Monday, December 20, 2010

So You Wanna’ Be a (Testing) Rock & Roll Star?!

I’ve shared this in a number of ways on this blog over the past year, but not this directly. When I was a teenager, I had one dream, and that was to become a rock star. Originally I wanted to become a guitar player, but realized I didn’t have the passion or the drive for playing guitar that others did. Later I thought I would be a bass player, as it had a lot in common with the guitar, and was really physical and fun to play, but again, I reached a limit in my own abilities that I felt was insurmountable. Still, I had that dream. I wanted to be a rock star, but what could I do to be one?

I discovered when I was 17 years old, kind of by accident, that I had a good gravelly rock and roll/metal style voice (At the time people were comparing me to Paul Stanley of Kiss and Jon Bon Jovi of, well, Bon Jovi). The funny thing was, while I enjoyed listening to that type of music, I didn’t really feel that was where I would be playing (I was more of a U2, Sisters of Mercy, Depeche Mode and Bauhaus fan). But when I had enough people convince me that I had a talent for the harder edge of rock, I decided to embrace it and seek out opportunities to explore and develop that talent.

My first “real” band was started in January of 1986, shortly after my 18th birthday. It took us 20 months from our first meeting each other, organizing and practicing, writing songs, changing out band members here and there, until we finally felt we were ready for our first official gig. We wanted to be awesome, amazing, and absolutely flawless. We felt we’d reached that ability, but all it took was our first show to realize, wow, we’re amateurs! Amateurs that played together a lot, proficient amateurs, pretty darned talented amateurs, but amateurs nonetheless. We mastered one domain, playing together, learning how to keep time together, getting “tight” as a unit, and even recording some songs together that, at the time, we thought sounded pretty awesome. Then we hit a real stage, with a real live room, and real people listening, and we discovered something. It’s a totally different reality.

Our first show we had a receptive audience. Our second show we were between two thrash bands, and were almost boo’d off the stage. It would have been easy at that point to say “OK, we suck!” and just give up, but we didn’t. We decided we’d gone this far, let’s just see what future gigs could teach us. With that, we had our ups and downs, but we learned a lot, grew a lot, developed some great friendships with other bands, club owners, producers, and engineers, and that helped us pave the way to future successes, both in this band and those that would follow on later.

Our testing lives are much the same way. At some point, we made a decision to embrace this craft, to make it a part of our lives and to practice. Some of us did so in our dorm rooms at school, some in our offices at home, some in our day jobs, and some of us practice with others in venues like Weekend Testing or other ways. We hone our skills and we get out into the workplace, the nightclubs and arenas of our profession. We perform for an audience, we develop a following, in this case a reputation and credibility, and we either rise to the next opportunity or we slip backwards. Just like in rock & roll, testing requires we be ready to perform each and every day. If we perform well, another gig is in the future. If we don’t, we may have a set-back or two, but often we’ll be able to get back into the arena and jam again.

Many look at rock and roll stardom as though it’s a glamorous lifestyle with a lot of glitz, partying and just showing up to rock. Those of us who are/were musicians can tell you that while that’s partly true, there’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes that’s not at all glamorous or even fun. We used to joke that we’d spend close to 30 hours a week doing slog stuff for the one hour on a Friday or Saturday night we’d actually perform. No one saw the slog that got us to Friday night, but they sure did enjoy the hour or so we were able to give them when it counted… and for that matter, so did we! As testers, we also have our long slogs, times where what we do is not a lot of fun, times where we bury ourselves into books, where we practice our craft and get frustrated because things don't go the way we planned, where we spend hours scripting tests only to realize we forgot something important or the run crashes because we forgot to initialize something along the way. But it’s worth it when a project ships on time, with good enough quality that we can smile about it going out. We know it’s not perfect, just like I knew that in a night of singing, I didn’t hit every single note dead on, but on the whole, we performed well, and it was worth it to get out there and celebrate the performance and enjoy the reaction (and the criticism at times). That gave us the energy and desire to get ready for the next gig.

We used to tell each other “treat each show like it’s going to be your last, because some day, you really will play your last show!” Mine took place in April of 1993. As a tester, I hope that I have a lot longer career and chances to “rock out”, but I know that each project could potentially be my last, so I try to test as though it is. Also, to be honest, I never made it to the top pinnacles of rock stardom. I had a great time for a number of years in the San Francisco market, and was well known by several thousand music fans, but that’s as far as it went for us. The fickle nature of the market can, at times, determine how far you will go or how well you will do. The difference for testing? We have MUCH more control over just how far our skills will take us and how close to ROCK STAR status we can get. Both share the same reality, though; to make it, you have to want to make it. You have to have a desire to perform at a high level, regularly, and always strive to do better. You can do all of that in the rock & roll world and it may only take you so far. In the testing world, I believe the sky really is the limit, if you are really willing to push and give it your all. So come on tester, grab your instruments and LET’S ROCK!!!


Anonymous said...

The best rock-n-roll stars know fame is fleeting but don't worry about it. They just do what they do, honing their craft.

Clapton, Bono, Larsen.

Adam Yuret said...

Excellent Post, totally agreed on all points. Our only limitation is an individual desire to learn and grow.

I've known testers who are in it for a paycheck. Some of them are great at testing, they just lack passion for their job. Some are not so great at testing and sell insurance now.

There is a growing community of testers and aspiring thought leaders that you're inspiring with each post. This community of self-educators and mentors is the best weapon against our craft fading into irrelevance.

Keep up the good work, you are setting the example.

Anonymous said...

I would like to file a bug against blogger. If I comment using my google account I can delete the comment, if I use my wordpress account, I cannot. Unacceptable, sorry for the trash.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed Michael's article. I, too, was a musician who drifted into the software testing arena. S/W testing requires a lot of intense mental deliberation, whereas music can offer a spiritual escape -- a place where no bugs or crabby developers exist (pause for grins, here). But, you don't have to look as good as a S/W tester as you do a rock star. Thanks for the excellent article.