Well, it's the end of another eventful year. Much has happened. I've been involved in many interesting endeavors, and I've learned a lot about myself this year. This was a topsy-turvy year for many, both in the pop culture and political sense. It seems for many we are making decisions to look for ideas and think about things in ways that agree with our views of the world. That's both rational and long term bad for us. I won't be talking about politics with this post, other than to say that I believe local action and local involvement has to be where we all start because that's where we individually have the most control and effect.
The title this year of this post is "Water Flowing Underground", and yes, this is yet again a lyrical nod to the Talking Heads song "Once in a Lifetime". Why did I choose this line for 2016? It felt like this was a year of digging. If I wanted to get to the water that would sustain me, I would have to work for it, and in many cases, work harder than I have before.
First, let's start with a little bit of "Aedificamus". This was a year I focused on being more quantified in my actions. I measured my food. I measured my exercise. I wore a fitness tracker each day. I set a goal and I came darn close to achieving it, and then part of me stopped paying attention. No, that's not really true. The truth is I grew weary of the level of activity and focus needed to hit the aggressive goal I had set for myself. What's more, I discovered that I was capable of being injured in ways that took far longer to be healed than I imagined possible. I developed golfer's elbow (which is odd because I don't play golf). Seriously, though, what that means is that I developed a repetitive stress injury on the inside of my elbow, at the joint where my humerus and ulna meet. It's made lifting weights and doing a number of exercises challenging. I have to be careful as to how I lift things and how I use my elbow. In addition, in the latter part of the year, I developed plantar fasciitis in my left foot. What that has meant is that my previous gung-ho approach to walking 10,000 plus steps each day is now determined by how my foot feels in any given day. The net result is that I gave up some of my progress on my weight loss. I'm still considerably less than I was at the start of this journey, but compared to this time last year, I'm actually up about ten pounds. Still, I am wearing the clothes I bought for the smaller framed me, and they still fit comfortably, but I have a reminder that I need to mend and I need to keep healthy, plus I need to figure out some adaptations to my training and eating so I can get back to making progress, even when my body doesn't want to cooperate.
Next, I made a conscious decision to scale back on several areas so that I could focus on a few key areas I've really wanted to develop. That meant taking a step back from freelance writing and yes, even contributing to this blog, so that I could help bring forth a new venture. That new venture that started this year is "The Testing Show", a podcast that I produce, edit, transcribe and publish each week through QualiTest and on iTunes. I knew going into this that I had a goal for the production quality and listening experience for this podcast. To that end, I think it's safe to say that I've spent more cumulative time on this show than any other initiative I've been involved with this year. As well as being a regular panelist on the show (along with Perze Ababa, Jess Ingrassellino, Matt Heusser and Justin Rohrman), I also edit every show and produce a transcript and show notes for each episode. In short, if you like the flow of the show, the accuracy of the transcript and the relevancy of the show notes, I get to take the credit for that. If you don't like them or find any of the above in need of improvement, I am also the one to talk to about that. Without going into details, I probably spend anywhere from six to eight hours producing each episode. That's because I want the listening experience to be clean, and I want the transcript to be as accurate as possible. Do I have to edit the shows so that every "um", "ah", "like", "you know", and circular verbal tic is removed? Probably not, but I value podcasts that go that distance. Shows like Freakonomics, Planet Money, and Hardcore History are my gold standards. I aspire to have our shows be that clean and that focused. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I miss the mark. Each time I learn something new and get just a little bit better.
On an additional physical level, I took on what was possibly the biggest trek of my life, as well as the biggest challenge to the way I live and work every day by going off the grid and hiking into the New Mexico wilderness in July of this year. As Scoutmaster of a Boy Scout Troop, we put together an expedition to spend sixteen days in the Southwest, twelve of them at Philmont Scout Ranch and the surrounding Carson National Forest. We hiked for ten days, covered about eighty miles on foot, climbed over a few mountain ridges, dealt with extremes of temperature, and learned how to orienteer for real in spaces where there were no trails. Most of all, I had to make the decision to turn leadership over to a group of 14-16-year-olds and put my trust and faith in them that they would make the right decisions for the ten days we were on the trek. I am very much of the mind that I often do things myself if I don't trust that they will be done the "right way". Well, the Philmont Way doesn't care what the adult leaders think outside of an advisory capacity. What the boys decide determines the outcome, and we agreed to that. Most of the time, it turned out OK. Occasionally, I had to be sneaky and offer suggestions or show where we needed to go, but I was admonished by my co-leader that I needed to keep such interventions to a minimum. We all made it through intact, some scrapes, some bruises, a little altitude sickness here and there, but overall, much better for the experience. What's more, I learned that I had it in me to hand over control to others, and I learned to accept that my way need not be the only way. It about drove me crazy at times, but I was happy for the experience nonetheless :).
On the conference side this year, I decided to focus on my own area this year. Philmont was going to take a lot of time this year, so I decided that I would not travel for conferences this year. I was happy that STPCon came to Millbrae, CA, and I was also happy that the organizers told me, in no uncertain terms, that I had BETTER submit some talk proposals, as they were literally less than five miles from my home. To that end, I presented talks on the Intersection of Accessibility and Inclusive Design and shared a workshop on How to Teach New Testers. Those topics were also worked on and developed more in the Bay Area Software Testers meetup, along with our quarterly Lean Beer discussions, which opened up new areas for me to dig this year.
On my everyday work side, we've been making changes to our core team. Some of our most seasoned veterans have moved on to other endeavors. I've celebrated four years at Socialtext, and I am now the fifth most senior person in our company. That seniority is measured in weeks and months in a few of those cases. This means my leaning on more knowledgeable people gave way to my having to dig even more and learn even more than I ever thought possible. I now feel like the one that people come to for answers, both in the testing sphere and, more frequently, in the programming sphere. While I can safely say I have a lot more to learn in that latter area, I do feel that I am working in an environment that will let me dig as deep as I want to with as much energy as I can muster, and I will be encouraged and helped along the way. That's one benefit of working for what is, in effect, a very small company, even though that company is an acquisition of a much larger one. We are left to run as a scrappy little team, and that scrappy little team encourages everyone to dig if they want to.
So what does 2017 look like? I'm hoping to get back out and participate in conferences again, whether it be as a participant or as a speaker. I'd like to attend some development conferences or some broader industry events, and see if I can help develop a broader message of testing and quality. I'm aiming to expand Weekend Testing Americas to do more events at different times other than just on Saturdays (that's what people have said they want to see, so we will certainly give it a try). All in all, I am optimistic, and if there are areas that I am less optimistic about, I am going to remind myself that if it is within my sphere of influence and control, I best do all I can to influence events and outcomes as much as I can so that I can be optimistic going forward. One thing is for sure, water's flowing underground. If I want to get to it, it's up to me to dig for it. Same as it ever was ;).
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