Friday, December 19, 2014

For Your Listening Pleasure: TESTHEAD’s Podcasts

It’s the end of the year, and it seems that people are going to be getting all sorts of new devices for the holidays. Smartphones, tablets, computers, etc. will likely be purchased by many, and with those purchases will be a need to fill them. In my personal opinion, while video tutorials and such are cool and all, nothing is as portable, engaging and good for short bursts of calm time, semi-active physical exertion or long road/air trips than podcasts. 

Thus, in the spirit of giving, I would like to give everyone a taste of my current listening habits, my podcasts of choice. Some of these have been with me for years, some are relatively new, all of them are informative and engaging (well, at least I think so). 

Additionally, I have also included websites with background info and storage for previous episodes. All are free for newer episodes, some sites charge for back catalog items. Most of course appreciate donations to help them keep the shows going, so by all means, if you can offer them support to keep producing stuff you like, hey, show a little love :)!

And now, without further ado…

AB Testing
Alan Page and Brent Jenson (AB testing, get it ;)?) talk about a variety of software testing topics and their combined four decades of experience, as well as their own meandering thoughts and topics that happen to come into their heads. Both Alan and Brent are long time Microsoft veterans, so there is, of course, a Microsoft flavor to the podcast, but don’t think that just because you don’t live and work in a Microsoft shop that this isn’t for you. There’s plenty to keep a tester (or anyone interested in software quality, regardless of role) interested. What I love about this is that it’s done in a very casual tone, as though they are just kicking back with a couple of beers and ranting about the topics that come up (please note: I have no idea if they are kicking back with beers as they do their podcast, it’s just the vibe it gives me, and I love it :) ). 

Back to Work
Two hundred episodes in, this is still one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann generate a lot of banter in their podcasts, and for those who want the business end of the podcast each week, I’ll help you now with this tip, just fast forward twenty minutes and you’ll be much happier. However, if you’ve been with the show since the beginning, you’ll know that some of the most fun parts of the show actually take place in these twenty minutes, as well as the banter that carries over every show. It’s goofy, messy, often unfocused, but filled with gems if your goal is to really get into the things that make for creative work. Oh, and don’t be surprised if, after a few weeks of listening, you start to look forward to the rambling intros, because you feel like you are getting a glimpse at two of your friends just kicking it and getting caught up on what matters to them, only part of which is the actual podcast.

Common Sense with Dan Carlin
This is the first of two “indispensable” podcasts for me, ones I have listened to for several years, and that I consider the “gold standard” of what the podcast medium can deliver. Dan Carlin is a cantankerous, fast talking, highly caffeinated and animated commenter who bills himself as being “political by way of Mars”. Dan is based in the U.S., and many of the topics he covers are from a U.S.perspective, but what makes Dan different is he refuses to approach problems or issues from a partisan position. For tester looking to exercise their critical thinking skills when it comes to political topics, this podcast is a jewel. 

Freakonomics Radio
The subtitle of this podcast is “The Hidden Side of Everything”, and it tends to remain true to that tagline. Stephen Dubner and Steven Leavitt are the hosts of this eclectic show that mostly looks at economics, but is wonderful for testers because it looks at teasing out what the data tells us about a variety of topics. We think we understand how things work, and why the world looks the way it does, but very often, the hidden realities go counter to the agreed to narrative. Often controversial, always fascinating.

Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
This is the first of the “Quick and Dirty Tips” podcasts that I follow, and the fact that I fancy myself a bit of a writer on the side of being a software tester, it should come as no surprise that I would appreciate a regular infusion of grammar and interesting ways to improve my game as a writer. Grammar Girl is hosted by Mignon Fogarty, and is full of interesting tips and tidbits about language, grammar construction, writing tropes, and etymology. There are as of this writing 446 episodes. That’s a lot of potential grammar tips, and while you may not want to listen to every one of them, you will not surprise me in the slightest if you come back and tell me you have heard them all ;).

Hardcore History with Dan Carlin
Of all the podcasts I listen to, most of the episodes are listened to once or twice, and then I delete the ones I listened to already. I do not delete episodes of Hardcore History! I have saved every one of them since the beginning, and I have listened to each episodes multiple times (and that’s no small feat, considering several of the Hardcore History podcast episodes are multiple hours long). Dan Carlin uses the same “Martian” approach to thinking as used in the Common Sense podcast and applies it to historical events. Earlier podcasts were brief entries, while the most recent podcasts would count as full audio books. Dan has a style of delivery that is dramatic, intense, and for me personally, enthralling. Many of the podcasts are continuous series. He’s currently doing a multi part series on the causes and effects of the First World War. The combined total time for this series (titled 'Countdown to Armageddon") is currently almost fourteen hours, with more episodes still to come. Do not be surprised if you find yourself listening for hours at a time. In my opinion, Hardcore History is the perfect long drive or long flight companion, and is still, to me, the gold standard of podcasting.

Philosophize This!
Stephen West hosts this podcast that endeavors to be a chronological exploration of philosophy and epistemology, and if listened to in order, does a very good job of being exactly that. Stephen goes to great lengths to keep a consistent narrative between episodes, and flashes back to what previous philosophers have said to help develop the context for current episodes. He mixes in modern metaphors to help make some of the esoteric bits make sense, and it makes for an overall very enjoyable and interesting series.

Planet Money
Hosted by NPR, and born from the wreckage of the 2008 Financial Crisis, Planet Money has a similar feel and approach to Freakonomics. It’s a very economics based program, with a smattering of finance and a lot of current events, and much like Freakonomics, ventures into territory that is unexpected and open to interpretation. If you think you know that’s going on, you may be surprised to realize how different things look when you “follow the money”.

Ruby Rogues
Ruby Rogues is a revolving cast of commenters, many of which are well known in the Ruby world, and frequently feature guests that talk about a variety of programming topics. I started listening to Ruby Rogues when I worked at a primarily Ruby and Rails shop, and while I have moved on to a work environment that uses different languages, I still listen regularly to this well done and well presented podcast. You do not have to be a Rubyist to reap benefits from listening to the show, but if you are familiar with Ruby, it makes each episode that much more interesting.

Savvy Psychologist: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Mental Health
This is another Quick and Dirty Tips podcast I enjoy following, and I became interested in it due to some of the challenges I’ve dealt with around my own diagnosis and repeated wrestling with issues related to ADHD. Dr. Ellen Hendrickson tackles a variety of psychological challenges, puts it in terms that every day people can understand and relate to, covering topics such as procrastination, anxiety, depression, motivation, mood and creativity. Understanding the challenges we all face helps us relate better to those we interact with, as well as ourselves. 

Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project 
You may know Adam Savage from his ten year plus run on the Discover Channel’s “Mythbusters”, but this series goes beyond his most well known career choice and talks about his involvement with special effects, the maker movement, and tests and explorations related to oddball interests. If you enjoy the Mythbusters approach and delivery, you’ll probably enjoy this podcast, too.

Stuff You Missed in History Class
As my interest in Hardcore History will likely tell you, I am a fan of history. I love the obscure and interesting bits and the connection to us today. However, Dan Carlin puts such time and attention to each episode, it can be months between episodes. This podcast (which is part of the “How Stuff Works” series of podcasts) is a twice a week history snack fest. Shows cover a wide variety of topics, often focusing on the weird or unusual. It’s great fun and a must listen for the avid history buff.

Stuff You Should Know
How did leper colonies come into being? What is terraforming? What did the enlightenment actually “enlighten”? If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about these things, and literally hundred more areas, then this podcast is right up your alley. Twice a week, the podcast covers interesting and unique topics that, when taken together, cover all sorts of areas that I may know a little bit about, but I always learn just a little bit more. If the idea of learning more about rogue waves, X-rays, and stem cells interests you, then this is a great destination.

TED Radio Hour
If you’ve ever seen or heard a TED talk, you know the format and approach. TED Stands for “Technology, Entertainment and Design”, and each hour long episode is based around a theme, with a talk from one or several presenters to build each themed episode. Programs range from games and gaming and how it relates to psychological development, to self determined education in Africa, to working with perceptions, to our relationship with animals. Guy Raz hosts this weekly podcast, and each week is a unique exploration into the unexpected.

Again, these are my favorites for this year and as of today. Next year, this list may be entirely different (though some will probably be perennial favorites). Here’s hoping some of these will be interesting to you, and hey, if you have some favorites you’d like to share, please post them in the comments below.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Spreading Some E-Book Holiday Cheer: #Packt5Dollar Deal

For the life of this blog, I have deliberately avoided any direct advertisement, or made any attempt to "monetize" it. I plan to keep it that way, since not accepting advertising allows me to say exactly what I want to say the way I want to say it.

Having said that, there's no question that several book publishers have been more than kind, giving me several dozen titles for free over the years as review copies. More than half my current technical library consists of these books, and many have been great helps over the years. If I can return the favor, even just a little bit, I am happy to do so.

Packt Publishing, located in the United Kingdom, is one of those publishers, and they are currently holding a special $5 E-book sale. Any and all e-book titles from Packt are available for $5 for a limited time (until January 6, 2015).

To take advantage of the deal, just click here.

Again, Packt has been very generous to me over the years, and I appreciate the fact that they are offering this opportunity. I've already take advantage of it... and have added even more books to my Tsundoku list (LOL!). For those curious, I decided to purchase the following:
  1. Backbone.js Cookbook
  2. Java Script Security
  3. JMeter Cookbook
  4. Kali Linux Network Scanning Cookbook
  5. Learning JavaScript Data Structures and Algorithms
  6. Learning Python Testing
  7. Responsive Web Design By Example
  8. Selenium Design Patterns and Best Practices
  9. Selenium webDriver Practical Guide
  10. Web Development with Django Cookbook
  11. Wireshark Essentials
Happy reading :)!!!

A "Linchpin" Challenge Revisited: New in "Uncharted Waters"

Yes, this is shameless self promotion, and yes, I would love to have you all read my latest post over at the Uncharted Waters blog titled "You Can Live Without a Resume!" I'm kidding of course. Not about wanting you to read the article, but about the shameless self promotion part. If I were really all about shameless self promotion, that's all I would say, but you all know me better than that (or at least I hope so ;) ).

When I say "Live without a Resume", I do not mean live without any reference to you or what you do. What I mean is "spend less time on the resume and spend more time on visible, tangible aspects of your work and what you can do".

If I were to try to convince someone I know my stuff about testing, and all I sent in was my resume, that may or may not get anyone's attention. What I do know is that, if it doesn't match their particular filtering criteria, it may never even get looked at. Personally, I don't want to start a conversation from that position. Frankly, I don't even want to have a conversation stemming from "hey, I looked over your resume, and..."

So what do I want to have happen? Personally, I'd prefer any of the following:

"Hey, I was looking over your LinkedIn profile and I noticed you had several talks posted. I listened to a couple of them, and I'm interested in talking more about what you said"


"I was looking at the Weekend Testing site, and I noticed your name listed on many of the sessions. I read a few, and hey, I think we might have something to discuss"


"I read several of your published articles. Could we get together and talk?"


"I spent an afternoon reading several posts from your blog. I think you're insane, but you might be a good fit for a friend of mine's company. Can I have them contact you?"

For the record, I have had every one of those things happen. No, this is not a way for me to strut and act cocky. Instead, it illustrates the power of having your work be on display in a way that steps outside of having a resume.

I owe this whole experiment to Seth Godin, and I've tried it now for almost five years. Granted, I could be proven wrong tomorrow. The bottom may fall out of the market, I could find myself unemployed, and then all of what I'm suggesting may not work any longer. That is of course possible. So far, though, Seth's hypothesis has proven to be sound, and for that, I am seriously grateful :).

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Teaching by Example: Slowing Down to Get Ahead

It's been an interesting month with my daughter, Amber. We have been engaged in an interesting little "tug of war" over the past several weeks. I am realizing that I have to be very careful here, because enthusiasm on the part of the "teacher" can either inspire a student, or completely demoralize them and turn them off.

We've agreed to a simple goal, and for now, that goal is the Codecademy streak. I've told her I don't care if she only does one lesson on a given day, as long as she at least does that one lesson. Of course, I'd be really happy if she did two, or three, or ten, or heck, even do fifty like I did about seven months ago. Yes, I spent a free Saturday and completely pounded through the entire jQuery course. No, I'm not convinced that was the best use of my time, considering how much I still have to look up to write anything today.

What I realized from that particular experience was that my own enthusiasm to "push through" caused me to take shortcuts. I violated what I jokingly refer to as "The First Zed Commandment" which is "thou shalt not copy and paste". Those who have read any of Zed Shaw's books on "Learn [Language] The Hard Way" know that he espouses this pretty heavily, and I do too... most of the time. However, my own impatience often gets the better of me, and yes, I find myself cheating and copying and pasting. If I were looking to get in physical shape for a run, would I get the same benefits if I agreed to run 5K each day, but when I got impatient, I hopped on my bike and rode the rest of the way? Would I get the same training benefit? Would I get the same physical conditioning? The answer is, of course, no. Writing code is the same way.

At this stage, I may wish my daughter were moving faster, but if the net result is that she scores a lot of points, gets a lot of badges, but doesn't remember fundamental syntax or hasn't put the time in to recognize where she has made a mistake, what am I really teaching her? This has prompted me to, instead, ask her what time she wants to sit down with me, her with her computer, me with mine, and we work either face to face or side by side. This way, she sees what I am doing, and how I'm doing it. It may encourage her to do likewise, or she may say "hey, that looks odd, what are you doing?" Either way, it will start a conversation, and then we can discuss the fundamental details. I have to realize that it's better for her to pull from me rather than me push to her.

So fundamentally simple, so easy to say, yet so hard to do when "Dad Brain" wants to carry her along as fast as he can. On the positive side, this is also allowing me to step back and make sure I really understand what I think I understand, with the often neat realization that, hey, I really didn't know that as well as I thought I did. Consider this my solid recommendation to anyone wanting to learn how to code... teach your kid how to code. If you don't have one, see if you can volunteer at a school's computer club and offer your time. What I'm realizing anew is that the example of working through problems for them is a pretty amazing teacher in its own right.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Weekend Testing Family is Expanding

It is with great pleasure, and a little bit of familial pride, that I announce there is a new kid on the Weekend Testing block.

During the first couple years of Weekend Testing Americas, Albert Gareev assisted me in getting the group off the ground, working on some more interesting and technical topics, and even worked with me to propose and try out the "Project Sherwood" project. We decided that the Weekend Testing model as it was designed at the time wasn't the best model for this expanded idea, but Albert didn't give up the fight.

We've talked a number of times over the past couple of years about how the Weekend Testing model works both as a distributed communication model, but that it can also work well as a live and in person event. We realized that what "Project Sherwood" was missing was that in-person direct give and take element. Albert figured for that to work, it would make sense to try it with a group he already had familiarity with and in a community where such events could be developed and focused on. Since Albert is in Toronto, he figured "why not set up a Weekend Testing chapter in Toronto?"

Why not, indeed :)?!

For those on the East Coast, and especially those in the immediate Toronto area, you are going to get a cool opportunity. Albert is a dedicated and accomplished tester, with a wealth of knowledge and a fountain of ideas. For those wondering if this is going to dilute the current Weekend Testing Americas offerings and sessions, I'm going to say "unlikely", because those who enjoy participating in these events will go to those that make sense for them and their availability. I've attended events in just about every of the chapters over the past five years, so in my mind, the more the merrier. The real winners are the testers that want to participate and learn some cool things.

So what should you do? For starters, go and join the Weekend Testing Toronto Meetup. Follow @WT_Toronto on Twitter. Check Weekend Testing's main site for scheduled sessions. Most of all, get ready for a fun and engaging opportunity with an interesting and passionate advocate for testing.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Companies Abhor a Vacuum

Over the past several years, I have seen time and time again that companies frequently say one thing but act in a totally different way. One of the key places I have noticed this is when someone leaves, especially if they are responsible for a critical area.

The common line is that they will hire someone to take over that role, but I've rarely seen it work that way. In fact, the large majority of the time, it falls to someone on the team who either has the misfortune of being assigned the task, or someone is crazy enough to jump into the breach.

I would recommend to any software tester, if you get the opportunity to find an area that is suddenly vacant, even if it may not be a skill or area you are entirely comfortable working in, take the person who is leaving out to lunch and ask them about that key area. It's possible they may not have time for you, but it's also possible they may be more than happy to show you how to work in that area.

As an example, we recently received word that one of our programmers was going to be leaving. There was some discussion in the Engineering meeting about some of the things this engineer was responsible for, and one of those areas (the management of virtual instances) was discussed as something that would need to be reassigned. I threw up my hand and said "I realize I may be out of the main flow of this at the moment, but in my past life I was responsible for handling the Hyper-V virtualization servers at a previous company. I wouldn't mind learning what might be different and where I could be helpful here".

Expecting to hear "Oh, that's OK, we can manage", I received an answer of "Wow, that's great! Yes, could you two get together and make that transfer happen?"

Truth be told, I felt pretty confident that this would be the case. Part of the reason was that I didn't ask permission, I just said "hey, I'd like to learn that". I relied on the fact that my company would have to either look for a person to fill the role, or let someone who volunteered try to take it on first. By voicing my interest, I solved a problem for them; they don't need to look for a new person to do that work. I also gave myself a jolt of electricity to take on something I wasn't currently doing, but felt would both help the organization and, additionally, help me ;). What I also did was couch the opportunity by saying I had a similar experience that I could use to draw upon. I wasn't saying "I know nothing about this, but I can learn". Instead, I phrased it as "I have some experience from this other domain that I think might help me bridge the gaps".

I can only speak for myself here, but I think we tend to wait for others to say it's OK for us to take on a particular responsibility, or to have someone tell us we will be doing something. We likewise might feel that we don't have the seniority or technical ability to take something on, or we may perceive our organization may believe we don't. My recommendation is, if you want to up the odds in your favor of getting an opportunity, ask after someone has announced they are leaving. I'm willing to bet that they would give you the benefit of the doubt. The alternative is to leave a vacuum, and companies abhor a vacuum ;).

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Book Review: Lauren Ipsum

As part of my current experience with teaching my daughter how to write code, I am finding myself getting into territory that I somewhat understand at various levels, but struggle to explain or make clear enough for a thirteen year old to likewise understand. How does someone explain recursion without causing a bunch of confusion in the process? In the past I have found myself struggling with ways to explain certain topics that help ground ideas of computer science, computing and programming, and how they actually work.

Carlos Bueno feels my pain, and to help answer it, he has written a book that is a perfect companion for a young person learning to code. That book is “Lauren Ipsum”. It’s subtitle is “A Story About Computer Science and Other Improbable Things”. More to the point, it is a computer science book without a computer. Wait, what? How does that work?

Carlos prints the following in the pages before the story starts:

I feel I should warn you: You won’t find any computers in this book. If the idea of a computer science book without computers upsets you, please close your eyes until you’ve finished reading the rest of this page.


You can also play with computer science without you-know-what. Ideas are the real stuff of computer science. This book is about those ideas and how to find them. In fact, most of the characters, places, and thingamajigs in Userland are actually based on those ideas. Check out the Field Guide at the back of the book to learn more about them!

“Lauren Ipsum” is the name of a girl who goes for a walk after a fight with her mother, finds herself lost, and in the process, meets an improbable cast of characters in a magical world called Userland. Through her travels, she solves various problems for herself and others and tries to find her way back home. Each of the people and creatures she meets personifies a different problem in computer science, and ways that can be used to help solve problems related to them. We are introduced to the “traveling salesman” problem, logic and choices, algorithms, cryptography, heuristics, abstraction, construction and deconstruction, networking, and branching paths, to name but a few.

At the end of the book is a section called the Field Guide to Userland, which goes into additional details about each of the chapters, the concepts mentioned in each section, and what they represent. If you are an adult looking for a quick reference for the book and the concepts being covered, this is it, and is frankly worth the purchase price of the book by itself. Having said that, don’t think that you can’t learn from the story itself. In fact, I'd be surprised if yo didn't find yourself enchanted by the main story as well. 

Bottom Line: This is a fun way to introduce problem solving and logic to kids who want to learn how to program. While we have lots of tutorials that talk about the syntax of code or the ways to build a program to do something, we often skip out on these other important topics until later, and then struggle with trying to understand or explain them. To that end, “Lauren Ipsum” does a great job at breaking down what can be difficult to explain topics in a way that a teenager can understand, but also in a way that grown ups who should know this stuff, but struggle with it, can have some new stories to work into their understanding. If you have a kid looking to learn how to code, share this book with them. Have them read it, of course, but take the time to read it yourself, too. You might find yourself much better equipped to explain the concepts as time goes on.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Guest Post: Inside an "Hour of Code" with Amber Larsen

This blog entry comes courtesy of my daughter. On Saturday, December 13, 2014 in San Bruno, she and a number of kids from her intermediate and the local elementary schools participated in "Hour of Code". Amber signed up for the "Intro to Java" class. The materials being used for this class can be seen at the Khan Academy, and is an "Intro to Drawing" using Java syntax.

I'll let Amber take it from here:

I would say that the web site we used was very "child friendly". It helped to make it possible for children and teenagers to work on code. It had videos, so instead of reading it, you could see it happen in front of you. We also worked on projects where we were able to make shapes and add colors and work with a palette. It was a good introduction and it was easily doable in an hour.

The course was listed as an "Intro to Java", and while I learned how to make shapes and fill in colors, and yes, I know that I was using Java to make those changes, it felt like I was working with a very small area of the code. I don't feel like I learned how to make websites or an actual program, but then I don't think that was the point. They had a full programming tutorial for Java that we can continue with at the end of the hour.

I think some of the explanations needed to be listened to a couple of times. Some of the other kids I was working with got stuck, but we were able to talk together and straighten it out. It reminded me of the HTML and CSS modules I have been working with in Codecademy.

Speaking of Codecademy, I think my having spent the last month working through the projects there helped me a lot, maybe too much. I finished the set of videos and projects 25 minutes before everyone else.

One of the nice things about what the Intro to Drawing course had was that the videos could run and we could change the code as it was put on the screen. Also, there wasn't a big setup time. When I downloaded Python I had to install it, set up my IDE to work with it, make sure that the compiler worked, that my PATH variable knew about Python, and that the IDE could use the compiler. If we all had to do that, we would have easily spent an hour just getting all that set up.

If I had to say there was anything I didn't like, it's that right away it told me if I made a simple mistake (well, sure, but I'm not finished yet, hang on!). Maybe it's because I'm used to the Codecademy approach, where you fill in what you want to write, and then submit the whole thing, and if there's an error, the screen shows it and it makes a suggestion, and you have to figure out what you did wrong. In a way, that felt more like "testing". With this, it came right out and told you what you were doing wrong. I think I might have learned more without the frequent reminders, but it was an intro, so I understand.

I think that instead of calling it an Intro to Java, it should be called an Intro to Drawing (using Java) because we focused more on the drawing (making lines, making rectangles and circles, filling them in) than we did on the Java. Having said all that, I think it makes sense to do what they did, because they want to make it interesting for kids to want to learn more, and with that, I think they did a pretty good job.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Time is an Asterisk

It is that time again. It's the end of another year, and it's the time that I do my typical retrospective on the year that was, what I wrote, what I learned, what I did and what I didn't do. I did a little search for my "Retrospective" tag and smiled, realizing that this is the fifth entry in this series, and an (almost) fifth year of writing this blog. I think that's somewhat noteworthy, as I have very few endeavors that I can point to that have survived for five years, much less thrived. Outside of my marriage and family, and a couple of jobs, this may well be the single longest running entity I've ever managed. No, that's not a sign I'm looking to end this, in fact I'm just getting warmed up. Also, yes, the title is, once again, a nod to the Talking Heads song 'Once in a Lifetime". I'm not sure how many more years I'll be able to keep this streak going, but it worked again for 2014.

The year started with a lot of promise, and in some ways, a need to recuperate. Last year, I took on a daunting challenge of writing 99 action plans for what a software tester can do to become a better software tester. I have the contents of what could be a pretty cool book, but it needs editing, curating and a lot of revision. If there's anything I discovered about myself in 2014, it's the fact that huge looming projects can easily get derailed because I see and feel that they are huge and looming. I did the same thing with an idea to approach technical testing with Noah Sussman's guidance. In some ways, the sheer size and order of magnitude of these projects spooked me, and they got pushed to the back of my focus. 

At the end of the year, I realized I was perhaps too ambitious, and needed to step back a bit and rethink my approach. The saving grace for both of these projects is that they have the potential to turn into an interesting collaboration with my youngest daughter. Because of Google's "Made with Code" events, she has decided she wants to learn how to code. This brings back both of these initiatives, and several others, but now it puts it in a much clearer focus. The ideas I had are interesting, but unfocused. Helping my daughter learn how to code and text, that's a focus. I anticipate those earlier initiatives will get some fresh air and the embers will be stirred and blown back to life. It no longer just about me and my musings, now I have to put up or shut up ;).

This year has been an interesting transition, in that I have been receiving a lot of requests to write for other publications. I am grateful to sites like Smartbear, Zephyr, Techwell and IT Knowledge Exchange, among others, in that they have given me a platform to write about my experiences and pay me for them, too. Of course, that creates an odd tension. Do I hold back and publish for those who will pay me? That's great, but what about the articles that don't fit what they want to publish? What about the things that really only interest me and the readers here? Am I short changing my audience by holding back from this blog? I had to give this some serious thought and see what made sense to do, and ultimately, I decided that I needed to come back and say "what is TESTHEAD ultimately about?" It's really about the education of a software tester, and part of that includes learnings that come from unexpected places. My experiences have a value, and people enjoy reading them. Even more surprising is just how many people still visit my blog even when I haven't posted anything in awhile. What also fascinates me is to see what posts consistently show up as perennial favorites. As of today, my top ten posts are:
  • Testing as a Service? A Post-POST Post (workshop review)
  • Read Articles, Blogs, Forum Posts: 99 Ways Workshop (how-to guide)
  • Introvert? Extrovert? Or Both? (exploring diversity)
  • Learning to Tell Different Stories (exploring diversity)
  • Exercise 5: More Variables And Printing: Learn Ruby the Hard Way (how-to guide)
  • Inflicting Help (lessons from home)
  • BOOK CLUB: How We Test Software at Microsoft (5/16) (book review)
  • Onboarding and Not Getting Mau Mau'd (interpersonal relationships)
  • When Things Just Aren't What They Seem (interpersonal relationships)
  • I Used To Be a Staffer… (volunteering and leading)
What this shows me is that there is no clear theme as to what posts are most appreciated. It's not like there's a "type" of post that specifically gets more traffic than others. The one telltale sign I do see, though, is that of these top ten reads, most of them have to do with my own personal takes on things. Not some authoritative commentary, but just my fallible opinion of why things seem to be the way they are. Also, it seems the areas where I try something and it doesn't work out well, or an area where I am stepping in with guarded enthusiasm are where you all tend to come back to or tell others about. It means my goofy optimism and occasional cluelessness is appreciated and entertaining. I think I can mine that vein for a very long time ;).

This year saw me bring the testing message to a few different venues, some of which were not testing related. I spoke at the ALM Forum 2014 in Seattle, WA, Developer 2014 in Burlingame, CA, I shared the stage with Harrison Lovell at CAST 2014 in New York City, and went to be a participant and correspondent at EuroSTAR 2014 in Dublin, Ireland. During all of those events, I had a chance to meet many new people, start new friendships, discover new opportunities, and generally expand my world just a bit larger than it was before.

2014 was a year of transitions for me. It was a year that saw my eldest child move from High School to college. It was a year where  I lost several close friends. It was a year where I stepped down as the Chair of the Education Special Interest Group and relinquished my role as Treasurer within the Association for Software Testing, and accepted the role as President of the organization. It was a year that saw a Meetup group grow and flourish in San Francisco, then drift a little bit, and then have a hostile takeover attempt take place, to which the core community fought back. It reminded me of an amazing connection I have with many people, and how, when it looked like we might have to walk away, they stood together and said "Oh hell no you won't!" Weekend Testing Americas turned four years old, and has a healthy core of interested facilitators and participants who eagerly ask us "when is the next session?" BTW, December being so jam packed with other events related to families and other groups, we are taking December off, but we will be back in January, and we have a lot of cool new ideas to explore.

Most of all, I have to give my thanks and gratitude for this little forum, what it's become, and how it continues to surprise me, both with what I post here, and with how people react to it. Seriously, to whoever is reading this, whenever you read it, the fact that you took the time to come to my blog, to read something I wrote, to leave me a comment or share a link on a social media site, that you engage with me year after year, it's touching and humbling. Were it not for you, I'd have no reason to do this. Also, so many of the opportunities that come my way start here. Thank you for following up, for asking questions, for holding me accountable and for keeping me honest. It makes writing this blog a whole lot more fun because of that.

As the title says, Time is an Asterisk. It's not just a line to continue a theme (though it does that quite well ;)), it also reminds me that, truthfully, I don't know what next years letter will look like, or what forces are going to shape the next year, or what the flavor of the posts that come will contain, though I can probably offer some guesses. I have a lot of books I want to review. I have a lot of ideas I want to test out with my daughter to see if they work or not. I have a lot of goals I want to see myself obtain. Which ones I will actually cover, and which ones will be written about here, that remains to be seen, but I will do my best to make sure it's something interesting and unique to my own experiences. That I can pretty much guarantee. The rest is a wildcard ;).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book Review: Zero to One

As a birthday/Christmas present, a  friend sent me Peter Thiel’s “Zero to One” in a four CD audio format. Peter reads through and presents nearly four hours of audio that goes much faster than the elapsed time would indicate. On the audio production aspects and delivery, it does very well. Having said that, how about the book as a whole?

Zero to One is a book about being an entrepreneur. For many of us, we may stop right there and think “ehh, I’m not an entrepreneur, so this book isn’t for me”. I would encourage anyone with that attitude to not think that way. Regardless of whether or not we work for a company, or we are the founder of a company, or we do freelance work in various capacities, all of us are entrepreneurs. In the curation of our own careers, absolutely we are. To that end, we want to create, to do something interesting, and maybe, dare we say it, change the world.

Most businesses we will see tend to copy someone else in some capacity. They are content to copy what has been successful for others. This is what Peter refers to as "One to N” improvement. It’s incremental, it’s a shaving of time, it’s an improved efficiency, it’s streamlining of process. It may keep you afloat, but it will not rocket you ahead. For that, you need a different approach, a true sense of innovation, a mindset that will bring you from Zero to One.

Thiel presents many anecdotes from the past thirty years in Silicon Valley, with many familiar stories, ups and downs, and memories, oh the memories (having been at Cisco Systems in the 1990s, and with several smaller companies through the ensuing fourteen years, Thiel’s stories are not just memorable, they are my history, and some of the stories hit a little too close to home ;) ).

The book is structured around seven questions that any company (and any individual) should be ready and willing to ask themselves before they commit to a venture or creating what they believe will be a “killer startup”. Those questions are:

Zero to One:  Can you create something new and revolutionary,  rather than copy the work of others and improve upon it?

Timing: Is NOW the time to start your business? If so, why? If not, why?

Market Share:  Are you starting as a big player in a small or underserved market?

People: Do you have the right people to help you meet your vision?

Channel: Can you create and effectively sell your product?

Defensibility: Can you hold your market position 10 and 20 years from now?

Secrets: Have you found a unique opportunity or niche others don’t know about?

Additionally, Thiel encourages that any product that will qualify as a Zero to One opportunity will not just compete with other options, but it will offer a 10X level of improvement over what has come before. If it doesn’t, then competition may overtake and erode anything you may offer. Harsh, but perfectly understandable.

Thiel addresses topics like success and failure, of disruption and collaboration, of replacement and complementarism, and of the fact that any real good technology, no matter how good, needs to be sold and marketed. Engineers believe that if their products is as good as they think it is, it will sell itself. History shows time and time again that that is not the case, and Thiel comes down hard on the side of sales being a driver, and that sales must be shepherded.

Bottom Line: Zero to One makes the case that true entrepreneurship needs to start from the idea of doing something unique, and being willing to look at the seven questions realistically and determinedly. If you cannot answer all seven of the questions with a YES, your odds of success are greatly diminished. Even if all seven can be answered with yes, there are no guarantees. This book is not a tell all guide as to how to be an entrepreneur, but it does give some concrete suggestions as to how to approach that goal. It’s a what and a why book, not a how book, at least not a "formula" how book. It does, however offer a lot of suggestions that the future entrepreneur, company worker, or freelance creator could learn a lot from. If you get the book, read it twice. If you get the audio version, listen to it three times. I think you’ll find the time well spent.