Sunday, April 1, 2012

If I Could Write a (Testing) Letter To Me

First, this is not an April Fools Joke. Just wanted to get that out of the way :).

Second, imagine that you had a chance to talk with kids who were in high school or, maybe, a little farther along, who wanted to consider a carer path. When I was growing up, there was a variety of experiences to be had in many different areas. There was technology like computers, but most of us who heard about working with computers saw commercials from places like Control Data Institute and the like. We didn't get much exposure to technology in school in the early 80s. The Internet boom was something I just happened to become part of in the early 1990s, and I was positioned with a company that was in a place to have a strong interaction with the development of the World Wide Web.

Still, I learned a lot about the world of testing in an environment that I just happened to become a part of. I didn't consciously discover that world until I was in my early 20s (23 to be more precise). Looking back, I wonder if I could have had an influence on my teenage self and helped guide him into the world that he works with and enjoys today.

Fans of current country music may recall the title I'm using as being the title of a song by Brad Paisley written in 2007. The lead off line is "If I could write a letter to me / and send it back in time to myself at 17". This is an idea that I want to flesh out over the course of this month... and I'd like to ask the testing world and my friends who test "If you could write a letter to yourself at 17, and the topic was 'Why should you consider software testing as a career, and if you did, what would you tell yourself about it'?"

For starters, I don't think this is a topic I could talk about in one simple letter. Granted, I don't think it would become as convoluted or long running as the plot for "How I Met Your Mother", but it would take awhile to likely build up to it. So I'm going to start with something very basic. I'd ask my former self what they think the world of computers is all about. My guess is, I'd still be thinking in terms of Control Data Institute with these big massive machines (mainframes with big spools of dot matrix printing paper being generated). I'd take the time to explain that while this is the common image of computing and computers, big behemoths owned and administered by a "templed few", around the corner a whole new world is being created.

Hey, were you aware of the fact that your dad writes programs every day? I'll bet you thought that Commodore 64 and TV hooked up on his desk was jut something he did to goof around. Turns out he's been writing programs for the pediatric ward at his hospital since the 70s, and that he'd been working on computer related stuff since he worked as a bank clerk in the early 60s while going to medical school. In truth, a lot of what he does in his medical practice is associated with that computer. If you are interested in getting a start in software testing, where genuine and seriously big risks could be found (we're talking potential life or death here) you might want to ask him how important software testing is.

In truth, I didn't realize what my dad did until I was well into my twenties and working as a tester. When I started hearing about the make or break testing initiatives done with medical software, and the vital importance of combination testing and having dosages calibrated precisely right (my dad worked often in the neo-natal ICU), and his homemade programs were used to calibrate the many medications required to be delivered to premature infants, the result of any mistakes could potentially lead to serious complications or possibly the death of a child. How would you have liked to have had a hand in testing that?!

The me of today looks back at amazing opportunities I could have had, and the challenges that were being faced in an as of yet relatively new field. What if I had taken the time in 1984, when the Macintosh computer that was brand new and delivered to our house a couple of short months after it hit the market? How cool would it have been to have learned more about testing with that device? Instead of just seeing it as a machine for making fliers for my bands, it could have become something much more, and maybe I would have been more a part of what was to become The Cult of Mac... or maybe not. We had an IBM PC's in the house as well. In 1984, my dad had a Commodore 64, a Macintosh and an IBM 8088 PC all running at the same time. If I had wanted to, I could have had a great introduction and a potentially great head start on the world of testing. The fact is, though, I didn't know I wanted to be a tester until many years later, when I "fell into" that role after a number of other events in my life. At 17, I wanted to be a fashion model. I wanted to be a musician. I wanted to be a ski instructor. I wonder if I would have even thought twice about being a software tester.

It's with this mindset and set of challenges that I'm now considering, how would I write this letter to myself at 17? How would I frame it? What would I want to say to help convince them that this may be an avenue they are well suited to consider? Why do we have to wait for people to fall into those roles? Couldn't we do a better job of talking about it up front? That's what I'm hoping to do this month, and I'm serious, I'd love to have some of your insights as to how I could frame those letters.

What's more, if you help me frame those letters and help me write them, I will give you credit for helping me do exactly that. Hmmm... it sounds like Michael is up to something. Why do I get the feeling these "letters" are more than hypothetical? It's because they are, but I can't tell you more than that until I get some more official word... and really, this isn't an April Fool's Joke, it just depends on comments from certain quarters coming out first before I can really say what I'm doing, but if you can help me write this "letter to me" (or to you, or anyone else who is in their late teens or early 20s), you'll be helping me make a giant step towards what my ultimate goal and plan is :).
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