On quality over quantity and my career journey

As you might have read in last week’s blog post, TestBash Manchester, the talks I’ve heard there and the discussions I had around the event with other speakers and attendees, left me with a lot to think about. Especially Martin Hynie’s talk on tester craftsmanship, apprentices, journeymen and masters of the craft led to me asking a lot of questions to myself on where I am now, how I ended up where I am today, where I want to go and, most importantly, if the things that I am doing at the moment contribute to, or maybe hinder me, in my own journey towards who I want to become.

Martin’s talk and how he described masters of a craft confirmed me that that, for me, is what I do want to become: a master in the craft of automation. Someone that others turn to when they need help, and someone that is able to help and guide others on their way to becoming a master -or at least a better craftsperson- themselves. I also immediately realized that I’m nowhere near that point yet.

I might be on my way, possibly (hopefully!) even on the right way, but having thought about this for a bit now, it once more occurred to me that there is so much more to learn. Some aspects that I need to improve are directly tied to automation and testing, others are skills that are more broadly applicable (public speaking, teaching, communication skills, to name just a few), but all in all, there’s a lot of learning left to do.

I am very much looking forward to taking the next steps on my path towards mastery, but I also realize that I need to get rid of some superfluous baggage at the moment, consisting mostly of activities that take up a lot of my time yet aren’t contributing (enough) to my journey. In the words of the German designer and academic Dieter Rams, it’s time for ‘less but better’, or ‘weniger aber besser’ as he puts it himself, being a German and all..

Anyway, there are a couple of work-related activities that I will need to get rid of -or at least change significantly- in order to carve out the time required to work on the important. Starting with the projects I’m working on. I’ve just wrapped up one, but I’m still working on two different projects in parallel.

Where I used to think this was the ideal situation to be in (I do get bored quickly if I’m working on the same thing for too long), I’ve slowly started to come to the realization that all this context switching is driving down the quality of my work. Believe, no matter how hard you try dedicating specific days to specific projects, there will always be overlap in the form of emails, phone calls and other seemingly urgent, and sometimes even important, interruptions. Just like with other forms of multitasking, I lose a lot of time moving my mind from one project to the other and back again, sometimes multiple times a day.

What doesn’t help is that not all of the projects I’ve been working on lately have been equally satisfying (and in specific cases, that’s putting it mildly..). Doing only one project at a time should allow me to think more clearly about whether or not the project is, in fact, a good fit for me. So, effective as soon as I wrap up my current projects, I’ll start committing myself to working on just a single client project (meaning by-the-hour consulting work) at a time. Ideally, that would take up 3 (maybe sometimes 4, maybe sometimes 2) days of my working week, ensuring that I am both set with regards to my financial commitments (gotta feed the kids!) as well as have enough time left to dedicate to the other things I want and/or feel the need to work on. Most of those things revolve around training courses, workshops and a bit of public speaking, by the way.

Committing to less but better also means that I’m, at least for the moment, giving up on writing weekly blog posts for this site. Even though it is a highly rewarding activity, it takes up a lot of time to plan, write and review blog posts. I’ll leave the discussion on whether or not my blog posts look like significant time has been put into it to you.. Instead, I’ll shift towards writing at least one blog post per month.

The good news is that this will leave me more time to do research and thinking for my blog posts, which (at least theoretically) should lead to higher quality output. Again, less but better.. I might post more often than once a month, in case I’ve read a good book related to testing or automation, a conference experience I want to share or anything else I feel like writing about, since those posts take less effort in my case. However, I think I need to stop pressurizing myself to write a weekly blog post, since it might start to affect the quality soon. If it hasn’t started doing so already.

Lastly, I am considering looking for a mentor who can help me take the next steps on my journey towards mastery. The above measures I’m taking should help freeing up time to do the things I feel are important (e.g., more time for learning, more time to invest in teaching and developing courses), but I am by now quite convinced that I might benefit from a mentor that helps me to navigate the career and life path that’s ahead of me. I’d love to hear from others who either have been on roughly the same point in their career and have (or have not) benefited from having a mentor, or who can help me find a good mentor. All input is greatly appreciated.

So, in short, you’ll hear less from me from this moment on, but hopefully also more. And better. I’m looking forward to the next stage of my journey.

On TestBash Manchester

I’m writing this blog post sitting in the Manchester airport departure area, waiting for my flight home to Amsterdam. I’m tired, but in the best possible way. Yesterday, I’ve delivered a talk of one of the best conferences I’ve been part of so far: TestBash Manchester.

The story begins about three quarters of a year ago with me deciding (on a whim, to be honest) to submit a talk on trusting your automation and how automation can deceive you to the Continuous Call for Papers that the Ministry of Testing has for their TestBash events. I chose Manchester and Philadelphia as the target events for my talk, because those were the places I’d most wanted to go to. Some time later an email arrived bearing the message that my talk was accepted for Manchester. Needless to say, I was very happy with that! I’m by no means an expert speaker (yet?) but I do think I’ve got something to say, plus I like to travel (within reason), so this was an excellent opportunity to combine practicing my public speaking skills and revisit a country that I somehow had managed to avoid for the last 12 years, even though it’s only an hour’s flight away.

Fast forward to October 26th (skipping a lot of tinkering with my slides in between) and I find myself in Manchester. Spent most of the Thursday morning travelling from home to the airport, flying and on the tram to my hotel. There I introduced myself to the brilliant concept of Ziferblat where I spent a couple of hours working on some other stuff (living the glamorous life right there!) before heading into town for some R&R catching a film.

Since the conference was already well on its way with a Rapid Software Testing course and a day of workshops (in which I did not take part this time), MoT organized a pre-conference meetup on Thursday evening. That was a great opportunity to finally put faces to a lot of the names I’ve been seeing flying around on Slack and social media in the weeks leading up to the event. It was also great meeting a couple of people again that I’ve met at other conferences before (Rick, Beren, Ash, Marianne, Richard and I might have forgotten one or two). Funny, by the way, how you only meet some fellow Dutchies at conferences abroad, yet never get to meet and talk to them in your own country..

After dinner, some good chats and a couple of drinks it was time to head back to my hotel and get some sleep before the big day. This turned out to be a harder challenge than I thought, the travel efforts, nerves and just enough drinks ensured I had quite a restless night and found myself wide awake at 5 AM. Made the most (yeah right) of it by tinkering with my slides some more before having breakfast and finding my way to The Lowry, which served as the conference venue. There I met some more great people, including the Master Of Disaster Ceremony, Leigh Rathbone. He’s a character, alright! In all seriousness, though, he did an awesome job introducing all of the speakers and keeping energy high throughout the day, something that is not an easy task. Well done, Leigh!

After what can only be described as a series of amazing talks by Anne-Marie Charrett, Göran Kero (thank you for introducing me to ‘automation bias’ and providing a label for a good part of the content of my talk) and Gem Hill it was time for my own talk. Despite being quite nervous -which I tend to see as a good thing, if I’m not nervous it’s a sign I don’t care- it went over really well, and to my relief there were plenty of questions during the Q&A section. I’ve delivered talks before where there were no questions at all afterwards, and believe me, that’s not a nice position to be in as a speaker.

Me during my talk

Me during my talk. Photo courtesy of Cassandra Leung

The rest of the day was filled with excellent talks as well. Coming down from the rush of a talk, I generally tend to hide in a corner for a while and process all of the impressions and the feedback, but that just wasn’t an option here, since I really wanted to see all of the talks. Zoning out had to wait until afterwards! After all of the talks were done and the 99 second talks (a part of every TestBash event) were over too, it was suddenly over. But then it was not, because drinks!

Got some great feedback on my talk during the after-conference drinks and spent some more time talking to other speakers and attendees. Then we headed out for dinner with a smaller group, during which fatigue really kicked in and I decided to call it a day.

If I had to choose, my personal favourite talk was the one from Martin Hynie. It perfectly reflected the point I find myself on in my career: an apprentice of the craft on his way to hopefully one day become a master. I loved Martin’s personal story and the way he reflected on his own journey towards being the best possible version of himself, something that I am aspiring to do as well. I’ll have what he talked about running through my head for a while, I’m sure. More on that probably next week.

Reflecting on it all, this has been a fantastic event for me, some more experience as a conference speaker under my belt, and more importantly I learned so much from the other talks I’m still busy processing it all. Thank you so much, Ministry of Testing, Richard, Rosie, Claire, Gem, Beren, Neil, Hugh, James, Heather, Rick, Marianne, Marcel, Vera, Andrew, Matthew, Patrick, Michael, Robyn, Stephen, Anne-Marie, Vernon, Göran, Cassandra and all the other wonderful people I met and talked to during the event. I’m looking forward to my next TestBash already, which will be in the Netherlands!

I’ll be hosting a workshop on creating an automation strategy that works there, together with Ard Kramer. I am looking forward to seeing you all there!

Here are the slides from my talk, in case you’re interested:

The talk itself has been recorded and will be made available through the Ministry of Testing Dojo. Also, here’s an awesome sketchnote of my talk made by Constance:

Sketchnote of my talk by Constance

On the test automation pyramid (again), opposing views and TestBash Manchester

Short blog post this time, since I’m smack in the middle of three projects while also preparing for my talk at TestBash Manchester, some training stuff and reviewing a book. It can’t always be long form!

With this blog post, I’d like to draw your attention to episode #31 of the Test and Code podcast, where Brian Okken (the host) replayed parts of the recordings of him being on another podcast, hosted by Paul Merrill. Paul’s a great guy and someone whose opinions and view I hold in high esteem, so I knew this was about to be good. In the interviel Paul and Brian did, they shared and discussed their opposing views on the test automation pyramid. By the way, more news about a collaboration (of sorts) between Paul and myself to follow soon!

It seems like Paul roughly shares my own views on the pyramid (read this recent blog post to see what I think of it and how I still use it, whereas Brian thinks the pyramid is falsely promoting the fact that unit tests are the most important tests you can write. Instead, in the recording, he advocates that there’s no value in software until it’s useful to an end user (be it a human being or another system) and that therefore UI tests are the most important and should be treated that way. I deliberately didn’t use the word ‘graphical’ here, by the way, since Brian talks mostly about writing tests for software where the GUI isn’t the interface that’s most extensively used.

You can listen to the podcast episode here. I thought it refreshing to listen to someone that has such an alternative view on a well-worn concept such as the test automation pyramid. Even though my own opinions on the model and its use remain unchanged (for now), I’ll try and make it a habit to listen to other voices and opposing views more often, rather than staying in my comfort zone and listening to podcasts and reading blogs on topics I’m already familiar with. Who knows I might learn a thing or two!

On another note, as I said before, I’m quite busy putting the finishing touches to my upcoming TestBash Manchester talk, and it’s both a talk and an event I’m very, very excited about. To those of you with Ministry of Testing Dojo Pro accounts, my talk will be available shortly after the event. For those of you that haven’t got such an account, you’ll have to wait for next week’s blog post, which will highly likely be a review of the event.

See you next week!