Friday, August 2, 2013

Start a Test Blog, and Comment on Others: 99 Ways Workshop #28 & #29

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 #28: Start a test blog - Erick Brickarp
Suggestion #29: And comment on others. - Amy Phillios

As can be expected, some of the workshop ideas I've suggested are going to correspond with other suggestions, so it's only inevitable that, if you have followed the examples up to now, that you'll get to these two and say "cool, I've already done that!" So I'm going to take this in a slightly different direction.

Blog? Yes, please do. But what about?

Workshop #28: "Don't have a blog about Star Wars. Have a blog about Jawas, or that one Jawa that appears on the screen for just a minute." - Merlin Mann

I well remember this talk that Merlin Mann and Jon Gruber gave at SxSW 2009 ( where they made a number of really great points about the value of a blog and why it might be worthwhile to start one. In it, they examples as to what people could do to make their blog as effective as possible, and one of the best suggestions, I think, was to define what your thing will be. 

Some testers are really hyped about automation. Some are really keen on tester games and puzzles. Some people like experience reports and examples of what they have done. My blog, in the most general sense, actually does have a central theme, and that has been Tester Education. In fact, this whole "99 Things" series is being done because it really does fit perfectly with the mission of my own blog. 

If you decide you want to create a software testing blog, decide where you want to target what you are doing. You may want to have an all purposes, general testing blog that give you the freedom to publish anything you want to. You may decide that you are interested in a specific area of testing (performance, security, automation tools, mobile devices, etc.). You may decided that you want to do a "co-thing", where a number of you decide that you'll make blog posts together. All of those are great ideas, but build an identity around something, and try to, at least for the short term, be consistent with that  identity.

From my own experience, I have found that blog posts tends to be three things: Technical Evaluation, Event Driven, or Philosophical Interpretation. 

Technical Evaluation

This is the classic "hey, here's how to do something". It's often geared towards using a tool, or an application, or a technology, and telling others how they can leverage it for their own benefit. Considering this, take a  tool or an application that you find interesting. Is there some cool trick about it that you like? Is there something you would like to share with others about that piece of tech? If so, write it up.

Event Driven

I do a lot of these, and they are, whenever I can arrange it, done as Live Blog" events. One of the values I find in doing this is that I can share information, in somewhat real time, with others that can't be there. While this can be very cool and very fun to do, it can quickly trail off into a travelogue or a "who's who" commentary. 

For me personally, I try my best to say "imagine I'm writing this for the "me" that, for some reason couldn't be here tonight. What would I want to make sure that he knew about this event? What's the most critical takeaways I can deliver to him? It may seem selfish, but I've found that I write better "Live Blog" entries when I focus my comments this way. It's what I need, right then and there, and I try to write it as though I couldn't be there, but really want to know what I can move on and do something about. Surprisingly, a lot of people have similar goals and trajectories, so what works for me, often works for other people.

Philosophical Interpretation

This is what  refer to as my "navel gazing" posts. I try to make sense of a lot of things, and try to apply them to my own life and circumstances. I make a lot of comparisons to my every day life, and how I can talk those comparisons and apply them to what I do every day. Truth is, much of what I discuss, consider, ponder, and try to apply are all philosophical questions that have already been posed by thinkers far more ancient, and therefore far more advanced, than me. Still, in my world view, philosophy not applied is just flowery words. If we try to embrace a philosophical discussion, go for it, but do more than just reiterate the philosophy, try to see how it applies to you and how you can make actual use of it.

Workshop: #29: Commit to Comment on Five Blogs Per Day for 30 Days

Why would this goal be worthwhile? One of the best reasons to generate enthusiasm for and inspire our own posts is to see what others are writing about. I don't want to go out and copy anyone else's work (though in some ways, that's a bit impossible; we're not all born with ideas, after all), but often, I find inspiration for new posts when I see someone else make a post. Having said that, when I say comment on 5 blogs per day, I don't mean to say "great idea, thanks for posting that". Seriously, that's not going to challenge your thinking, and it's not going to really challenge the thinking of the writer who wrote the blog post. 

Challenge yourself to make five comments per day, and do so on five different blogs, but look to see if you can make a comment on what was not mentioned, something you want to have clarified, or something you may genuinely disagree with. Put these ideas to your comments. 

Take this post, for example. Is there anything in this post that seems ambiguous? What do I mean when I refer to "Philosophical Interpretation"? Am I making a case for something that seems like a mis-fit? If so, please, comment and tell me. That way, I can see if, perhaps, my comments actually make sense. If not, I can reply and either say better what I mean, or ponder a different facet to my initial post that I might not have considered. 

Bottom Line:

Writing a blog post is more than just putting words to paper. It needs to mean something to you, and it needs to mean something to your target audience. Consider what matters to you, and where you want to target your blog's focus. 

Additionally, engage with other bloggers out there, and make comments that go beyond the "Good Job" or "I agree" variety. If you really appreciate something in a post, explain why you appreciate it. If you disagree with something, politely explain why you disagree. If you are not sure you understand what is being explained, ask for clarity. doing this has two additive effects. First, it allows the original author to reply and provide clarity, and second, you will probably find that the comments you post on other blogs will often spark ideas that will filter back into posts that you write on your own blog. 

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