How to move up from being good to being great?

Summer holidays.. A perfect time for taking a step or two back from work and reflect on what I’ve been doing this year, work-wise. Having just returned from my vacation, I can confirm that this year has been no different. One theme (or rather, one question) kept coming back over and over again this time:

How do I go from being ‘good’ to being ‘great’?

I consider myself to be a decent, sometimes maybe even a good consultant / writer / teacher / whatever it is I’m doing that day. While this is enough to be pretty fully booked at the moment, and even have the luxury of being able to say ‘no’ to tasks or projects I don’t really want to take on, I feel I can do better in many ways. It doesn’t feel like I’m failing, but there’s a lot of things that I feel I can improve.

Here’s a(n incomplete) list of things I’d like to accomplish on my journey from good to great:

  • Improving my consulting skills
  • Improving my public speaking skills
  • Improving my teaching skills
  • Improving my writing skills

These improvements would, in turn, hopefully lead to the following results (and who knows what else):

  • I’d like to grow a (small) back log of clients that I keep in close touch with and that I can help with their automation on a periodic basis, moving away from the hourly billing model towards a daily fee or a retainer
  • I’d like to speak at more conferences, and not just at testing conferences (no need for siloing knowledge sharing when the whole world seems to consist of multidisciplinary teams nowadays)
  • I’d love to get more bookings for my training and workshop offerings
  • I’d like to write and publish a short (e)book containing my views on the test automation craft

Achieving these goals is only part of the story, though. What would happen if I accomplished the above tasks? Would I somehow automatically start to see myself as a great consultant, rather than ‘just’ a good one? Being the cynical and self-criticizing b*st*rd that I can be, will I ever consider myself being more than half decent? I’m not exactly sure, but I’d like to think that hitting the above targets moves me in the right direction, at least.

One thing that struck me when reviewing the list, though, is that they’re all totally unrelated to getting more knowledgeable with regards to specific test automation tools. I just don’t think that that’s going to get me much closer to what I want to be. Of course, tools are important (no test automation without tools), but I don’t think that’s key to the step I want to take.

According to you, readers of this blog, how do you think one moves up from ‘good’ to ‘great’? I’d love to see your input on this matter! In the meantime, I will start to reach out to people that I consider to be on the ‘great’ level, see how they got to where they are now and what I can learn from them. Call it looking for a mentor (or two). In time, hopefully I can be a mentor myself. I’d love to be able to do that and teach others what I know.

If there’s one thing that my time off work has made me realize this year, though, it’s that there’s so, so many things that I don’t know or don’t master! I’m already looking forward to what the future will bring.

Utterly unemployable, or another update on crafting my career

I can’t believe we’re almost halfway through April already.. With 2017 well on its way, I thought it would be a good time for another post on the way I’m trying to craft my career and build my ideal ‘job’ (that’s intentionally put between quotes). As you might have read in previous posts I wrote on this topic, I’m working hard to move away from the 40 hour per week, 9 to 5 model that’s all too prevalent in the IT consultancy world.

I’m writing this post because I see another trend in the projects I’m taking on. Whereas earlier I would join an organization temporarily as part of an Agile team and take on all kinds of tasks related to testing and test automation, I’m more and more working on shorter term projects now, where clients ask me to build an initial version of a test automation solution for them and educate them in extending and maintaining it.

Not coincidentally, this is exactly the type of project for someone who gets bored as quickly as I do. A typical project nowadays spans between two weeks and two to three months and looks somewhat like this:

  1. Client indicates that help is needed in setting up or improving their test automation solution.
  2. I discuss with and interview client stakeholders to get the questions behind the question answered (what is it that you want to test in an automated manner? Does that make sense? What’s the reason previous attempts didn’t work?). This is probably the most important stage of the project! Failing to ask the right questions, or not getting the answers you need increases the risk of a suboptimal (or useless) ‘solution’ afterwards.
  3. I start building the solution, asking for feedback and demoing a couple of times per week, with the frequenct depending on the number of days I have for the project and the number of days per week I can spend on the project.
  4. I organize a workshop where the engineers that will be working with the solution after I have left the building spend some time writing new tests and maintaining existing ones. This gives me feedback on whether what I’ve built for them works. It also gives the client feedback on whether the solution is right for them.
  5. After gathering feedback, I’ll either wrap up and move on or do a little more work improving the solution where needed. This rework should be minimal due to the early feedback I get from interviews and discussions with stakeholders.

After my time with the client ends, I’ll make an effort to regularly follow up and see whether the solution is still to their liking, or if there are any problems with it. This is also an opportunity to hear about cool improvements that engineers made (and that I can steal for future projects)!

Next to this consulting work, I’m spending an increasing amount of time writing blog posts and articles for tech websites (and the occasional magazine). You might have seen the list of articles that have been published on the articles page. As you can see, it’s steadily growing, and at the moment, I’ve got at least four more articles lined up for the year, a number that’ll surely increase as 2017 proceeds.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that my work is slowly but steadily getting more and more international. This doesn’t mean I’m travelling the world consulting and speaking (at least not yet), but recently, I’ve been discussing options for collaboration with people and organizations abroad. These opportunities vary from writing, to taking part in webinars all the way to (remote) consulting projects. Not all of them have come through, and with a new home and two small children I’m not exactly in the position to travel that much right now, but I’m nurturing these relationships nonetheless, since you never know where they will lead you..

Currently I’m doing a trip in May for the Romanian Testing Conference, where I’ll host a REST Assured workshop and will attend the conference itself, and I’m looking at another trip somewhere in the fall. Not sure where I’ll be bound, but there are some opportunities that can definitely lead to something. And I’m always keeping my eyes and ears open for opportunities I just can’t say ‘no’ to..

I’m starting to love the ‘job’ (there are the quotes again) I’m slowly crafting this way. It gives me the opportunity to say ‘yes’ to the things I want to do, and to say ‘no’ if something isn’t interesting enough or if I don’t have the time. Although I’m still struggling with that last bit, there’s just too much cool stuff to do! I’m not sure how my career and my working days will look like in five years, so don’t ask. I hate that question anyway. I AM thinking about the future though, and about whether it will be as easy for me to do the things I love if a) I get older and/or b) the market for test automation slows down or comes to a halt.

I’m also noticing that I’m growing increasingly unemployable, in the sense that I can’t see myself working for a boss or manager anytime soon. The prospect of having to deal with end-of-year reviews, billable hour targets and having to say ‘no’ to something I want to do yet might not be in the best interest or directly profitable to the organization makes me never want to return to that anymore. I hope I’ll never have to, ever again. But I don’t worry about that yet, because it’s quite hard NOT to have a freelance project (or three) at the moment. Real first world problem right there!

The message behind all of the above is that in testing and test automation too, there IS a way other than spending 40 hours per week on a given project for months (or years) on end. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with doing so, but it doesn’t work for me any more, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. It DOES take time, effort and above all perseverance, though, to get where you want to be. Whenever I tell someone about an email I received through this blog, asking me to collaborate on a cool project, what they don’t (or even don’t want to) see is all the work I’m putting in writing and publishing a blog post. Every. Single. Week. That takes time. That takes effort. And above all, that takes perseverance. But only by persevering and putting out (hopefully quality) content habitually and sharing your knowledge, expertise and experiences (for free, mostly) will you start getting noticed. And maybe, after a couple of years, there will be some paid spin-off work. It’s worth it. It just doesn’t happen overnight, though.

An update on crafting my career

Now that it’s almost time for me to go on what I think is a well deserved holiday, I thought it would be a good idea to take some time and see where I stand with regards to reshaping my career the way I want it to look like. In the last couple of months, some interesting developments have taken place that I think are small steps in the right direction. I also discussed my ideas on how my ideal working life would look like (freedom and variety basically sums it up) with some other people, resulting in either encouragement or blank stares. I don’t know what to make of the latter, but the encouragement is nice.

So, what have I been up to? First of all, I started a new project, since the one I was previously working on was not a good fit for me. I didn’t feel I could make a valuable enough contribution there to warrant both my hourly rate and the commute (an hour one way), so I decided to end it and go look for a new one. My current project is in an enterprise environment with a very heterogeneous application landscape and lots of room for improvement in the testing and test automation area. I’ve come to realize that this kind of organization and project fits me much more than the web development organization I was at before. Also, my commute has been cut in half, which gives me much more time to spend at home with the wife and kids, and to work on other projects, which to me is huge as well. That’s one thing I love about being self employed: the ability to choose what you’ll be working on and when to stop a project that is not a good fit.

Freelance freedom

Also, I’ve been asked by O’Reilly (the media and publishing company) to write a 20-30 page report on the state of and current trends in service virtualization. At the time of publishing of this blog post, it’s up for a final review, with a planned publishing date of September of this year. I’ll probably write a separate blog post with a link to the report once it’s published, so keep an eye out for that one to see if it is interesting to you too. The report will be accompanied by a blog post on another web site as well (of which I currently do not know the URL), which is part of the package deal agreed upon. The report will be freely downloadable and sponsored by HP Enterprise. I am very excited to have been asked to do this in the first place, much more because these writing assignments are exactly the type of projects I would like to fill my ideal workday with. Also, it’s another valuable exercise in honing my technical writing and English skills.

Furthermore, a couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to receive an invitation to deliver a test automation-related workshop at the first edition of the Iasi spin-off of Romania Testing, to be held on November 4th (thanks again, Richard, for referring the organization to me!). Needless to say I happily accepted the invitation, so I’m currently in the early stages of workshop preparation. Also, I’ve never been to Romania before, so that’s a nice bonus too for someone that wants to see as much of the world as his schedule and finances allow.

Romania Testing - Iasi edition

Next to that, I’ll be giving a presentation at Centric (an IT services provider) in November as well on a yet to be determined topic related to test automation. I was invited to do this thanks to a referral from Sara, who attended my REST Assured workshop in May. So, again, thanks for that! It’ll be a nice opportunity to meet new people, do some networking and to further practice my public speaking skills.

Another thing that has kept me busy for some time now is the idea of transitioning from billed-by-the-hour work to offering project- and value-based services. Or even a product.. I’m still not sure as to what such a service or product should look like, but I AM sure that I don’t want to be depending purely on hourly work for long anymore. It doesn’t scale and it is a restriction to the freedom of working when and where I want to that I would like to have. As you can read above, I’ve been given the opportunity to take some small steps in the right direction, but I’m not nearly there yet.

The last I’ve been thinking about, and this is the first time I’m talking about this to anyone but myself, is writing a book on test automation. I know, there are lots of those already, but a lot of them focus on specific tools and how-to’s. What I think is missing is a thoughtful and balanced overview of the current state of test automation, and a debunking of a lot of still common test automation myths. If I decide to go through with this plan (currently I’m veering towards a ‘yes’) that’s another thing I would like to start on this year. Any comments or ideas are highly welcomed!

To round things up, I’m still not sure as to how to move forward, but writing this up makes me see for myself that I am moving in the right direction. The end goal is pretty clear now, but the road towards that goal is still pretty misty. Maybe some time off work will generate new ideas that can be pursued once I get back.

Finally, I’d like to share two blog posts from Louise Stigell that pretty much describe how I’m thinking about my career at the moment: ‘Being rich versus being free‘ and ‘Unemployable and proud‘.

Oh, and if you’ve already returned from your holiday: I hope you had a good one. If you’re still going: enjoy it! If you’re currently on holiday: what the &*%^ are you doing here?