On Privilege, Power & Perspective

I am a 64 year old Caucasian male. I live in a middle class suburb of Melbourne, Australia. I was educated to a level where I can make informed decisions and understand the implications of my actions. I have access to world leading health care. I can afford to buy food and drink whenever I need to. I have zero debt and unless I make serious errors of judgement I should be able to live the rest of my life in the same way I have so far – safe from famine and hunger, safe from war and bloodshed, safe from suppression and tyranny. I know right from wrong and have a clearly defined set of ethics that guide me whenever I need to make decisions or take action. I make no apology for any of this. It is my context. It is my life. It is my current existence. However, my life has not always been this good and I know what it is to struggle – admittedly, within my own white bread world.

So it is with the perspective (from my brief personal history) that I make the following statement – “I promise unequivocally that whenever I see an abuse of privilege and/or power, within my community, I will act. I will not sit on my hands or be a spectator. I will not look to someone else to take a stand. I will do whatever I can, with whatever means I have at my disposal, to highlight and address this abuse”.I have in the past acted strongly against bullying both in the workplace and my personal life. I have in the past called out and dealt with unethical behavior, personal bias and discrimination. I have resigned from organisations when I have encountered actions that have challenged my personal code of ethics. From today I am going to redouble my efforts and increase my focus on what I consider to be these totally unacceptable behaviors. 

Today I make a promise to all those within my community (who do not possess the same level of privilege and power as I) that I will act on their behalf. This is not from a perspective of being a vigilante, this is about being a decent human being who doesn’t cross the road or close their eyes to avoid an intolerable situation.

When men (and, in my experience, it is men 99% of the time) abuse their privilege and power they are showing weakness. These “men” are morally bankrupt and ethically bereft. These “men” are cowards who pray on those with less privilege and power. These “men” should be shown up for what they are – bullies, tyrants, abusers – some of the ugliest people in our society.

By letting these “men” get away with the behaviors I have described we give them more privilege and more power. We feed their hunger. We protect them. We encourage them. We even support them.

I am no figurehead or leader. I do not possess fortune or fame. I am an “average Joe”, with my own failings (that I try to learn from every day). But I will endeavor to “punch above my weight” in this situation and lead by example.

Today, I am one person standing up and saying “If you cross the line by disrespecting, disempowering or humiliating others less fortunate than yourself I will be there and I will not look the other way. I WILL ACT. I WILL STAND AGAINST YOU. I WILL DO ALL I CAN TO TAKE AWAY THE PRIVILEGE AND POWER YOU ARE ABUSING AND MISUSING.

In the meantime, I am here to provide whatever support I can to those who have been abused and disrespected. I will not pry or judge or meddle. I will respect the privacy of those who approach me. I will honor my promises. I will not wait for others to follow.

None of these self-absorbed, self-indulgent, deluded individuals have power over me and I do not seek to have power over them. I just want everyone in my community to feel safe and respected. I do this from a belief system where LOVE CONQUERS ALL.

Dateline: Sunday October 22;  Page, Arizona

Advertisements

V Is for Value (My A to Z of Software Testing, Part 8)

What is your value as a software testing professional? Is it just the salary you command or is it something more? Can you manipulate your value? And, if so, how?

I’ve written about how I assess and hire software testers in the past, but the focus then was on attitude. This time I’m taking a slightly different tack and looking at value by focusing on the time before you are in the room with me. This is about how you get to the point where you believe you have sufficient value to even be talking to me about working with and/or for me.

I have incredibly high standards regarding my own abilities and therefore I also have high expectations regarding those I employ. Your value to me (and my organisation) is contextual, based upon a number of factors. The main ones being flexibility (where and how I can use you), technical capability (how appropriate are your skills to my challenges), self-sufficiency (how much guidance do you require to be able to get the job done) and durability (when the going gets tough etc.). As I have said in the past, these are secondary to my number one requirement, which is your attitude.

So, how do I assess your value with regard to each of these capabilities?

With respect to flexibility, the main criteria is based upon your capability to perform multiple roles within the team. You have very little value if you can only perform one role for me. On the other hand if I can use you in a wide variety of roles (they don’t all have to be to the same level of competency) I will see you as a very valuable team member. In sport we talk about utility players or all-rounders. There are players who can play in multiple positions for the team and therefore (among other things) can provide extra cover when injuries or suspensions occur. Flexibility is also a state of mind and this is essential in the ever changing world of technology.

Secondly, we have technical capability. There are far too many technical capabilities that can be listed here, but proficiency comes in many shapes and sizes when we talk about testing software. For me, problem solving and pattern recognition sit at the heart of our profession and what makes these so key is that they are hard to learn. However, the more technologically focused proficiencies are all learnable and therefore your ability to take on new ideas and techniques is also key.

Thirdly, we have self-sufficiency. Even if I am hiring you for a junior role I expect you to be able to think on your feet and be creative in your solving of problems. These problems can include the investigation of something you have no prior knowledge of or seeking out those who do have the knowledge you require. My style of management and leadership is one of providing a goal and some context and then allowing you to find the simplest and most efficient way to achieve it. This may take several iterations of thinking and analysis (with occasional input form me) but you do the groundwork and I will typically point you in the direction that seems most appropriate based upon my own understanding and analysis. It is absolutely key for me to allow those working for me to develop their own way of doing things as I don’t want a team where everyone thinks and works in the same way.

Lastly, we have durability. What I mean by durability is your ability to rebound from setbacks, recover from errors in judgement and hang in there when we have tough days and tough assignments. I build supportive and caring teams and therefore your ability to empathise with and support others (when they are struggling) comes under this heading too.

Dateline: Melbourne, Monday June 13 2016

My EuroSTAR 2015 Storybook

I’m a software tester through and through and part of my skillset is my ability to recognise patterns when processing input and/or data. The reason I say that I process stuff is because I analyse everything around me as well what is in presented to me – if you like, it’s my context. So, when I look back and review my experience at EuroSTAR 2015, I do so through several filters.

I look to see if the conference theme (Walking the Testing Talk) was adhered to by the majority of speakers on hand. I look to see if there was a diverse and interesting program – this isn’t just from a topic perspective but also a cultural and skills-level point of view. I look to see what add-ons the organisers have provided – and I don’t mean the vendors displaying their wares as if every product or service is the next silver bullet. I look at how consistently the support staff treat the attendees – are the younger ones treated with as much respect as us older, more mature folk? Most of all though, I look at how people are responding to their surroundings – are they really enjoying themselves?

So my final review (as the EuroSTAR 2015 TESTHuddle Community Blogger) is a series of short stories reflecting upon what I observed, what I heard, how I felt and (finally) my personal thoughts around whether anything could have been better.

The Story about the Conference Theme…. First off I’d like to state, for the record, that the theme title (Walking the Testing Talk) seemed a bit like “consultancy speak”. What I mean by this is that walking the talk is a rather trite way of saying we do what we say we will do – well from my perspective, that should go without saying! So, what percentage of speakers stuck to the theme? Based on the talks I attended four of the five keynotes met the criteria and about 80% of the Track sessions worked for me. However, several missed the mark by quite a margin. I know the Program Chair and his committee have a tough job slicing through hundreds and hundreds of submissions, but a clever title doesn’t mean you get an informative presentation. My personal favourite of all the talks I attended was one from a novice presenter (Susan van de Ven) who charmed us as well as informed us with her Mobile Testing: One Step Forward or Two Steps Back? Susan presented several stories of how her App Testing challenges have been playing out and even managed to inject some appropriate humour.

The Story of Diversity in the Program…. Did anything in the program surprise me? YES! I was super impressed with James Thomas talk entitled Your Testing is a Joke. Not only did James show his depth of knowledge of software testing techniques and processes but he managed to translate these into joked-focussed scenarios. My view has always been to have fun while you’re working and James certainly provided a fresh perspective on this. Did anyone in the program disappoint me? YES! I found two of the Keynotes (Kristoffer Nordström and Jeffrey Payne) very difficult to connect with and neither of their stories resonated with me – maybe I’m being over critical but there is a big difference between being enthusiastic and blasting our eardrums with rhetoric. Was the overall program strong enough? YES, I think so. I learnt quite a lot and validated plenty of my own ideas.

The Story about the Conference “Extras”…. EuroSTAR has created an exceptional offering around it’s TESTHuddle (aka Community Huddle) and TestLab concepts as adjuncts to the main program. I was fortunate enough to get very close to the TESTHuddle (via the SoapBox and TestCoffee ventures), but there was not enough time in the day to avail myself of everything on offer. Suffice to say that I believe that there is something for everyone in the Conference Extras bag.

The Story of the EuroSTAR Support Team…. From the moment I was greeted on the first morning by a host of smiling faces to collecting my coat on my final evening from the amazingly efficient cloakroom ladies I felt very well cared for. It takes considerable skill and charm to keep almost a thousand people happy for five days and I can honestly say that the support crew never stopped giving 100%. If I had a team like this in my organisation I would parade them up and down at every opportunity in order to show how great teamwork looks. An event like EuroSTAR doesn’t just happen, it requires respect and an understanding of many cultural requirements – these guys have it all in spades.

The Attendees Story… I wish I’d conducted a straw poll as people left the MECC, on the last day of the conference, so that I could provide proof of my feeling that the majority of attendees thoroughly enjoyed EuroSTAR 2015. Based upon my eye-witness assessment people left sessions early (as did I); people came to sessions late (as did I); people slept through sessions (not me, despite my jet-lag excuse); people heckled and insulted presenters (again, not me, but it was only in one session) and people cheered and gave standing ovations.

My People Story…. If there is one software tester who has brightened my life this year it is Patrick Prill (@TestPappy). He has been an inspiration to me (on Twitter) and to finally come face to face with this gentle giant of a man was a great start to my conference. Then there was the legendary Dot Graham, who gave an hour of her busy schedule to chat about what EuroSTAR means to her. Next came James Lyndsay (the latest recipient of the European Software Testing Excellence Award) who shared his passion for the TestLab and geekdom in general. Paul Gerard and Stuart Reid made me laugh out loud with their “double act” as we discussed crowd-testing (yes it can be VERY funny). Nathalie Roosenboom de Vries (@funTESTic) schooled me in the pronunciation of “Klaas Kers” – my Dutch alter ego. While James Thomas (@qahiccupps) convinced me that my testing is a joke. These folks provided just a few of my personal highlights – I know I’m not alone in experiencing such warmth and kindness.

My TESTHuddle Community Story…. It’s no secret that I would not have been at EuroSTAR 2015 without the good people behind the TESTHuddle Community. In appreciation of their efforts I took time out from my Reporter duties to present a SoapBox session on the impact a unified and committed software testing community can have on the future of our craft. I am now committed to following through on several initiatives with respect to building a stronger software testing community and I have the TESTHuddle guys to thank for their inspiration and support.

And, just before I go, for those of you who need some definitive numbers on how I saw EuroSTAR 2015, this is how I rated it….

Diversity of Content: 8/10

Quality of Keynote Speakers: 6/10

Quality of Track Sessions: 8/10

Quality of TESTHuddle initiatives: 10/10

Quality of TestLab: 9/10

Quality of exhibitors: 8/10

Availability/accessibility of Speakers for extra curricular discussions: 9/10

Quality of EuroSTAR Support Team: 10/10

Employees are People Too

What is this obsession that (far too many) businesses have with pushing their employees to the point of mental and physical exhaustion?

What sort of society have we created where people are encouraged to work 18 hours straight, without a break, just so the company we work for can turn a profit?

What sort of culture promotes profit over people?

I can tell you categorically, from very personal experience, that a business that puts profits before it’s people and encourages self-sacrifice is a business that will not last very long. Creating a business that truly supports it’s people, by mandating a balanced lifestyle of work, leisure and family, is a business that will thrive and remain successful. The true value of any business is it’s people, not it’s image or product. You can have a fantastic product, but if you treat your people like cannon fodder then you will have a short-lived business.

I’ve seen far too many people reduced to shrivelling wrecks because they have been put under unnecessary levels of pressure to produce an outcome (at all costs). How does the culture within a business get to a point where “toughness” is encouraged and “sensitivity” and “humility” are frowned upon? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard and/or seen the words “sensitive” and “emotional” used as negatives when describing someone’s personality. Since when did showing empathy become a negative?

As a Business and Technology Consultant for most of my life, I’ve been inside hundreds of organisations (from mega-businesses like IBM and CapGemini to small high street shops) and I can assure you that if you mistreat your people you will struggle to maintain a viable business. A simple gesture like an arm around a shoulder is very welcome in a good business, but is seen as harassment in a poor one. A word of encouragement is seen as supportive in a good business, but unnecessary in a poor one.

We need to encourage everyone to speak up (not put up) when they need support. We need to highlight and shame those businesses that encourage ugly and demeaning behaviour. We need to ensure that empathic businesses are recognised for what they are.

Humanity is supposed to set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Unfortunately, I see far too little humanity and far to much animal cunning in today’s business world. I, for one, am going to start highlighting and shaming businesses that lack humanity and discourage a balanced lifestyle. I may not change the world today, but maybe I can start a movement towards true caring and understanding throughout the business world.

If you work for a company that treats you inhumanely, LEAVE. If you are subjected to unnecessary pressure, seek support and guidance, THEN LEAVE. If you are harassed or bullied, write to the CEO, THEN LEAVE. Don’t rationalise. Don’t toughen up. Don’t support their ideology. There are millions of good businesses out there, you don’t have to work for a bad one.

“You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one” (Lennon).

Dateline: Melbourne, Thursday January 8, 2015

My Top 10 Projects – A Personal Retrospective

As 2014 draws to a close and 2015 looms on the horizon, I’ve decided to document a series of personal retrospectives of, what I consider, to be the Top 10 Projects of my software testing career. These projects span a period from 1995 to the present day – almost 20 years. Not all of these projects ran smoothly, but then the majority of projects don’t. I will detail the main challenges of each project, outline the solutions my teams and I designed and implemented to mitigate and/or resolve them and then provide some key learnings.

I will detail the projects chronologically, in order that you may see how my involvement in them shaped my career. It’s already been interesting for me to look back and identify those projects that I consider have provided my career highlights. There are many reasons why I consider these projects important and I will state up front, in each case, why the project made my Top 10. Most of these projects cost millions of dollars to deliver and involved hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people. All of these projects were delivered successfully, although not always on time and/or budget!!

Each project will have a discrete Blog allocated to it and in order to (hopefully) whet your appetites, I have provided a one-liner about each project, with deference to one of my all time favourite US TV shows….

The One about the Gay Reindeer (Australia)

The One about the Prime Minister who Killed off an Airline (Australia)

The One about Giving Away Free Food & Drink (UK)

The One about Gas (Australia)

The One about the “Laminated Project Plan” (Australia)

The One about Great Estimation or Lucky Guessing (Australia)

The One about Upgrading 10,000 Windows Desktops (Australia)

The One about Saving a CEO’s Job (Sweden & Australia)

The One about Pallet Black Holes & the Vendor who Lied (Australia)

The One about the 8,000 Live Bugs in Production (Australia)

Dateline: Wednesday December 31, 2014

Giving & Receiving Feedback – Both Sides of the Story

As software testers, we work in a world that is both business-focused and creative. Business-focused because there is usually a financial consideration attached. Creative because someone (or many someones) design/build/release a software-based product that requires blood, sweat and maybe a few tears to bring it to life.

In my opinion, central to this dichotomy is the question of ownership of the product or outcome. The majority of contracts today state that the intellectual property (a major component of ownership), associated with the product under development, resides with the benefactor or employer. Therefore, unless we are party to a contract that does not stipulate this, neither the software designer nor the developer retains ownership and therefore a somewhat nebulous state exists. Unfortunately, this nebulous state generally leads to various parties assuming ownership throughout the various phases of the SDLC. And here lies, for me, the real challenge. How to navigate this maelstrom of creativity. How to negotiate an acceptable outcome for all parties. How to balance time, quality and risk – the usual suspects.

Giving (and receiving) feedback is a crucial function within the SDLC and can become a minefield for those of us who fail to approach it with respect and candour. Respect for the creators and candour in achieving the most pragmatic outcomes.

Over the years I’ve noticed that when feedback comes into the picture ego is lurking somewhere close by and, depending on the maturity and gender of the individuals, positions taken can vary anywhere from openness to negotiation and collective acceptance to outright denial and/or blatant hostility.

No matter what form the feedback takes it needs to be given and taken both professionally and without prejudice. We’ve all been subjected to at least one of the myriad of reality TV shows, where some poor schlep has just poured heart and soul into their chosen art form (music, dance, food etc.) only to be told they suck big time. Most shows employ the good cop/bad cop approach where at least one expert judge provides meaningless platitudes. While most of the audience tune in to hear the bad cop routine, can you imagine taking your newly crafted software into a peer review and some Simon Cowell wannabe arcs up and says “that was shite, don’t give up your day job” – unfortunately, this is your day job… Thank goodness for Context, my friends.

My view on giving feedback is this – if your job description includes the provision of feedback, give it. If you give feedback, consider the context and the audience. My approach (in the majority of cases) is to act as if I am dealing with my kids. I consider how important the outcome is to them personally. I consider how important the outcome is to those around them. I consider whether my feedback will have implications on their long term development. I also consider where and when I will provide the feedback; sometimes feedback should be given privately and other times publicly (especially if it’s positive).

I have encouraged my kids to push boundaries and aspire to lofty goals and ideals and therefore my expectation is that they will sometimes fall short. This is a time for encouragement, not constructive criticism. This is a time to focus on the big picture, not a single goal.

If a software designer or developer is pushing boundaries (technically, creatively or both) we need to use different language than if they are reworking a long-standing feature or function. Creativity requires ego. Ego is fragile in most of us. The majority of folk haven’t learnt how to leave their ego at the front door when they enter the building. Therefore, consideration for others feelings is an important skill in the workplace. I’m not talking about molly-coddling or pampering, I’m talking about respect and consideration for your fellow workers. A junior developer needs guidance and understanding, a 20-year software veteran can take it on the chin – most days.

Relationships are a crucial part in giving feedback. The stronger the relationship, the better position you are in to provide difficult feedback. There will be times when your feedback needs to address poor decisions or outcomes and this is where empathy and flexibility are needed in spades. As a 35-year veteran of the software industry, I’ve undertaken pretty much every role within the SDLC and I can therefore empathise with the challenges of the majority of software professionals.

Experience is a great teacher and I’ve been fortunate to work on some amazing projects alongside some incredibly gifted people, which gives me perspective and confidence in dealing with the majority of software challenges. I still make mistakes, but I recognise them earlier than I used to. I still get frustrated with anything less than perfection, but I am more cognisant of other people’s perspectives.

I have developed a toolkit, from my many experiences, that I draw on every day in order to achieve the best possible outcomes. Here are a few that I think are pertinent to this story:-

1) Most outcomes will not be perfect.
2) Most outcomes require compromise (yours and theirs).
3) Context must determine how you deal with each feedback opportunity.
4) Feedback must never focus on the individual, it must focus on the challenge at hand and the eventual outcome.
5) Feedback must focus on specifics, not generalisations.
6) Feedback must be incisive and decisive, not wishy-washy.
7) Feedback must be balanced and fair.
8) Feedback must be timely and appropriate.
9) Feedback is a two-way stretch, make sure you understand the other person’s perspective.
10) Feedback should not be rushed; make the time, find the right environment and create the right energy.

Finally, points 9 and 10 above highlight a key component of giving feedback – listening. Listening to other folks ideas. Listening to other folks reasoning. Listening to other folks constraints and dependencies. Listening to other folks hopes and aspirations. We all come to creative endeavours with different skills and experiences. When you have learned how to truly listen, your ability to provide your own feedback will improve exponentially.

As Phil Collins once said – “We always need to hear both sides to the story”.

Dateline: Monday December 1, 2014

Can We Predict Outcomes or are we just Wasting Money?

Many years ago I watched an incredibly funny comedy sketch in which John Cleese played the part of a merchant banker. He was busy at his desk when he was approached by a rather nervous spotty youth who asked Cleese if he would like to part with a small sum of money in exchange for a colourful metal pin in the shape of a flag. “Is it a share certificate?” asked Cleese. “No”, replied the spotty youth. “Will it provide me with a return on my investment?”, Cleese continued. “Not as far as I can tell”, spluttered the spotty one. “Will I be able to pass it on to my children, as part of their inheritance?” The youth was visibly shaking as he provided another negative response. “So, what is the point of it” asks an exasperated Cleese. “Well sir, it will help poor families in Africa have a better education”. “But what about about the education of my family….”. The sketch descends towards pythonesque oblivion, but burns itself into the hearts of millions. The irony is peerless. The timing perfect. The utter dejection of the spotty youth palpable.

For me, there is a similar real-life scenario, where seemingly intelligent people walk up to complete strangers, give these strangers a little slip of paper (with a horses name on it) and accompany said slip of paper with a random amount of cash. These optimistic souls then stand around for the next four or five minutes while a handful of horses (ridden by men with high squeaky voices) coax them into a box and cajole them into running faster than any other horse in their vicinity. The fastest horse provides those fortunate to predict this outcome with a return on their outlay. The return, though, doesn’t always live up to expectations. That’s why it’s called gambling and not investing.

I need to declare right away that I do not frequent race tracks or betting shops and I don’t apportion money to an animal that I’ve never seen or heard of, in the hope that my bank balance will grow. Having said that, I’m also very different to the John Cleese character mentioned earlier. I spent thousands of hours as a kid playing card games and learnt how to count the cards in a deck. It gave me a healthy respect for prediction vs gambling. It also helped me understand the odds of a particular outcome occurring – like the expected result of a software test I may undertake.

It fascinates me that we are so certain of software testing outcomes that we generally document a single outcome when 10 probabilities/possibilities may exist (if only we took the time for more creative thinking). If I walk up to a computer and press the ON/OFF button any one of 20 possible outcomes may occur. However, I have seen predicted outcomes confined to “computer login screen appears“.

John Cleese’ character (in the comedy sketch) wasn’t questioning the spotty kid because he was a tight ass, he was purely applying his standard risk profiling techniques before parting with his hard-earned. I think it’s far more interesting for those learning the basics of software testing to look at our challenges from a non-technology perspective. They are far more likely to remember their application and importance.

Tomorrow, those of us fortunate enough to live in and around Melbourne (Australia) will enjoy a public holiday in order that we may join around 100,000 other hapless souls at the Flemington Racecourse for “the Race that Stops a Nation”. Mind-boggling as it may seem, we really do have an annual public holiday in order to celebrate the running of a thoroughbred horse race. It is a marketing executives’ wet dream – 100,000 suited, booted, fluted (and soon to be looted) race-goers. I will not be one of several million Australians lining the pockets of a large multinational on the chance that I may double, triple, quadruple (etc) my money. Instead I will send $40 to the SIDS and KIDS charity and expect no return on my investment.

Dateline: Melbourne, Monday November 3, 2014