The following is an Experience Report submitted by Bernie Berger, who convened a peer workshop in New York earlier this month, and was supported by the AST Grant Program.
June 3rd 2018, NYC
The day started over a light breakfast of bagels and coffee, as the participants arrived to the Breather rental room off of 7thAvenue in NYC. Once we were all settled in and the opening chimes rang, we began the LAWST-style peer-conference in the traditional way: welcoming remarks by the content owner (Bernie Berger), a review of the ground rules by the facilitator (Geordie Keitt), and a round-robin check-in of the participants (Anna Royzman, George Hamblen, Jack Weintraub, Ben Weber, Andrew Hwang, Joel Montvelisky, Aaron Berger and Dave Rabinek). The IP agreement was read, and all present agreed.
Formalities out of the way, we were ready to jump in. George presented an ER about his transitions along his career from the time he received his college degree until today, highlighting the inevitable twists and turns that occurred and how he coped with them. The focus was on what he has learned from these changes, what were some trade-offs that were considered, and what advice he would give his younger self today. Key takeaways from this session were:
- Always keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities
- Strike up conversations wherever you go, because you never know whom you might meet
- Put in chips to many people so you can cash in later
- Come in with an “add value” attitude
- Apply the Myers-Briggs model to office relationships, and read the books Work Typesand How to be a Star at Work
The presentation was followed by a lively Open Season Q&A session where participants asked for further details and supported George’s ER with vignettes of their own.
After a short break, we returned to the table to participate in the first of the day’s group activities: a brainstorming session to gather a list of methodologies, fads, technologies, acronyms, tools, and buzzwords in computing that’s been popularized over the past half-century. This was great fun, as we took this stroll — though at times frightening – down our collective memory lane. We captured each topic on it’s own Post-It note. After the idea generation slowed down, we categorized the Post-Its on a timeline based on it’s historical peak in popularity, with Y2K being the central dividing point. We ended up with two lists: Popular IT fads pre-Y2K, and those that became well known only within the past 18 years. The output of this activity, a framing exercise, was to generate discussion to see if any trends can be drawn. Can we trace today’s Continuous Delivery & Integration and DevOps models to the CMM and Punchcards of yesteryear? Can we see if any predictions for the future could be made based on observations of the past?
This was an exciting start to an intriguing discussion but instead of delving into it in detail, we decided to leave this for future treatment and instead broke for lunch. We enjoyed sandwiches and each other’s company at the café across the street, and we’re grateful to AST for their sponsorship of this special event.
Bellies full and minds still hungry, we returned to the workshop room for the second half of the day which Dave Rabinek began by presenting a phenomenal ER about his personal experience working in the famed “Bridgewater Culture”. Dave explained how the notion of Radical Transparency, as described in the book Principlesby hedge fund manager Ray Dalio, impacted quality at Bridgewater. The ER and subsequent Open Season Q&A session developed into a spirited group discussion about the overlapping dynamics of truth, friendship, and vocabulary and its impact on quality.
Some key takeaways were:
- Know what you don’t know and tell the group because you will be called out on that later
- Don’t feel bad about your mistakes, you are expected to make them
- An accurate understanding of reality is the essential foundation for good outcomes
- Get comfortable with revealing your weaknesses
- Begin professional criticism with the phrase, “This is nothing personal, but…”
Our next segment was another group activity which we later named “Mad Libs”. The activity was to fill in the blanks in the following two related statements:
I used to think that ________. But I now think that _______.
This exercise drew out insights that each of us had over our aggregated 300 years of experience and brought to light various aspects of how our thinking has evolved over time. We discussed how we think of ourselves today compared to when we first began our careers, what we expect of ourselves as we age, how we learn, what our impression is of the state of the testing world, and methods for getting things done efficiently. We had meaningful discussions around each of these, and we could see this single activity develop into something larger and more profound to share with today’s generation of technologists. Not everybody present agreed with everything said, and that’s OK.
|I used to think that_____||I now think that_____|
|Calling testing groups “QA” is a bad thing||Group names are irrelevant|
|Professional management & relationships should be based on friendliness||Professional management & relationships should be based on honesty|
|A college degree matters||Best fit person for the job|
|I am a firefighter||I am a player/coach|
|Software testing as a craft is developing to the point that everyone will understand what skilled testing is||We need to educate, educate, educate, and they won’t ever get it|
|There are such things as “guru”s||Don’t let other people do your thinking for you. There is, in fact, no such thing as a guru. Everyone has their own experiences and the network is the guru|
|QA was absolute||Software quality is benchmarked against customer expectations. If you release bad software but they are expecting it to be even worse, you’re OK|
|I had to compete with young technologists||It’s your company, let me know how I can help.|
|You have to wait for the perfect job
|Don’t be afraid to jump in and try a job. You could be in, out and on to the next, better opportunity by the time you emerge from your analysis paralysis|
|I would reach a point where I “knew it” and could stop learning. Once you graduate from certain tasks, you are beyond them.
|You never reach that point. You always need to keep learning, which is a good thing, it means your brain remains valuable|
|That when I reached my mid 50s I would wind down, with the finish line in sight, and not need to invest in developing my career||With 5 – 10 years to go, I still need to plan like a young guy, learn new things, and bring all the same energy and enthusiasm to the game. This is particularly important, so as not to appear like the “old guy”
|Developing my professional network was a fun activity which I enjoyed doing||It was a vital activity which is bearing great fruits 20 and 30 years later, both personally and professionally|
After another short break, we turned to the final activity of the day, which was a “show and tell” of the books on our resource table. One of the many books brought in was the Conference Proceedings from STAREast 99, including the slides of a presentation given by George Hamblen in 1999 about managing outsourced testing projects. That talk, attended by Bernie Berger (and Cem Kaner), was the first time we had met each other.
At the conclusion of the day, everyone confirmed what we had been feeling: that it was well worth spending half our weekend away from our families and other obligations to meet up with each other and share our experiences, forge new professional relationships, and be a part of this community-building experience. We decided to meet again in six months.