Last Wednesday afternoon I anxiously asked my boss for permission to make changes on our application code repository. I said I wanted to try fixing some of the reported bugs listed on our tracking system, if there are no other resources available to pass them to. I made a case about myself not posing any problems because of the code review process built into our repository management tool, that there’s no reason for me to merge any changes without getting feedback from a senior developer first.
He smiled at me and gleefully said “Go ahead. I’m not going to stop you.“, to which I beamed and heartily replied “Thanks, boss!”
This is a turning point in my software testing career, to be able to work on the application code directly as needed. It is actually one of my biggest frustrations – to not be able to find out for myself where the bug lives in the code and fix them if necessary. It’s always a pain to be able to do nothing but wait for a fix, and for a fix to be dependent on the resources available. In my head I think that I’m available and maybe I can do something, but I don’t explicitly have access to the application itself and the code that runs it so I can’t do anything until I have the rights to do so. That’s how it always been. Software testers are often not expected to fiddle with code, at least in my experience, especially in the past where automation was not yet known to be useful as a testing tool. Now that I have the skills and the permission to work on the application repository, I feel that my reach for making an impact on application quality has now expanded remarkably well.
Now bug-fixing is not software testing work in the traditional sense. But I figured there’s no harm in trying to fix bugs and learning the nitty-gritty details of how our legacy applications actually run deep in the code. I believe that learning technical stuff helps me communicate better with programmers. It helps me test applications in a more efficient manner too. Of course I have to consistently remind myself that I am a software-tester-first-programmer-second guy and have to be careful not to fill my days playing with code and forgetting to explore our applications themselves. That said, there are ideas I really want to experiment within our software development process, towards the goal of improving code quality and feedback, and I can only tinker with those ideas inside the application repository itself. Dockerized testing environments, code linting, and unit tests are three things I want to start building for our team, ideas that I consider to be very helpful in writing better code but has not been given enough priority through the years.
I think I’m still testing software, just extending the knowledge and practice of the various ways I perform testing.
What problems do we face everyday that nobody seems to be trying to solve?
What’s something that’s true for me but a lot of people do not agree with? Why do I believe the opposite?
Where do we want to explore next?
What do we stand for? What values do we deem irrevocable?
Which habits do we need to exercise? Which ones should we stop?
Are we doing something for fun? How did we end up doing this particular thing we’re into now?
What questions do we need to ask someone?
Who do we need to thank?
Which stories about ourselves should we rethink?
When you find out that what you’ve shared into the world, something you’ve poured your heart into, is not recognized by those who you thought will be thankful for it, it isn’t really worthwhile to antagonize them. You’re just crying over spilled milk. Sure, cry, but please ask why you made the thing in the first place and give yourself an honest answer. Why was the thing important? Is it truly for your audience or for yourself? Did they actually tell you to create the thing, or was it an initiative? Why aren’t you satisfied with what you’ve done? Was it a requirement that they use the thing you’ve built too? Is it necessary to be recognized? Isn’t it enough to know that you made something of value at least for yourself?
And if you’ve made the thing you did for consumption and it wasn’t consumed by the people you think would, maybe the thing isn’t as valuable as you think it is. Listen to your audience, to their comments, and, perhaps, to their silence. Understand their wants and needs. Talk to them. Maybe something significant is missing.
Here’s an always challenging question: how are great software development teams formed? Managers, scrum masters, we all struggle to create continuous progress within our groups. And we know that there’s lots of factors in why that is – communication, skills, individual quirks. Sandy Mamoli and David Mole tells us that self-selection is the answer, and their book, Creating Great Teams (How Self-Selection Lets People Excel), provides us with the details.
Here are some notes from the book:
- Fundamentally, two factors determine whether a group will forge itself into a team: 1) Do these people want to work on this problem? 2) Do these people want to work with each other? Neither a computer program nor a manager can answer these questions. Only the employees who will do the work can.
- Self-selection is a facilitated process of letting people self-organize into small, cross-functional teams. Based on the belief that people are at their happiest and most productive if they can choose what they work on and who they work with, we think it’s the fastest and most efficient way to form stable teams.
- The best motivators are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy provides employees with freedom over some or all of the four main aspects of work: when they do it, how they do it, who they do it with, and what they do. Mastery encourages employees to become better at a subject or task that matters to them and allows for continuous learning. Purpose gives people an opportunity to fulfill their natural desire to contribute to a cause greater and more enduring than themselves.
- No one chooses to work on more than one team or project. Time and again organizations fall into the trap of optimizing resources rather than focusing on outcomes. People often believe that multitasking, having people work across several projects, and focusing on resource utilization are the keys to success, when in reality they’re not.
- People communicate face to face. There are barely any discussions about process or how to communicate. Team members just talk and coordinate and collaborate as needed. Things are much faster that way.
- In the spirit of letting people control their way of working, we never mandate whether a squad should run scrum, kanban, their own special creation, or a traditional way of working. Following Daniel Pink’s principles of motivation, one of the key forms of autonomy is being in control of your processes. Giving people autonomy over who they work with should be extended by letting them choose how they work together.
- There are two agile practices we believe should remain mandatory: retrospectives and physical story walls (if you are co-located).
- It’s fair to say that sometimes employees don’t want to work with each other. And that’s okay. People know whether they’re going to gel in a squad with a particular person, and if not, it makes sense they would choose not to work with him or her. Self-selection, unlike management selection, allows them to make that choice.
Having received a handful of calls these past few weeks, I’ve realized that I’m thinking more about learning opportunities now than only looking at an offer’s compensation package. Salary still matters of course but there’s more to a day job than just allocating money for expenses and savings. Work wouldn’t be fun when there’s only menial work to do. What would I learn if I took an offer in exchange for my services? Will I be doing something I’ve never done or tried before? Is this work meaningful, both for our customers and for me as an individual?
And some more questions to recruiting employers on the top of my head:
- How does the existing software development and testing process work in the organization?
- Are testers embedded into software teams? Or do they work in silos, away from the developers?
- What does a software team look like and compose of?
- What does the day-to-day work look like for the software tester?
- How many testers are there currently in the organization? And what’s the existing ratio of developers to testers?
- What technologies do the organization currently use for testing? Are there automated checks? Is there an existing CI system?
- Does the organization use containers? Visual testing? Machine learning?
- Who are the organization’s actual clients? Which lives are we trying to improve on a daily basis?
- How do the software teams get feedback from the people who use their applications?
I have always thought of myself as a good listener. That’s what I believe to be particularly the reason why I have thrived working with both programmers and product owners, a software tester in the midst of all sorts of people. It’s a fundamental skill I have learned to be proficient in.
What’s not my strong suit at though is asking people for what I want or need. Of course asking for little things or asking probing/clarifying questions isn’t that difficult; what’s tough is inviting people to join you on a quest, asking friends to do something interesting together, or asking a fascinating lady out to lunch. It’s a fear which doesn’t get any easier even if I actually know the problem. And the solution is the same as with all skills: practice. It has been and always will be a struggle, so I need to continuously remind myself to be brave.
Elisabeth Hendrickson’s book “There’s Always A Duck” has been around for a number of years but I have only been able to read it recently. Now I know what she meant about ducks. They’re literally about ducks, but also about people too. People are different, and yet we share similarities. We experience things, we communicate with each other, and we learn and get better because of those experiences. Her book tells us stories of her adventures and the lessons she’s discovered along the way, and it was nice to have had a glimpse of what she saw and felt with her encounters with software project teams and everyone involved.
- The vast majority of programmers I have met are diligent, capable folk. They truly care about the quality of their work and want the software they produce to be useful. They work hard to make sure they are implementing the right features and writing solid code.
- The next time you’re tempted to think of your programmers as idiots, incompetents, or quality hostile, remember that no matter what else they may be, they’re people first. Even if it seems like they’re hostile or incapable, it is far more likely that they are having a very human reaction to a particularly bad situation.
- And before you blame someone else for a mistake, remember the last time you made one. I’ve made some real whopper mistakes in my time. We all have, whether or not we choose to admit them or even remember them. It may be that some programmers don’t care about users, but it’s more likely that bugs are honest mistakes made under difficult circumstances.
- Even when we are speaking the same language and about the same thing, it’s hard enough to communicate.
- The point wasn’t to catch every possible error. What seems to go wrong most often? What errors are difficult to see at first glance, and thus require concentration to prevent? What causes the most damage when it happens?
- Janet doesn’t know anything about the ins and outs of creating software. She probably doesn’t want to know. She just wants to serve her customers well. And this software is not helping. Back at corporate, the Steering Committee, Requirements Analysts, Designers, Programmers and Testers are congratulating themselves on a solid release. What they don’t see is Janet’s pain. The feedback loop is broken. The team back at corporate has no mechanism to find out whether the software is any good. Oh, sure, they’ll detect catastrophic problems that cause servers to go down. But they won’t see the little things that cause long queues at the front desk of the hotel.
- Testers naturally notice details. Not only do we notice, but we think about what we noticed, we attempt to interpret our observations to explain why things might be that way, we ask others if they noticed, we question our assumptions, and we poke and prod at things to see if our understanding is correct. We use our observations to inform us, and in doing so discover underlying causes and effects we otherwise might miss.
- I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that the first problem I see must be THE problem that needs to be solved. Perhaps the problem I spotted is indeed worth correcting, but I almost never manage to spot the true critical issue at first glance.
- Both fear and excitement stem not from observable reality but rather from speculation. We are speculating that the bugs that we know about and have chosen not to fix are actually as unimportant to our users as they are to us. We are speculating that the fact we have not found any serious defects is because they don’t exist and not because we simply stopped looking. We are speculating that we knew what the users actually wanted in the first place. We are speculating that the tests we decided not to run wouldn’t have found anything interesting. We are speculating that the tests we did run told us something useful. None of it is real until it is in the hands of actual users. The experience those users report is reality. Everything else is speculation.
- It’s not because Agile is about going faster. It’s because structuring our work so that we can ship a smaller set of capabilities sooner means that we can collapse that probability wave more often. We can avoid living in the land of speculation, fooling ourselves into thinking that the release is alive (or dead) based on belief rather than fact. In short, frequent delivery means we live in reality, not probability.
- Hire the right people. If that means keeping a critical position on the team open longer than anticipated, so be it. It’s better to have an under- staffed team of highly motivated, talented, skilled people than a fully staffed but ineffective team. Remember that hiring mistakes often take only a few minutes to make, and months of wasted time to undo.
- Listen. There are always signs when a project is in trouble: missed milestones, recurrent attitude problems, general confusion about the project. Sometimes these signs indicate a dysfunctional team, sometimes they’re just normal bumps along the road, and sometimes they are early warning signs of major problems. The only way to tell the difference is to listen carefully to what the team members have to say.
- The best way to get people to accept change is to make it more fun, and more rewarding, to do things the new way.
- Choose a path that takes you in the direction you want to go. Don’t choose a path simply because it takes you away from the swamp you want to avoid.