Saturday, August 1, 2015

On Being The "Least Talented" Person in the Room - Live from #TestRetreat

Good morning from Grand Rapids, Michigan. I'm still functioning on West Coast time, but everyone else around me thinks it's the middle/late morning, so I need to kick in and get with the groove of TestRetreat. For those not familiar, TestRetreat has been an ongoing event the past few years hosted by Matt Heusser and is an un-conference event with a broad list of ideas and talks being presented by people who have interests in given areas.

A piece of housekeeping this time around. In the past, I have Live Blogged events in a day long format and have updated each page during the day. Due to the way that CAST is going to be run this year, and with the way that I will be more facilitating rather than just attending sessions, I won't be able to do the live blog the same way. Instead of doing a running log, I'll be making individual posts for each session or event. Downside here is that there will be multiple posts in a given day. Let me know which way you find most useful :).

Out first session is being hosted by Ajay Balamurugadas, and he's asking about the interesting dichotomy in that he at times feels like he is the least talented person in the room, yet he is the one that gets invited to speak at and participate in conferences. Why is that?

I've personally struggled with this attitude myself, and in part, I think the title is a little misleading, but the overall perception is an important one. By starting with the idea that we are the least talented person in the room, we are stating that we feel that we have a lot we can learn, and we are willing to put in the time to learn it. I would be hard pressed to consider Ajay the least talented person in any room, but I would say that that sense of humility and desire to learn as much as possible drives him and gives him the motivation to keep learning and growing. Adding to this is the fact that when you do create a reputation as a person who is actively engaged in the broader community, you can be held to a standard that is unfair to where you actually are. As I've talked to people over the years, I've likewise seen that they consider me to be a "thought leader" or "testing guru", and at times, I've considered their expectations to be unfounded. It's not that I have any super level of expertise, but the fact that I've written about or talked about the problem in any capacity tends to make people think I know or understand more than I do.

I'm not sure there is an easy way to deal with this other than to acknowledge that there is a reputation that being actively engaged gives someone. When we say "just because I write and talk about these topics, don't think that I am somehow superior to those who don't write or speak on topics" (fact is, some people who are mega performers do not engage in the broader community, and that's totally OK).  I personally talk to my team with the idea that I am allowed one completely stupid question of each member  of my team per day, and that they should accept it. To date, I've only had a couple of instances where people actually said "wow, you should know this". Many times, the answer I get is "no, that's not a dumb question. We don't really describe or define that area very well." the one thing I think is important is that the onus is on us to communicate both what we understand and what we don't understand. Also, it's important to get a gauge as to the expectations of what people want to see from us, and that we are meeting those expectations. If we are not, we should determine what their expectation actually are.

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