Friday, August 2, 2013

Read Articles, Blogs, Forum Posts: 99 Ways Workshop #30

The Software Testing Club recently put out an eBook called "99 Things You Can Do to Become a Better Tester". Some of them are really general and vague. Some of them are remarkably specific.

My goal for the next few weeks is to take the "99 Things" book and see if I can put my own personal spin on each of them, and make a personal workshop out of each of the suggestions.

Suggestion #30: Read Articles, Blogs, Forum posts. - Haplerinko

We are currently living at a time when technology can give us, at our fingertips, so much information that we cannot read it all, even if we spent twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for the rest of our lives doing so. There's a finite amount of time and attention that we can spend, and the details that matter the most to us at one point in time will likely fall out of favor later on due to our needing to focus on something else. 

We've tackled the idea that starting a blog is a good idea if you have the passion to write one and the desire to develop a voice to talk about it. Each of us could write about our own experiences, and that very well might provide plenty of content for any blog. However, we as testers want to do more, be more and seek more (I may be falling victim to hyperbole here, but that's the way that I like to see my goals and approach). 

Chances are, others out there have answers to problems and challenges we face. We can read about them and comment on them all day long, but really, they're just words on a site unless we make a commitment to actually do something with them.

Workshop #30: Create your own "daily read", and make action items from it daily

There are a number of tools that can be used to accomplish this. Some people like to use aggregation tools like to accomplish this. Others will use RSS feed and a variety of RSS tools (Google Reader was the front runner for this, but sadly, they are no longer an option since Google shut it down). Feedly is a tool that I currently use for this purpose.

Everyone is going to need some content to work from, and if I have to suggest any one source to be a definite "first insert", I'd suggest Simon Schrijver and his "5Blogs" site. Simon tracks blogs from a variety of sources, and he publishes daily what he considers to be his top five finds.

Disclaimer: I am honored and humbled that a number of my posts have made his list, but that is not why I'm recommending it. I'm recommending this particular site because it offers a variety of jumping off points for anyone who wants to explore testing ideas, or ideas peripheral to software testing.

All right, we've made our reading list. That's great, but notice the second part of the workshop. I don't want to have you just reading these blog posts and articles. I want to have you make decisions and an action plan from them.

Take a notepad application, scheduler, or anything that you want to use to organize your thoughts.

With your "Daily Reader", I want you to take a look at the articles that appear there and try to find three action items that you can personally do something about. If three is too difficult to focus on at first, start with just one, but get in the habit of doing it every single day. 

Think of the action item… what do you need to do? How difficult will it be to accomplish? Is it specific? Is it time-bound? If you had to do something about it today, to the exception of everything else, what would you do?

Let's walk through an example, and yes, Simon's 5Blogs for August 2, 2013 is going to be my template.

The five posts:

This post asks us to consider the psychology of innovation, and the ways that we can apply psychology and how we perceive what's around us rather than try to create the latest gadget or massive R&D undertaking. What can I do in my own testing and product evaluation to understand the psychological aspects of what I am testing? What psychological cues help or hinder my overall satisfaction with a product?

Henry Ford on Leadership
Written by: Michael McKinney

This is a piece that reminds us of both the great innovations and the tremendous hubris that Henry Ford exhibited during his life. He was tenacious and determined, but he often relied on his own intuition. In many ways the more successful he became, the more pronounced this trait became. He always thought he knew best. Nevertheless, there are many lessons we can all learn from Henry Ford, from

- failure (even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement)

- education (All that I personally own of any value is my experience, and that cannot be taken away. One should not complain of having one’s fund of experience added to)

- success (You say I started out with practically nothing, but that isn’t correct. We all start with all there is. It’s how we use it that makes things possible)

- passion (You can do anything if you have enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes rise to the stars)

- character (The greatest thing we can produce is character. Everything else can be taken away from us)

- courage (One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his surprise, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do)

- initiative (I am looking for a lot of men who have an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done)

- team work (You can take my factories, burn up my buildings, but give me my people and I’ll build the business right back again)

- personal responsibility (Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice)

Those are all great quotes, and they all speak to various aspects of leadership. Which one's will you choose to consider when you lead others (and let's face it, at various times, we all lead)?

Most of us are used to setting goals in our professional lives (as part of our performance reviews especially), but how about in the rest of our lives? How do we achieve our personal goals, even small, seemingly mundane ones? What if we chose to use similar processes to help us achieve the variety of goals we have in our everyday lives, both big and small? How would we do it? Would we do something different if it was intensely personal and something we were passionate about? How about if we were to compare personal passions to professional goals? Think about what would happen if you applied the same approach to your personal passions as you did to your professional pursuits?

Naomi makes a great point in this piece that many of us think that, to become a leader, we have to be granted the power to lead. Someone on high with the authority and magic stick will tap us on the shoulder and say "you are now a leader". The truth is, that almost never happens. The real leaders are those who have long ago chosen that they will be the one's who lead, and have even done so in jobs where they had no power at all to do so. It's an attitude, and it's a choice, and those who show that they are competent tend to be given more opportunities to lead. 

Be honest, be ethical, look out for others and consider what will best help the team reach goals, talk straight, don't play games or toy with emotions. Make mistakes, and own up to them. Expect others will make mistakes, and give them the chance to own up to them, too. Teach regularly. Strive to do what you can to get obstacles out of other people's way. What in your every day job capacity, no matter how low on the totem pole you may be... what can you do to exhibit actionable leadership skills? If you can identify them, start doing them.

This is a parable, and it relates to the stress that we often see in our daily lives. If our desktop gets piled up, if we have a lot of icons on our machine's desktop because we haven't sorted or organized them, it often points to the fact that we are scrambling, or that a challenge has become overwhelming. Rather than focus on the sorted files or the clean desk, are we paying enough attention to the causes of the stress? We can all utilize techniques to organize ourselves and make things tidy, but techniques do not solve stress. Paradigms cause the stress (yes, I'm taking some Steven Covey liberties, but I think it's relevant). Our personal or work paradigm may be the root of the stress. Too few resources, too short a timeline, too aggressive an estimate, unwillingness to challenge the policy maker. Typically, these are the real reasons for stress.

We can clean up our desks, sort all our files, get ourselves to Inbox Zero, or eat all the M&M's we want to, but ultimately, those techniques will only mask the real issues. To get to the root cause of the stress, we may need to dig deeper and question the very paradigm we are working under (and that is a much harder problem). What am I doing to just "finesse" the stress? What might be the deeper underlying issues? How can I make a plan of action to address them? What policies, people, or institutions might I need to consult (or break away from) to ultimately reduce the stress?

There you go. Five articles, several actionable items that can be applied and worked on. Some are one offs, some are character traits that will take years to develop. Regardless, pick some short term and long term aspects, and figure out a way to integrate them into your daily routine. Examine which ones work and which ones don't.

Bottom Line:

We can read blogs and articles all day long, we can post on other people's blogs and answer forum posts, but ultimately, all that reading and pontificating comes to nothing if we aren't willing to make an action plan based on what we read. Do we want to reside in a world of gossip? do we want to reside in a world of watching events unfold? Do we want to just be entertained by ideas? When we just read and move on, that's ultimately what we are doing. To have those articles mean anything to us, we have to make a game plan to do something with what we read. It doesn't need to be earth shattering, but there should be something we take away from any article we read, something where we can say "OK, that's really cool, 'm going to do that!" Over time, the effects of acting on what we read can be staggering.

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