Posted on April 3, 2012 in Uncategorized by adam2 Comments »

So last week I was in New Orleans for STPCon and one of the things I did was a 15-ish minute gabfest on Set Course For Awesome (as a ‘Career Tester’). One of my supporting ideas for it is that you need to shut up, listen, and figure out what it is you are supposed to be providing information on. (Protip – its not what you think it is; or the second thing; or even likely the third thing.)

One trick I have started to intentionally using is to understand why something is the way it is. Especially for the things that stand out as particularly bone-headed. Often a series of perfectly rational thoughts happened in a perfectly logical order only to have nasty repercussions.

There are lots of examples of this, but when I was in New Orleans I took a ‘pirate tour’ (I know, shocking) and it provided yet another example of this.

  • In 1788, a candle lit a bit of curtain and started a pretty nasty fire
  • It was Good Friday, and the Cathedral bells had burlap on them so as to not ring until Easter Monday
  • New Orleans burned. Almost to the ground.
  • But they rebuilt! In stone!
  • And inside each stone building was a well — not only for drinking purposes but to have ready access to water in case of another fire
  • Mosquitos breed in water
  • There is water in every home
  • Between 1817 and 1904 there were over 41 000 yellow fever deaths
  • Yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitos

All perfectly reasonable individually, but viewed through the lens of history, 41 000 people died from yellow fever because a candle’s flame caught a curtain.

The trick, especially for those of us who see lots of companies is to trace back things and where possible address the original concern rather than just the current manifestation of the concern.

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)

Posted on December 29, 2011 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

Want to absolutely kill my productivity? Introduce me to a timeboxed game on pattern recognition (Bejeweled, Tetris) or bubble stacking (Bubble Island). Facebook is very dangerous for these. One of my favourite is Diamond Dash by Wooga — which happens to have a number of other games too.

A week or two ago I was playing Diamond Dash while babysitting a script run a little monster appeared on the screen saying something like “Get to level 5 on Monster World and earn a special bonus gem”. Ooooo! Bonus gem! So like a good little pawn I got to level 5 and unlocked my gem.

But now I started thinking. If these two games are integrated, what about the other ones? And so I leveled a couple more times in Monster World and soon a Raccoon showed up in the corner. Play 10 levels of Bubble Island and get a unlockable plant (Monster World is one of this silly ‘farming’ games). I’m more than happy to play 10 games of Bubble Island and so got my plant.

Is it integrated with the other games? Not yet, or at least not so far that I have discovered.

This got me thinking though that this is exactly the right strategy for creating multiple properties on a social platform like Facebook. I would go so far as to suggest that part of the product roadmap for an additional property is the integrations with the existing ones. Taking the Wooga games as the example I would likely do the following (just off the top of my head).

  • Bubble Island -> Monster Island (existing) – Play 10 games and get a plant (Bubble Bush); though the plant should be integrated into the gameplay. So far none of the ‘quests’ have required it.
  • Monster World -> Bubble Island – Plant a Bubble Bush and get 3 fireball special shots; available once a day
  • Monster World -> Diamond Dash (existing) – Get to level 5 and unlock the Plasma Gem
  • Monster World -> Diamond Dash (existing) – Plant a Heart Flower and get an extra heart; available once a day
  • Diamond Dash -> Monster World – Once you get the spellbook, collect certain amount of diamonds to add new Arabian Knights themed decorations
  • Diamond Dash -> Bubble Island – Once you get the spellbook, collect certain amount of diamonds to add new level in the Adventure mode appears

And that doesn’t even include the Happy Hospital and Magic Land games (which I think are the Monster World engine with Pets and Knights respectively) which I would likely do at the higher levels of Monster World since the quests there take a while to compete so while they are churning away you could be doing the lower level, quicker ones of a different game.

The point being that social networking works best when the network effect kicks into overdrive. That process can be given a boost by incentivizing your existing audience to try other things that they have already shown that they keep coming back to.

Oh. And I would make sure a list like this was published somewhere reputable that was highly SEO’ed. Discovering during gameplay is one thing, but making it know that you can get these things if you play just a bit more could have value too.

Posted on December 24, 2011 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

The internets were ablaze this week with SOPA stuff, and in near-inferno around GoDaddy supporting (but that is a different post altogether). And while it is nice that the geek community is up in arms, its a bit concerning how little mainstream media attention it is receiving. Even more so from the media up here since Canada is in ARIN and so [apparently] falls under the US government’s jurisdiction. Not to mention the the copycat law that will be introduced using the American one as ‘proof’ of its good-idea-ness

But even if (when) the beast that is SOPA gets enacted there will be ways to get around it. Heck, there already are a couple plugins for Firefox that do just that. Which leads me to an idea.

We Believe in an Open Web. And we’re dedicated to keeping it free, open and accessible to all

This is the main text on the Mozilla website. What if they just included these plugins, or the tricks that they do in the Firefox browser. The day that it gets presidential assent is when it should should go into Aurora.

But this post isn’t to call out [just] Mozilla and put them in political bind (since they are incorporated in the US). Google has been just as strong in their opposition and they control the Chromium/Chrome browser. And apparently Microsoft opposes it too, and of course they control Internet Explorer.

Of course, Google and Microsoft could give a damn about the Open Web…

Posted on December 17, 2011 in Uncategorized by adam2 Comments »

There seems to be two growing schools of thought about badges forming (or at least becoming more visible.). Not surprisingly, I think the origins of these have to do with who has what in the game. For instance, the StackOverflow folks have from the beginning talked up using points and badges as a recruiting tool. Oh, and they have a for-money job board…

What is really concerning to me though is an increase in the number mentions of badges being used as a stick. Case in point is an email on the Open Badges mailing list this morning.

Obviously we can all see the benefits of having such a badge system that is supplemental to formal education. In the workplace, specific skill badges can be connected to increased salaries. Right now at my workplace we are dealing with secretaries who are untrained in newer technologies and they are unable to assist faculty and administrators in their departments. Now if we accept and link specific badges with salary raises or promotions, now we have intrinsic value for them to actually pursue more training.

No. What you have is another stick to beat people with. Horrible corporate training has always existed only now you might get a badge rather than a certificate you print at the end. Yes, some will try for the badge the same way some would put the certificate saying they completed the corporate ergonomics training on their cube wall.

Now, with the whole gamification trend, I expect corporate training management systems to grow badges, if they haven’t already, as a way to tracking who has done what. That’s not really using badges though, that’s just replacing checkboxes with graphics. Kinda like how a lot of teams transition to Agile by calling the Project Manager a Scrum Master…

Another risk that comes from using badges as a stick is invasion of corporate interests that have nothing to do with the improvement of the badge holder, but of the badge issuer. Certified Tester badge anyone? You know there will be dozens of those if the idea of badges takes off. And like the certificates they supplement you’ll be able to buy them rather than earn them rather than earn them.

Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2011: The Higher Education Bubble talks about badges supplementing formal education — in what feels kinda stick-like. It is a good article on the whole though. Yes, we (society) need to rethink credentialing and accreditation — tried to cross a border for work recently only having a highschool diploma? Saying you need to have certain badges from certain issuers for a job or raise however is just replacing one broken system with another.

Badges, to me, should be not forced upon someone but the carrot that inspires learning. Learning that would likely happen anyways actually, but just provide an indicator of having done it. Again, I fall back onto the example of Cubs. There are around 45 badges a Cub could earn during their three years, but they don’t have to. Yes, they’ll get some just by showing up and doing the activities we (the leaders) plan, but a lot more need them to show their own initiative. Some will, and some won’t. And that’s ok.

And know what? They’ll all be allowed to move up to Scouts. If badges were being used as a stick there wouldn’t be nearly as much enthusiasm around them or the programs. Actually, it would look at lot like a corporate environment.

Posted on December 7, 2011 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

Shockingly, companies don’t just cede control of their roadmaps to me so I’m left to just blog about what I would do if I did wrest control of them. To continue a recent topic series, I’m tackling Mozilla.

Mozilla appears to be downplaying Firefox as the only thing it does and is emphasizing its mission of creating a Internet that is open. Firefox is currently its largest tool in order to achieve that mission, and likely will be for some time, but I suspect we will continue to see play more of a supporting role and/or means-of-financing other work.

In the place of Firefox the Web Maker meme will become more broadly spread. If I was creating schemes for 2012 and beyond I would look to badges to drive this. In fact, I would make them central. For every project that Mozilla undertakes, the question of integration into the badges idea should be asked.

What spurred this idea was the weekly Community Call yesterday. About 1/3 of it was a discussion around Drone Journalism which is the use of unmanned drones (mini helicopters, etc.) to capture footage for film or citizen journalism. This is kinda interesting for a make-your-own-drone perspective and from being able to capture/disseminate information when it is being controlled by ‘official’ sources, but I’m not seeing how it fits into the Mozilla mission. Sure, it could be a consumer of Popcorn.js, but that’s really about the limits I can see in terms of Open Web and Web Makers.

Let’s go with the notion that the linkage to Popcorn.js is the correct one. If so then there could be a badge series for Drone Journalism:

  • Created a Popcorn video using a commercial drone
  • Created a Popcorn video using a home-made drone
  • Report on a Community event using a drone

Or something similar. Certainly something like the MoJo (Mozilla Journalism) stuff could have a badge sequence, School Of Webcraft already has one, the HTML5 evangelists inside Mozilla also have something I think. Last week Mitchell Baker (Chief Lizard Wrangler at Mozilla) said in a talk at the Toronto offices that Mozilla is not going to be political organization, but even some of its grassroots Open Web/Privacy stuff could have a badge system; Defender of the Internets! badge anyone?

The ideas of Open Web and Web Makers are powerful, and absolutely is where I would point Mozilla towards (not as if Google or someone else is going to do it; ‘evil’ is relative it seems). But without a framework to hang initiatives around they risk being just a collection of independent projects under a large umbrella. Badges, which is also part of the Web Maker idea, could provide an ideal structure to connect all these things.

Posted on December 4, 2011 in Uncategorized by adam1 Comment »

David Christiansen runs TroopTrack and posted a bit of an analysis of your conversion rates; powered largely by a couple graphs. Its an interesting analysis, but what is really good from a startup perspective is the findings in the Correlation or causation? section.

  • Customers who have a good experience with a support ticket during their trial have a higher likelihood of purchasing a subscription
  • Customers who see an improvement made during their trial period have a higher likelihood of purchasing a subscription

That is an important finding, and one that in my gut I think is more true for more products than people give credit.

When I was at HP we pretty much knew who was considering buying our product because the Support group had contract with them. Right now I have a similar interaction with people who start to use Saunter — though that is because I need to update the docs.

SaaS products are easy to capture this information and interaction; an opensource product that you sell service and support around is much harder. And a problem I need to figure out at some point in the near future.

Disclaimer: David is a friend and I want TroopTrack to succeed — even if it is so he can add Canadian stuff to it.

Posted on December 2, 2011 in Uncategorized by adam2 Comments »

And so I continue to think aloud Badges and Web Makers.

If you look at the badges at p2pu which is pilot project for the open badges stuff at Mozilla one thing stands out. They’re just text, and frankly, kinda boring. This might be enough for people who are used to static badges like those on StackOverflow but I think it completely fails to capture the attention of the next generation of Web Makers.

I have no information to back up that claim other than what I observe around ‘real’ badges at Cubs with the kids looking at them, guessing what they are, etc.

Two years ago, George Dinwiddle awarded me an ‘Agile Merit Badge’ at the Agile Conference. While cleaning up the basement from a partial flood I found it again and it clicked a few more things in place in my brain.

First, the they need to be image driven, not text based. Not the least bit because the world does not communicate in only one language. (Hurray for the arrogance of the English speaking world!) Secondly, through the use of steganography the information about issuer, what was done to earn, repudiation authority (thinking something like OCSP — OBSP?) and such could be embedded in it.

But more importantly, an image can be turned into something tangible; like a real badge. Something that could be stitched onto a physical backback or blanket.

Of course this badge thinking also lines up well with one of Mozilla’s goals around the Web Maker stuff I think. How do we get the next generation to learn about how the Internet is built so they can make it their own? Well, there is a global organization for youth that already has an established tradition of badges; Scouting.

One thing I would like to see MoFo do is work with Scouting to create a ‘World Wide Web’ badge. Here is the requirements for the closest thing that Scouts Canada has to this; the Computer Badge. It is very dated and desperately needs a refresh. Or better still, replacement by something else that is relevant to the kids in the program now and in the next decade or so.

I realize the Internet is more than just the web, but let’s face it, that is the mechanism for 90% of people’s interaction with it.

Off the top of my head, the requirements could be something like

  1. Explain what the following HTML elements do: …
  2. Explain the role of HTML, CSS, JS
  3. What are the dangers around Phishing, Pharming, Spam?
  4. Something about privacy
  5. Something about online bullying
  6. Create a simple homepage for yourself or your pack

That would give the basics of both Web Safety and Web Makerism to kids earning the badge. (It would also be an easy badge to complete in an evening at the local library or similar with lots of computers and X-Ray Goggles).

Badges for Scouts and Venturers could require higher levels of sophistication; CSS, Canvas, Video, etc.

There is actually precedent for organizations working with Scouts (well Canada at least) with the new Scuba badge (Scouts, Venturers) that was done in conjunction with PADI. That organization for that badge makes perfect sense. I think Mozilla makes perfect sense for something about the Web. And how awesome would a Mozilla head badge be?!?!

They know how to contact me; in the meanwhile I need to figure out who to contact in Scouts Canada about this. This idea could have legs.

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