Monday, August 22, 2016

CAST 2016 - Presenting, Learning, Enjoying


Last fall I learned about AST for the first time.  That's AST - The Association for Software Testing.  Prior to this I haven't spent a lot of time involved with professional organizations, mostly because they haven't seemed very aligned with my professional interests.  I was with ASQ for a little while.  I learned a lot from ASQ and my time with them but for the most part they weren't focusing in the areas that I was and they were just too formal for me to relate to them well. 

AST is a little different.  They do have conversations about things that I consider pertinent.  Whereas ASQ is at the very formal end of software testing when it talks about testing at all, AST is having the conversations that I'm interested in.  Like, how to make exploratory testing safe and relevant.  Or, how much automation to really do and how to do it.  Or is Test Manager a dying title.  Relevant enough that this year I asked to speak for them.  I didn't make the first cut but I was brought in as a backup when another speaker had to bow out.  

I had been working on a talk for a little bit that had as its core intent making testers understand Agile better, understand their place in it and what it can do for them.  With this information in their toolkit, when it comes time to iterate the process and make it better, (something core to the agile ideal) they can change the system in a way that makes more sense for testing and therefore quality.  

I thought that there would be a little bit of fun in walking through a list of reasons of how agile is good for testers.   When I started my process I arbitrarily picked the number 23 as the number of reasons that I would have.  Upon reflection, partially for timing in a 40 minute presentation and partially because 23 was a daunting number, I settled on 17 reasons.  In the end I didn't have a lot of trouble coming up with 17 reasons and could have done 23 if I had to. 

In the last session of the conference I still managed to get 35 people into a room to listen to me talk about agile and the reasons why it's good for testers.  I do recommend that you NOT assume that the schedule from day 2 to day 3 of the conference you're attending is the same just because it looks the same.  I thought I was 10 minutes early for my talk, time to get setup and relax, but rather I was 5 minutes late.  The crowd was pretty tolerant though.  The talk went well.  This was my first conference, both attending and speaking and the talks weren't that much more stressful than a meetup talk.

Because, I believe, I said that I was happy to facilitate and did have some experience, I received the honour of facilitating 3 talks at the conference as well.   This was made even more interesting by the k-card conference facilitation system, which I learned on the fly at the conference.   After seeing a couple of sessions operate with the cards I was totally on board with the concept and was all prepared to facilitate the hell out of my first session. Facilitating at a CAST conference means getting up at the start, giving a brief introduction for the speaker, dealing with any issues and then sitting down until the end unless there are crowd necessary interruptions.  Anne-Marie Charrett was my first speaker.  Anne-Marie, the self-titled Maverick Tester, came and and told me that things had gone awry.  Her newly acquired laptop couldn't perform and she was going to hold a discussion group sort of thing instead.  I said, 'no problem.'  We never touched the k-cards and had a hour long discussion about trust, what it means, how to gain it and how to lose it.  It was one of the high points of the conference for me.  Anne-Marie also gave a good keynote about whether the idea of 'Test Manager' was dead. 


The next day I was completely floored by a presentation called, hmm, Neurodiversity in Software Development (i think) by Sallyann Freudenberg.  It was astoundingly riveting and fascinating.  Never before had I seen the case for including a neuro diverse group of people on your team put so well.  So many things to think about there.  The rest of my day on day two was spoken for.  I facilitated two more discussions, one on implementation of exploratory testing and one on lessons learned in 25 years of being a rockstar in testing.  They both went well and the facilitation wasn't particularly challenging.  Well, in the latter I had to track people who were voting on songs to indicate they were Canadian artists.  But that just made it more fun. 

Last session of the last day fell to myself.  I took the session before off to review my notes.  Not sure it made a large difference.  I was ready, and as I said above, I was late.   I went into the auditorium 10 minutes early, something I'd been doing all day because of facilitation.  Only this time there were 22 people sitting there already.  I made a joke about keeners and was told that I was actually 5 minutes late.  And they were right.  I was embarrassed, so I got set up as quickly as I could and got started, without my facilitator (who was also late).  I sailed through my presentation, barely looking at my notes.  Everything went very well.  As far as I can tell, I do OK as a presenter.  I could have slowed down some but I didn't so that I could make sure I got through all 17 of my reasons.  I was worried about the late start.  It wasn't a problem at all though and I finished a couple of minutes early.  There were some good questions.  Enough people had filtered in that I had 35 total attendees.  Given that there were four presentations going and it was the last presentation of the conference, I was pretty happy with the outcome. 

Link to the slides - 17 Reasons Why Agile is Good for Testers

I will go to a conference again.  I will probably speak again as well. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

There are three types of people

This past weekend we went out for a walk as a family and I came to a bit of a realization.  My wife, myself and my 3 year old represent each of these panels.  There really isn't much wrong with the first two methods of hill climbing although there are a lot of parallels in life that aren't too far off this description that probably provide more judgement that I would place on the hill climbers themselves.  

As I drew the three panels I knew that there would be engineers out there that would complain so I added them.  And when an engineer builds it...a salesperson will always pop up to try to sell it. 


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Failures in Recruitment - Episode 11

Our recruiter set up a phone interview with a candidate. You can tell it was a phone interview because the meeting request had a phone number in the 'Location' and in the text it said, "I will call you at 1 pm."


The candidate shows up at our office at 12:55. Our recruiter was a little flummoxed. The candidate is wearing jeans, T-shirt, ball cap. Awkward. But the recruiter pulls through and does the interview like a champ. 


The candidate proceeds to tell our recruiter the story of how he was trained as a pharmacist but then spent 6 months with a testing guru learning the ways of QA and then was ushered across the seas to begin his career. Odd.


The candidate's resume doesn't have a last name. Their 12 letter first name is there so maybe that makes up for it. Their first name is also the first part of their gmail address, only missing a single letter right in the middle that makes no reasonable sense in its absence. Maybe this is correct but my QA brain says that maybe something is awry here.


Everything about this candidate says they will be the perfect addition as a client facing professional, no?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Be the best at what you can be?

This morning I was reading an article by James Altucher in which he was talking about what it takes to become as good as you can be at something.  It was an interesting article, I find a lot of what Altucher writes to be pretty interesting.  But there was one thing in it that took me off onto a tangent that I found of particular significance.

If you're in the top 1% of any particular ability on this planet that really only means you have to be as good as 70 million other people.  His statement around it was, 'that seems doable.'  On one level I can't find anything to fault with his argument.  Then I started to think about it some more.  What am I better at than 99% of the rest of humanity?  What am I better at that I can say six billion, nine-hundred seventy million people don't hold at candle up to me?  That's where my mind boggled.

You see, I'm really quite good at a lot of things. Really I'm an excellent all-around-er.  But I don't really know that I'm incredible at any one thing.  If someone comes to me and asks me what my absolute best skill is I don't think I could come up with a good answer.  I could list off some of the things that I excel at:  I'm quite witty and come up with good comebacks really quite fast on a very regular basis, I lead my teams pretty well into being high performers who like their job, myself their company, I am quite good about focusing on quality in process and software, I'm a really good cuddler....  See the list is a little sad when you start to put it down.

I know that there are a lot of you out there that have a skill that you've found and nurtured and worked on and while you may not come in first all the time when you compete, even if you're top 5 on a regular (or hell even irregular basis), you're likely in that 1%.   I applaud this and you should really consider it in this fashion before you get depressed that you don't win more often.  Realistically, if you run in iron-mans and come dead last each and every time, you're in the 1% because there aren't 70 million people out there doing iron-mans and you've got to be better than most of the people who've never done one.

But to be better than over six billion other people at something?  I don't really compete on a wider scale on anything so there's not really any meaningful measuring stick with which to gauge myself.  The closest I really come is in my career.  I'm pretty damned good at what I do.  Am I the best?  Heck no.  Could I improve, heck yes.  Do I try to improve on a regular basis, of course, but certainly not with the single-mindedness that gets someone like Serena Williams to the top of her game.  Do I need to be in the top 1% at something?  I'd like to be for sure.   In order to be able to claim that and back it up, I'd have to either prove it in some way or just decide that that was something I could say and argue reasonably.  That takes some level of ego that isn't really me.  It also probably relates to my QA brain, if you make a statement you're serious about, there'd better be some factual basis for it.

One of our core values at Hootsuite is 'leading with humility.'  I think that this means that you don't have to think you're the best at something or even say you're the best.  Instead what it means, I think, is that you strive to be the best in what you do and put yourself out there while doing it.  Everyone watching you can learn from the things that you do that work as well as learning from the things that you do that don't work.  If you work in a manner that allows for the notion that you are always looking to find a better way, then that's really the only example you need to provide.  If you're not doing it the best manner and you've embraced leading with humility and always looking for a better way then the people following your lead will be willing to form a community that can help you improve.  Respect is definitely a merit based system. Earn it in all you do but being the best is only one path to respect.

It helps if you're pretty good at what you do when you start so that people do look to you to lead.  It helps even more if you're in that top 1%.   Everyone wants more successes than fails so when we hire we really try for that 1%.  I'm not sure that when we hire, though, that we try to hire people that think they are in the 1%.  Reducing ego's in our work culture is another of our strong goals.  So am I the best of the best at what I do?  Maybe I am, maybe I'm not.  It really doesn't matter when you come right down to it.  Best is simply the demonstrable goal.   I'm still daunted by the 1% though.





Friday, June 5, 2015

Scrum Challenge - In a Pickle

Today's Scrum Challenge was a fun little game that I derived from the board game In a Pickle.  In the game you are given some cards with nouns on them and on the game board are four piles of similar cards.  You must play one of your cards, and justify it as necessary such that it either fits in the smallest item on the stack or that the entire stack fits in your item.  It's pretty fun and really stresses creativity and the ability to argue and sway people to your way of thinking.  As might be expected I excel at this game. 

Instructions

  1. Leader picks an object of some sort.  Should start fairly large. 
  2. Next player must list the objects that come before them and add another item that will fit in the smallest item in the list. 
    1. As necessary the player must justify to the team and the leader that their chosen item does indeed fit inside. 
  3. Each player has approximately 3 seconds to come up with the list and item or they are out. 
    1. Missed items in the listing will also kick you out. 
  4. The game continues, going around the team circle, the list growing longer and smaller, until there is only one person remaining.  That person wins. 

The Results

I'm including the results of our first game. 

  1. Empire State Building
  2. A whale.
  3. A large plastic bucket
  4. A small dragon
  5. A small shark
  6. A muffin
  7. A pencil.
  8. Lead in the pencil. 
  9. A bug in the lead. 
  10. An amoeba in the bug. 
  11. A cell in the amoeba (entire team missed that an amoeba is already single celled)
  12. Martin Short shrunk microscopically as in 'Inner Space' in the cell
    1. We quickly realized that it was Dennis Quaid shrunk in 'Inner Space' into Martin Short but it didn't matter much for the game. 
  13. A Bucky Ball inside Martin Short
  14. A neutrino inside the Bucky Ball. 


Reception
This game was hard for some people because thinking fast isn't always easy, especially when you're doing something so outside of the norm.  In general however it was a lot of fun with much laughter.  Even the people who went out took it well.  The largest challenge ended up being maintaining the list. 

What Went Right
Eventually everyone got the game and how it was played, but thinking fast was often challenging.  Keeping the list going might have been the most challenging and fun part of the game for the team.  If we hadn't done the list part, I don't think that there would have been as much involvement and laughter. 


What Went Wrong
Start with a good 3 entry example so people know how it goes before they have to start.  Let people participate as a team in the justification discussions.  As the leader, go with the majority opinion about appropriateness of any particular entry.   Being creative in coming up with your smaller item might be just difficult enough that it's difficult to pick strategic entries that benefit your future team members.  ie - pick something just a little bit smaller than the last item so there are valid, non-difficult choices open to your teammates. 


Lessons/Team Benefits
I think that this is a pretty good team building exercise.  I witnessed team members helping each other to remember things for the list.  Good, lively, laughter filled discussions about entries and whether they were valid were numerous.  From the team perspective this is a very good thing, it teaches your team that they can disagree on items, have some discussion around these items and things still end positively.  As always laughing and succeeding together always help build the team. 

I will definitely use this exercise again.  I believe it is a very good little team building exercise to use on a brand new team.  You don't need relationships or to know people well to still have a good spirited result. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A shower moment of clarity, about, well, clarity.

I get a lot of ideas in the shower.  I won't really call them epiphanies, most of them aren't really worth much but it is good to stay amused wherever you are. The best I can generally hope for is a little clarity.  Today's idea gave me some clarity around clarity in communication.   How you say things can be every bit as important as what you say. Today's shower thought, I think, is worth considering and maybe even a little discussion. 

Let's start with a little story about my shower.  We have a pretty standard bathtub shower with a shower curtain and a curtain liner.  The liner is waterproof and functional and the curtain is pretty and not so very functional.  About a month ago or so it was decided that the  curtain liner was getting dirty and needed to be cleaned or replaced.  After more complications than need to be discussed, we cleaned the curtain liner and I put it back up.  

Let's fast forward to this week.  I've been noticing that the ends of the curtain liner have been curling back from the wall a little, not producing as effective a water seal as I would like.  I've been fiddling with them a bit to little success and today I found myself wondering if maybe it's because the liner used to be reversed.  I don't know that I put it up in the opposite direction to the way it spent the first 15 months of its installed life but looking at it in the shower, I couldn't see any particular reason it should go one way versus the other.  

Knowing that my wife bought and installed the curtain and liner originally I figured that asking her if she knew if there was a 'right' and 'wrong' way to have it up might shed some light.  As I started to holler out a question from my shower I stopped myself.  I should have stopped myself regardless because you can yell out questions from the shower all you want but you can almost never hear and understand the response but this time I stopped myself for another reason.  

Here's the question I was going to yell out, "Hey sweetie, is this shower curtain liner reversible?"  A pretty innocuous question all-in-all you might think but in reflecting on the question I realized that there lies within this statement an onus of assumption that my wife is supposed to have this knowledge.  I grant you that she could simply say, 'I don't know,' without any real problem and not think anything of it.  But, if moods aren't as good at that particular moment as they might be, this tone, or onus of assumption, might feel a little presumptive and accusatory.  ie, if she doesn't have this knowledge she might slip into defensive mode.  Defensive mode can all too quickly escalate into some sort of fight.  Suddenly an unimportant question might put us on the outs.  If I had, with pretty much exactly the same amount of energy and thought input asked this question instead, "Hey sweetie, do you think this shower curtain is reversible?" that onus simply wouldn't exist in the same way.  It's obvious in the second form of the query that I know that I'm simply asking for an opinion. 

A little later, when out of the shower, I asked my wife the question, the second way.  Turns out she doesn't know.  Then we talked about the different possible forms of the question and she readily agreed that there is an implied onus in the first form.  Both of us also agreed that in a committed and successful relationship there is already tacit agreement to give a person the benefit of the doubt in most situations that the partner is coming from a place of caring and understanding and that they expect the same in return.  So the conversation ending up being defensive is less likely and even if it does, we're more likely going to come to an amicable conclusion. 

Turn this around though to the relationships you have in the workplace.  There is no particular need for any one person to take the things you say or ask in their most generous interpretation.  (I recommend that you live your life coming from that viewpoint but I do find this to be the rare and wise individual that is capable of this)  Indeed it is more likely, in my experience, that one in three people is more than capable of reading any statement in a way that will leave them negatively impacted. 

Yesterday I was talking with one of my guys.  His sprint team is having some issues, mid sprint, and it looks like they might not accomplish their goals.  In bringing up the fact that there might be some challenge in reaching their goals for demo day there was some negative blow-back.   If you know that you're a person who is more responsible at that particular point for success in the sprint, you're more likely to become defensive when it comes up as a point of discussion.  Again, this is human nature, it takes a wise individual to not jump to the defensive stance.  In this type of situation the words that you use to bring up the topic are incredibly important.  There are defusing ways to tackle the subject that help everyone staying in the productive 'how will we fix this' mind-set rather than the defensive, 'this isn't my fault, leave me alone' mind-set. 

By example, you could say the following, "If you don't get me this feature until next week we won't be able to finish it in time for demo."  This phrasing is particularly fraught with challenge because it also provides the semi-justifiable out that it was delivered to someone else before end of sprint therefore the blame belongs to the person who got it last and didn't finish it.   If, however, you said it like this, "I see that things aren't moving as quickly as we'd anticipated, what can I do to help move things along better."  Both phrases accomplish the necessary task of starting a dialogue about getting things done but the second will start in a more productive space. 

To come back around to my shower and the title of this post, I had this moment of clarity about how being clear in what you're saying isn't just about using words that mean the right things, or even in just in being succinct in what you say.  If you want to be an effective communicator you need to understand your audience, their context and the way that they're going to listen to what you say.  The way that you say it can combine with the way they're going to hear it to produce an effect that you never intended. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Show Up Every Day

I was just reading this article by James Altucher.  The gist of the article is that you need to show up, at whatever endeavor you're undertaking every, day.  Each and every day.  I also like that it doesn't say that you need to show up ALL day. 

It started me thinking that there are a number of ways in my life where this advice holds true.  

Habits

When you're working on a project, be it for work or at home and you don't have a set deadline and you're being self-motivated you should put extra effort into showing up every day.  By making sure that you accomplish something real towards your goal each and every day you build a habit towards working on that project.  Habits that you build in that way will build their own momentum and happen on days when you don't have the motivation to make them happen.  Not to mention, when you continuously work on something every day progress happens and before you know it, you've achieved your goal.


Motivation

I find that motivation is very much a momentum kind of thing.  If you have momentum forward you don't have to think about your motivations so much.  You just move forward with the momentum and accomplish things.  As you accomplish things you are motivated by your success and produce even more forward momentum.  This is why the end of projects, especially very long all-consuming ones can be dangerous.  Suddenly your momentum is halted because you don't have a path forward in the same direction that you have been following all along.  This is why it's good to run with multiple projects, some in the design stage, some in the kernel of an idea stage and some in the mainstream.  As soon as you finish one you can refocus on another. 

Some of my least motivated days are when your large project ends, all the loose ends are tied up and you set yourself to just tackle the things that were left around undone while you were on project.  Those things were never going to be very satisfying to undertake or you would have made the time to do them.  I find myself doing parts of each task before I'm distracted by another more interesting task.  By having another project to move towards with a goal, I can spend 10% of my day on that and the rest doing the clean-up and still feel pretty motivated.

Staycations

I discovered a number of years ago that staycations can be pretty awesome but that they had an inherent risk.  If you don't make a plan for a staycation you run the risk of diddling away your time and then at the end of it when you're back at work you'll find yourself thinking, 'I didn't do anything.  The time was just wasted.'  This seems counter-intuitive because the very act of staying home and doing nothing was probably what you wanted to do but without any defining events within that time everything will have just sort of blended together into one giant blob of dis-accomplishment.  It will feel good during the staycation but you won't have as much durable satisfaction afterwards.  (or you might, we're all different people). 

I came up with a strategy that deals with this though.  Each day of your staycation you plan one event.  For me it often meant leaving the apartment to go to a movie.  The rest of the same day could have me lying on my apt floor staring at the ceiling, the point was simply to have the one planned event each day.  The event could even be within my home, such as painting a wall.  As long as it was a unique event that wouldn't normally exist in a lazy stay-at-home day.  The event could even be something extra lazy like sleeping in the hammock all day but then you'd have to put just a little bit of extra pageantry around it to make it special. 

It may all sound a little strange but I found it really worked for me.  By spending two 'productive' hours in a day the whole day was remembered as bring successful.  I could have spent the rest of the time sitting on the couch watching reality TV (not that i did, ew) and the day would still feel later like it was a worthwhile day. 

Of course there's those people with boundless energy that take a staycation to accomplish things around the home.  Well, if you're going to do that, you'd best make sure that there are tangible re-livable results because that's the only way you're retain the sense of time well spent after the fact. 


Show Up Every Day

By showing up every day you build habits that maintain motivation, giving you momentum so that the next day you can achieve the same thing, only perhaps even better.  It's self-fulfilling and it's moderately eternal.  You'll feel better about yourself and what you're accomplishing which will give you the verve to continue doing so.   It's a very simple formula that just requires you to show up, every day.