Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Year Full of Learning

As the end of the year is coming closer, the time has come to look back and reflect. So many things happened since December 2016. One of our people managers at my company had asked me lately how my last year has been for me and I answered that I might be an exceptional case, but for me it was grandiose, splendid, awesome. And here's why.
  • Inspired from Agile Testing Days 2016, I started this blog 13 months ago. Writing this, I just realized that this very post is my 30th post so far. I never made a plan about what to write, but as soon I got started ideas just evolved in everyday life. Looking back, I see that blogging helped me reflect on what happened and document my thinking at that point in time. I am already curious what I might think about my current thoughts one year from now. Furthermore, I made my achievements as well as my failures graspable for myself by writing them down. My blog is serving me as my travel journal on a long way of learning.
  • Motivated by the pact Toyer and I made one year ago, we started to submit at conferences - and got accepted! This kicked off a whole new learning path for me. Before, I did not have public speaking among my short-term goals; it rather sneaked in. But investing time here and improving myself was absolutely worth it, as it opened up many possibilities for me. One of the major things for me personally was that it enabled me to join not only one conference sponsored by my company, but three overall this year! This resulted in so many lessons and insights to bring home. Another invaluable point here was that I found Toyer as a long-term learning partner this way. We supported us throughout the year and gave advice or feedback on many different topics. We even have a new pact challenge for next year!
  • For the very first time, I finally started to join local meetups this year. Different meetups on different topics: testing, coding dojos, agile, lightning talks, CI/CD. Getting out of my comfort zone here was really valuable for me. It was great to find those local communities and connect with people sharing interests in the same area! Also, offering myself as a meetup speaker was a great way to practice my conference talks upfront and get early feedback to improve them.
  • A huge change in my product team's way of collaboration was that we gave the mobbing approach a try - and loved it! To this day, we are frequently having mob sessions on one or two topics a month and learning so much from each other this way while having fun together. All brains focused to solve the problem at hand, getting instant feedback from all sides, setting us up for accidental learning. I am really curious how we will benefit from this approach in the next year. In any case, it brought the team a lot closer already.
  • I started to pair with my developers. On testing, during development, on communication tasks, on whatever. Just lately we had a great team retrospective providing each other feedback. We should note down what we loved about the other and what we would like to do in the next year with them. While doing so, I realized that my wishes for next year were centered around pairing and even closer collaboration! In an ideal day I probably won't spent much time of the day alone in front of my own laptop anymore. I'm curious how this will work out and what impact it will have.
  • My team's constellation changed multiple times during the last year. We even had a complete restart after our company's team self-design event. Still, we managed to grow closer with every change. Just these days, one developer left and two new joined, so our challenge to maintain what's good in our team culture and improve everything else goes on.
  • My company's testing community grew over the year. Several new testers joined in; but we also lost others not identifying as testers. I'd say we are still in a sort of norming phase. Still, we could share lots of knowledge already and learned whom we can ask for support on different topics. The next steps will be to grow closer and to enable the community to run on its own.
  • Becoming a speaker, I felt I had a better entry point into the external agile and testing community. I got to know so many great people this way! And I'm thankful for all of them. Also, by speaking to many testers outside my company, I am realizing the amount and kind of privilege I have. Privilege regarding freedom, possibilities, opportunities, respect, attention, and so on. I'll try my best to use this privilege to give it to all those who lack it and make it a better place for all of us.
As every year, good things and bad things happened. There are always things to improve. However, this year was clear in my favor, so I have lots of good things to list here.

Reflecting on the last year makes me realize that I took a great leap regarding personal development. I'd never have thought I'd be where I am right now; that I would actually have this blog and had spoken publicly at several occasions at this point. My thanks go out to everybody encouraging me to leap and supporting me on my way! I hope I can give that back one time by giving it to those who need it as I needed it.

Right now I feel that I'm living just on the rim of my comfort zone; sometimes retreating within, sometimes stepping just outside, but never going to far towards the danger zone. By doing so, my personal comfort zone continuously got larger throughout the last year. Re-reading what I just wrote makes me realize how much this still fits to Abby Fichtner's keynote "Pushing the Edge on What's Possible"; my initial inspiration to actually push for all those good things I listed above.

All in all, I'm ready for the new year to come. I already see some next challenges ahead, but let's see what the new year will actually bring.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Pact - Not a Remake, but a Sequel

If you've followed this blog for some time, you'd probably read about the deal I made with Toyer Mamoojee in 2016. By continuously supporting and encouraging each other we did indeed achieve our stretch goal and returned to Agile Testing Days as speakers.

What's So Scary?

A new pact for 2018? Yes, a new pact with Toyer and even further people from a growing pact group. But what? Well, the core question here is: What's my next challenge? What scares me most nowadays? This time it was not as obvious for me as last year. So I started brainstorming, trying not to overthink it and to listen to my gut feeling. These were roughly the thoughts passing through my mind.
So, what scares me..
Well, blogging (and especially pressing the publish button) is something that still scares me - but it got way easier throughout the last year. What do people say? If it scares you, do it more often? Well, that was really working for me in this case.
Public speaking!! Still scares me, but that's the deal of last year... Well, and here as well I could reduce my fears a lot. Making all those baby steps really helped to lower the scariness level, by exploring outside my comfort zone but not too far from it. And honestly it felt great overachieving my initial goal in the end. Still, I can't pick that one again.
Pairing with experts. The deep talk with Maaret about personal and community development at Agile Testing Days this year triggered so many thoughts. And she invited me to pair with her! I'm frightened but I have to try this, it will be an awesome learning experience even if I totally fail. Oh and she came up with the idea to initiate an online mastermind exploratory testing peer conference. And wants me to kick it off together with her! Still speechless.
Ah I know another one: getting feedback! Don't know why this is still so scary; just thinking of it is. I made a lot of great experiences this year getting feedback, and even before. Mostly only good came out of it! And it was always a chance to learn from it. However, it still scares me a lot. Making my skills transparent and myself vulnerable is already quite scary, and then getting feedback on it? Oh my.
But it's not only about getting feedback. Giving feedback is just as scary! Especially on a personal level. Why is this still so hard for me? Why do I catch myself using so many words for such simple things. I'm not making things any better by that, for anybody. Maybe I should just not give feedback on a personal level...? Liz Keogh shared great food for thought on that topic in her keynote at Agile Testing Days. Or should I just practice giving feedback even more to make it less scary?
That makes me think of the Women and Allies gathering at the conference. My deeply personal scary topic here was how to react well on bad talk, or bad situations. I can be such a coward sometimes!! I really hate this. I don't want this to be the future me. Talking about this with my colleague made me even remember that I had more courage already before! But get me burned once slightly, and I take this as easy excuse ever since. Arrgh.
What else? Writing a book. Yep. I still remember what some of my colleagues told me after I shared the great news that I had been accepted as first-time speaker: "Great! And next year you're writing a book." Oh my. Sounds simple, right? I know it's definitely not. I finally have the feeling I can provide some value by sharing my thoughts in blogs and even talks... but I definitely don't feel experienced enough to write a book.
Come on, think bold. Organize a conference! What Viv did on his very own with SwanseaCon! What Patrick and Kristīne did with bringing TestBash to Germany! What Maaret, Franzi and Llewellyn do with the European Testing Conference! They invest so much time and effort. I can't even imagine how much.
Another topic: Reaching out to the community for help. One of the best things I ever did! But I still do it rarely and it costs quite some guts. Despite the good experience I had with it. Really, I cannot understand myself sometimes.
Hm, last year I got inspired by Abby Fichtner. Who or what inspired me the most at Agile Testing Days this year? Maaret with mob testing, learning by osmosis and our deep conversations? Angie with owning our narrative? Janet with using those pivotal moments in life? That we're indeed a strong community and it's worth to give and get back?
This brings me to another point. We talked about personal development and our midterm goals at a meetup of my company's testing community. I even hosted that session myself and asked everyone to create any drawing or mind map or notes representing them. My drawing showed that I invested a lot of effort on blogging, public speaking and sharing with the external community this year. And I focused a lot on pairing, mobbing, close collaboration in my product team. But what about those other core areas of exploration and automation I'd like to improve?
I hate to admit it, but I fear failure, and I fear "losing my face". Showing my weaknesses. I am aware of many of them; probably unaware of many others. I hate the idea that I could potentially show how few things I know, or how few things I am able to do. Did I mention that I hate getting feedback? Even if I am well aware that it's the most valuable thing another person can do for me?
Coming so far, I just realized: This is an experiment! I could just give it a try and it's okay if it fails. And if it succeeds, perfect! Then I learned something for my life. I could even share it back with the community. On my blog. In a talk. This gets me thinking...
To add an afterthought: We do exploratory testing sessions with tester candidates in our interviews. Following the approach Elisabeth Hendrickson describes in her book "Explore It!". Considering my fear of making my weaknesses obvious - I probably would completely fail our interview... Still, I happily put others through that experience. As everybody learns from it, right? Does that seem right to you?

Now What?

Reflecting on my own thinking, I realized there's sort of a pattern here. Many things that scare me the most nowadays can be combined in a challenge which will lead to general growth as a person, as well as professional growth as a tester.

Last year Toyer's and my objectives had been the same: "return to Agile Testing Days as speakers". This year, our next goals diverge - but we still encourage, support, and hold each other accountable. That's the core part of the pact: stretch yourself - get support - achieve more than you thought you would on your own.

As this time my part of the pact is not as simple and easily comprehensible as last year, I felt the need to formulate the problem in a more elaborate way.
Challenge: Become a better skilled tester
For a long time I was the only tester in my companies, without having a mentor or more experienced person to learn from. Now I am finally not alone anymore as I have fellow testers at my company and found the external testing community for myself. However, I still have problems to see where I actually stand and how I can improve my testing skills. I read and think a lot; but I don't practice enough. There are so many testing areas to deep dive into, but I feel I need to fix my basics first: exploratory testing as well as automation. My personal challenge here: I already experienced how much value close collaboration and concrete feedback can bring, how safe this can be, and how great this environment is to learn. However, it still scares me to test together with other testers as I fear their feedback when making my weaknesses transparent.
My Hypothesis:
I believe that pairing and mobbing with fellow testers from the community on hands-on exploratory testing and automation will result in continuously increasing skills and knowledge as well as serendipitous learning. I’ll know I have succeeded when I noted down at least one concrete new insight or applied one new technique per testing session and shared that with the community.
The Experiment:
  • I do at least ten pair or mob testing sessions until end of October 2018, meaning one per month in average until next Agile Testing Days.
  • Each pair or mob testing session lasts at least 90min.
  • I pair or mob test with at least 6 different testers.
  • The fellow testers come from both my company's internal and the external community.
  • The topics focus on either exploration or automation. They can cover special topics like security, performance, accessibility, etc. but don't have to.
  • I publish my lessons learned on my blog, one post per testing session.
  • I make my personal challenge transparent in my company in form of an objective with key results and track my progress there to provide an example for my colleagues.

Why This?

When writing up all those thoughts it struck me. To come to above reasoning and my chosen challenge, I had several influences and especially influencers.

First of all, this year my product team first gave the mobbing approach a try - with huge success! We continue find more value in it. We even added it to our team's interview procedure nowadays.

Then Lisa Crispin shared her tips when pairing with developers which inspired me earlier this year to discipline myself and find more time to do so within my team. I even thought of cross-team pair testing already to help each other improve their skills. Just lately I had again a great pairing experience.
Additionally, I got heavily inspired by a set of awesome blog posts by Sal Freudenberg running the experiment of a coding tour and writing about her experiences afterwards; so far about pairingmobbing, and again pairing with a different developer.
Then Agile Testing Days came, with the mob testing tutorial - finally finding myself practicing together with other testers, not only developers. This was scary already, but we all had a very good experience and learned a bunch together.

And then there's Maaret herself of course. My mind keeps wandering back to our conversations. It was wonderful to exchange thoughts, share fears, get feedback, getting offered to pair test and to initiate an online peer conference together. There were so many key moments for me at Agile Testing Days this year, so many growing opportunities. But now I realized that for me personally, this was the very core key moment regarding my personal development: getting the offer to pair test with a very experienced tester; and accepting.

Ready. Set... Go!

Granted, I've elaborated quite a bit on my part of the new pact. A bit too much to remember the new challenge easily. So here's the short version: "return to Agile Testing Days as testing traveler". As a traveler I'll be learning step by step as I go, picking up things on my way. I'll be learning from the people I join on the topics we'll touch. I'll be receiving but also giving back, trying to trigger situations of serendipitous and accidental learning.

All in all, this is a big push towards scariness for me. But I'm already looking forward to what I may find on this journey. So, off to new frontiers! The testing tour is about to start.