Friday, December 12, 2014

Time is an Asterisk

It is that time again. It's the end of another year, and it's the time that I do my typical retrospective on the year that was, what I wrote, what I learned, what I did and what I didn't do. I did a little search for my "Retrospective" tag and smiled, realizing that this is the fifth entry in this series, and an (almost) fifth year of writing this blog. I think that's somewhat noteworthy, as I have very few endeavors that I can point to that have survived for five years, much less thrived. Outside of my marriage and family, and a couple of jobs, this may well be the single longest running entity I've ever managed. No, that's not a sign I'm looking to end this, in fact I'm just getting warmed up. Also, yes, the title is, once again, a nod to the Talking Heads song 'Once in a Lifetime". I'm not sure how many more years I'll be able to keep this streak going, but it worked again for 2014.

The year started with a lot of promise, and in some ways, a need to recuperate. Last year, I took on a daunting challenge of writing 99 action plans for what a software tester can do to become a better software tester. I have the contents of what could be a pretty cool book, but it needs editing, curating and a lot of revision. If there's anything I discovered about myself in 2014, it's the fact that huge looming projects can easily get derailed because I see and feel that they are huge and looming. I did the same thing with an idea to approach technical testing with Noah Sussman's guidance. In some ways, the sheer size and order of magnitude of these projects spooked me, and they got pushed to the back of my focus. 

At the end of the year, I realized I was perhaps too ambitious, and needed to step back a bit and rethink my approach. The saving grace for both of these projects is that they have the potential to turn into an interesting collaboration with my youngest daughter. Because of Google's "Made with Code" events, she has decided she wants to learn how to code. This brings back both of these initiatives, and several others, but now it puts it in a much clearer focus. The ideas I had are interesting, but unfocused. Helping my daughter learn how to code and text, that's a focus. I anticipate those earlier initiatives will get some fresh air and the embers will be stirred and blown back to life. It no longer just about me and my musings, now I have to put up or shut up ;).

This year has been an interesting transition, in that I have been receiving a lot of requests to write for other publications. I am grateful to sites like Smartbear, Zephyr, Techwell and IT Knowledge Exchange, among others, in that they have given me a platform to write about my experiences and pay me for them, too. Of course, that creates an odd tension. Do I hold back and publish for those who will pay me? That's great, but what about the articles that don't fit what they want to publish? What about the things that really only interest me and the readers here? Am I short changing my audience by holding back from this blog? I had to give this some serious thought and see what made sense to do, and ultimately, I decided that I needed to come back and say "what is TESTHEAD ultimately about?" It's really about the education of a software tester, and part of that includes learnings that come from unexpected places. My experiences have a value, and people enjoy reading them. Even more surprising is just how many people still visit my blog even when I haven't posted anything in awhile. What also fascinates me is to see what posts consistently show up as perennial favorites. As of today, my top ten posts are:
  • Testing as a Service? A Post-POST Post (workshop review)
  • Read Articles, Blogs, Forum Posts: 99 Ways Workshop (how-to guide)
  • Introvert? Extrovert? Or Both? (exploring diversity)
  • Learning to Tell Different Stories (exploring diversity)
  • Exercise 5: More Variables And Printing: Learn Ruby the Hard Way (how-to guide)
  • Inflicting Help (lessons from home)
  • BOOK CLUB: How We Test Software at Microsoft (5/16) (book review)
  • Onboarding and Not Getting Mau Mau'd (interpersonal relationships)
  • When Things Just Aren't What They Seem (interpersonal relationships)
  • I Used To Be a Staffer… (volunteering and leading)
What this shows me is that there is no clear theme as to what posts are most appreciated. It's not like there's a "type" of post that specifically gets more traffic than others. The one telltale sign I do see, though, is that of these top ten reads, most of them have to do with my own personal takes on things. Not some authoritative commentary, but just my fallible opinion of why things seem to be the way they are. Also, it seems the areas where I try something and it doesn't work out well, or an area where I am stepping in with guarded enthusiasm are where you all tend to come back to or tell others about. It means my goofy optimism and occasional cluelessness is appreciated and entertaining. I think I can mine that vein for a very long time ;).

This year saw me bring the testing message to a few different venues, some of which were not testing related. I spoke at the ALM Forum 2014 in Seattle, WA, Developer 2014 in Burlingame, CA, I shared the stage with Harrison Lovell at CAST 2014 in New York City, and went to be a participant and correspondent at EuroSTAR 2014 in Dublin, Ireland. During all of those events, I had a chance to meet many new people, start new friendships, discover new opportunities, and generally expand my world just a bit larger than it was before.

2014 was a year of transitions for me. It was a year that saw my eldest child move from High School to college. It was a year where  I lost several close friends. It was a year where I stepped down as the Chair of the Education Special Interest Group and relinquished my role as Treasurer within the Association for Software Testing, and accepted the role as President of the organization. It was a year that saw a Meetup group grow and flourish in San Francisco, then drift a little bit, and then have a hostile takeover attempt take place, to which the core community fought back. It reminded me of an amazing connection I have with many people, and how, when it looked like we might have to walk away, they stood together and said "Oh hell no you won't!" Weekend Testing Americas turned four years old, and has a healthy core of interested facilitators and participants who eagerly ask us "when is the next session?" BTW, December being so jam packed with other events related to families and other groups, we are taking December off, but we will be back in January, and we have a lot of cool new ideas to explore.

Most of all, I have to give my thanks and gratitude for this little forum, what it's become, and how it continues to surprise me, both with what I post here, and with how people react to it. Seriously, to whoever is reading this, whenever you read it, the fact that you took the time to come to my blog, to read something I wrote, to leave me a comment or share a link on a social media site, that you engage with me year after year, it's touching and humbling. Were it not for you, I'd have no reason to do this. Also, so many of the opportunities that come my way start here. Thank you for following up, for asking questions, for holding me accountable and for keeping me honest. It makes writing this blog a whole lot more fun because of that.

As the title says, Time is an Asterisk. It's not just a line to continue a theme (though it does that quite well ;)), it also reminds me that, truthfully, I don't know what next years letter will look like, or what forces are going to shape the next year, or what the flavor of the posts that come will contain, though I can probably offer some guesses. I have a lot of books I want to review. I have a lot of ideas I want to test out with my daughter to see if they work or not. I have a lot of goals I want to see myself obtain. Which ones I will actually cover, and which ones will be written about here, that remains to be seen, but I will do my best to make sure it's something interesting and unique to my own experiences. That I can pretty much guarantee. The rest is a wildcard ;).

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