Monday, December 31, 2012

Letting Go and Making Changes

I'll say it right now. I'm anti- New Year's Resolutions. I've said it before, I'll say it again. there is no need to wait until New Years day to make commitments and keep them, or to get rid of things from their lives that are not bringing them any joy or utility. Still, it's an uphill battle, since so many of us are wired to think this way through cultural expectations, there's just some things that we can't avoid. With that, I'm going to give some thoughts to "Letting Go and Making Changes" so that 2013 will be the best year ever (ugh, too cliche? Oh well ;) ).

I pledge to play more video games - wait, what?! Yep, I came to the stark realization that I had not played a single major console title this year, from any manufacturer. How many times did I power up my DS to play my Japanese tutor game? Twice. What other games did I play on my DS this year? Not a one. Why in the world would I want to play more of these things? Because they give me a mental sharpening every once in awhile. They allow me to look at a story in a deeper way. they let me practice something over and over to find different possibilities. In short, they help me think, and if there's anything I'd like some more practice and ability in doing, it's thinking differently. Thus, I want to spend a little time each day (and may I emphasize a little time, I'm talking maybe 30 minutes a day max) to try to do a little more playing.

I pledge to write less, and write more - Sometimes I get frustrated that I don't blog as much as I used to, and then I dawned on me... I'm actually writing as much if not more, but posts that used to make their way into my blog are now showing up in other places (Zephyr, Smartbear, the Testing Planet, SummerQAmp curricula, and other places that I'm writing for). The problem is that I feel like I have to write the equivalent of a magazine article for each blog post, and that's a lot to ask someone to do daily, or even three times a week (which has been my running average for the past few years). Rather than trying to compete with myself to write even more when I've used up ideas, my plan is to develop ideas over several days and take different looks at ideas over several posts rather than try to jam everything into a long post that almost feels like a full magazine article or a chapter of a book. Please, let me know if this idea is appreciated, or if you'd prefer the longer but less frequent posts.

I want to do more with less - this is a multi-pronged goal, and it's one that needs a little explaining. It seems like there's always a need for more. More clothes, more gadgets, more environments, more tests, more words, more stuff... all of which needs more time and more mental attention. It also comes down to more money being spent. I'm a book hound. I love to read, I love to talk about and review books. I love to hear other people's opinions of them. This is a double edged sword. In one sense, if I get a book, I feel guilty when I can't or don't finish it. Also, books are often bought to be utilitarian tools for the long haul, and I pull from them when I need them, which means some books sit for years before I find a reason to pull them open again. therefore, this year, my goal is to get through the books I have (and review them) and also to examine places where books or information can be had for free, and review them in the same way as I do with my more formal book reviews. Additionally, I want to try to see if I can place constraints on what I need to do effective work. I don't mean become a monk who walks around with nothing but a MacBookPro to do everything, but ultimately, I want to see just how little I need to be maximally effective. Think of it as a zen exercise, one I hope to share over the coming weeks and months.

I want to know how you are doing - how was your day? what did you learn today? How is the family doing? Do you need help with anything? I like to believe that I do this a lot, but the truth is, I don't do it nearly enough with the people that really matter (my wife, my kids, my immediate neighbors, my church community, my immediate co workers, etc.). I'm great at doing this with people I barely know, or who only know the TESTHEAD Michael. Somehow, it's easier. There's a record, it's something I can sum up fairly quickly. I can be pithy. I can write about it. It can be stored and discussed at a later time by others. In short, it's relatively easy and with limited downside to do it openly and on the Internet. Real life interactions with real and very intimate people are rarely as easy. Those relationships are often messy. They are delicate. they have a lot of moving parts, and often, it's difficult to dis-engage to go do something else. When someone who really matters has a problem or an issue, you (gasp!) actually have to do something about it, and often not on your preferred timeline. There's much more of a sense of urgency, and much more of an immediate need. I need to be aware that, if I ask my daughter how school is going, and she says "not well", I need to be willing to get into the reasons why "not well is the answer, and then, I need to be willing to set down other goals and priorities to help, then and there, with the "not well aspect" and try to improve it, or do the best I can to help the situation meaningfully. I'm told by my kids, immediate family and others that I do an OK job at this,. but really, I can do better, and really, I should and need to do better. these are the people that matter the most to me. Shouldn't I do a better job at having a finger on the pulse of their lives?

So there it is, my non resolution resolutions. here's the thing... they don't matter if they are not done, and they are just as useful on June 12th as they are on January 1st. I hope to make 2013 a productive and happy one, for me and mine, and for everyone else I can be of service to. Here's to future days.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Access Matters: My Experiences with JAWS

One of the more interesting aspects of my recent move over to Socialtext is that I'm dealing with a product that is used in many corporations, and, as I recently discovered, within the federal U.S. government. Because of these customers, I've come face to face with an interesting new aspect of everyday testing that, so far, I've heard about, and heard other people doing, but never did any of it myself.

For those who are not familiar with the whole idea of "adaptive software", it's any range of software enhancements that make it possible for users to interact with a computer in ways that  they might not physically be able to. To start of this little series of articles, I'll be talking about a screen reader application that is part of our testing suite. That tool is called JAWS.

JAWS is an interesting application in that it is designed to take any text that would appear on a screen and will read out the user what is appearing on the screen. More than just reading out the text on a page, it's also reading out the elements that are appearing on the screen. Think of the challenge that this might represent. Imaging, if you can, what it would be like to interact with your computer if you were sight impaired, or more dramatically, completely blind. to experiment with this, I make the following suggestions:

1. Blindfold yourself so that you cannot see your screen at all.
2. grab hold of your mouse or keyboard and try to open up a common application that many of us might take for granted (Google Chrome to access Facebook, as an example).

Just with that, what would you do? How do you know where to find the application? How can you be sure you are able to open the application and navigate? With JAWS, the challenge is broken down into screen elements that are "spoken". there are certain hot keys that can be set, and those hot keys can correspond to frequently used applications. Within those applications, the screen reader then "speaks" to you an tels you what element it is able to interact with that that given moment.

Once you get to the element you are interested in, hitting the tab key or enter key will focus the screen reader on the next element to be accessed. If this next element is a large block of text, you can then have the contents "read to you" by  one of the voice synthesis engines used in the application. On the surface, this sounds col, and it is. Having said that, I'm also finding that, as a sighted user, they are also frustrating tools. this is why I'm doing my best to try to turn of my "sighted biases" and see how they interact when I don't have the luxury of my sight to work with. The blindfold test really draws a distinction as to how challenging this testing can be, not just from the perspective of "does the app work" but "what experience is delivered in the process?".

When I work with these tools in a "sighted" environment, it's easy to get impatient and overlook the various clues given, but put a blindfold on, and those clues become very important. It still feels very  awkward, since JAWS reads everything on the screen. Every punctuation mark is called out. Parenthetical statements (which, I have to admit, are part of my writing style) suddenly become very tedious. I ran a timed test of my blog posts being spoken by JAWS, and wow, maybe I need to practice a little more brevity.

Sometimes all it takes is a change in perception or a change in the way we view the world, or in this case, when we can't view the world, to really see how difficult it can be to accomplish what we ultimately see as simple tasks. they're simple because we have adapted over time to understand them. However, all it takes is a change in reality (or a blindfold) to help one realize that our neat and ordered world can be thrown into complete chaos, and the tools that we have at our disposal, while they may work, might be tremendously foreign and intimidating. I've found this new approach to dealing with software from a non-sighted perspective to be fascinating, and I will most likely be doing a lot more of it in the coming weeks and months.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Same As It Ever Was?

According to the Internet, and Mayan prophecy, December 21, 2012 is supposed to be the end of the world. I figure, if this proves to not be true, this will be something to allow me to celebrate a wonderful year of testing. If it does prove to be true, well, no one will be here to read this, so I suggest reading this quickly ;).

2012 was a pivotal year for me, in that I had a chance to do many things I'd never done, I had a chance to participate in a number of unique opportunities, and I made some decisions that have really made me question if it made sense to do things the same way I've done them for so long. Also, for those astute musical nerds out there, I'm referencing Talking Heads "Once in A Lifetime" once again with the title. It's proven to be quite a versatile song for these posts over the past few years.

When I wrote the first of these recaps in 2010, I was preparing to leave a job I had worked at for almost six years, and very much looking forward to a new adventure in a new capacity. In 2011, I shared many of the lessons I'd learned from making that step, and how being involved in the broader community had become very important to me. Thus I find it interesting that, here at the end of 2012, I am writing this message at yet another company, at the start of yet another "excellent adventure". "Same as it ever was?" seemed rather fitting, as this was not a year of business as usual. Not by a long shot!

2012 was a year of travel and outreach, and the opportunity to learn about and work with a number of interesting initiatives. I concluded my dive into Ruby and learning as much of the language as "Learn Ruby the Hard Way" would inspire me to do. This was a project started in 2011, and it ran for three months. I learned a lot along the way, and grew to appreciate many of the nuances of Ruby and how it works. My personal library of Ruby titles is huge now, which is a little ironic since, in my new role at Socialtext, I am looking at code that written mostly in... Perl :). Some might comment that I've wasted my time with all this Ruby focus, but I don't think so at all. What I've been able to do is approach a language at a deeper level than I ever have in the past, and do so with the eye of sharing my experience with others. That helped me internalize a lot more of it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not what I would consider a great programmer, nor even a moderately good one. Still, there's a level of appreciation and achievement I'm quite proud of, and I feel it will help me look at other languages and be a little less intimidated.

My friends Lynn McKee and Nancy Kelln invited me to participate in the POST 2012 workshop up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, back in March. I was the facilitator for this event, and help the participants present their topics, discuss their ideas and critiques, and I also had a chance to present the idea of Weekend Testing as a service that any company could incorporate and associate with its test teams. An aded bonus, Lynn took me to Sunshine Village, one of the ski resorts in Banff National Park. Yep, I got to tick off a bucket list event... I snowboarded in Canada!

I had the pleasure of going to New Orleans to help plan out many of the events that would be part of the CAST conference for 2012, and visit some of the areas of the city (Bourbon Street, Royal Street, etc.) that I'd only heard stories about. It also gave me a chance to participate in the first Workshop day of STP-CON Spring 2012, likewise in New Orleans. I had the experience of being able to go and participate in and live blog five different workshops, and participate alongside many other intelligent and engaged testers.

I presented my first full paper and presentation at a conference this year. It was originally to be at PNSQC 2011, but a broken leg sidelined me and I was unable to present it. A friend who felt bad that I couldn't give my talk contacted Lee Copleland and suggested my talk would be a good fit for their conference. Lee read the paper and decided "yes, we'd like to see this presented" and offered me a spot on the program at STAR EAST 2012 in Orlando, Florida. I acepted and presented my talk. Additionally, I won Best Paper for "Delivering Quality, One Weekend at a Time". For the record, that was a seriously cool experience!

Weekend Testing in the Americas had a more regular schedule at one session per month. As we held our sessions throughout the year, we noticed an interesting pattern. There is a group of regular attendees that often participate. We have a number of brand new testers that come on and try it out a few times, then disappear. We have a number of one-offs, those who try it and never come back. Because of this, I determined it would be a good idea to get some additional brains into the mix to help develop sessions, content ideas, and other areas of focus. Albert Gareev has continued to be a great help to me in this regard, and we welcomed JeanAnn Harrison and Dan Gold into the mix of regularly contributing facilitators. Seriously, thank you to all of you, it made this year's sessions more enjoyable, and it gave me peace of mind to know that, if I couldn't be there for a session, that it would happen and all would be well. Additionally, I appreciate the influx of fresh ideas and different approaches.

Early in 2012, I had a chance to answer an article written about the SummerQAmp program, and what it hoped to accomplish. That proved to be a fateful message, in that I started a collaboration with the organizers of SummerQAmp and, along with members of the Association for Software Testing and other interested test professionals, we started writing what we hope will become a complete and practical introduction to the world of software testing. We delivered several modules and ran a beta test of the materials with a number of interns, and the response was "This is great! Can we have more of this?!" The answer, I hope, will be "Yes", and make no mistake, that will be a primary focus for me and for the AST EdSig in the new year. If you'd like to participate, please drop me a line!

I was invited to participate in Test Coach Camp, which happened the weekend prior to CAST 2012. This was an open-space conference event, where a number of testers participated and presented a variety of topics. I had the chance to present three different sessions (mentoring interns, teaching leadership skills, and a systematic deconstruction of Weekend Testing and the question "if we rebuilt it, what would you like to see us do?"). CAST 2012 also was the first chance to present the idea that has been my focus for much of the year, looking for that elusive balance between Test Driven Development, GUI Automation and Exploratory Testing. This topic showed up in a number of formats this year, and each time I approached it, I learned something new. First, it was a paper submission for PNSQC, then an emerging topics talk at CAST, then a full presentation at Agilistry Studios, and finally as a poster paper presentation that I gave (dozens of times) at PNSQC.

2012 saw me branch out and start contributing articles to a number of different outlets. Thanks to  ST&QA, Testing Planet, Atlassian and Zephyr for allowing me the opportunity to write for a broader audience, and for their giving me a chance to open this blog up to more testers and people interested in my writing. This year I also set a record for traffic with a post that is now number 1 with a bullet on TESTHEAD. Which post? Learning to Tell Different Stories, where I compared the storytelling tradition in Japan to what us "westerners" are used to, and how the differences and nuances open us up to asking different questions once we see and understand that there are different ways of seing things beyond our own world view. I also enjoyed participating in ST&QA's "Ask  the Tester", where I had the chance to answer a number of questions from the broader testing community. Also, I was a presenter in the Agile Transitions Online Conference for Software Test Professionals, where I presented my talk on "Being a Lone Tester on an Agile Team".

TWiST had another year of great conversations, great participation, and crossing the 100 episode mark (as of this week, we're up to episode #127). I always think of the old television maxim that, for a show to live on forever, it needs to pass 100 episodes to be eligible for life in syndication. I'm not sure if that's applicable for a podcast, but it's great to see that there is an appreciative audience, and that we can bring these discussions and ideas to you each week. I also enjoyed the various panels I participated in, and the shows I could contribute my ideas and thoughts to various discussions. Finally, I would be remiss were I not to say thank you to Justin Rohrman and Mark Tomlinson, who stepped in this year to help me edit episodes and do some of the "grunt work" that goes into getting these shows ready to be packaged and released. Seriously, your help is greatly appreciated!

During 2012, I continued my active involvement with the Miagi-do School of Software Testing, where Matt and Markus decided that I had earned the right to be advanced to a Black Belt Level Instructor. It's both gratifying and humbling to be associated with so many great testers, and while I now have the title of Instructor, sometimes I wonder who the real teacher is. I feel like I learn more from those I interact with than they likely learn from me.

As I have taken on the role as Chair of the Education Special Interest Group within the Association for Software Testing, I made the decision to step out of an active teaching role for the time being. While I will still be teaching some classes, I wanted to focus this year on giving others the opportunity to step up and learn how to lead the BBST classes and encourage those who haven't had the chance to assist and get a chance to teach as well. My goal for 2012 was to broaden our instructor pool, and that will continue to be a primary goal for 2013.

Hanging up my Lone Tester status was definitely not something I could have foreseen earlier this year, but looking at the interactions with others in so many other mediums, perhaps I should have seen it as inevitable. I decided that through all of the interactions I have had with my fellow testers, and with some feelings of frustration with my role as a lone tester, that I would put out some feelers and see if there were some test teams that would be interested in having a "Veteran of the Psychic Wars" join them. I have to admit I was surprised that so many responded, and so quickly. Thus, with the chance to "practice what I preach" regarding interaction, engagement and peer involvement, I made the decision to make the move from Sidereel, where I was a Lone Gun, to Socialtext, where I now work with a small but focused team of four testers... and by the way, we're looking for another tester to join us after the new year, so if you're interested (and local ;) ), let me know.

So many people have made this an amazing year for me, and to mention everyone by name will likely mean I'll leave someone out, so if I do, please don't feel slighted (and hey, if you do, email me and I'll put you in... blogs are cool like that :) ). Cheers and much appreciation to Aaron Scott, Albert Gareev, Anne-Marie Charrett, Becky Fiedler, Ben Simo, Benjamin Yaroch, Bill Baker, Catherine Karena, Cem Kaner, Dan Gold, Dee Ann Pizzica, Doug Hoffman, Elisabeth Hendrickson, Francis Adanza, James Bach, Janette Rovansek, JeanAnn Harrison, Jeff "Toxic" Burchell, Jon Bach, Justin Rohrman, Keith Klain, Ken Pier, Kevin Haggard, Lee Copeland, Lynn McKee, Mark Tomlinson, Markus Gaertner, Marlena Compton, Matt Barcomb, Matt Heusser, Mimi Mendenhall, Nancy Kelln, Patti Swift, Pete Walen, Peter "Pantera" Arzhintar, Rich Szeto, Rick Baucom, Scott Barber, Shampa Bannerjee, Thomas Ponnet, Timothy Coulter, and Zach Larson. Thank you for challenging me, for making me question my ideas, my motives, and my goals. Thank you for helping me make it possible to make changes, take burdens off of my shoulders and help me so that initiatives I started are being shepherded and able to keep going. Thank you for what has honestly been, at least as far as software testing is concerned, my greatest year (and remember, I said the same thing last year, and the year before that).

Oh, and should the world not end on December 21, 2012, then let me suggest that we follow the wise advice of Abraham Lincoln, who said:

"Be excellent to each other. And... PARTY ON, DUDES!"

Monday, December 17, 2012

I'll Be the Roadie...

As my son gets older and takes on more interesting challenges, it's been interesting learning a bit how his mind works and what interests him. Currently, he has an interest in film production.

This past weekend, he told me that he needed to do some work for his final in Film, and he decided he wanted to do something where he interviewed street performers in San Francisco, specifically the stretch between Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39. Seeing as I really only have a handful of these opportunities left (he's a Junior in high school now; three more semesters and he'll be graduated and off to college), I wanted to help him meet his objectives.

At first, there was some resistance. "Dad, it's OK, I don't need help, I can do this on my own!" Well, of course you can, dude, but that's not why I'm asking to come along. I wanted to see if there were ways I could see how he works and understand what he does, and in the process, be of some assistance to him (and sure, keep an eye on him, just a little... I'm a Dad, cut me some slack here ;) ). I finally swayed him with some simple words. "You handle the vision and the talking. I'll be your roadie." Meaning, I'll carry all of the gear for you, and you focus on finding the people you want to film and talking to them. He liked the sound of that, and thus, we were off to the City.

Seeing as it was a cold, foggy Saturday (typical for San Francisco) and expected to rain (not as typical) we were concerned that there might not be enough people to interview in the time we had allotted, so I offered to do some advanced scouting with him. As we walked towards Fisherman's Wharf, he noticed a Rastafarian bongo player setting up with a coffee can for tips. My son walked up to him and asked him if he could film him and use him in his project. No answer. Stone silence but him playing his drums. I waited to see how my son would react, and what he would do. Would he ask again? Would he move on? Do something else? I realized this was a different level of communication for my son than he was used to, and decided that this was a time that a "Seasoned roadie" could offer some assistance. I reached in my pocket, took out a few dollar bills, placed them in the drummer's coffee can and asked him the same question. He lit up a bit and said "sure, what would you like to know?" With that, we set up the microphone and camera, and Nick did a quick and somewhat stilted interview with the drummer. Not real communicative, but that's OK, we have to start somewhere.

As we walked down Fisherman's wharf several times, we noticed there weren't any performers out. Was it the weather? Were we just early? What could we do as a contingency plan. It was here I suggested to my son that, maybe, talking to some people on the street about their experiences with street performers might prove to be interesting. It would offer a different perspective to his project. He thought about it for a minute and said, "sure, let's give that a try". We set up the gear again, and we waited. Most people just walked past us hurriedly, but a couple of people did stop to talk with us. After  about ten minutes, he decided we should take a look farther down the wharf and back to Pier 39.

When we made it back to Pier 39, there was a performer with a Chapman Stick. I lit up at this, since I was very familiar with the instrument, and maybe my fan boy-ness got the better of me, but I suggested that this would be a great person to talk to. Since he was also set up in a prime spot right outside of Pier 39, I figured he was likely a professional who rented the space (turns out I was correct with that assumption). I also figured, if I could strike up a conversation with him about his instrument and what I already knew about it, that might work in our favor, too. I mentioned how much it blew me away when I first heard Tony Levin playing the Chapman Stick in the early 80's with King Crimson, and of curse the performer was familiar and we talked about other musicians who likewise used the instrument. thus, when we asked if we could interview him for my son's project, he was very gracious and let us record several numbers and he provided a lot of great interview commentary.

As we walked a bit further back towards Fishermans' Wharf, I noticed a lady and a gentleman get out of their car on a side street in Dickens' era garb. Performers? Certainly. Street performers? Hmmm, maybe not, they were near the Cannery, and that has a pretty swank hotel in it. My guess is they were performers for the hotel by  the level of their outfits, but I figured, hey, they're here, let's see if they'll talk to us. My son agreed, and we went over to chat with them. Turns out they were waiting for another member of their group, and yes, they worked for the hotel, but they were happy to talk to us about what they did, and why they enjoyed performing here particularly, and when their third compatriot arrived, they sang a song for my son to film.

As we were feeling pretty flush with the excitement of capturing two good interview subjects, we walked back to the wharf and noticed an elderly man dressed like he was from the Roaring Twenties performing a magic act on a portable table. MY son looked at me, winked and said "let me handle this one!" He went up and talked to the man and asked if he'd be willing to be interviewed. the magician said sure, but not for free. I casually handed my son $10, and motioned to the box on the table. He put in the $10 and then the magician said he'd be happy to perform his entire act for him, provided he'd be willing to send him a copy of the footage (sure thing!).

After filming this, it was starting to rain, and we figured that this was going to be it for the day. As we were walking back to the car, my son saw, across the street, one of the guys he really wanted to interview... the elusive and legendary "Bush Man". This guy is famous (and infamous) for scaring and freaking out tourists, and he would have definitely made for a fun part of the project, but with the rain coming down and not wanting to risk damaging his equipment, he decided to let it go.

All was not lost, however, since just around the corner, under a protective awning, one of the "Gold Statue Dancers" was there. For those not familiar with the "Statue dancers", they typically stand perfectly still until someone steps up and drops some money into their cup, and then they start dancing in a robotic fashion. This one stood on top of a milk crate, and incorporated the crate into the performance, actually sliding and stepping with it (quite proficiently, I might add). At first I was leery, thinking this guy wouldn't want to be interviewed, but my son, having seen how the rest of the day had gone, decided to give it a try. He walked up, dropped a $5 into the dancers cup and asked if he could ask him some questions. Gold Statue Dancer Man turned out to be the most animated and entertaining of all the interviews, as well as the longest.

As we drove home, I told him a bit about how today was a good example of what I do as a tester every day. With him as my product owner (my customer) I acted as roadie and helped set up the gear, helped evaluate situations, offered suggestions of avenues to try, provided support and alternative approaches when things weren't panning out, and provided some domain knowledge to help him communicate with the performers where needed. Mostly, though, I provided him with information that may or may not have been effective in helping him make decisions about what to do. All in all it was a successful outing, and a god reminder to me that "playing the roadie" can be a good metaphor for good testing, both in software and in film production.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

And Now, Some Shameless Marketing :).

One of the things that we all do as new hires at Socialtext is introduce ourselves to the broader company, as well as those who work in different places other than Palo Alto, and those who work with other companies (Socialtext is now part of a family of companies). As part of that, I answered a few questions, and the last question had an interesting challenge:

Post a video telling us "what fires you up about working at Socialtext?"

The result of a few minutes of futtzing and playing around and exploring an application is below. Could I have done a better job? With enough time, I'm sure I could have done lots better. Had I had my son direct it, it would probably be a quantum leap better. For a few minutes playing around and seeing if I could figure out iMovie without ever having used it before, I like it :).

So here's my little promotional clip:

And for those who don't want to wait for the download, here's the gist of the dialog:

"I guess you could say that I am having a Sy Sperling moment here... "I'm not just an employee, I'm also a client!" 

I've been actively using and working with Socialtext for the past several years. I worked with a number of software testers to write the book "How to Reduce the Cost of Software Testing".

Where did we write, edit, and review the material to be included in the book? Socialtext!

Many of my blog posts have also been crafted and reviewed by other testers before publication on my blog here in the Socialtext wiki.

I interact with a number of people who, along with me, edit audio files so that they can be mixed down and published as podcasts. Where do we communicate and manage that work? If you were to say "Socialtext" you would be right again!

In short, now, I get to work with, influence, and get deep into the guts of an app I already work with pretty extensively. Even with that, I'm still just scratching the surface of what the product can do, as has been amply demonstrated to me these past couple of weeks.

I'm fired up because I get to work on something that I use, and rely on, every day. To also see that Socialtext itself works the same way, and actually uses the product it creates, to perform and manage its work, is also awesome. It's great to work with a company that does its best to "practice what it preaches".

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Have I Found What I'm Looking For?

As those who follow my blog might notice, I tent to mangle pop culture references to make my titles or make other post points when I write here. Today is no exception.

As many of you may be aware, I started a new job on Monday, November 19, 2012. You might also notice that this blog has been quiet since Tuesday, November 20, 2012. That is not a coincidence! Much of my time the past two weeks, with the exception of Thanksgiving weekend and some much needed time with my family, I've been dealing with a single minded focus; coming to grips with the paradigm shift I've undertaken.

For years, I was the lone gun. I was the guy who either had the answers, or needed to get the answers. I was mostly responsible to myself, and mostly took care of things on my own. Today, I'm the polar opposite of that world view. I'm part of a testing team with some rather talented people, and we communicate about our findings... a lot. Socialtext uses a tool called Colloquy, which is, effectively, an IRC client. There's two main chats that go on all day, every day. One's for dev, the other is for testing. When I say these conversations go on all day, that's exactly what I mean. We all contribute, we all share what we see, we all keep each other updated as to what we see and what we find, and those chats inform where we go next, what we do next, and what the developers see next. So I'm on that window and I'm typing a fair amount each day... and I came to a realization as I was doing it.

There's somewhere else that I do this. Once a month, for a couple of hours, I and a number of other testers get together, via a chat mechanism, and we talk testing. We pick an app, we explore it, we find issues, we talk about them, we decide where to go next based on what we learn, and we discuss what we learn. If what I'm describing sounds a lot like Weekend Testing, that's because it is what I'm describing. A couple of years ago I lamented "oh, wouldn't it be really cool if an organization actually used the Weekend Testing model? Think of what we could all learn! Think of what we could share! Think of how much wasted time could be avoided because we are actually communicating!"

For the past few years, I've dreamed of seeing something like this exist. I've hoped, but had my dreams either dashed by indifference, or the feeling that there's no time to do such a thing. I often wondered, though, what would a company look like that actually did this? Now I know. It looks like Socialtext. It looks like that because they actually leverage what they learn and they use it together. If something is going off the rails, we all know pretty quickly. If something looks promising, we're encouraged to explore it. Explore and share what we find. Feedback is almost immediate, and it's refreshing, exhilarating, infuriating, exhausting, maddening, and enlightening, all at the same time. It's the chance to live the Weekend Testing model and ethos full time. The funny thing is, though, it's left me with little energy to do many other things, at least for the near term.

So, for those wondering why I've been so quiet as of late, there's the reason. Also, be careful what you wish for... you just might get it :).