Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Let's Move it Forward - Live from #CAST2015

Today the rubber meets the road. Day one of the full CAST 2015 conference is underway. We have had breakfast, we have introduced the program, and we have announced the election running. To that end, I want to remind all AST members that you have until 7:00 p.m. Eastern time TODAY to cast your vote for next year's Board of Directors.

Last year Karen Johnson and I had a discussion at CAST in New York where we commented on the fact that there was an "echo chamber" developing in the software testing world, and that it seemed that the voices we most needed to hear from we were not hearing from. She and I discussed the idea that the industry seems to value "rock stars", to which I laughed that those who use that term haven't known very many rock stars in real life (I have, and truth be told, they are not necessarily the most reliable people on the planet, but they are often fun to be around and listen to ;) ). Karen has been a solid voice in the testing world, and I was excited to see that she was the opening keynote for CAST 2015.

One of the great things about going to conferences for the first time is that the reaction we most often have is "Oh, wow, I'm not alone!" Getting that confirmation that first time can be huge, and it helps make it possible to frame our place in the world of software testing. Karen has been in the software testing world for 30 years, and like many of us, didn't have any intention of being a tester when she started out. She planned to be a journalist (which I think is really cool because I often look at software testing and journalism to be very kindred careers). Karen shared a lot of highlights from her career, and when flashed across the screen, made clear that she's had and continues to have a remarkable career! I recommend checking out the webCAST video of her keynote when it posts.

The theme of CAST 2015 is "Moving Testing Forward", and that indicates that in many ways, testing is seen as not moving forward. Software development has changed radically these past twenty five years (that's my time frame, since I started really thinking about it when I stated working in IT in 1991). Many of the development techniques have changed, but the way that software has been tested, at least in a number of organizations I have been in, has changed very little. It's easy for testers to feel "stuck" at various points, and when we try to make those forward steps, we often receive push back, and at times that pushback comes from our own colleagues. I had a similar experience in 2009, after nearly twenty years of software testing. I felt like I was doing the same things the same ways, and there was very little I felt I had to show for it beyond what I learned the first few years. Yes I had twenty years experience, but it felt like I had two years experience repeated ten times.

Stepping forward takes courage, it takes a willingness to know who you are and what you are good at. It also means you have to be ready to accept that there are things you are not good at, and often, that's the hardest part. However, it's important to realize that the things you are not good at can be improved, and the things you are good at can be boosted even more by focusing a bit on what you don't feel you are good at. Karen and I look to be on the same page here, and while we realize that there are so many things in the world we will never be amazing at, we can always improve our odds by working on the things we are good at. We can't do that exclusively, and yes, some things that are distasteful or uncomfortable come with the territory. Deal with them, but don't obsess on it.

Another valuable point comes in with who we work for. Karen recommends strongly to do all you can to not work for people you do not respect. If you work for someone you do not respect, your entire relationship will be off kilter. You will know it, and they will know it. When you don't respect who you work for, your best work rarely comes out. When you respect who you work for, it's not uncommon to walk through fire for those people. I've had a few of those experiences, most recently with my dearly departed Director of Quality Assurance, Ken Pier. I can truly say I would walk through fire for him, and I strive today to be worthy of the respect he had for me as well.

There will be office politics. Do not believe you can escape it. You can't. It's part of the culture, and to borrow a recent quote from @DocOnDev... "your office does not have a culture, your office IS a culture". Cultures are dynamic, they are lived, and they are managed, for god or ill, and every one of us is part of that reality whether we like it or not. We cannot choose to not deal with people unless we literally work for ourselves only. I don't have that reality, and I'm guessing you don't either ;).

Karen mentioned that there was a value to having a manager/boss that you worked with instead of for. If you can develop a relationship that is closer to that of a peer, you can make amazing strides. true, you do work "for" someone in the literal sense that they sign your reviews and approve your bonuses and pay raises, but outside of that, it is much easier and more enjoyable to work with people rather than under people. As I said before, one of the great experiences of my career was working with Ken Pier, because he emphasized the working with. He was my director, but he hated being a manager. He wanted to be a doer, and when it came to the work of our team, he shouldered as much work as the rest of us, and often more. He wasn't an office manager or a bureaucrat, he was in the trenches with us, every day, and that make working with him both easy and enjoyable.

Along with managers, we have co-workers. Other testers, programmers, project managers, along with a myriad of other people. An important question to ask is "would I want to work with this person again at another company? If I had to change jobs and companies tomorrow, who would I want to bring with me? Who would I want to leave behind?" those people you identify as those you want to take with you, cultivate relationships with them, not in the sleazy "networking" way, but really get to know them and foster a relationship with them. Let them do the same with you.

Many people think that moving testing forward is about technical prowess only, but in truth it also requires people living and experiencing life. It might seem strange to think of work/life balance as a way to move testing forward, but it is important to keep moving and learning and evaluating to keep from becoming stagnant. the fact is, our living and interacting is what lets us actually excel. There's a phrase that I remember hearing about juggling several balls, and that all of the balls are rubber except for one, and that ball is made of glass. What do you do? The point of the story is that the glass ball must never be dropped. The other part of the story is that the glass ball is never the same thing. At a given time, the glass ball may be family. It may be work. It may be health. It may be leisure. The point is, everything will be bounced and dropped at various times, but we need to be alert and aware at what point in time the glass ball's label has changed, and what it has changed to.

Outside of work, there's many opportunities to learn and interact. Conferences are an obvious one, but there are many other ways to get involved in the community at large. Meetups, message boards, weekend testing, organization involvement, even participating in conversations on Twitter all help to foster that sense of community, but for it to matter, we need to engage. I have often said there are many who are consumers, but few who are active producers. It takes some courage to become an active producer, but the great thing is, we all can, and we can all start right where we are and move forward from there.

OK, I'm going to go help handle open season at this point, so I'll be back with you in another post in a bit. Thanks for following along :).

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