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.

Monday, July 27, 2015

On Elections for the AST Board of Directors

An Open Letter to the Members of the AST on the Board of Directors Election next week:

Elections are an interesting thing. It does not matter if it is for a National Election, a Regional Election or the Election of Directors of an organization like AST.

I remember reading once that the problem with Hereditary Monarchy is that from time to time you get a reluctant ruler. The problem with Democratic Elections is that they actually want the job.

For the last three years I have been a member of the Board of Directors of AST. My first year was finishing a partial term after a vacancy. At the end of that year I stood for election again. After three years on the Board, I am stepping down to let others step up.

The time commitment varies, of course. Not everything takes every moment of available time.

Sometimes it feels that way, though. For some, well, that is another story altogether.

Things I’ve learned

I have been on the Board of several non-profit and volunteer based organizations. The first time was shortly after I got my Bachelor’s Degree. There was a vacancy on the Board for a Credit Union and one of my former professors recommended me. I was voted in by the sitting Board, then was re-elected several times, stepping down when it was time for new challenges.

Other organizations were examples of an axiom I learned many years ago “Never Volunteer.”

When an organization functions because of the work the volunteers do, it is easy to be drawn further and further in. Keeping a balance as to what and how much you are willing to do is a bit of a fine dance. You want to make things better and you need to maintain a life as well. Rather like the “work-life balance” so many people wrote and spoke about a while back.

The common theme between these is simple: Great ideas, visions and huge ambitions are important; someone needs to take action and do something to make them happen.

The bulk of the work that needs to be done by members of volunteer the Board of Directors of any non-profit – including AST – is taking the ideas and visions and doing the hard work of making them reality.

Much of my time on the Board has been doing things that are not noticed. I’m OK with that. Part of me likes the limelight, as many years as I have played in bands, in public, I like applause and I like cheers better.  Still, when it comes to work, I am most comfortable making sure things happen. Part of this also is supporting people as they work on their initiatives – from revamping a program to working through the details that might be mundane, but are needed for the organization to function.

There are many people who can give inspiring visions. Can they make the transition from vision to action and fact?

Politicians are criticized for not doing what they promised to do. Part of the reason they fail to “keep their promises” is that they are not actually the ones turning the promises into a reality.

Once elected, they need to work with other politicians and get them to support the initiatives, the promises made to get elected. Except those other politicians also made promises to get elected.
In the end, if the politicians are not ready to help each other out and offer reasonable compromises, not much happens.

This is not how the Board of Directors of AST is intended to work.

People, Board Members, have projects and initiatives they’d like to see done. Then they do what they need to do so those things happen – or don’t.  Of course, there is the always popular “this was not a priority for the Board.” This can be translated a couple of different ways.

The first way is this – when talking with the Board about what was important, no one agreed that that initiative was important. In my three years on the Board, I cannot recall any initiative that was not important enough to at least be considered and researched – as in “What would it take to make this happen? What would success look like? What obstacles or risks are there to success?”

Typical project planning work – except it withers and dies because no one actually takes the step of doing the research - and then the actual work.

The second way is this – the idea is presented to the Board, there is some discussion and there is agreement on it. Instructions are issued: “Go forth and make it happen.”

And then the person realizes that THEY are the ones who are now expected to actually “make it happen.” They need to do something.

That something might be to get people with similar interests to talk about and help on the project. That something might be to simply start working on it and blow trumpets announcing the “new initiative” and see if others join in.

And this is where I have seen “Big Idea” people fail time and again – the actual doing part.

Elections for AST

For the last three years I have tried to be a person doing something. I have tried to make the things I was doing meaningful and of value to the membership of AST.

It is well and good for people to “blow their own horn,” as my grandmother used to say. It is better when others sing your praises for what has been accomplished. Shallow accolades sound well, but for me, mean little.

In the end, Leaders are needed. Leaders who get things done and make things happen. In “work” environments, these can be people who issue instructions and others will go fulfill them.

Again, that is not what happens with volunteer organizations. Here, “Leaders” are not the ones who say “Go do that.” Leaders are the ones who roll up their sleeves and dive into the dirty, hands-on tasks that need to be done. They lead by example and recruit and encourage others with similar interests.

They set the environment and call out “Follow me!” And then they move forward.  

They make things happen.

When considering the candidates for Board positions this year, look at the candidates’ Biographies. Read them carefully. Google them. Google their organizations. If you are at CAST, look for them before voting and chat with them in the hall. Ask them (in person or by email) “In what way will you do the things you said you want AST to do? How will you go about making that happen?”

Then look for the people with a track record of doing things. It is people who do things that we, as an organization, need leading us.

Dreams and visions are wonderful.  It takes work to make them more than dreams or empty promises.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Why CAST (Director's Cut)


It is a good question. I was asked that by a manager I had several years ago and it is still relevant.

For the last 13 months, I have been working on the preparations for CAST 2015. The last 2 months have been amazingly busy (which explains the lack of blogging from me - not an excuse, something simply had to give.) I’ve organized two day music events for 800 of our closest friends. I’ve been part of the organization effort for  various events, festivals, contests and the like. Being the Conference Chair for CAST has been more demanding than any of these and, by far, more rewarding.

The morning of August 3, 2015, I’ll know if the work done in advance was done well – as will some 120 other people participating in the Tutorials that are such an integral part of CAST. The 200 people participating in all of CAST are also integral parts - Each are part of what makes CAST, well, CAST.
My first CAST experience was in 2010, when CAST was in Grand Rapids the first time. It was held at Calvin College on the outskirts of the city.

There were 90 to 100 people at CAST that year (it was a troubled year in many respects). Still, the conversations were good. I met many people in person whose writing’s I had learned much from.  It was the people present, the attendees, who stick out in my mind. The conversations were free flowing and constant. It did not matter a whit if the participants were famous writers or testers or presenters or what.

All were discussing and debating as equals.

That made an impression on me.

Since then, every CAST I have attended and participated in it still makes an impression. It matters little if the person espousing a view is a famous author, pundit, speaker or personage in testing – someone will question them on something. The discussion will flow greatly and freely.

The idea that a successful conference is dependent on “Famous People” speaking or on the location as a “Tourist Destination” is to me, a sad comment on the quality of the content for conferences that rely on that as the "major reason" people go to them.

Conferences that rely on telling people what to do or what they should do or, more chilling to me, why not doing what the conference speakers are telling them to do may cost them their jobs if there are bugs found hold little appeal to me - and seem a sad reflection of the politics of fear found in many countries.

At one time, an informal expression in various militaries was something like “jackets off” – meaning indications of rank and position had been removed and everyone was speaking as equals. At CAST, the jackets are always off. 

At this year’s CAST, you may notice something different from many of the conferences available:  The speakers are practitioners.

They are people who do what they are talking about for a living. They are not globe-trotting frequent conference speakers who will flog whatever theory or buzzword is in vogue at the time. They are not advocating for a set of letters to add after your name which they, by sheer coincidence, can administer the training and then the exam to get them.

The speakers have deadlines and projects that are troublesome and have unexpected problems. Some have managers who don’t understand some of the things they are being told and want a simple explanation.

They are talking from their own working lives. They are not talking theory, or “studies have shown” or “best practices.” They are people talking about what they have first-hand experience with.  They are people talking about what worked, and importantly, what did not. They are talking about dealing with doubts and problems and what they learned and took away that may be applicable elsewhere.

If you have not signed up for CAST, check out the schedule here, then compare what is being discussed with what the large “major name” conferences are discussing. Look at who is presenting at CAST versus who presents year after year at the “major name” conferences. Sure, there is likely to be some overlap in speakers – look at the content. Look at what they are talking about.

Look at what they have to say.

If you are want to learn more, by all means, I invite you to register for CAST. We have some seats left, not many, but some. Most of the tutorials are at capacity and one has 6 spots left.

Join us. Come with an open mind and you might just leave a better thinker which will make you a better tester.

Even if you can’t join us in person, by all means join us via the webCAST. We have worked very hard to carry all plenary sessions and one full track for two days, live online – for free! This is followed by an evening discussion called “CAST Live.” Check it out here.

I’ll see you in Grand Rapids in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

CAST 2015: Pre-Conference Tutorials

When I look at conference programs, one thing I always look at are the "extras" - the things that are not part of the conference proper, but the add-ons that bring specific, useful ideas I can bring back to the office the next week and apply THEN.

When I look at those items, I look at a couple of main tests:
1. No deep thought is needed to answer "How do I apply this at my company?"
2. No fretting over "This stuff sounds great but the boss will never go for it."

If there are sessions that meet those tests, I'm willing to pay out extra money to attend. Plain and simple. Sometimes, it is the technique I am looking to learn and apply better. Sometimes, it is the consideration and thought provoking ideas I need to weigh - and other people's insight on that or related topics are appreciated.

When looking at the extra-cost "Specials" this year's CAST, the Conference of the Association for Software Testing, I looked for sessions that had something to offer that I, as an attendee, would be willing to pay my money to go learn.

I think the four we have lined up this year meet those simple tests - and offer significant insight to how software professionals at the top of their craft do their work, and their lessons can be applied specifically to testers.

Mobile App Coverage Using Mind Maps. 

Dhanasekar Subramaniam is offering what looks to be an interesting session on Mobile Testing, and using Mind Maps to help guide coverage. I met Dhanasekar in passing at CAST last year. He seemed very intelligent and had some very good ideas. Alas, my schedule last year was far too hectic to permit more than a simple chat. However, the session he presented got rave reviews from people I respect. Want to know more about him? Check out his "About this blog" page which explains a fair amount about his thought processes and ideas.

There are a lot of people who tell people how and what to do when testing Mobile Apps. In looking at this session, what strikes me is that it is based on real experience, with lessons learned and applied successfully. The core of the issue in many instances, is people have ideas that they have not examined deeply, not explored adequately. This session contains much that can be applied to people considering testing Mobile apps.

Frankly, I expect people who are interested in test coverage in general would get good ideas from this session.

Speaking Truth to Power.

Fiona Charles is reprising this session she did at CAST 2010, with a new twist and ideas. I'm intrigued by the idea that most of the time, testers who are truly experimenting and testing software will find information that is of great value to the team. Sometimes the information found is not the type that managers or "key players" want to hear. No one likes it when their pet project goes pear-shaped, do they?

Fiona does a deep dive on how we can deliver the difficult (perhaps, unpopular) messages we sometimes need to deliver.

Why Fiona? I find her to have information people can act on, or think deeply on and then act on. People tend to seek out those they agree with, all the time, maybe to reaffirm their biases? I'm not sure if that is wise. Fiona has the ability to question the presumptions and statements people make, either gently or directly, and drive to a crucial point. I find Fiona to be someone I learn something from even when we disagree.

Follow Your Nose Testing.

Christin Weidemann is presenting what looks to be an interesting take on testing. Not writing scripts or test plans or making bar charts to show progress, but testing. She is looking into "overturning convention" and considering the reinvention of testing practices.

The challenge I see so many people have with testing is they get wrapped in the rituals around it they forget that one major portion of testing is curiosity. So many forget the most important question I can think of in testing - "What happens?" Christin seems to be looking at how to focus on that very question.

I met Christin at CAST 2011 in Seattle. We were both in Michael Bolton's tutorial on mind mapping. Our paths have rarely crossed since, but she struck me as an intelligent, thoughtful tester.

Testing Fundamentals for Experienced Testers

Robert Sabourin looks at what it is to reinvent and develop yourself, even with years of experience.  Rob looks at how we can transfer skills from one environment or system to another. Simply put, fundamentals.

He challenges concepts others take for granted by looking at the characteristics, the areas of those fundamentals.

I met Rob in person a couple of years ago. I found the conversations with him to be interesting and intriguing. Like conversations with Fiona, I always learned something from them. 

These are merely the start of this year's CAST. Technically, they are not part of the conference itself. CAST contains many sessions. Some folks might find greater value in some sessions than in others. That is often the way at conferences, I guess.

There is a wide selection of track sessions and workshops that look at a variety of topics around testing and leadership and personal development. Check out the program here.

Early Bird Registration ends on June 5.  You can find information on Pricing and Registration here and information on the host hotel and venue here

I look forward to seeing you in Grand Rapids this August.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

CAST 2015: For Managers

I have been working with a group of people preparing for the 10th annual CAST - the Conference of the Association for Software Testing - in Grand Rapids, Michigan this coming August. 

The program was announced recently here.

We had over 100 submissions to work though and very few spots to fill which made deciding what proposals NOT to select far more difficult than which proposals TO accept.  After some discussion and back and forth exchanges, we pulled together what I think is a solid program

While we don't do formal "tracks" as some conferences do, today, I am looking at the sessions I believe to be of particular attention to Managers.

Josh Meier is presenting an interesting take on Culture of Quality. He'll be looking at the "Quality is everyone's responsibility" meme that gets cited so often by so many people. What makes this look interesting is that Josh is speaking from experience, as opposed to theory so many cite.

Ken De Souza is presenting a session on Feedback. Many people, including managers, struggle to give (and receive) meaningful feedback at any point in their career. While this is a challenge for people in supervisory or coaching/mentoring positions, Testers are giving feed back to other people, even though it is not often recognized as such, as in bug reports. 

Jeff Woodard is presenting a slightly different take on Feedback. In this case, Jeff is discussing how to use feedback to get to a fact-based evaluation and determining what is real, or not, for a team. 

Megan Studzenski is presenting a session on Training and Developing testers. This is something that is challenging for many organizations - getting people to be able to contribute in a meaningful way as quickly as possible even when they have little or no testing experience.   

Joseph Ours is presenting a session that I think managers in particular might find useful on Metrics.  He'll discuss the purpose of measurement tools and how to leverage measures and metrics effectively. 

Rob Bowyer has a session on Hiring. Simply put, hiring good testers is hard. Getting hired as a tester can likewise, be hard. This looks to be an informative session for managers and anyone else who has struggled with interviews for testing positions.

Right. There are many more sessions. Some folks might find greater value in some sessions than in others. That is often the way at conferences, I guess. These are the ones that, looking at the selected sessions, look like they'll have ideas specifically applicable for Managers.

Early Bird Registration ends on June 5.  You can find information on Pricing and Registration here and information on the host hotel and venue here

I look forward to seeing you in Grand Rapids this August.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Community & Conferencing & CAST 2015, part 1

Let us begin with the definition of "community" in the Oxford Dictionary.

Community: com·mu·ni·ty /kəˈmyo͞onədē/ noun
1. a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common;
2. a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals;

There are many, many people who talk about community in one form or other. When they talk about a community of testers, I tilt my head a bit and listen (or read) perhaps a bit more carefully than I do other times. I suspect it is because I am curious about what they mean and how they intend to use the phrase.

I admit that sometimes, particularly when it is someone with whom I have fundamental disagreement in areas of testing, I listen because I am suspicious of their motives. That may be a failing on my part. Or, it may be that I tend to think carefully and critically about certain things.  Among those things are words and how they are used.

My education included teachers from Catholic Religious Orders, Dominican, Franciscan and one Jesuit. Thinking carefully and how words get used was a hallmark of my education. Perhaps that is why when the first time I read There are good practices in context, but there are no best practices." my reaction was something of "Of course. Why is this revolutionary to some people?"

It seems that idea, perhaps more than any other single idea, is rather off-putting to some people. I understand the retort that such terms as "best practices" are misleading and lazy and disingenuous. I also understand the charges that people are selling snake oil as solutions to testing problems without actually understanding what those testing problems are.

I've written before about the idea of "best practices" and shall not repeat my argument here.

When I first read that idea, which is one of the Principles of the Context-Driven School of testing, it seemed I found a group of people with whom I join in that part of a community of testers. For some time, I have been working closer and closer with people. Some of them I agree with. Some I disagree with. The vast majority of them, I respect greatly.
In 2010 I went to my first CAST conference.  I found a large number of people who had inquisitive minds who were willing to talk and debate and discuss well into the early hours.

Every CAST I have attended and participated in since have born that out.

The fact is, some people do not like having their ideas challenged. Others thrive on it. Some people look at direct questions as an attack, sometimes personal ones intended for them them. (I expect that happens when people wrap so much of their own self identity with their work and ideas.) Some folks look at it as an opportunity to better understand something.

Some people, when their ideas are challenged, crumple up in a ball. Others attack the challenger. Others attack the right of the challenger to have a contrary opinion and voice them - IN PUBLIC.

If you have never attended or participated in CAST before. This might be a good opportunity to find out what it can be like hanging out with thinking people who are not willing to take everything, or anything, said from a podium at face value. A significant portion of each session - including keynotes - is dedicated to "open season" - where people in the audience can ask questions in a moderated, facilitated format.

I've been working with some really talented and dedicated people on this year's CAST. I think it will be worth your while to check it out. You can see more information on the conference here. There is a link to register from the same page.

The schedule is being announced later this week. It is going to be good, if I do say so myself.