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2015: A Bipolar Year (The Pain and Gain of Edward Bear)

On January 12, 2016, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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I mostly write this review of 2015 for myself because I’m good at forgetting the good stuff. There shall be personal stuff in the post, so you’ve been warned it’s not only about testing.

The Darkness

2015 was a weird year. There were some great things that happened in my (testing) life and career but also some things that really stretched my capacity for grief, that ended some traditions, that ended my family as I’ve known it for a long time. I woke up in New York in the middle of the night after TestBash to learn that I have no more grandmas left. I lost both of them within less than a year. And cancer ate up a close family member. He was a couple of years younger than me. It’s one thing to lose someone suddenly, it’s entirely different to see your loved ones suffer and turn into people you don’t know, to see them in this state and realize their life is over very soon, or hear “there is nothing we can do anymore” from a doctor. I’ve been to many funerals in my life. You’d think it gets easier but it’s tougher in a way because you know exactly how you will feel and you still have to go through it. The nice charts of stages of grief are a load of bullcrap anyway…

The Highlights

There were some great highlights for me in 2015 beside the darkness (which is why I call 2015 a bipolar year).

Conferences

I spoke at Copenhagen Context and TestBash New York.

You can listen to the podcast where I discussed my talk with Mark and you can listen to my talk here: https://dojo.ministryoftesting.com/lessons/the-story-of-a-strange-seed-helena-jeret-mae

I was the program chair for Nordic Testing Days. Technically, I put the program together already in 2014 but I was involved in marketing and different kind of activities behind the scenes up until the conference (and then ran around frantically while my testing friends tried to tell me to calm down). I was a nervous wreck for the fact that quite a few speakers had to be replaced during the months leading up to the conference as they dropped out for one reason or another, and one of them dropped out the night before… I was extremely grateful for having three presenters immediately offer to do a talk, and great kudos go to Katrina Clokie who ended up doing one. In the end I was satisfied with how the program turned out because my goal was to help create a conference that I would like to go to. The theme “Agents of Change” was close to my heart and it looks like it touched other people, too.

Erik and me got accepted to Let’s Test 2016 and we’ll be doing a workshop there!

I attended Let’s Test 2015 which was awesome. After that I visited Erik’s class of future testers in Örebro.

I was invited to TITANconf by Kristoffer Nordström and spent a couple of wonderful days in Karlskrona discussing leadership and testing in the company of a bunch of great testers across Europe. I mean we had a dedicated conference beer! What could be better…

I also attended the fifth PEST (Peers of Estonian Software Testing) where we enjoyed the workshop Kristjan Uba had set up for us. We were trying to figure out if testing craft was social or technical.

Problem Solving Leadership

A very important highlight not only because I met Jerry Weinberg and ravaged the bookshelves in his house (twice!) but because I learned a lot of useful stuff that I keep going back to (this must be the PSL-ers’ mantra). I definitely don’t look at the world the same way after learning from Esther and Jerry.

It’s also no less important that I could attend PSL with my friend Erik. I’m pretty sure we doubled the ROI between the two of us by having discussions and analysis sessions during the workshop. In any case, he’s one of the people who kept me sane last year.

Learning

I learned about how to figure out what my job is supposed to be (a surprisingly unobvious thing that I hope to blog about). I learned that doing research and collecting data can be useful but also incredibly frustrating if you can’t make sense of it, and can’t find a good way to make sense of it. I also learned how it feels to be somewhat afraid of your research results

I learned about designing and carrying out workshops and retrospectives. I ran a couple of workshops alone in the offices where I travelled to. In collaboration with my colleague Siim Sutrop we designed and carried out a workshop for tutors who would be teaching a batch of newbie programmers. We also designed special retrospectives for the tutors and the newbies separately to gather their feedback. And now we are on to designing and testing a framework for helping the tutors to learn to tutor. Since Siim has been experimenting with retrospectives in his team, I got to sponge on his experiences.

I learned how to run a Lean Coffee. I’ve run the events internally and also facilitated the first public Lean Coffee in Tartu.

I learned about change management and change patterns. Some of it I knew, some of it was new. I want to drive some changes, so I need to know how this works. Luckily, I have a new colleague now who is the change management manager and I can learn from hear (trust me, I’m like a sponge now) and we make a great team, too.

I learned to look at testing and testing problems in a 600 people organization spread across 6 countries. I love systems thinking because without it I’d still have blinders on (or maybe I still do, who know…). I’m not sure I advanced my knowledge very much about testing topics this year but I did learn a lot about how testing looks like to a wide variety of people on different places in the hierarchy.

I learned about understanding my skills from Alexandra Casapu in her wonderful workshop at Let’s Test. I had some discussions with her afterwards and shared my thoughts on the workshop. She also created a prototype webpage for building your skills map. I’m planning on creating a similar workshop for testers in my organization.

I learned about career development and job descriptions. It’s difficult. Really difficult. I will have to write about this at some point to explain. When it comes to the seniority levels, my instict says “RUN!” because people are different and “cookie-cuttering” them doesn’t make sense. I don’t personally care for the junior/senior distinction because I’m looking at the content of my work and the value it delivers (and I look the same way at others’ and I don’t care that much about seniority). But it looked like these things are important for other people, so I tried to document the skills and knowledge for each level so that it still makes sense to me. There’s still work to be done.

I learned to hate the word “guidelines”.

I learned about how HR works as I supported them throughout the year.

I learned that (internally) consulting a project that was messy is hard. I need to go back to Weinberg’s “Secrets of Consulting”. I guess the good thing was I was able to identify someone to take the lead in testing matters and help her enough so that she succeeded and is still going strong.

I learned that joining sketchnoting skills and systems thinking can be nifty. I sketched the organization from different angles to explain to C-level where and why I saw problems that they could help to solve.

I learned that I really like to work with people to help them grow. But hey, I actually knew this before 🙂

I observed that if I keep thinking and sharing my thoughts, chances are I will hear them repeated at some point. Not sure what I would learn from this but hey…

I learned… probably many other things but these have already been incorporated with my existing body of knowledge.

Travelling

I travelled to 3 new countries for work purposes (Lithuania, Serbia (2x), Romania (2x)). In Romania I had the pleasure of having some beers with some folks from Tabara de Testare. In Belgrade, I managed to meet Predrag and talk testing next to some great Serbian food. And I guess we’ll have some great Estonian food and beer in Tallinn as Predrag will be speaking at Nordic Testing Days in June.

I travelled to the US twice (for TestBash and for PSL). I also travelled to Denmark and Sweden (Copenhagen Context, TITANconf).

I travelled to 3 new countries for vacation purposes (Slovakia, Austria, Hungary).

And in the process I had layovers in Finland, Germany and Latvia. That makes 12 countries visited… Yes, at some point people asked if I was still working or only flying around because it looked like I was departing somewhere every few weeks. Last autumn it was somewhat true…

Testing Stuff

I signed up with Testlio to do some hands-on mobile testing and to understand how their platform works. That was fun and also allowed me to polish my self-organization skills because one has to be efficient to get the most testing time out of the 1 or 2-hour slot.

Other than that I did very little hands-on testing. Which is why I this part of my brain gets itchy and I need to find some way to scratch the itch this year (and also to not let my skills atrophy too much). Helping other people to solve their testing problems is one thing but I don’t feel like it would keep me very fresh.

I guess that’s it. Sorry for another mammoth post but that’s the way I roll.

Here’s to 2016! I know you will be awesome.

 

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