Road Ahead...

The interesting thing is I've been thinking about the future.  Well, not THE future, but what lay ahead for me professionally and how that may impact the family.  It would seem there are several items that are possibilities for the coming year.  One path would be to look for new work opportunities, either as a contract/consultant or as a full time, permanent employee.  Yeah, as if  "permanent" means much.


Another option is to become more involved in the testing community.  Actually, I started working on that as well in 2010.  What I mean is that reading blogs other folks write is a good way to learn what they're thinking is.  Reading and participating in on-line forums is another way to both learn and become involved.  Well, doing that as much as I can right now. 

Of course, more actively engaging in both of these types of activities is on my list of things to do this coming year.  Ya know, the funny thing is, the more I talk with folks about things I learn and have learned, the more I learn myself. 

Local Testing Groups

Another thing, the local testing group, GR Testers, has been going in fits and starts for a while.  Meetings have been sparse of late.  The most recent one, December, was kind of fun.  There were a bunch of us sitting around a table, lots of wings, good beer and folks talking about testing.  Good way to spend an evening.  There's another meeting coming up Monday, 3 January.  It makes it the first time in quite a while that there were back to back monthly meetings.  Normally, they are officially held every other month.  It seems that as more people are showing an interest, the meeting frequency will pick up.

I wonder how many other local testing groups are out there that have a meeting schedule based on "whenever" instead of "We meet at this time, and here are the next couple of topics we're focusing on at these meetings..."  I believe that the more people know about local groups, the more they are invited to participate and the more information that is available about them, the more active and the stonger the community there is.

I think that pretty well sums up what I'm looking to do with the local group.  I believe that getting more people involved and talking about testing is vital to improving not only our individual tradecraft, but the abilities of the local community.  Sharing well reasoned ideas can do nothing but good, presuming all are allowed to learn and ask questions

Personal Development

Now, I realize that any of the above activities can lead to improving any individual participating.  What I mean here is something a bit more.  I had been signed up for the BBST Foundations course offered by the Association for Software Testing for a session in in the fall of 2010.  Things happened and that session was cancelled.  I could not take the session offered as an alternative. 

The GOOD news, for me, is I am signed up to take the Foundations course this spring.  YEAH!  I am really looking forward to this.  Everyone I know who took the course raves about it.  Big-time excited. 

I've continued reading blogs and articles and books and talking with people and... everything else.  My goal is to continue learning and to continue to share what I learn. 

For conferences, I'll be attending and presenting at STPCon in March in Nashville.  I bought myself a birthday present and renewed my AST membership in October.  If I can work it out, I'll be attending CAST in August in Seatle. 

At the day-job, I've continued to be a pest, and will do so for some time. The cool thing is the boss is good with it. Something about "pushing everyone to improve..."

So, that is a combination of goals, intentions and plans for 2011.  What the future will really bring, I'm not sure. 

On the other hand, the lady-wife did give me a list of places where she'd like to live should a relocation option present itself...