Wednesday, June 22, 2016

From push to pull and the need of allies

I read a post on diversity in tech activism and its impact on burnout, and felt I need to stretch what I read a little further. Diversity in this article means what we traditionally mean by diversity - moving away from white heterosexual men. However, the article resonated with me in particular from the point of view of diverse voices in software development, and the never-ending story of how non-programming testers will soon no longer be needed.

I had a burnout on a very early stage of my career, and I've since been telling myself I recognize when it creeps in, and can act on it. Recently, I've started to question my ability. There's so many things I don't want to drop. I have my full-time testing job. I have my second job to teach testing to the rest of the world (one form of my activism). I speak at conferences. I have my tech diversity activism in mentoring new speakers and teaching non-programmers (kids & women) how to code. I have a family that needs my presence. I don't want to drop anything out of the equation. Naturally, the balancing is hard but often worth it.

A few days ago, I told a close friend I was feeling down. Not burned out, but low and drained. The last two trips were good, but I remembered the bad: the organizers not seeking me out to talk with me on a two day conference; sitting alone reading a book in middle of a conference party; the pairing partner choosing not to pair with me. I felt low enough that I again started thinking of options to exit the whole field of software development, feeling trapped for the good pay. She pointed out: "You've shifted quite a lot on the programming side lately, maybe that's what you actually don't enjoy doing?"

The question was great, because it helped me see that I do enjoy doing that but I don't enjoy the extra diversity pressure the new choice brings with it. Many seems to dislike testers regardless of gender, but in programming my gender becomes an issue. I start to take offense of the girlfriend assumption. It bothers me that people start talking about raising kids over refactoring code when I join a discussion. I never knew what the "microaggressions" were while I identified as "just" a tester. But I found the concept and the label to explain what about identifying in programming was making me uncomfortable.

The added experience is making me realize that there's a whole bunch of these microaggressions on testers' type of testing too. The "non-programming testers will no longer be needed" is sometimes a direct message to the face, but more often a remark with "but I mean the other testers, you're good". The testing community has carried me through rough years of this, offering comfort and skills to be really, really good - and to know it.  I talked about testing with testers before, in addition to the few developers I worked with. But the testers, people who understand, they were a majority. This is changing with agile.

It also made me think of why some of the prominent figures in testing might resort in stronger expressions than I would appreciate. They are fighting with the ego in programming to a different level that I am. They are hearing even more of the "non-programming testers will soon no longer be needed" and they, like me, know better. No one pulls for the info on what these people could contribute, but they push and get a lot of rejection. They collect the rejection of testers worldwide and empathize. There's very few allies for this work. The allies would be people who want to actively hear the value of testers and deep skills in testing. People who wouldn't push their current solution ("let's automate it all") to silence the message that feels hard to deliver.

This fight for space to exist as a non-programming tester is my core reason of tiredness. I feel that the years of activism many of us have put on that message is downplayed. Not just by ego in programming, but nowadays, the ego in programming for purposes of testing.

There is a significant movement to push a group of people out of the industry, and a group that just so happens to have a lot of women in it. I've tried to not care about that so much, and not caring is what is eating up my energy even more.

So read the article on burnout from the perspective of helping testers. The article ends appropriate quoting anonymous:
“Recognize that, while extremely beneficial, diversity-in-tech work exacts an emotional and mental toll on the well-being of the people who do it. We need to value people; people must always come first. For without them, there would be no work at all.”
There is a diversity of specialties. And people like me would really need help from developers (programmers) on understanding and explaining widely what the value is.
When did you, as a developer, actively make room for your tester to share their trade? When did you, as a tester, have a developer who actively wanted to bring out the best of you without rewriting you into a programmer?

And please don't tell me anymore that I'm special and get heard because of that. I get heard because I fight for getting heard - my fight just tries hard to be a considerate and persistent kind. Take action in listening, even when people are not pushing to talk and share.The "commodity testers" might not want to be that way, and have relevant stuff to contribute. I believe they're products of their environments, and have even more load to peel off before you get to the core of their contribution. But they're thinking smart individuals underneath that all.