Define the Goal

I listened recently the audiobook of ‘The Goal’ by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. To put it short, it was mainly about Theory of Constraints (TOC), Systems Thinking, Socratic dialogues and of course defining the goal which is where it all begins. Book was written as a novel so it was pleasant surprise among other books dealing with organizational theories.

In the book they tried to define the goal of company and it made me think because I have declared becoming expert in software testing as my professional goal.

Software testing expert – what is it actually?

Becoming software testing expert as a goal sounds fairly normal and I think many people that are passionate about their profession have that as their goal. But what does it really mean? How do you know when you have reached that goal? Who can even be called as software testing expert? People that have been working as software tester, say 30 years? They are for sure experts, right?

We have to look more closely the definition of expert if we want to set the goal of becoming one. Let us see what Wikipedia has written of this. Firstly the definition:

An expert is someone widely recognized as a reliable source of technique or skill whose faculty for judging or deciding rightly, justly, or wisely is accorded authority and status by their peers or the public in a specific well-distinguished domain. An expert, more generally, is a person with extensive knowledge or ability based on research, experience, or occupation and in a particular area of study. Experts are called in for advice on their respective subject, but they do not always agree on the particulars of a field of study. An expert can be, by virtue of credential, training, education, profession, publication or experience, believed to have special knowledge of a subject beyond that of the average person, sufficient that others may officially (and legally) rely upon the individual’s opinion.” 

If we sum up what it says about expert:

  • reliable source
  • authority and status by their peers or the public
  • extensive knowledge or ability based on research, experience or occupation
  • not always agree on the particulars of a field of study
  • special knowledge of a subject beyond that of the average person

If we consider that the definition of Wikipedia is valid and set it as our goal, we will I think at some point in our career achieve all those aspects more or less. What then? We open the champagne, pat ourself on the back and continue our life as an expert? No. That should not be enough.

I would like therefore add few points to the definition of Wikipedia and then be more assured that it’s a goal I can try to achieve. The points are:

  • continuous improvement
  • being critical and confident at the same time toward yourself

The statement I’m trying to make with these is that there is no end stop for becoming an expert. It’s a direction that changes along the years. You advance on your journey, but you will never reach the destination. It’s therefore more of a vision. Glimpse of something we are aiming at. The goal that defines also our actions toward reaching it.

Before I define how I am going to pursue my goal in more detail, I must look the big picture and specifically how my goal of becoming software testing expert is affecting my life as a whole. Not forgetting how it is same way affected by other aspects of my life.

Seeing the Big Picture and recognizing the constraints

Systems thinking has led me realizing that my pursuit of becoming software testing expert is just part of the big picture. The big picture is my life as a whole. It includes my profession, family, friends, hobbies, etc. The ultimate goal I have is becoming happy. That of course is something that happens on daily basis.

I have not gave any serious thoughts on how I can measure my happiness, but I believe if I have meaningful profession that I am passionate about and I have good relationship toward my family (son and fiancee), it will be a good start toward becoming happy.

The thing is that I need to remember my ultimate goal when I am defining and pursuing my professional goal of becoming software testing expert. Anything I do to achieve my professional goal, must not contradict with my ultimate goal. I might have several options of how I can accelerate my process of becoming an expert, but it can not come as an expense of my life as a whole. I will not pursuit ways of improving myself as a tester if it is affecting negatively on my life as a whole, and in the end my happiness.

There will therefore be constraints that I should be aware while pursuing my professional goal. I can do whatever I see as best inside those constraints, but those constraints will be more or less static as long as the circumstances remain equally more or less static.

Examples of constraints I have, and actually want to set, are the time I will spend with my family (only with my family when I arrive home around 3-5pm every day), my ability to learn (not a fast reader), need for sleep (on average 7-8 hours per night) and actually sometimes the work I daily do (can’t perhaps learn some specific area I would like to concentrate on at that moment).

So, I will pursuit my professional goal of becoming an expert, but in a way that leaves me fully available for my family after I arrive home after work. In that case I can spend time to learning, but only when it is not away from the time I spend with my family. Basically that means learning when they are sleeping or some other equal moments. Also my strengths and weaknesses in learning (reading specifically) have to be considered. I need to find more effective ways than just reading a book for example(see my post about ‘Book club with a twist’).

Leaving time for sleeping ensures I have rested enough, so my learning and the time I spend with my family is not affected by the lack of sleep. Last, but not the least, the work I daily do can sometimes constrain my learning if I feel I should be learning something else. Therefore I must make the most out of those moments I have the freedom of learning anything I want. For example the moments I am not working for a client as a consultant.

Now the goal of becoming an expert is starting to shape in terms of my ultimate goal of becoming happy, but I need something more. I need to have more precise direction to aim at.

Remember My Spoon

Paul Carvalho has written a blog post about exploratory testing (best I’ve read so far) and there he used the story of Paulo Coelho’s (‘The secret of happiness‘) for describing what exploratory testing is and how it is different compared to scripted testing.

I’d like to use the same story for describing my attempts on achieving my professional goal (read Coelho’s story now, it will take only few minutes).

Creative Commons (Attribution 3.0 Unported)

The world is full of interesting information sources (books, blogs, articles, courses, Twitter, etc.) that you would like to explore. Our time is limited though and everything I do (related to testing) should aim for achieving my professional goal. Put in simple, I need to ask myself: “How does the article I read help become better tester? How will this book evolve me as a tester?”.

To ensure you are not just drifting in the space, you need to define the parts of the universe you want to focus and also remember the spoon, the goal you are aiming at (becoming software testing expert).

Which parts of the universe of information should I explore?

James Bach has an excellent speech at Youtube about becoming software testing expert. With a vast experience he defined what expert in software testing is in his opinion. As much as I would like to copy James’s definition, I can’t. I must define the goal by myself.

To be honest, the thing I liked the most about James’s speech was not actually the content, but the way it was represented. The passion that could be touched was the thing that strike me the most in the speech. And I do think that passion is one of those things where it all starts. Without passion you are pursuing the wrong goal.

If I go back to Paulo Coelho’s story about the spoon, I want to use that as my point of focus while exploring the universe of information. The spoon represents the goal of becoming software testing expert and everything I do need to aim at achieving that goal.

I’ll now try to define the universe of information, I will focus on, after all these thoughts. I will not try to build something really specific as I don’t have much experience and secondly this is not waterfall project. I have a vision and some thoughts on how to reach it, but that will anyway be updated many times during the years I gain more experience, wisdom, understanding, whatever you call it. Nevertheless, this is how I see my journey will continue from this moment:

That is like a first sprint of a life lasting project. I will look back into this and update it anytime I feel it is needed. Even defined like this, it leaves me A LOT room to explore. I just need to remember the spoon and think how the information I am about to dive into will help me reaching my goal of becoming software testing expert.

I’ll end this rather long post to a picture I took while visiting Krakow last year. I don’t know if it has anything to do with this post, but perhaps there lies the essence of what I see expert being in people eyes. And that’s not illusionist ;)

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Book club with a twist

While walking the path of becoming a great tester, I have noticed that patience is one of those abilities that help you vastly along the way. The downside is that it’s never been one of my strengths.

In sports that I have practiced (rinkball, boxing, ice hockey, etc.) I have mostly lacked the patience on doing my daily rutines and trusting that it will define my success. I have wanted the results as soon as possible and have put equivalent effort on achieving that goal. And it has taken time. Usually a lot of time.

Now I am facing the same situation, but this time it’s not sports that I’m dealing. It’s the profession of software testing. And I don’t have as much time available as I had during those days when I was practicing all those sports. Especially this strikes me when I’m reading books. I’m not the fastest reader so the slow pace of reading the books is getting frustrating.

You can see the portion of the books, that I want to read in near future, from the picture that I took from our office. Besides those there are infinite amount of other interesting books and new ones coming daily basis (especially interested in understanding more of sociology and psychology). Here is a list of some of them (mainly from http://www.ilari.com):

 

  • Mindset – Carol Dweck
  • The Goal – Eliyahu M. Goldratt
  • I want you to cheat – John Seddon
  • Tacit & Explicit Knowledge – Harry Collins
  • Thinking and Deciding – Jonathan Baron
  • The Concept of Mind – Gilbert Ryle
  • Exploratory Research in the Social Science – Robert A. Stebbins
  • Laws of Seeing – Wolfgang Metzger
  • Mind over Machine – Hubert L. Dreyfus & Stuart E. Dreyfus
  • Co-active Coaching – Henry & Karen Kimsey-House, Phillip Sandahl
  • Dialogue, Skill and Tacit Knowledge – Bo Böranzon, et. al.
  • Poke the Box – Seth Godin

Speeding up (without breaking the progression?)

I was trying to figure out a way to speed up the progress of reading the books. I did not want to do this though in the expense of my learning. And so I came up with an idea: book club with a twist.

Like a book club, but everyone reads different books. All the books are new for everyone participating. Idea would be then that everyone reads their books, makes a mind map or some other equivalent way to represent the content of the book (not just chapters) and then we arrange sessions where the people, who have read the book, represent their content to others. And in particular I thought about putting some effort on thinking this from the viewpoint of software testing (e.g. how can I use the information provided in the book for becoming a better tester).

Details are still unclear, but I have now made few plans for attempts to try this. First only me and other tester (@pekkamarjamaki). Also talked with few colleagues of trying this with them too after the summer holidays (that’s one month here in Finland).

I see at least two advantages in this approach. Firstly I need to put more effort on understanding the book I am reading. Besides there is the part where I have to explaining and discussion part which will test my knowledge about the book. Secondly I will gain understanding about books, I have not read, faster than I would have by reading it by my slow pace. On the other hand, this can be a disadvantage. Reading the book by yourself is rarely the same as how someone else has understood it. But I don’t mind. This is an experiment and I will see how it will turn. I will try to though keep in mind the words of Elisabeth Hendrickson: “Don’t confuse speed with progress”

I’ll try to report about the things we learn by trying this book club with a twist. And please share if you have tried something similar.

Voyage into the unknown

(photo by purpleslog @ Flickr creative commons)

“World of software testing, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the software tester aiming at excellence. Its life lasting mission: to explore strange new ideas, to seek out new ways of doing testing better and new people passionate about testing, to boldly go where no tester has gone before.”

I like Star Trek. I think it’s full of interesting characters (and comedy if you watch the old episodes from the 60’s). The most interesting character is though in my opinion James T. Kirk. There is even article about leadership lessons from him.

William Shatner as James T. Kirk. This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. Author: NBC Television.

I also think that James T. Kirk has a personality of a could-be-a-great-tester. I will now reveal only one aspect of that personality (it’s mentioned in the article above), because I think it suits perfectly for the purposes of my first blog post. He believes in learning and this is how he frames it:

You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown– only things temporarily hidden.

Why should I as a software tester start my own blog?

To learn. That’s it. My main reason for writing these words.

I do not though believe that the learning is restricted to the process of writing itself. There is also possibility for readers challenging my writings. This most often leads to me rephrasing my message and/or even modifying my beliefs. Then there is also the time I randomly spend in thinking of what I should write about. And of course connecting with people! I tried to sum up these different aspects to a mind map (just love mind maps).

If you have checked the ‘About me’ -section, you have noticed that I also believe that excellency is defined by our daily actions. I don’t know how often I will post something new here, but it will be part of me as a tester from this day on.

Not so long ago I believed that in order to become really good in software testing, I don’t need to do blogs and write in Twitter (@al3ksis). But I realized soon that world is full of great testers and how can I become great too if I don’t interact with these people? I can’t! Growing as a tester is a two-way street. You need to get your ideas published, challenged and at the same time challenge the ideas of other people (if you feel it’s conflicting with your own thoughts). That way you can sculpture yourself as a tester toward something more beautiful than you already are.

Besides my daily work as a testing consultant and the time I spend in reading and interacting with people online or offline, I have some things I will do during next 12 months that I believe will help me to evolve as a tester. These are:

  • BBST Foundations 2.0 (starts in August)
  • BBST Bug Advocacy (starts in October)
  • Rapid Software Testing by James Bach (will be held October in Helsinki)
  • Let’s Test 2013 (will be held May, 2013 in Sweden)

If you have read my post this far, I would like to ask: Why are you blogging?
Otherwise, welcome to the voyage, I’ll do my best to make it interesting.

P.S. First one to guess which city is in that header picture (with cars) will receive free beer from me if we ever meet. << Colleague guessed right, the city was Damascus in Syria. I visited it in 2009 and took the picture then.