Dropping the Ball

Does the thought of ‘dropping the ball’ fill you with dread ?  Perhaps you feel you will let people down, or more importantly yourself?

Here’s a thought experiment: What if you actually let the ball drop? Do you know what might happen?  Will the sky fall?  Are people let down?

If so, is that so bad? We all fail at some point in time in our lives. We don’t expect perfection from others, but for some reason expect it from ourselves. But that’s not physically possible is it?  Expecting perfection in this way is about as practical as promising perfect software right?

So next time your spreading raspberry jam too thinly consider giving yourself permission to drop the ball. After all as a tester you owe it to yourself to try, don’t you?

 Apologies for mixed metaphors :)

The fine art of being precise

Jon Bach this morning wrote a post about how we need to be precise in our thinking. Thank you Jon, its a lovely honest piece with lots of wisdom.  But it got me thinking how sometimes precision can let us down too.

For instance, we can get fooled into thinking that being precise always matters. There are many situations where vagary(what a wonderful word!) is incredibly useful.

When my husbands asks me how my day was, I don’t reply with “What do you mean by day?”, instead I typically respond with ‘fine’ or something equally inane.  What’s important here is not the precision of the question or even the precision of the answer. My husband’s not that interested in my day at all but it’s his way of asking “are you ok?”.  My answer though perhaps a little short, is important too, though it’s not really the answer that matters, its the tone of my answer that he’s listening out for.

You see this vagary in software teams that work closely together.  Over time, these teams have developed their own language and don’t feel the need to question every definition. Team members pick up cues from body language and follow unwritten rules without much thought. I see this ability to follow such rules without question as a way of building trust. Often teams that work together for a while just ‘know’. They’ve built up a certain amount of tacit knowledge which doesn’t need to be openly discussed.

Unfortunately many of us have, at one point in time, worked in situations where this culture (for want of a better word) is not so healthy. I worked in one such company where open questioning was implicitly discouraged to the point where a developer worked on the wrong story for a whole iteration. I’ve seen many a tester battered and torn from attempting to pull down those unwritten walls of silence and ambiguity.

But what’s  important here is we recognise that in certain situations its appropriate for us to be loose in our language. In fact, I often hold off from being precise especially if I’m new to a team or client. Instead, I sit and listen, waiting for ambiguity to bubble up and emerge. This intentioned act of silence allows me to witness rather than be told where implicit assumptions may fester.

So while being able to be precise  is an important testing skill, another important one is the ability to identify when and where precision is most required, and when and where we can allow ourselves to be a little more accommodating.



Hanging up my boots

photo by shankar.s

My family and I  arrived in Dublin on a cold dark wintry November night in 2008. At least metaphorically speaking it was. It was right after the GFC and we watched a country and economy wrestle with the prospect of becoming bankrupt. Regardless, Dublin’s IT and entrepreneurial spirit flourished. People who were made redundant invested their expertise into new ventures. There was a sense of familiarity in being in a recession (The common term for the GFC was recession 2.0) but also that the future was very much up to themselves.

I decided to start an Irish testers meetup, an opportunity for testers to share their expertise and learn from each other. Our first meetup had 4 testers. It never grew beyond that. I discovered that there was more to running a meetup than post on a blog. I learned that testers cannot thrive on testing alone, and that having a nibble or two and a drink goes a long way to attracting turn out. Having noteworthy speakers also helps.

So when I returned to Australia in 2010, and heard of a Sydney Testers Meetup I was keen to join. I discovered a hardy band of testers. Amongst them were Trish Khoo, Marlena Compton and Bruce McLeod. But they had similar problem as I had in Dublin. It was hard to get the word out and attendance was poor.

Sponsorship by Softed and getting some few heavy hitting speakers quickly changed that. We had James Bach, Elizabeth Henrickson, Scott Barber come along and speak. Trish has fantastic ideas about different types of activities. We had games nights and book nights. Julietta Jung came along and brought along enthusiasm and excellent pizza ordering skills.

The Sydney Testers Meetup rapidly grew but not without its ups and downs. We’ve lost sponsorship, turned down sponsorship and for a while lived without any sponsorship. We had have committee members move to far away lands. But throughout it all we managed to maintain the spirit of the Sydney Testers Meetup. Today Attribute Testing sponsor the meetup that has a 600 strong membership.

It’s time now for me to hang up my boots as organiser of the meetup. It’s been a blast and I’ve loved seeing people become infected by testing. I’m leaving the STM in safe hands. Richard Robinson and Devesh Maheshwari will be taking over as organisers. I wish them the best and look forward to seeing the STM do great things.

independently Minded