Saturday, April 30, 2011

Stepping Up to Leadership: Lessons From Harry Potter

I was thinking some time ago about how people can be leaders without having the word "lead" or "leader" in their title.  What is it that makes a leader?  Do leaders become a leader intentionally?  Well, I expect some folks do.  Some of those, however, I don't really consider real leaders - maybe managers, maybe bosses, possibly control-freaks. 

I'm reminded of a line from Robert Heinlein about the advantage of hereditary monarchs is that on occasion you get a reluctant ruler who simply wants to do a good job.  Its the ones who really want the job that you have to look out for.

In the rather interesting meanderings of my mind I was thinking back to discussions I had many years and a few jobs ago.  There were, in my opinion then and now, an awful lot of managers and directors and not nearly enough leaders.  Real leaders.  The kind of people that colleagues turn to, not because of official channels or management chain, but because they know that person, or people, might just be able to help.

In pondering just where these thoughts might go, it dawned on me that there were many, many examples of the kind of leadership that I was thinking of.  As I was pondering what it was that I was trying to say and how to say it, a weekend movie marathon featuring a certain young wizard kicked off and I had my answer. 

I got to thinking that many "leaders" don't intend to be leaders. 

Start by Deciding to Start

Some feel like they don't quite fit in.   They want to, they try to, and yet they simply don't feel satisfied with what is around them.  They start looking for something else, something that maybe they can't quite put their finger on.  They are still trying to fit in, not knowing why they don't or can't and then the Owl shows up.  Well, maybe not an owl with an admission letter to Hogwarts, but something clicks.  Something triggers, well, something. 

For those of us without an owl, that "something" can be a decision that there is more out there - that taking charge of your own career is what you need to do.  Maybe the feeling that you have had enough of other people making decisions for them about your career. 

It is more than making you better at you job or making you more valuable to your company.  It is making you more valuable to you.  It is becoming a tradesman and craftsman instead of a laborer.

The first step when that "something" happens, is to find a mentor, a guide to help you.  It may not be Albus Dumbledore, but someone with the experience and patience to guide and teach you is needed.

Study and Self-Education

Then, when you have found a mentor, study the craft of software testing.  Online materials, blogs, articles, testing forums, all can help you find information.  Books and magazines are great and many are available for download to e-readers. 

Begin your learning by self-education.  Then, you can turn to your mentor for guidance and clarification. Seek out ideas new to you.  Challenge what you have been doing and what you are reading and focus on learning your craft.

Harry studies and is willing to branch out beyond what the various professors are teaching in class.  If a 12 year old boy is brave enough to do that, what is stopping you?

Learn by Doing

The next step is to find the guts to actually try stuff new to you.  Now, it may be new to the company as well, but that is OK.  Now, it might be a really, really good idea to have a more experienced person looking over your shoulder when you try this the first time.

Doing something the first time, whether its the first time for just you or the first time for the company, can take a fair amount of courage.  Reaching out and stretching to try and extend your abilities can be a little scary sometimes.  Particularly if your expected results are uncertain. 

Now, while it is unlikely that a hippogriff might rip your arm off if you are too forward, it may be that your pride may take a hit if your first attempt does not succeed.  Not to worry.  Trying something new always takes courage.

If results are "less than optimal" then look to what happened.  Look to see where you went wrong and correct it the next time.  If there is not a next time, it means that those who were making decisions for you will continue to always make decisions for you.  That is why you stepped out, right?  So try it again! 

The fact is, sometimes the results can be absolutely astounding.  You and those around you may very well be amazed at what you can achieve simply by trying to achieve it.  Now, it may not be riding on the back of a flying animal most folks consider mythological, but it may be astounding in a technological sense for your shop and your company.

Networking: Building Relationships

One thing you must do, find some "friends."  Now, many of us have "friends" we can hang with.  That isn't what I mean.  I mean that you should find people you can talk with about what you are trying to do, what you are trying to learn.  Chances are, they will take an interest in it and share what they are trying to learn as well.  They can be valuable to help compare notes and share experiences with. 

The amazing thing is that they don't have to be in the same company as you, not even in the same city or town as you.  Conferences (local, regional, national and international) are great resources for this - but may be rather pricey if the boss does not agree to foot the bill.  Local testing groups can be a great option as well.  If there is not group around you, START one! 

I bet that you know people who work at other companies.  I bet you know people at other companies who are testers or know testers or work with testers.  Get in touch with them and bounce the idea around about starting a local testing group.  (See how easy that is?  You just started building relationships!)

Yeah, there may be some folks who know more than others do, or think they do (Hermione...) and that's OK.  There is no reason why they won't have valuable insight into what you are talking about. 

The thing is, be patient and grow and nurture your contacts list - your network.  You may find yourself having others in your circle reaching out to you while you continue to learn.

Helping Others While You Learn

Now, you may think that won't happen.  You may think it can't happen ("What do I know anyway? I'm no expert!")  That's OK.  You don't have to be an expert.  You may need to think carefully.

Someone will ask questions of you, based on your experience.  When that happens, and it will, see this as another opportunity for you to learn yourself, and teach others what you have already learned.    Now, you may not be learning the same thing.  Its possible, but it is not a certainty. 

They need help in an area where you have learned something.  You may be able to provide it.  You may also learn how to help others and in doing so learn another skill.

It is also OK if you express you own reservations to them.  You can say "Yeah, I did this but I had people helping me..."  The fact is, you did it and now you can help others.

Achieving Things You Never Thought You Could

The more you learn and the more you can apply what you learn, things that once seemed impossible for you will become regular occurrences, if not commonplace.  Activities and events and practices that you once would not, or could not, dream of doing will become the norm. 

You will then be able to reach out and impact things you never dreamed you could do.  When this happens others will congratulate you - and encourage you to greater bounds.  Others may turn to you and seek advice on things you have not thought about.  Still others may ask you to help them with their problems, even if it is only to talk with them while having a coffee or tea or, something a bit stronger.

Being a Leader

The process of becoming a "leader" is never ending.  There are always new areas to explore and new ideas to consider.  Sometimes the ideas are revisiting old ideas and challenging some of the presumptions.  

The point is, learning never ends.  No person can ever learn everything there is to know on a topic.  Speaking for myself, and not Harry, the more I learn, the more I realize I do not know and want to learn about. 

I don't consider myself a leader, or an expert.  Some other people have called me both.  If they need a bucket to fit me in for their understanding and defining a relationship with me, that is fine.  That part is not about me.  The part that is about me is that I can learn and share what I have learned with others.

Mischief Managed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pliers, a Blowtorch & Mr Wolf: Integration Testing Lessons from Pulp Fiction

So, at the most recent local tester meeting, a suggestion was made that the next meeting should consist of folks giving lightning talks based on pop culture references and how they relate to testing.  COOL! 

One of my colleagues suggested a "Pulp Fiction" idea - not that he wanted to give one, but he thought it would be "cool."  So, sitting and having a coffee the next morning, I got to thinking about it.  What in the remarkably violent film, featuring various actors in interesting, if not compromising, storylines, could possibly relate to testing.  About half-way through the cup of coffee it hit me. 

Now, James Bach, and others, when hearing someone explain a heuristic or oracle or rule or concept, will ask "What do you call that?"  You see, there is something about identifying something - naming it - that makes it easier to refer to, gives you a point of reference, and other good things.

So, in sitting there drinking coffee, thinking about "Pulp Fiction" - it became remarkably clear.  How does this possibly relate to testing? How does this relate to integration testing?  Everything fell into place.

I give you, the "Pulp Fiction School of Integration Testing." 

Consider that the vignettes in Pulp Fiction are related to eachother.  They simply are not told in a linear manner.  They are closer to the way life happens - lots of intertwined stories all happening at the same time. 

Now, consider the way some folks do integration testing.  Maybe "some" folks is not really accurate.  Maybe "many" folks would be a better description.  But they get some idea that the idea of "integration testing" consists of "end to end" scenarios.  The thing is, most "real" people using "real" software in the "real" world don't always use software in a linear fashion. 

So why do so many people test their software that way? 

I don't know either.

When I think about some of the systems I have worked on, it simply does not make sense to rely on "end-to-end" testing.  Really.  Its kind of silly.  Here's what I mean.

A system rarely does one thing at a time.  People in one office or area will do one thing - a lot of times.  Say, item maintenance in a warehousing system.  Looking up information and checking descriptions and UPC codes and unit of measures and - lots of stuff.  Folks in another office may be checking inventory on the same items the other folks are entering or checking or, whatever.  Then, in yet another office, folks are handling orders customers are placing for the same items that the other folks were... you get the idea.

So why do so many folks test one thing, then the next then the next then... yeah, you get the idea to that, too.

Why don't we try and do integration testing closer to the way the "integrated" system actually gets used?

Ya know, kinda sloppy like life really is - or maybe like Pulp Fiction?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

True Confessions or Feet of Clay

Its funny how things work sometimes.  You go to a conference as a speaker and folks look at you as if you have all the answers.  People send you emails with questions and want an answer.  Sometimes they want a "Yes" or a "No."  Sometimes they are hoping that the "expert" they are asking will be able to shed some light on their archane situation.  (Yeah, I've done that.)

I had a strange thing happen the other day.  I was asked a question.  Now, don't get me wrong, I get asked questions alot.  I also ask lot of questions.  So, the fact that there was a question involved in this is not the strange thing.  The strange thing was the way the question was posed.  And it has something to do with the first rambling paragraph.  This person asked me a question and wanted an "expert's opinion."

What, me?  Ask Michael Bolton or James Bach or Cem Kaner or Karen Johnson or Boris Beizer or Elisabeth Hendrickson or Fiona Charles or... you get the idea. 

I guess my deal is that I don't feel like an expert.  I feel like a guy who makes mistakes.  Ask the folks I work with.  Man, did I ever have a blooter this week.  Huge mistake.  I missed stuff that if I had looked more aggressively, that if I had tried a variation I had not considered, I would have found it.  I didn't.  Then there was another problem that was a calculated risk.  We could not test everything because of a variety of constraints.  Then, as folks are trying it in the field, they found a problem in an area we could not exercise.  Gah.

The really weird thing is that even when I know I make mistakes, and my co-workers make mistakes, we all do our best to learn from them.  We can each push eachother to achieve better and do better testing.  How do we do that?  By looking honestly at what we do - both right and wrong.

To do that, you must put aside the CYA mode that most of us have learned and admit our shortcomings - first to ourselves, individually, then to our teamThen, and not before then, you can learn from your mistakes.

Am I an exepert?  I don't know - I don't feel like one.  I'm a tester who sometimes makes mistakes, even though I try and avoid making them.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fun and Games at STPCon 2011 - Part 3.

Thursday at STPCon in Nashville was an interesting day for me.  It was certainly the shortest as far as conference stuff went, which was probably a good thing.  When I woke up, with the body still on "Eastern Time" and not "Central Time" I knew it was going to be a physically rough day.  The head cold I was fighting was not letting up and the voice was threatening to simply go away. 

So, I sucked down a couple cups of coffee, some juice,  some cold-tablets to try and lessen the "ick" feeling and carried on.

First order of business was the "Speed Geeking Breakfast Bytes" - The topic I had submitted was "Stepping Up to Leadership: Lessons Learned from Harry Potter."  Yes, I found a way to work Harry Potter into a testing conference.  This was a "test" run of a longer presentation I was working on around technical leadership, or becoming a leader without having either "Lead" or "Manager" in your title.  I'd had an outline and a set of talking points in place and took the opportunity to squeeze this into an 8 minute presentation (complete with Power Point slide deck!)

The idea of the "breakfast bytes" was to give the same 8 minute talk to three different groups.  I made it though it - made reference to the other tables and their presentations and almost had a voice by the end.  I think folks like the ideas and saw later there were tweets on some of them - Cool!  Thanks Tweeps! 

I fortified myself with yet more coffee and a couple more glasses of juice then caught Selena Delesie's presentation "Showing the Value of Testing."  I really enjoyed the core of the presentation and the lively discussion during and after.  Much tweeting from this session! 

As the conference ended at Noon, and I was not leaving until the next morning. I decided that the wisest course of action was a nap.  I never take naps.  So, the boss and lady-wife (who had come down with us and had managed to see sights around Nashville and go to the social events with us) went shopping for the elusive boots and I stretched out. 

A couple hours later, feeling much refreshed, I checked email, dealt with a couple of lingering day-job items then went to see what kind of trouble I could find. 

Lo and behold!  Here was James Bach with dice with Michael Czeisperger and Gabe Wharton.  Being the un-shy person I have become, I joined in.  It was interesting watching how James handled the interactions and compared the "results analysis" with other folk I have seen do the same "introductory game."  It was enlightening in many ways. 

Additionally, as the idea of observing and not participating is one I do not particularly care for, I soon had a set of dice as well.  So, James deftly handled this newcomer with an interesting variation.  I knew something was up when his notebook came out and was written in quickly.  It turns out that my initial behavior gave him an idea for a new set of rules.  When that was resolved, we compared my definition of the new game with his written note.  Close enough to say they matched - a slight change in phrasing was the only difference with no change in meaning.

On a related note, I brought the same game to the first team meeting after the conference.  Volunteers only, mind you.  Three folks dove in and gleefully experienced the frustration and learning and critical thinking that it takes to solve these types of puzzles.  In the end, they each reached the same conclusions by unique methods.  That is a topic for another blog post, however.

Gabe was flying out shortly, however, James and Michael were not leaving until the next day.  The boss, the lady-wife and I had plans to have dinner with Michael, as James was also unattached for the evening, we invited him as well. 

The five of us had one of the most enjoyable nights I can remember with a bunch of testers.  The conversation ran from education to schooling to un-schooling to testing to philosophy to learning to heuristics to beliefs back to testing (briefly) to the qualities of various red wines (we were in a steak house for dinner) to boots and the benefits of the various materials boots can be made from to the difference between hats and caps and jackets and coats and how cultural norms and more's can be touched by those definitions and impact what is considered "proper" behavior.

Needless to say, the evening flew by. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fun and Games at STPCon 2011 - Part 2.

At STPCon in Nashville, Wednesday, the second day of the conference itself, I was rather torn. 

My day started with the "Power-up Issues" discussions.  I found myself at a table with people passionate about testing and building teams and expanding team roles - the great regret I had was that it ended far too quickly.  Another 30 or 45 minutes would have been great from my perspective, but, the breakout sessions were starting. 

I knew Lynn McKee was speaking on a topic I was interested in that morning - metrics and how not not get trapped into abusing them.  Well, actually her presentation title was "Deception Dangers of the Numbers Game."  As it was, I had a conflict.  Stuff at the day-job needed attending to and I was also dealing with a developing head cold and laryngitis.  (Not a good combination for a conference.  Oh, and for the Day-job stuff?  I'm tentatively working on a paper called "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Conference.")

So, as much as I would have liked to be there, I did appreciate the tweets (the many tweets) about what she said by Nancy Kelln and others who were present. 

Another presentation I would have liked to see was Jim Hazen's on Automated Testing.  I have known Jim cyberly for some time.  As it was, he was speaking at the same time as Lynn - so again, I had to take a pass. 

Selena Delesie's "Thriving as an Agile Test Manager" and Michael Czeisperger's "Wishful Thinking and Poor Planning: Load Testing in the Real World" both looked interesting to me in the next block, yet I was still not in a place to get there.  While there were some interesting hallway conversations, I was kinda bummed that these presentations were opposite each other. 

Another presentation I really would have liked to see was Catherine Powell's "Agile in a Waterfall World."  As it was, I was doing a joint presentation with my boss at the same time.  We were speaking on our experiences in creating testing groups for companies where there had not previously been one.

The title "No Box Mixes: Building a Test Group from Scratch" was drawn from that idea.  It seems that at every conference I've been at for some time, there is at least one lost soul wandering about looking for ideas or help or something because they were expected to create a test group.  The gist of our presentation was that there may not be a single "right" way to go about it, but there were things to keep in mind, like understanding what your mission is and being patient with yourself, your new team and your bosses.  Kristin, my boss, and I had each been through this and we quite simply compared our experiences at different companies.

Much of Wednesday afternoon I spent in hallway conversations with a number of people.  The one that stands most clearly in my memory was with Karen Johnson.  We spoke for nearly an hour - AN HOUR! - on a variety of topics including strategy (one of my favorite topics) and empowering and encouraging people beyond their own norms and expectations and books and silly interfaces with airline registrations on smart phones.  Mind you, my phone (like me) was clearly the luddite of the conference and so I relied on my trusty laptop to keep me connected to the world.  We also exchanged slide decks and talked about the idea of presentations and presenting and how people perceive our respective, if very different, methods of delivery.  What an amazingly enjoyable time for me.  I came away from that discussion feeling refreshed and ready to take on the rest of the conference, if not the world. 

That evening, the "conference party" was at the Wildhorse Saloon, downtown.  This is owned by the same organization that owns the conference center where we were meeting.  An interesting buffet selection (unless you were a vegetarion or vegan) with some interesting beverages and line-dancing and mechanical bull riding - Selena Delesie recorded some folks riding the bull and generally having a good time (you can find them on YouTube if you search diligently.)

After a brief foray to find my lady-wife some boots (the store was closed, hence the "brief" part) we settled in to a grand time before heading back to the conference center.

Interesting people I met that day included Neil Fitzgerald, Tonia Williams, Corey Anderson, Bill Bennett, Eric Pugh and Todd Miller.  I know there were others, please don't be offended if I've left you out of this list. 

Come to think of it, if I have, drop me a note and refresh my memory!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Fun and Games at STPCon 2011 - Part 1.

I can hardly believe that it has been a month since I wrote a blog entry.  It has been a remarkably busy month. 

STPCon, the Software Testing Professionals Conference (as it is currently branded) was held in Nashville March 22 through 24.  As has become common for many conferences, there were also workshops and tutorials on Monday, March 21.  I was fortunate enough to have been selected to speak at the conference, along with my boss.  So, we headed down on March 21, driving to Nashville.  We are close enough that was a feasible option. 

We had some interesting adventures on the drive down, but that will be a different story at another time. 

We arrived Monday evening, checked into our rooms and collided with a variety of people we know.  Monday evening was a nice relaxed evening with Nancy Kastl and Dan Mish, just chatting and talking about testing and enjoying each other's company. 

Tuesday was the day of my first presentation.  Before that, however, James Bach gave an astounding presentation on test coaching.  I had seen recordings of James speaking, but this was the first time I heard him in person.  I was impressed and inspired. 

The first breakout session I went to was Karen Johnson's presentation on Strategy.  What I thought interesting was her take on Strategy, as opposed to a document called a Test Strategy.  It was interesting and, for me, very thought provoking.

This was the two great presentations I heard before I spoke.  What an inspirational way to start my day! 

My presentation was a session, as opposed to a workshop, on Test Process Improvement.  The room was quite full, and most of the folks were interested in the ideas I presented.  The gist of these, which I've written about before, focus on improving the skills and abilities of the test team, rather than a fixed process, to realize improvements in testing.  It led to conversations that lasted through the week.

In the afternoon, Nancy Kelln gave a great presentation on working with and leading Business Testers.  I hate to say it, but I was stopped by a couple of people who asked questions and wanted to chat, so I only caught the last 20 or 30 minutes or so.  What I heard, I thought was very good, and I regret being delayed.  and missing the start.  I then heard Jon Bach's presentation on Threads - He called it "My Crazy Plan For Responding to Change."  I had read some blog posts on the idea and thoroughly enjoyed it.   

I then had an interesting hallway conversation with Jon and James Bach.  It was brief, yet very enjoyable and informative. 

The evening was a meet-and-greet where I got to catch up with people I had not seen in some time or had not had a chance to talk with much before in the day.  For me, it was a who's-who list: Catherine Powell, Scott Barber, Dan Downing, Dawn Haynes, Jim Hazen, Lynn McKee, Nancy Kelln, Selena Delesie, Kristin Dukic - I know I'm forgetting some folks...

I kept running into during the day incliuded Abbie Caracostas.  All in all, it was a great day and a good way to start a week of learning and thinking!