Thursday, November 13, 2014

Facing my fears and feeling ridiculous

A fairly long time ago as a student, I wanted to apply for the board of the student union. I remember the day vividly with a strong memory of the feeling of panic I was facing as I needed to introduce myself in front of an audience of a relevant size. I was afraid of public speaking. Afraid was an understatement really, I was panicking. And the mere idea of having to introduce myself with a few sentences cause physical symptoms and while I did it, I was shaking so hard that people were really worried I would pass out - for a good reason.

I did not get to do what I wanted with the student union, but there were other ways of contributing that were probably more appropriate. But that one day and that one experience led me to realise that I want to work on paralysing fears and change things, instead of accepting them. I took a course in oral communications, went through the awful experience of speaking for the class with video and watching that video with the teacher so that I could not avoid it. I learned to talk about my ideas and experiences as opposed to others ideas and through that I realised I could control the experience for me. I could control the fear. I continued stretching myself way beyond my comfort zone, taking a job that included lecturing and starting to do public talks.

People who see me present nowadays have hard time believing the background story. I've worked hard to change my experience, and I still work hard on my presentations and contents. Professionally, it's been one of the smartest moves I've ever done. I'm no longer a least bit afraid of public speaking. When I felt discomfort on doing webinars, I did more of those. I go and face my fears and I grow.

Today, I participated on my second code retreat facilitated by Adi Bolboaca. Or actually, first one, as the other I participated I monitored from the side. The idea of pair programming made me feel panic. I have no problems pairing up for exploratory testing or clarifying requirements, but the programming part brings out irrational fears. I had not really realised how relevant the fears were, I had been coming up with all sorts of excuses on why I wouldn't join these events. I needed someone I love to tell me that knowing the background story of my fear of presenting, pair programming was something I needed to do. To go to the code retreat, I needed people to check on me to actually go and make room for this in my calendar, not giving me the option to back out.

Code retreat was a therapeutic experience for me as a tester, kind of like the video of me talking back in the days. I got to pair with five wonderful developers - one of them twice, who were friendly and helpful - and did not end up hating me like I feared. I did not feel useless. I felt I was learning, I felt I was even contributing every now and then. I felt grateful to people who encouraged me with the idea that it would be ok to pair with developers even if I could not write code at all. And with this experience, I think every non-programming tester should take part in a code retreat and trust that people who are that enthusiastic about building their development skills are also happy to learn about collaborating with people very different to them.

During the code retreat day I got to work on Ruby, Python and Java - not c# at all, which would have been the working language from my office as I found that too much of a stretch for me to begin with. All sessions ended up being Test-Driven with developers already experienced in that, and turned me into a real fan of TDD - I want to learn more programming this way.  While I avoided writing the code and focused more on commenting, one of the developers in particular was really nice and helpful guiding me into taking my turn in writing too without making me feel like the idiot I was setting myself up for. Well, the fact that it was Python and I had done a little bit of Python during summer did not hurt in persuading me to try that even without a proper IDE configured.

With this behind me, I recognise I'm not done. I did not win my fears, but I crossed the first road. And every day at the office is another road I can now cross. Some of the experiences I want include pairing with really good people - professionals in pairing. Some of the experiences will be pairing with people who don't want to pair on code with anyone, let alone me.

Main thing on my mind right now is: why did I think I would rather learn programming alone than pair up with people who volunteer to help me? Learning a little is still learning, even if I would like to be perfect. Having faced the first paralysing fear leaves me feeling ridiculous. How could I not see that wonderful people are wonderful, even when I'm afraid. 

2 comments:

  1. Great post, thanks! Quite many of us afraids public speaking (or to fail in front of other people):
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/10/30/clowns-are-twice-as-scary-to-democrats-as-they-are-to-republicans/

    According to the same study, quite many afraids bugs too.. but hopefully not SW bugs..

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  2. The spirit of code retreat is one of sharing in a humbling learning experience. After all, it is centered around a seemingly trivial problem, with 4 'business' rules. How hard could that be? We'll, throw in an impossibly short window of time, and you quickly realize we will all more or less fail. It's about learning and sharing while pairing. Glad you found the very nurturing environment you describe! Soon you will be facilitating a code retreat!

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