Posted on March 24, 2012 in Uncategorized by adam3 Comments »

I’ve been asked to do a 15-ish minute talk as part of Anne-Marie Charrett and Fiona Charles‘ upcoming workshop at STPCon on being a Career Tester (as compared to going into Management or Consultant — even though I have been both). As I thought about this, I think this could actually turn into a keynote worthy talk (of course, then I would actually have to practice it?!), but I have come up with what I think is basically my advice to myself of 15 years ago when I landed on this career path. Now of course, to deliver it as a double-stuffed-lightning-talk for them.

Set Course For Awesome

Set Course for Awesome by Fake Grimlock. This is also my computer desktop. And is awesome.
Testing is an awesome and rewarding career. But it is also ‘new’ even in the larger context of IT jobs which are themselves new in the grand scheme of things. This means that unlike someone in the trades, the career path for testers isn’t well defined and everyone’s will be slightly (or significantly) different. The thing that will be common to them all though is that those who are happy(est) will have taken responsibility for their career and planned it out. The plan may not work out, and will almost guaranteed to need course corrections along the way, but the act itself is useful. So set a course for awesome. (And lets not concern ourselves about the alternatives to that shall we? Great.)

Shut Up and Listen

Shut Up and Listen. Words to live by.
It was during RST with James Bach that I really understood that the role of a tester isn’t to ‘break the app’ or ‘find all the bugs’ but to provide information about the application. It wasn’t until some time later than I realized that it is actually more subtle than that. Our job is to provide information that matters. And how do we do that? Easy. We Shut Up and Listen. To what? That is also easy. To the people we are providing the information to. Now that I’ve completed PSL I can safely start quoting Gerry Weinberg so here are two useful things to remember.

  1. No matter how it looks at first, it’s always a people problem
  2. Things are the way they are because they got that way

If you can start to understand the people in the system you are operating in, and why the [larger] system operates the way it does then you can provide them the information they need. But you can’t do that unless you stop, shut up, and listen.


This venn diagram should be all you need to plan what you want to do with your life
Too often people let others drive their career trajectory or they just listlessly bounce from one place to another. This handy venn diagram should help you organize your thoughts. Make the three lists. Find the Hooray point. That is your destination. Or more correctly, your current destination as it is likely to change as you experience new things. You are not the person you were five years ago, and you are not today who you will be in five years. I actually have a large copy of this that needs framing and will go on my office wall.

Steal Like an Artist

Book. Of. The. Year.
I’m going to say this right now. In March. That Steal Like an Artist is my Tester Book of the Year for 2012. And it has no direct links to testing. Which is also part of the point. Not only are the 10 points in it completely relevant to being a tester but it comes from a different field entirely. Go outside of the testing community for inspiration. One of my first public testing talks was about being a houseleague lacrosse coach. The most useful books for my testing practice recently have been about how the brain handles stress, how to really practice something and about apprenticeship patterns. None of them were written by testers, but each made me a much better tester. Take inspiration from everything and everyone. When you are constantly looking for it, it is amazing how often you can find it.

Be Yourself

Keep Calm and Be Yourself
The trick to Stealing Like an Artist vs blind theft is that artists make what their steal their own. You will not truly succeed just regurgitating words and ideas that you heard from people at conferences or read on their blogs. The two I see all the time is the SFDPO mnemonic and the notion of testing tours. Think of your own. I know you mean well by parroting it, but internalize it, morph it, evolve it until it is yours. It is impossible for you to be anybody but yourself. So don’t try. Take what you like and what inspires you, make it part of you, and ignore the rest.

Have a Therapist

Talk to everyone you can. But have a couple close people you can bounce ideas and questions off of. Both for ‘shop’ and life in general. You might be smart, but someone is always smarter. You can’t grow if you just talk to yourself or your teddy bear. And it works the same way too. Some of the best lunch chats I’ve had have been initiated by me but I went home with less notes than the person I was trying to talk something through with. The term mentor I think is too constrained. Remember, its always a people problem and people problems require therapists.

Be Totally Fucking Amazing

This is hanging in my office
Quality this, Quality that. Blah. Blah. Blah. As a tester, you shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking ‘Quality is Job One’. Its not. Being totally fucking amazing is job one. Your customers do not care that the code is quality, or that it follows some style guide line or has only 0.45444 bugs per 1000 lines of code. They care that it is amazing. That’s all. The same applies for your career. Whoop-dee-freakin-do that you have been at the same company for 10 years and got a commemorative clock (do they even do that any more??!?). Are you being amazing anymore? If not, why are you still there? Print out the Hooray graph, plot your course to awesome and go be totally fucking amazing.

Here is the slideshare link to share amongst yourselves.

Posted on March 22, 2012 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

I just finished readying Mary Robinette Kowal‘s book Shades of Milk and Honey which is often described as ‘Jane Austen with Magic’ which so far as I can tell is accurate. (There is magic and I trust that is Austen-esque.) This is clearly a large step outside of my normal Epic Fantasy genre reading and I would have ignored the cover illustration completely in the bookstore (had it a copy, which is didn’t). And even if I had, the Jane Austen part would have scared me away based solely on reputation than actual opinion (and that I couldn’t get through ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’). But I bought it soley on who wrote it. And how I know about her wouldn’t be possible even 5 years ago.

But first, a mini-review.

Having suffered through some ‘classic’ Victorian era books in highschool, I somewhat feared that this would be as equally difficult to get around just the phrasing, but it was a quick, and enjoyable read — I think I went through it in 3 sittings (though one was exceptionally long). The characters fit my mental model of how they would behave and act in ‘proper society’ and the magic system seemed perfectly natural (and thankfully the origins of which were not explained). The book itself (at least the hardcover) has the pages not chopped for even-ness which lends, I think, the appropriate amount of ‘era’ to the book.

Oh. And I only found one type-o; ‘colour’ in one sentence and ‘color’ in the next which is really an spell-checking dictionary problem.

Now for the real reason for the post; an author who is active in various social media platforms can dramatically affect how a reader experiences there work. And not just in a sales perspective (though certainly that does help). Here is the list of ways in this particular case.

  • Mary has been one of the hosts of Writing Excuses for a while now so I get a dose of what she sounds like in 15 minute chunks every Monday. What this did was ‘change’ the voice in my head while I was reading. This is not something I had noticed before but it is usually male voice, but this time it was not only female, but Mary
  • Also from Writing Excuses I knew that the Austen has used [almost] every work in one of her original works as Mary took the complete works of Austen, uniqued it and then used that as her spell-checking dictionary. Which. Is. Awesome. And while appreciating this fact runs slightly counter to one of the themes of the book which is to appreciate the beauty in art without dissecting in, it is still awesome.
  • At one point there is a puppet show in the story, and while it is explained, nothing beats actually seeing it. Which you would, if you followed her twitter and watched this interview in which she performs the show
  • Which she is well qualified to do since she is a Puppeteer first. That itself is hilarious when she is tweeting about making puppet.

  • Mary blogs frequently sometimes posting period costume which helps complete the mental picture of things while reading.

We (I) completely blew the social media aspect of promoting Beautiful Testing. Mary seems to have it nailed. And I have Glamour in Glass already on order.

Posted on March 9, 2012 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

In today’s tech world (and I suspect non-tech as well) there are two basic funding models for companies; bootstrap and VC. I’m bootstrapped since I opened shop with only about 40 hours notice.

I enjoy being my own boss, but as people I know de-independent themselves or I see their company gets acquired I think about ‘what if?’ situations.

What If … ‘I sold the company’

I sometimes think about what sort of company I would ‘sell’ my company to. I suppose for enough cash I would sell to almost anyone but what sort of company would be the right ‘fit’?

The obvious one might be Sauce Labs since they are Selenium in the cloud, but they don’t have a Consulting / Professional Services wing. Now, acquiring me could become one, but I don’t think that is their strategy especially with the launch of their Ambassador (Partner) program. I am a Partner btw, so contact me if you are looking at them as I have a magic partner code. And while I think their OnDemand product is outstanding I like being able to recommend different solutions when the situation warrants. I’d likely also have to stop writing BrowserMob scripts as well which would be factored into any sale price, but is something to keep in mind when selling out to a Service company.

Selling to Neustar (which bought BrowserMob last year) has all the same problems, only flipped around.

So what about a pure Consulting company? Thoughtworks is where Selenium was created and does make sense to some degree, but from all accounts, you are on the road as a Thoughtworker way too much. I also think I know more ex-Thoughtworkers than I do current ones. Leandog would be a much better fit and I have done work for them in the past. (Last I looked I was even listed on their website.) I’d be a bit scared of the travel with them too though, and I’m not sure how much of their customer base is Python or PHP which are my best languages (though I am not unfamiliar with Ruby as well).

In either acquisition scenario there would have to be a line item to get me proper work clearance for the US (which is a pain).

What If … ‘I got an investor’

I think bootstrapped companies tend to stick closer to their original entrepreneurial goals, but of course they [often] suffer from lack of capital to really expand and start to scale. Which is where I am now. I’m trying to build out a couple products and do consulting at the same times. Sometimes the two line up, sometimes they don’t.

So were I to take investment from a VC (or Angel) what would I do? In a word, hire! But in a very targeted manner. I think for the model that I have going, what I need to be successful are testers who know how to program. The distinction between developers-who-test and testers-who-develop is oft argued but I think its important. Automation experience certainly helps, but this is along the lines of ‘hire for character; you can teach skills’. I can teach them the automation how-to but you can’t teach the natural ‘think like a tester’ that is essential in awesome automation. Oh, and of course they need experience in teaching. There is a big gap between being able to do something and communicate how to someone who is still running headlong into a learning curve.

For revenue purposes, I would need a Java programmer first. As much as I dislike the language, it is used a lot and I end up turning away work at least once a week for it. The next two are interchangeable in hiring order; a Python person and a PHP one. They would be working, when not on client stuff, on Py.Saunter or SaunterPHP.

That puts the company at four people with others brought in as necessary (on contract initially), and I’m fine with remote work so likely wouldn’t need a ‘proper’ office and could continue to sublet where I am. With runway for a year I’m thinking the investment would have to be somewhere around $450 000. Which is not a small amount (at least to me) but I’m pretty sure that with a bit of a marketing push that support contracts for Saunter could become a decent revenue source. Not to mention more and more companies are looking for Selenium help as they realize that even though the software cost is zero, the cost of not doing things ‘right’ is a lot more.

So anyways. That’s what’s being going around my head the last couple days as a result of some press releases, etc. that I stumbled across. By no means am I putting out a ‘for sale’ sign, but these sorts of situations are ones that business owners need to think through. I just happen to do a lot of that thinking out loud and in public.

(Oh, and for the non-Canadians, Robert Borden, the 8th Prime Minster of Canada is on our 100 dollar bills)