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Balance and Conferences and Life, Oh My! (Rhythm of Testing)

On January 11, 2014, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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My blog post for the end of 2013 (here) generated some questions on twitter and email – apparently some folks had a problem leaving comments or generally wanted to ask stuff “off line.”  No worries.

I promised one Question Asking (QA) person that she had prompted my second blog post for 2014 – here it is…

Folks talk about Work-Life Balance and I’m not entirely certain what they mean.  By that, I work to maintain a lifestyle for my family and I.  I do work I enjoy because otherwise, well, I’ve done work I did not enjoy and the cost was far more than what money I could make. 

For me, the question is not around “Work Life Balance,” the question is around Life?  What kind of life do I want to have?

Life

At one point, I spent every possible hour when not at the day job playing drums in one band or another.  It was a lot of fun.  It was loads of work, practicing, honing skills, learning new skills and techniques – but generally it was fun.  Things changed, I added a sweetheart to the mix and suddenly, I need to reorganize things.  Time I spent with her meant less time playing drums.  That was OK – in fact, it was more than OK.

As time went on and the relationship with the sweetheart grew deeper, my “commitment” to the remaining bands waned a bit.  I could not do the things I wanted to do with her and still do the “band” things I was doing.  So the role of bands changed.  I found myself playing in just one band, and teaching private lessons.

I had more time for living and home work and gardening and – Oh yeah, I got married.

I had a job, I had a wife and now family, I had a band.  That band was based 3 hours away.  Band practice was Sunday, every Sunday.  Performances were on weekends.  So, “off season” I’d be gone every Sunday from roughly 6:30 or 7:00 AM until roughly 12 hours later.  During the performance season, I’d leave the house on a Friday, sometimes after day-job work – sometimes earlier if I took the day off.  I’d return sometime on Sunday.  Sometimes the lady-wife would come with me – sometimes not.

When it was time to change again – 5 years and then some is a long time to not be home on weekends – the reasons were simple.  What had been fun was now more work than fun.  The amount of things to do around the home and garden we so many, that there was not joy in the doing of them.  So, I hung up my kilt and drum stuff and began spending loads of time around the house doing things.  For a while, a few bands would ask me to come and teach or do a workshop.  I did those – for a while.  Things changed again.

The last several years I have not been active in any form of organized music – which sounds weird since I’ve been playing music since I was a kid.  I discovered I have a wonderful life at home.  I can enjoy the work in the garden without thinking “I need to get this done NOW because otherwise I won’t be able to until after ” every single week.  

Going Independent was another flavor of that.  I have very fixed hours at my client – usually – unless I am on the road somewhere out of town.  When I’m in town, my hours are pretty fixed.  I get home and can do things around the house.  I can do writing or reading in the evening – sometimes the telly is on.  Sometimes we’re sitting quietly.

Paperwork – invoices, bills, that junk, I usually deal with on a Saturday morning after a bit of a lie in.  The house is quiet and I can sit and do it.

We can have a nice dinner together.  We have weekend excursions – out to an antique show or catch a band playing or get together with friends – without the hassle of the phone ringing or being paged.

Some nights, I do no writing.  I do nothing even vaguely computer or software related.  Don’t even get the laptop out.  Extremely relaxing.

This plays into my thoughts on changing how I choose conferences to participate in.

Conferences

There are a bunch of them.  You may have noticed.  Being a privateer (which is how I prefer to see myself instead of an “independent”) if my company pays for me to go to a conference, that company is me.

When I was working for another company and wanted to go to a conference.  Usually the boss types went along with it.  When I went as a speaker, they thought it was way cool.  Look!  Good PR!  One company was extremely supportive.  One company, that bought the company I had been working for (and somehow I survived the happy-sizing) had concerns that I would possibly say things they did not approve of.

Since the presentations had been prepared before “the assimilation” a compromise was reached.  I gave a disclaimer that “The ideas and views expressed are not necessarily the ideas and views of TLA Corp, its subsidiaries, its Board of Directors nor management and staff.”  SO I said that.

and added “… but they probably should be.”

Thus I was already on the road to becoming a Privateer.

So conferences that were not paid for by the company counted as “vacation” time.  This astounded some of my co-workers that I would use vacation time and my own money to go to a conference.  I’m not sure why.  I wanted to get better and pick up ideas and concepts new to me.  That would be less likely to happen if I stayed reading the same stuff by the same people. 

After going to several conferences, and speaking at a moderate number, I noticed a trend.  Some very large conferences, there was a lot of “social activities” that did not really fit my idea of social.  I mean, there was a fair amount of drinking, as long as the drink tickets held out, but when the designated function ended, people tended to scatter.

The idea of conferring – exchanging ideas outside of the lectures/presentations seemed foreign to a fair number, if not most, of the attendees.  I noticed that several speakers hung around the conference center wearing their name tags, apparently with the intent of making themselves available for said conversations.  When I began speaking, I took up the same practice “I’ll be at tonight if you want to talk on this more, or, grab me at lunch or breakfast tomorrow and we can talk – or set up a time to meet”  

I made that offer many times.  I remember one conference where I spoke, and two other speakers I know and respect made the identical offer.  That evening – the number of people from the conference in the hotel/conference center bar for conversation was …. 3.

When I am at a conference, I want to pick up ideas I have not heard before.  Or – I want a meaningful reconsideration of ideas I have heard.  I am open, willing and excited to discuss ideas I have, as well as ideas I disagree with – particularly with people who disagree with me.  However, the conversations I want to have need to be polite and informative.  When asked “What about ?”  I reserve the right to dismiss you if the response is “Look, I’ve done the work on this.  Trust me.”  

Explain to me why I should?  What research supports you?  Is there anyone other than you who can support this?  Are there any real examples of this working – as you described – recently?  When have you done this?   

I am willing to be the one everyone disagrees with.  Other speakers, organizers, participants – just give me evidence why you disagree – not statements of belief.  When there is nothing but empty assertions to “trust me”  then we settle into wars of religion.  Not a whit of evidence on either side – just firm belief in the “correctness” of their position.”

Lately – I’ve seen a fair number of conferences retreat into fuzzy stuff.  I’m not interested is listening in on people’s epistemological bubbles.

The result is – I’ve begun screening more carefully the conferences I wish to participate in, either as a speaker or as a person attending.

When I spend my money traveling to a conference, I want to believe it was well spent.  Otherwise, I’d be better off spending the money on a trip with my lady-wife. 

 

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