On writing and publishing my first ebook

Sometimes, some of the most interesting things in life happen when you least expect them. Just over half a year ago now (I looked it up, it was on May 11th of this year, to be exact) I received an email from Brian at O’Reilly Media, asking if I was interested in writing a short book on service virtualization. I didn’t have to think long about an answer and replied ‘yes’ the same day. After almost six months, lots of writing, reviewing and editing, many, many emails and a couple of video calls I am very proud to present to you my first ever ebook:

Service virtualization ebook

In this post, I’d like to tell you a little more about the book and about the process of writing and editing such a piece. Even though the book is relatively short (HPE, who’s sponsoring the book, set an upper limit of 25 pages of actual content), we went through much the same process as a full-length book would require, from proposal to production and everything in between.

The book
So, first, let’s take a look at the most important part: the end result. What we were aiming for was to give an overview of the current state of the service virtualization field and how this technique plays a role (or at least can play a role) in current and future IT trends. I won’t summarize the whole book here (it’s short enough so you can read it in about an hour) but if you want to know how service virtualization and Continuous Delivery can work together, or how you can leverage service virtualization when testing Internet of Things-applications, you’re cordially invited to read this book. It’s available free of charge from the HPE website, so why not take a look?

The writing process
After that initial email I received back in May, a lot has been taking place. Writing a piece like this starts with writing a proposal summarizing the prospective book outline, the reason why this book should be written, who is the target audience, and why the person writing the book proposal (i.e., me) thinks he or she is the right person for the job. This proposal is used to convince the sponsor (as I said, HPE, in this case) that they’re investing their money and effort wisely.

When the proposal is accepted, the actual writing starts. This is what takes up most of the time, but I think that goes without saying. We set two deadlines from the start: one date where a draft version of around 50% of the book should be delivered (to gauge whether the writer is on the right track and to keep things moving) and of course a deadline date for the first full draft.

As anybody who has ever written a book knows, once the first full draft is delivered, you’re not there yet. Not even close! An extensive reviewing and editing process has taken place to remove any spelling and grammatical errors, to improve the flow of the book and to make sure that all contents matched the expectations of HPE, of O’Reilly and last but not least of myself. This took a little longer than I initially thought it would, but then again, the end result is so much better than I could have produced on my own, so it has been very well worth the effort.

Thoughts
Would I do it again? You bet I would! I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of proposing, writing, reviewing and editing this book, even though at times it has been hard to review the same piece of text for the umpteenth time. Also, the guys and girls from O’Reilly, who have worked just as hard as I have myself (if not harder) to get this book out there, have been nothing less than fantastic to work with. So, Brian, Virginia, thanks so much, it was awesome working with you and I look forward to doing this again in some way, shape or form in the future. I also learned quite a few interesting things on the English language and editing standards. Since I’m a guy who’s always looking to improve his English skills, this has been quite invaluable too.

So if you’re ever in the position where you’re asked to write a book, or if you’ve ever thought about writing one yourself, I can wholeheartedly recommend going for it. Not only will you have something that you can be proud of once you’re finished, but you’ll learn so many things in the process.

Oh, and again, if you’re interested in a quick read on the current state of service virtualization, you can download the book for free from here. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Looking forward to the 2017 conference season

Only a relatively short blog post this week, but it’s something that’s kept me busy for a while..

As we’re slowly moving towards 2017, and as I’m starting to reflect on the shift I’ve been making in how I fill my days and make a living for the last year, I think this is a good time to take a look at the conferences I would like to attend and contribute to in 2017. Delivering talks, or even better, workshops (I’ll get to that at the end of this post), has earned its place as one of the activities that nowadays are part of my work(day/week) on a fairly regular basis. So, what conferences to attend next year?

The ‘definitely’ category
There are a couple of conferences I’ll definitely attend or contribute to, either because they’ve proven their value or simply because I’m already listed to deliver a talk or workshop there:

  • AutomationGuild (January) – I’ll deliver a talk on testing RESTful APIs using REST Assured at the first edition of this online conference completely dedicated to test automation.
  • Romania Testing Conference (May) – I was supposed to deliver a full-day workshop on REST Assured at the first edition of a spin-off conference of RTC, but unfortunately the organization had to postpone the event. They were extremely kind, however, to extend their invitation to the 2017 edition of the original event, which is held in Cluj in May, so I’m Romania bound by then! Very much looking forward to that, as you can imagine, especially after the wonderful experience of my first talk abroad.
  • TestWorksConf (October) – The first two editions have been awesome and I’m already eager to see what the Xebia guys can come up with for the third edition. Maybe I’ll be a contributor again, but if not, I’ll definitely be there as a delegate.
  • Test Automation Day (June) – The other big conference in the Netherlands dedicated to test automation, this has been a ‘must’ for me for the last four or five years, and I’ll highly likely be there again next year. Hopefully as a speaker this time, something that’s still on my to-do list.

The ‘hopefully’ category
There is one European conference outside of The Netherlands that I’d like to attend or contribute to one day. And why shouldn’t that day be in 2017?

  • Software Testing Forum (June) – I must admit that the location of this conference is what first put it on my radar. I love Italy, its culture, its language and not to forget its food and wine, but the event itself has started to get my attention as well over the last couple of years. I’ve recently been in touch with the organizing committee to see if I can apply to deliver a workshop there, so here’s to hoping that turns out positively!

The ‘I wish’ category
Some day, some day, I’d like to attend (or even better, speak at) one of these conferences:

  • StarCanada (October) – I love Canada, plus I’ve always wanted to attend one of the big Star* conferences, even if only once. Travel and lodging aren’t exactly cheap, though, plus it would cost me at least a whole week of not being home, which isn’t exactly ideal with small children, so this will probably not happen for the next couple of years.
  • WeTest (twice a year) – Pretty much the same reason as the previous one: I love New Zealand. Plus from what I’ve read on the web and social media, the organization and quality of this conference is of a pretty high level. Unfortunately, so is the amount of hours I’d have to spend on the plane, so this will probably not happen in 2017 either..

What else?
So, my dear readers, is there a conference I might have forgotten? Some hidden gem you definitely think I should attend or even apply to contribute to? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Oh, and coming back to my preference on hosting workshops over delivering talks: I love to give talks on topics I care about, but from my experience, I love hosting workshops even more. The smaller crowd and longer time frame allows me to make better contact with and pay more attention to the attendees, and to get some interesting discussions going. This to me provides more value than the larger (yet somewhat more fleeting) exposure I get when delivering a talk.. Plus I think participants get more out of a workshop too because of the hands-on learning experience, as opposed to attending a talk and picking up a couple of interesting and thought-provoking nuggets of wisdom. So if you know of an interesting conference that does workshops too, please let me know!

On becoming a test automation craftsman

As an automation engineer, it’s hard not to get carried away by the latest tools, frameworks (I don’t like that word, but hey) and other gizmos when you’re dutifully automating away. New tools that promise to make your test automation even snazzier than it already is are popping up on an almost daily basis. But are you really missing out when you’re not including these into your daily work? I’d like to think that more often than not, you’re not. Most true craftsmen have become what they are because they’ve become exceptionally good at doing one or two things, whereas the ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ types are often quickly forgotten. So, if you want to become a test automation craftsman (or craftswoman, of course), how should you go about doing that?

Instead of frantically trying to keep up with all of the tools that are flying around, I would advise you to:

  1. select a couple of them that will likely do the trick in most situations you encounter,
  2. get really good at using them,
  3. and then provide your client or your boss with the best possible solution using this tool set.

Select your ‘go to’ tool set (and do it wisely)
The first step in becoming a craftsman is to choose a set of tools that you’re sure will go a long way in allowing you to provide maximum value to your clients or your employer. This will over time become ‘your’ tool set, and maybe, given you provide excellent work and aren’t afraid of some personal branding, you’ll become known as the go to guy or girl for questions related to a specific tool or tool set. But even if you don’t want to become a source of knowledge for other people (although I have a hard time imagining why you wouldn’t), being exceptionally skilled in one or two things will likely advance your career faster and in better ways than a shotgun approach will ever do.

As an example, I was asked a couple of months ago by Joe Colantonio (the guy behind the excellent TestTalks podcast) to contribute to his Automation Guild online conference initiative. He recognized me as someone that is knowledgeable on a specific tool (in this case it’s REST Assured) and asked me to do a session on just that specific topic. I’d like to believe he invited me because I’ve written quite a few blog posts on the tool on here in the past (it can’t be my good looks..). Had I just written bland introductory posts on a variety of tools instead of focusing on one or two quality tools, I’m not sure this opportunity would have come by.

On a side note, you should really check out Automation Guild. Not because I’m a speaker there, but because I am really enthusiastic about the concept and because I think it’s a great way for you to further hone your craftsmanship from the comfort of your own home. There are so many great crafts(wo)men on the list!

Note that you should be careful when choosing what goes into your test automation tool belt. It does not make sense to pick a tool just because there’s nobody else on the web that’s specialized in it, for example. Usually there’s a good reason for such a lack of online presence: it’s highly likely that there’s not enough market demand for the tool, and/or the tool just isn’t all that useful. Instead, it would make more sense to pick something that’s reasonably established and well supported.

Select the contents of your tool belt wisely!

Learn everything there is to know about ‘your’ tools
Now that you have selected what goes into your personal test automation tool belt, it’s time to learn the heck out of it. To be considered a craftsman, you should try and learn everything there is to know about your tool(s), both the positive and the negative sides. Or at the very least, you should know exactly where to get the information required to do your work in the best possible way. Showcase what you know, be it at your day job, online, or at conferences, to build a following and get your name out there. Connect with fellow craftsmen to exchange knowledge and further hone your skills.

For example, check if there are any classes, workshops or online courses you can take that are related to your tools of choice. They’re often chock full of goodies, examples and exercises that will help you learn even more than you already think you knew. Plus, this too is a great way of meeting like-minded folks and grow your network. You’ll never know how and when you meet your next client, coworker or employer.

Workshop at Testworks Conf

Provide your stakeholders with the best solution using your tools
Finally, after you have selected and sharpened your tools and your skills, it’s time to put them to good work. Even though I’ve mostly focused on tools in this blog post so far, in the end, it’s not about them, it’s about what you do with the contents of your tool belt. The solutions you build using your tools are what will ultimately provide value to your stakeholders. You wouldn’t pay a carpenter if all he did was give you a couple of pieces of wood and a box of nails, right?

Updating your tool belt
Of course, in the case that the contents of your tool belt no longer fit the job you’re asked or choose to do, then you’re free (and even required) to look for additions to the contents of your test tool tool belt. Acting like everything is a nail when all you’ve got is a hammer is not the approach that will lead to success. Instead, in that case, it’s probably time to look for new additions to your tool set, and possibly also a good moment to throw out some of the stuff that is no longer of use to you. But until that time, I’d stick with what you know best and keep focusing on providing as much value as you can using your tools. Be(come) a craftsman.