Monday, April 26, 2010

Testers != Programmers?

Im trying to figure out the mindset of a subset of the class of 'programmer turned manager' who deny testers their rightful equal status alongside programmers.

Testers are still treated as second-class citizens. They get lesser pay, lesser time for their tasks, lesser resources, lesser appreciation, lesser recognition than their programmer colleagues.

Do they think that:

  • testing is an easy job
  • anyone can do testing
  • testing is not technical
  • no special skills are required for testing

Is this thinking a result of:

  • ignorance
  • insecurity
  • lack of continuous learning and improvement
  • lack of leadership skills

Its been a long time now since the testing industry has achieved a unique identity, a decade since the Agile Manifesto was published, yet people choose to live in the dark ages.

In most workplaces, team parties and dinners are a common feature. It is treated as a team-building activity and rightly so. Informal settings usually relax people, make them lose inhibitions thus forging closer bonds.

But what if such events are used to divide the team rather than unite them? Is that possible? Ofcourse it is.

*Organize a picnic and send the mail to the programmers of the team.

The testers will come to know about it anyways. They will feel left-out and 'not part of the gang'.

*Or on the eve of a release, when the entire team has slugged it out, take the programmers out for dinner, to appreciate their hard work!

Can you imagine how the tester feels then? Demoralized, unwanted.

Wondering if this behavior is intentional or is the manager just following the footsteps of his predecessors?

It wont be surprising if the programmers of such a team, treat testers in a similar manner when they become managers. Because this is the training that they have received and they are not interested in questioning it either.

Is there something that we, the testers can do about it? For one, we could atleast start voicing about this to the concerned people, in this case, the manager. That is what I shall do too!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Its just a job.......

Do you ever get to hear "Hey, its just a job, so chill!", when you offload your office troubles to friends/family?

Its just a job....... or is it?
Let us see.
Most of our waking hours are spent in office, physically or virtually.
Work is the axis around which our life spins.
We plan, schedule and re-schedule events according to our work; marriage, vacations, reunions to name a few. Thankfully we have not yet begun re-scheduling our birthday parties .... or have we?

During our working life, work becomes the number one priority; family, friends and we ourselves become secondary in importance and attention.
Work sure is important, very important, I agree but look at the paradox that our behaviour has created.
When we are studying, our life did not just revolve around studies. Extra-curricular activities were encouraged and valued.
'All-round development' was the key. We did not ignore friends or hobbies. We cared for our happiness and even rebelled at times to achieve it.

But as soon as we get a job, we dedicate, or rather surrender ourselves to our job. Do we ever question ourselves, why we do so?
One of the reasons why we work is for money. Money is a necessity. Sure, but enslaving oneself in the pursuit of money is questionable.
There are people who find pleasure in this kind of enslavement as their only goal is earning money. But on the other hand there are people who work for intellectual stimulation or for an identity or to feel important or simply to keep busy. Whatever the reason for work, one should always review his situation often to identify gaps between his goals and his reality.

Its always faster and easier to cure in the early stages, it is said. This holds true for every situation.
Symptoms of discomfort are very useful in identifying the gaps. The symptoms could be on a physical level such as weight gain or loss, headaches, digestive problems, colds and coughs, sleeplessness, high or low blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, aches and pains, etc.
The symptoms could also manifest on the psychological level such as irritability, lethargy, sadness, mood swings, anger, etc.
Usually, we go to a doctor to treat physical conditions but tend to ignore the psychological conditions until they affect us physically. For example, we ignore the feeling of lethargy until we gain 10 pounds and then join a gym!

A lot has been written about 'work-life balance' and various kinds of management such as stress, time, money etc. But do we really use those principles? When faced with a deadline don't you still shut out the world and work till the job gets done? Such times occur in everyone's lives, but if they start occurring too often then its time to sit up and take action against it. Scientific studies suggest that stress is good in moderation. Its the same as the universal principle of 'anything in moderation is good'.

My friend Ajay came up with a phrase, "If you want to know the fruit, know its root.". So we've seen the symptoms, now lets look at the causes.
If you see your office in your dreams then its time you spent some amount of your waking time in identifying and resolving work issues, for a good night's sleep!

The causes could be numerous. A few that I can think of are, lack of recognition, lack of responsibility, lack of trust, below par monetary compensation, below par position/title/role, work overload, lack of support, etc.

Now what can the possible cure be? This is a much debated and discussed issue. Theoretically the cures could be asking for what you want, if you get it - good, if you dont get it then you have two options, either accept and continue as is or move on.

Its not easy to move on, it takes immense self-confidence and courage to stand on your own.
Its much more easier to withdraw into a shell and be a silent sufferer.
Either ways, the choice is yours.
The external environment plays a very big role in your decision.
But finally, it is you who has to take the risk and own the responsibility of your decision. Being patient, grounded and optimistic at such times is helpful.

There will be people who will say, "Hey, its just a job!". But you know better. :-)

Friday, April 16, 2010

The power of peer workshops!

Recently I was privileged to attend a peer workshop, BWST-2. This was my first and I was very excited about it. But I decided to go with a clean slate so that my assumptions and expectations do not overshadow the actual.

The Theme

The theme of this peer workshop was Bold and Beautiful, it read "Cutting the (c)trap and getting good things done".
Wow!! I thought. I was already impressed by the good intent of the organizers and knew that this would be one memorable event!
According to me it takes ample measures of courage and self-confidence to make a stand against what one considers wrong. To bring that forth in front of your peers is even more commendable because there is high possibility that your views may be completely dismissed or questioned or challenged or jeered upon. You have to be a brave-heart to face this.
That is one aspect I was looking forward to. What would the speakers talk about and what would the discussions be?

The concept of the workshop

In preparation for attending the workshop I read the report on the previous year's BWST-1 and also LAWST.
The concept of a peer
workshop is very empowering.
Quoting from James Bach's
blogpost, "A peer conference is a get together among practitioners of a particular discipline for the purpose of learning to practice better." and "At a peer conference, everyone is a speaker, and it is expected that we will criticize each others’ ideas. We’re after deep learning, and it’s hard to get that without getting behind the Powerpoint glitz."

The participants

Another highlight of such an event is that the participants are pre-selected by the organizer. The great advantage of this aspect is that a unique blend of participants can be achieved as they are hand-picked by the organizer who keeps the theme as the basis for selection. The speakers are selected because they have had the experience of cutting the traps and implementing good things. Whereas, the other participants are selected such that they may learn and implement from the experiences of the speakers.

The Facilitation

Each presentation is a high value entity. Unlike presentations at other events which are termed as ‘exhibition conferences’ by James Bach, peer conferences give an opportunity to all participants to actively participate in the topic being presented. This is invaluable.

K-cards were used to maintain discipline and smooth flow of each presentation. There were 3 cards, green, blue and red in color that each participant could raise during a presentation. A green K-card indicated that the participant wanted to ‘add his thoughts to the topic being presented’. A blue K-card indicated ‘adding a thought about another topic which could or could not be related to current topic’. A red K-card when flashed indicated that the participant wanted to ‘say something right then’. It could either mean adding to the point or debating it or challenging it.

The Bonds

How many times do you get a chance to share the lunch table with a CEO or have coffee with a math wizard heading the testing of health care products? Can you imagine the wealth of information you can get in those 10 minutes? Can you also imagine the lessons you learn about greatness, humbleness and being a giver?

Social animals that we are, we love being part of a community. Being part of workshops/seminars expands your network and makes you part of the community that matters most in your working life; the professional community!
We work in organizations with huge workforce but our daily work routine does not permit us to create bonds outside of our team or project. Hence, meeting your peers outside of office is very essential.

The take-away

To each his own, so goes a saying, the take-away from peer exchanges can be different for different people. To some it may create new ideas and learning, to some it could be introspection while for others it may be a fertile ground for creating professional relations.

What you and I could do
Of course its not feasible to organize or attend such large scale workshops very often. But exchange of knowledge cannot be a quarterly event.
So what we can do is organize informal meetings where people spare a few hours and assemble for a face-to-face discussion. If time is limited then only one topic can be discussed.
Such events can motivate us to hold extended workshops. At least we can get the ball rolling!