Friday, August 17, 2018

The Testing Show - Conferences and Conferring with Anna Royzman, Claire Moss and Mike Lyles

I have been terrible with my shameless self-promotion as of late, but I think it's time I switch that up a bit. Remember my comment about that "grind" earlier in the week? Here's the end result and yes, I always feel better about it after it's all said and done because I enjoy seeing the end product and most importantly sharing it with everyone out there.

I have a little favor to ask as well if you are so inclined. Do you enjoy listening to The Testing Show? If you do, could I ask you to go to Apple Podcasts and write us a review? Reviews help people find the podcast and make it more likely to appear in the feed listings. Seriously, we all would really appreciate it. We work hard to bring these out and I'd love nothing better than to have more people be able to find it.

In any event, we hope you enjoy this month's episode. To set things up, here's the lead in for the show:

August is a busy time of year for software testing conferences (not to mention conferences in other industries). This month, we decided that, with everyone heading off to conferences hither and yon that we would dedicate a show to the topic, and we have done exactly that. Anna Royzman (Test Masters Academy), Claire Moss (DevOpsDays) and Mike Lyles (Software Test Professionals) join us as guests in their capacity as conference organizers, speakers and attendees (not necessarily in that order) to riff on Conferences and Conferring with Matthew Heusser, Michael Larsen, and Perez Ababa. Want to know where to go, what format to take part in or if you want to try your hand at speaking/presenting? We’ve got something for all those bases!

The Testing Show - Conferences and Conferring with Anna Royzman, Claire Moss and Mike Lyles: The Testing Show team discusses the QA conference season with Anna Royzman, Claire Moss and Mike Lyles. Tune in to learn more!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

When There's Nothing But The Grind

First off, I want to make sure that this doesn't come off sounding wrong. The title is accurate, but perhaps not for the reason folks might suspect.

As the Producer and Editor of The Testing Show, the heavy lifting of getting a show finished and up on Apple Podcasts is done by me. Yes, when we schedule the recording the panel and guests are all in on it together. When I deliver it to QualiTest, they take care of posting it so it's available. At times I am able to outsource the transcription process, but not always. This episode, it's all in my wheelhouse due to vacation an unavailability of my regular transcriptionist (who does a fantastic job, I might add and worth the price to have them do it).

There's no easy way to say it; to produce the show to the level I want to have it, with as clean audio as possible, grammatical edits and a full transcription so those who are hearing impaired can follow along, there are no time-saving shortcuts. Every second of the audio needs to be examined, edits made, transitions cleaned up, and waveforms spliced so that there is a minimum of intrusion. If I've done a good enough job, the end listener should just think it's a seamless conversation. For anyone who has actually done editing for podcast dialog, you know what I mean when I say, as soon as you've done these kinds of edits, you forever hear them in other podcasts, too. Perhaps I'm a little too aggressive in this process but since I do it this way, it takes quite a while to edit each show. The tricky part is (since I'm dealing with edited audio and transcribing edited audio), this is the literal definition of an extended monotask. When I write code, test, or write these blog entries, I can have other things going on in the background, take little detours, let my mind idle for a bit and then pick up again. When I'm editing the podcast, I don't get that break. I have to be focused and nothing else can be vying for my attention while I do it. For veteran podcasters, this probably comes as no surprise, but I can (and frequently do) spend about six hours per episode from completion of recording until handoff for posting. It can really chew you up some days but there is no exhilaration quite like when it's all finished and the email goes out saying "It's all ready to post, have at it!"

To relay this to testing and the oft-heard fact that monotasking is the best way to accomplish a goal, I both agree and disagree. Having to switch contexts from one project to another frequently does make for inefficient work and I have plenty of experience with that in my everyday testing life. However, too much focus on one thing, even if I am "in the flow", will physically chew me up and fatigue me fast. Still, there's no way around it. The show needs to be edited, it needs my undivided attention and that undivided attention can easily spread to six hours per show. What to do?

This is where I have to exercise supreme diligence if I don't want to drive myself crazy. Was I a smart individual, I would block out the track immediately, determine where I could perform rough cuts, do them within the first hour, and then approach a fine tuning on subsequent days, spending no more than an hour at a time on any given day. Of course, that doesn't often happen. What typically happens is I find myself coming up on a deadline and then the sense of "compression" takes over. With that sense of compression the "procrastination adrenaline" kicks in. From there, I move Heaven and Earth to get it all done in one Herculean shot and, once I do, I feel both joyous that I have finished it and absolutely mentally drained at the sheer volume of the process. This, of course, lingers in my memory, but for some strange reason, it doesn't make me any more likely to be more diligent the next time. So many times, it really does come down to "Dude, this is the last day before the deadline, now you have to do "The Grind" all in one day!" For a long time I thought I was just insane, but as I've talked to many creative types in various capacities, this approach is way more common than I thought. In a way, the combination of "time compression" and "procrastination adrenaline" all come flooding in at once, and that sense of terror is both motivating and, again, exhilarating. It's terrible on the nervous system, though. The hangover that comes after completion is rough and I literally feel like I need days to recover. Yet time after time I find myself doing it again. It's as though there is a form of "project amnesia" that creeps in. Either that or my amygdala just craves that terror state and tricks me into doing it again and again.

Question for those out there reading this... how do you deal with a project that demands sincere monotasking? Are you measured and deliberate? Are you a procrastination adrenaline junkie? Somewhere in between? How do you deal with it? What are your approaches to making it more manageable? Don't get me wrong, I love producing the show and will continue to do so. I'm just looking for better ways of keeping what little of my overall sanity I have intact ;).

Friday, August 10, 2018

Coming off a Long Break

Hello, everybody!

With the exception of yesterday's post to Jerry Weinberg, this blog has been quiet for a few months. That was partly by design, but it stretched way longer than I intended it to. There was a specific issue I was trying to deal with (elbow procedure that required me spending less time on the keyboard) but in reality, for a time, I felt like I had come to an end of what I wanted to say. After eight years and more than a thousand posts, I started to feel like I was going through the motions, repeating myself, or just posting content to promote other content I was producing elsewhere.

I intended to take a break for a few weeks but that break stretched into almost four months. In that time, my work life changed considerably. My company was acquired for the second time. Socialtext is still a part of PeopleFluent and PeopleFluent is now a part of LTG based in London, UK. Dealing with the changes from that took a lot of getting used to. In those changes is the fact that much of our old approach to work and doing things went out the window. I've had to adapt to new roles, new needs, and a new overall view as to what we should be doing. As part of that change, I've been asked to:

- Be the Scrum Master for our Engineering team (those who say "wait, isn't Socialtext a Lean/Kanban shop?", the answer is "we were, but now we are aligning with Scrum principles so as to be in line with other teams").

- Investigate a new approach to automation (we will be embarking on using Cucumber with the two lower layers in a yet to be determined configuration but it will be totally different than what we have used up to now).

- Upgrade and update our overall infrastructure for how we build and deliver our software (mostly dealing with a Jenkins modernization and moving to pipelining but also looking at our container strategy and what we could do differently or better).

- Somehow still find time to test software in an environment where we are now adjusting to two-week sprints.

While "life has been happening while I have been making other plans" I came to the realization I actually have been unlearning and relearning a bunch of new stuff. Why haven't I been talking about it here?

- Partly out of fear.
- Partly out of feeling inadequate.
- Partly out of not really understanding what I'm doing.
- Partly out of feeling like I'm making this all up as I go along.

I then realized,  "Wait! That's the whole point of this blog." Had I waited until I was an expert on anything, zero posts would have been written and this blog would not exist.

I was asked a couple of days ago on Twitter about what to do when someone wants to start blogging but doesn't know what to talk about or feels they don't really have any worthwhile experience to share. I said to "just start" and "while you may not be an expert in X, you are an expert in your own experience with X. Start there." That may have been helpful to them, but I realized that it was most helpful to me. It reminded me that there's a lot I'm learning and relearning and that process is rarely pretty, often incoherent and usually frustrating. That never stopped me before. Why am I letting it stop me now?

If you're still with me, thank you for indulging my "navel-gazing" for today. I have a lot of stuff I'm working on, and things I've wanted to talk about but not felt it would be worth saying. That attitude is over. It's time I started talking about my own worldview on "fill in the blank" again. Looking forward to re-engaging. I hope you will be, too :).

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Farewell, My Dumbledore

On August 7, 2018, the Cosmos reclaimed one of the greatest and most benevolent minds I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. Granted, the man in question was someone I never met in person but through his books, blog posts and our occasional correspondence over the past eight years, that didn’t matter. I considered him a legitimate friend, mentor and, yes, a wise old wizard who helped me see things differently.

Jerry Weinberg will be remembered for many things. His absolutely prolific writing career. His career as a computer scientist is legendary. He almost single-handedly created the software testing profession (that’s a bit hazier, of course, but it’s hard to argue with how profoundly his effect on the craft and profession of software testing has been). “Perfect Software and Other Illusions About Testing" is my most gifted book to others on the subject. I've read it multiple times and will be rereading it again, along with several other works of his I've had the pleasure to own and read.

My Interactions with Jerry have been varied but I appreciated the fact that, were I ever to write a book review, no matter how old the book, he would always write back with a note of appreciation. If I had a question in the review, he would patiently explain it and help me see the intended meaning or bigger picture.

His “Fieldstone” method towards writing was the single biggest revelation for me and how I could organize ideas and thoughts when it came to writing. Too often I would start something and I’d either consider it not worth continuing or I’d question my direction. He taught me that was fine and perfectly normal. Just like a stonemason doesn’t use every rock they pick up immediately to create a wall, they often store those rocks in a spot so that, when the time comes to use that stone, they can shape it with minimal effort and put it in its proper place. An idea was not necessarily good or bad (well, some were just plain bad) but many ideas just weren’t ready to be put into the wall of my work just yet. Worry not, the time to use it will come.

What I will always remember about Jerry was his immense kindness, to just about everyone. I’ve thus far never met anyone that actually interacted with Jerry and had a negative thing to say about him. His various workshops over the years have been attended by several of my peers and to a person, every one of them said that Jerry took the time to understand them, learn their issues and frustrations, and somehow work beyond them. A phrase of his that I love is “whatever the problem is, we will deal with it.” I’ve taken that phrase and, in my own black humor have repurposed it as “we will jump off that bridge when we get to it” but the sentiment is really the same. Jerry always inspired me to try to solve problems, no matter how difficult.

We have lost a loving wizard, a true Albus Dumbledore in the flesh. That phrase was first mentioned by my friend and colleague Martin Hynie and I realized at that moment that that really was who Jerry was to me. Jerry was my Dumbledore. Always approachable, at times intimidating at a distance but never up close. He always endeavored to make you feel like you could overcome anything and that ignorance was a definitely curable condition. He has left us with a body of work that is frightening in its quantity but as has proven to me time and time again, reading it is so very worth it.

Farewell, my dear wizard. Thank you for making me just a little bit better as a tester, a technologist, an inquirer, a writer, and hopefully as a human being.