Friday, November 30, 2018

Open Source and the New World of Creator Responsibility

As I'm minding my own business, doing some testing and enjoying myself, I get brutally interrupted by an incoming message. Someone somewhere has a problem. With the product I work with. I know that I care a lot, deep down, but the timing of the message is just so inconvenient. Reluctantly I offload from the work I was doing, preparing myself mentally to dig into the intrusion.

As I read the message and related bug report, I feel the frustration in me growing. The steps to reproduce the problem are missing. The description of the problem is vague. It feel like the reporter did not even understand what they were doing, let alone knowing what  the product was doing. Reading the text again and again, I come to the conclusion they have an actual problem, but their report, all without the right details and logs does not help me to do anything with it.

The tester that I am, I start testing the situation myself. Sure enough, it is not like I have tested our product together with Google Ads management interface. As I set up the environment, I realize I have to have an actual campaign set up so that I could even reproduce the problem. I toy between the "going to ask for company credit card" and "use my own credit card, here's the opportunity I always wanted to try ads for my own stuff" and go for the easy route and build a little campaign to advertise my conference. I confirm the bug, test more to figure out exact steps to isolate it to know what is the minimal impact workaround I can suggest, collect the logs and attach all of my investigation into the records I started with.

The fix is ready in 10 minutes. The release of the fix takes a little longer.

All of this happened in a project where I get paid for my time. Yet I am frustrated. But what about when we find ourselves working on our pet projects, sharing them as open source?

First of all, the code, whether closed or open source does what its creators make it do.

This means there is always creator responsibility of what can be done with the software you created.

With software, it's not just about being a creator as in writing some lines of code, but it is also being an owner of what you started creating. You can be responsible for the code you wrote to an extent, but when you move in open source projects to the idea of being responsible for code others created on a codebase you started, we're piling a lot of work and responsibilities on someone who did not really opt into it.

There was a great example of that this week.
It wasn't *mining* it was *stealing* as many pointed out. But the really peculiar thing to look at was the formation of camps in assuming different responsibility for the owner as original contributor.

Finally posting this was motivated by a good friend of mine running a relevant open source test automation tool project tweeting this:
 Going back to my story to start this blog post, you can't really always expect that your users - that is what they are even if your project is free and open source - would take the time to isolate and report problems. And when you make it so, at worst you are like another open source maintainer who goes around bragging on quality of their code when reality is that their users just don't bother reporting but take the choice of just walking away.
I know how to write good bug reports yet I rarely do. I only do it when I get paid for it, or as a result of it I get something I need. I want to optimize the time I spend and a quick report on problems is the smallest possible contribution I can choose to take.

Information is valuable for a project that wishes for wider scale adoption. While there may not be direct money coming in from an free open source project, I find that many of the relevant creators have found a way of turning their thing into some income flow.

Say thank you for making you *aware* you have work you can think about doing, and stop blaming anyone who works free. I know it is hard to do, even when you have a paying customer.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Forced Consistency Across Teams

The first thing I taught to our latest 15-year-old trainee was what we believe that rules and processes need to be built with a core principle in mind: trust.

If someone might commit a crime, we don't put everyone in jail.

Many of the corporate processes and principles are an illustration of people really not getting this idea.

We make people clock in and out of work so that we know they worked. Except in this industry, time at place of work is a ridiculous metric. I should know, I've just had two weeks of motivational issues where I was at work and performed really bad (to my standards).

We make people write test cases and tick the box as they complete them, because, quoting an old manager of mine "no one in their right mind would test if they were not monitored in this detail" Well, I did. And still do. And I love it. The devs loved it as soon as it wasn't tick-the-box.

We introduce common practices and processes for teams with very different skillsets and background, even if there was no common problem those solve.

When I look at processes and practices, I note that I have personal preferences. I prefer no estimates, no Jira, end-to-end visibility and sense of ownership, understanding and solving problems. I recognize that everyone in my team has their own personal preferences, and I respect their preferences as I expect them to respect mine. I do compromises, like spend my time suffering with Jira just because they still haven't figured out that it isn't making them better. And they experiment with whatever ideas we all interject into the efforts of trying to make things better.

What inspired me to write this is a discussion about my personal dislike for definition of done.

I believe definition of done is a great tool for building a common understanding for a team on what they try to mean when they say done. I've used it, multiple times.

I've come to think of it as "definition of done for now"-

I've learned that a deeper version of it is risk-based definition of done for now, even within one team. Cookie cutter templates rarely work for other than getting started.

I've experienced over and over again how forcing definition of done over many teams for reasons of consistency is short-sighted. First you have to understand if the teams are consistent, or if some are steps ahead of others, and approaching the same problem with a different solution could actually improve things more.

As with any practices and processes, I don't accept that it would be our only option for improvement. Using time on one thing is time away from something else - the idea of opportunity cost. If Definition of Done would help us make sense in a messy multi team setting, would any other approaches work? Could you redesign the team compositions to force the architecture you aspire that would drive down the dependencies, leveraging Conway's law? Could you instead of a Definition of Done (there are plenty of examples what this contains), describe your team's responsibilities in some other format that would enable you to see a dimension DoD misses?

Using Jira states the different way is hardly the reason why developers find it hard to start working on a new component. Looking at the code and its structures is a much more likely reason. Lack of documentation and training is a much more likely reason.

Go for consistency when it solves a problem without introducing bigger ones. Putting everyone in jail because one might rob the bank tends to be a bigger problem.

The Broken Phone Effect

I was totally upset with a colleague of mine, and to ease my heart, I ranted about them to my manager. Like that colleague just reminded me today, it is so hard to understand people like me who would just talk about problems without expecting a solution. And this rant was like that. I wasn't expecting an action. I just needed to talk.

Like so many times, I found that the metadata of what type of request was coming in from me did not go through. When my communication headers included the metadata asking for a sympathetic ear, and a mirror to bounce things off, they only received the default: When presented a problem, solution is in order.

The solution however was particularly good this time. They suggested that I'd go and talk to my colleague. I did. It felt overwhelming and difficult. But it was a start of many great conversations where we built trust on one another, now knowing that we could constructively talk about anything and everything.

So I distilled my lesson. When I had something I felt strong enough to rant to another person, perhaps taking the extra step and talking to them directly, not about what *they do* but about what *I feel*, was a path worth taking.

With this lesson in mind, I've asked many people to talk to me directly when I'm involved in how *they feel*. I believe they cannot tell me what to do, but they can help me understand how what I do makes them feel and I may choose to work on my behaviors, or at least help them understand how I make sense of the world. Remembering how hard those steps are, I appreciate that many people choose avoidance. I still choose avoidance in righteous anger when I feel neither my status nor the past agreements justify me taking the first step. The word "emotional labor" comes to mind. Bridging in disagreements requires that, and I'm tired of it being expected it is my duty to perform it for the others.

Over the years as I have been blogging, people have reached out to tell they've been through what I write about. While I write for myself, I also write for people like myself. People who aspire to change themselves, change the results they contribute, change the world in some small way. My stories are not factual representations of events, but they are personal intertwining of many experiences that allow me to shine light to a relevant experience.

When my manager calls me telling I should not say "Google me", I wish the person I offended would have had the guts to talk about this without the broken phone effect. I could have explained that I mean that you will find articles I've written, research I've done and that I did google your background enough to see that you are talking to someone who knows something of this stuff. Assume good intent. I rarely say things to insult.

If you have something to say, talk to me about it. If you don't but changed your ways for the better anyway, I'm fine with you being annoyed with me and avoiding me. Mutual loss, but we both have options.

A great option is to break the broken phone effect and just deal with your own stuff instead of sending a messenger. It might have a second order positive impact.

I tried, I failed, I succeeded. I learned. Can you say the same? FAIL is a first attempt in learning and takes a significant amount of courage.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Pay to Speak and Why Non-Profit Does Not Mean What You Think

Four years ago, I started a conference as an experiment in figuring out how a tech conference could be more fair to speakers. I had experienced many sleepless nights trying to figure out what were my values as a mother of two in allocating the family money to Pay to Speak at conferences, just because it was something I personally aspired for.

Looking at the way I felt about my immediate choices I had to make within my family, and the greater scheme of things in the community, I started actively looking at a theme I plugged #PayToSpeak. It was an observation that while conferences sell the possibility to come hear speakers teach what  they had learned, I found myself short of money as showing up at conferences was something where I was expected to pay my travel and accommodation. I paid, just like everyone else, building barely enough name to get to a point I could have a choice.

In the greater scheme of things, people like myself of with less privilege than what I had as a single mother of two, suffer more from #PayToSpeak. Also, where you work matters - some companies seek the visibility in your conferences and are willing to pick up the travel bill, while I personally have chosen to work in product companies that would choose to invest their visibility euros in other conferences than the ones I want to speak at.

So I created a sheet, and very recently upped it to a web site with a link to the sheet. It will move forward when I feel I have time and energy. But it serves a purpose already as it is. You can check out to learn about the theme.

Fairly regularly, I get conference representatives asking me to present them in a more positive light. CAST chairperson Maria Kedemo asking for improvements in the documents is not unusual.
However, I have not yet found a way of presenting information like this. As you may guess from the title of my post, being a non-profit is not as obvious tick box as you might think.

The difference of a non-profit and company as organizer is hard to describe. Both can organize the same conference. Both can organize it for the same price for participant. Both can choose to use most of the money to pay salaries for the organizers, and all expenses for the speakers. Both can choose to be #PayToSpeak. The only real difference is in what they can choose to do with the profits.

Remember, profit is what is left after all the costs. Salaries are costs. So even for a company, you don't have to end up making profit.

What non-profit do with the profit they raise is that  they run their cause. The cause for AST is admirable. They use the money they make in conferences in financially supporting small testing communities that need that money to bring in speakers, pay event organizing costs, start new events. AST played a core role in financially supporting my conference on year one, saving me from some of the financial stress taking a risk of going into organizing with them, rather than all by myself.

My conference uses the profits on supporting new speakers traveling to other #PayToSpeak conferences, and enabling people who aspire to speak to experience a conference they can't pay for. With the cost structure of always paying the speakers expenses and being uncertain about number of paying participants, the profits from the conference to use on the cause have not been very large.

Instead, my conference has served as an experimentation platform. I can now say that  while speakers are important, the sales and marketing effort is more important in a conference's success. I have found new respect for people who manage to run series of conferences with volunteers only, and for conferences that pay their organizers. The choices of what work / costs are worth paying from the conference budget are not easy, and will be versatile and hard to describe.

So I choose to only describe in my sheet the immediate impact for the speaker - what money out of pocket are they expected to find or what financial support they can expect to see, should they volunteer as speakers.

I dream of a world we we'd also have the money to compensate for used time for the speakers. That means that the audience - all of us - needs to have money to pay for those services. The world is more than half-full of people for whom their companies never paid a single tech conference. They might never get to go, or if they go, it is personal time off.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Stop Analyzing, Start Automating

I see systems. I guess we see things we like seeing, and I like seeing how the bits and pieces connect, what is clear and what is wrapped in mystery of promises of more learning in the future. I like seeing value, and users and flows. And pieces alone are part of that flow, but the promise comes together with the system.

For years, I've tested systems. I've figured out ingenious ways of seeing what changes, learning heuristics of what changes matter, all grounded on knowing why would anyone want to use this? Every moment testing an individual piece, as an exploratory tester, connects somehow to a greater purpose in the context of the system.

When I worked with a team of 10 developers with their only tester, we were doing daily releases without test automation, and it worked great. It worked great into slowly but steadily introducing test automation. But even without test automation, in contained the size of change. Each change would flow isolated through the pipeline with the manual steps. Just like coding was manual, testing was that too. Think, test, implement, test, think, release - a steady flow of features of value.

But now, the scale is different. Where I had 10 people before, I now have 100. And 100 developers, doing non-isolated changes merging to trunk as soon as they think they're ready is change at a pace one tester, even with  the ingenious ways of seeing things and knowing things, it is just too much. This is where test automation as documentation comes in. With executable documentation, test automation frees my energy to analyze on top of it, not all of it. I no longer need to analyze details, but trends. Clusters of changes. Driving forces for those changes. Risks in the system, and risks in the people creating those systems. Automation catches some of it - quite a lot of it. And what it does not catch, is a chance of identifying what the automation is missing. To document with test automation.

I find myself in places where automation at first is more of a wishful thinking than actual net of coverage. But learning, every day, and documenting with automation, it grows every day.

My analyzing changes on backlog visualization. If I can fix and forget, I would go there. But sometimes things need bigger focus. And as an exploratory tester and a system tester, I see what we miss. I label it, and ask for it.

I wouldn't know how to connect this stuff with reality if I did not spend time, hands on, with the systems we're building. The product works as external imagination, making my requests of what should be tested more practical. And while I prepare for the automation work, I just so happen to have already tested without the automation, found some problems and gotten them fixed.

We emphasize automation, for a reason. But in addition to folks who automate, we need folks who care for identifying things that take us further, make our automation do real testing. Not end to end, but covering a web of granular feedback mechanisms, so that we know when things are not right.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

New Speakers, New Stories - Agile Testing Days USA SpeakEasy Track

Yesterday at TestBash USA, one of people I've mentored behind the scenes delivered a talk. I woke up today to a delightful message: "...had people saying I was their favorite talk. I wouldn't have reached this point without your help, I can't thank you enough."

Today, at Belgrade Testing Days, lovely people on Twitter delivered me news that another people I have mentored had a full house and got 4.93/5 in immediate app feedback for her first ever talk.

There is something in common. These people did awesome with their talks. They invited help. But what that really shows is that they have always been awesome, and inviting help was just small part of them putting effort into making their messages accessible for others. It has been my pleasure to be a small part on their journey, and get privately insights into what they are teaching - me and others.

I believe we all have worthwhile lessons to share. And we are ourselves our worst enemies talking down to ourselves. There is something you've done. There is something you care for. Your approach, when shared, could help someone else figure out their approach. It could be the same as yours. It could be completely opposite, yet inspired by you. The conference stages are for us learning together, and we need different perspectives and stories on those stages.

You - yes, YOU - have this in you. And you don't have to take that step of becoming a speaker alone. That is why there is SpeakEasy, a community initiative of building productive relationships between speakers, mentors and conferences. I believe in this so much that I've formed a leadership team with 3 lovely colleagues to take the initiative forward from 2018 on. I believe in this so much that I have mentored dozens of people, and keep my calendar open for giving time to support people on their speaking journeys.

Right now, I am volunteering with SpeakEasy that works in collaboration of one of the lovely conferences: Agile Testing Days USA. We have a full SpeakEasy track we are building to get stories to learn from that wouldn't be available otherwise. We seek for 6 talks, 2 workshops and 1 keynote. The talks are from new speakers. The workshops would be new speakers pairing with more seasoned speakers. And the keynote would be a seasoned speaker who has not had their changes of kicking into the keynoting regular circles yet.

You have one more week to join this. To join as a new speaker, you need to schedule yourself into my calendar for 15 minute discussion. We'll figure out what your early idea could look like, and consider it as something that you'll build with support from a mentor if it is the right match for a balanced program. Schedule your session now. If nothing else, you'll get a chance to talk your experiences through with me, and hear my ideas of how you could frame that for other stages.

If you get selected, Agile Testing Days USA pays the travel (with specified limits) and accommodation, and you get to enjoy the other sessions in the conference too. It's a lot of work to prep a talk, but it is also rewarding to structure your thoughts so that others are able to follow. It is a skill, I find, that makes a difference in your career.

You are awesome. And I want to talk with you. I need you to take the first step. I can't find you when you've not taken that stage yet.

Changing the Discussion around Scope

People have an amazing talent for seeking blame. Blame in themselves, what they did wrong but also blame in others, what they did wrong. Having a truly blameless retrospective where we'd honestly believe that F.A.I.L. means first attempt in learning and embracing more attempts in the future, hopefully different ones is a culture that takes a lot of effort.

I've personally chosen a strategy to work around scope that is heavily reliant on incremental delivery. Instead of asking how long it takes to deliver something, I guide people into asking if we could do something smaller first. It has lead my team into doing weekly, even daily releases where each release delivers some value without taking out that was already there. Always turning the discussion towards value in production, and smallest possible increment of that value has been helpful. It enables movement within the team. It enables reprioritization. And it enables the fact that no one needs to escalate things to find a faster route to get the same thing done, the faster route is always a default.

We work a lot with the idea of being customer-oriented - even obsessed, if that wasn't such a negative word. We are thinking a lot in terms of value, empathy and caring, and seeking ways to care more directly. We don't have a product owner but a group of smart minds both inside the team but also outside supporting the team with business intel. The work we all do is supposed to turn into value at customers hands. Production first helps us prioritize. Value in production, value to production.

We didn't always deliver this way or work this way. We built the way we work in this team in the last 2.5 years I've had the pleasure of enjoying the company of my brilliant team.

Looking at things from this perspective, I find there is a message I keep on repeating:

If you have a product owner (or product management organization) and they ask you to deliver a feature that customers are asking, they don't know everything but they do their best in understanding what that would be like. They define the scope in terms of value with the customer.

If they ask you to estimate how much work there is to do that, you need to have some idea of the scope. Odds are, your idea of the scope isn't same as theirs, and theirs is incomplete to begin with. The bigger the thing asked, the more the work unfolds as we are doing it.

They asked you for value 10. You thought it will take you effort 10. That is already two ways of defining the scope.

In delivery, you need to understand what the value expected really is. Often it is more in terms of effort that you first guessed.

Telling folks stuff like "you did not say the buttons needed to be rounded, like all the other buttons" or "the functionality is there, but the users just won't find it" may be that it works as specified but not as really expected. I find that those trying to specify and pass the spec do worse than those trying to learn, collaborate and deliver incrementally.

Scoping is a relationship, not something that is given to me. We discover features and value in collaboration, and delivering incrementally helps keep the discussion concrete. Understanding grows at every step of the way, and we should appreciate that.

** note: "Scope does not creep, understanding grows" is an insight I have learned from Jeff Patton. There are many things I know where I picked them up, while there's more where I can no longer pinpoint where the great way of describing my belief systems came from. I'm smiling wryly at the idea of mentioning the source every time I say this in office - we're counting hundreds. 

Getting best ideas to win

There's a phrase I keep repeating to myself:
Best ideas win when you care about work over credit. 
A lot of times, if you care to be attributed for the work you are doing, the strategies of getting the best ideas out there, implemented, are evading. If you don't mind other people taking credit for your ideas (and work), you make a lot more progress.

Mob programming is a positive way of caring about work over credit. There we are all mutually credited for what comes out. But on the other hand, it is hard that you know something would not be what it is without you, and the likelihood of anyone recognizing your contribution in particular is low.

At TestBash Australia, we had a hallway conversation about holding on to credit you deserve, and I shared a strategy I personally resolve into when I feel my credit is unfairly assigned elsewhere: extensive positivity of the results, owning the results back through marketing them. People remember who told them the good news.

As a manager in my team, I've now tried going out of my comfort zone on sharing praise in public. With two attempts at it, I am frustrated on feeling corrected. I'm very deliberate on what I choose to say, who I acknowledge and when. I pay a lot of attention to the dynamics of the teams, and see the people who are not seen, generally speaking. What I choose to say is intentional, but also what I choose to not say is intentional.

This time, I chose not to acknowledge great work of an individual developer when getting a component out was very clearly team work. I remember a meeting I invited together 5 weeks ago to guide scope of the release to smaller, with success of "that is ready, tomorrow". I remember facilitating the dedicated tester designing scope of testing to share that there were weeks worth of testing after that "ready". I remember how nothing worked while "ready", and the great work from the tester in identifying what needed attention, and the strong-headedness of not accepting bad explanations for real experiences. I remember another developer from the side guiding the first developer into creating analytics that would help us continue testing in production. I remember dragging 3rd parties into the discussion, and facilitating things for better understanding amongst many many stakeholders. It took a village, and the village had fun doing it. I would not thank one for the work of the village.

Just a few hours later, I was feeling joy as one of the things I did acknowledge specifically was unfolding into wider knowledge in a discussion. I had tried getting a particular type of test from where it belonged, and failed, and made space for it to be created in my team. The test developer did a brilliant job implementing it and deserved the praise. Simultaneously, I felt the twitch of lack of my praise on finding the way in an organization that was fighting back on doing the right thing, and refusing feedback.

I can, in the background, remember to pat myself on the back, and acknowledge that great things happen because I facilitate uncomfortable discussions and practical steps forward. Testing is a great way of doing that. But all too often, it is also a great way of keeping yourself in the shadows, assigning praise where it wouldn't be without you.

Assigning credit is hard. We need to learn to appreciate the whole village.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Achievements of a Silo

Once upon a time there was a company, much like many other companies yet unique in many ways. As companies do, they hired some great people in different teams. There was one thing in common: all the people were awesome. But the people came from very different backgrounds and ideas.

In one of the teams where some great people in testing landed, the testers were feeling frustrated. With a new team and no infrastructure for builds and test automation yet features flying around being implemented and tested, they found it hard to take the time and focus they felt they needed. So as some great people do, they actively drove forward a solution: they created a new team on the side, with focus on just creating the infrastructure and dropped all the in-team work of testing they had managed to get started. Without facilitation, the in-team testing work turned into tiny, focused on units and components, and perspectives around value and system vanished in hopes of someone else picking them up, like magic.

With the new team and new focus, the great people made great progress. They set up a fancy pipeline with all sorts of fancy tests, and a lovely set of images and documents to share what a great machinery they had built. Where ever this new team showed up, they remembered to tell how well they did, and all the awesome stuff the machinery now made available with sample tests of all sorts that the pipeline theoretically should hold.

The original team focusing on features were handed the great machinery with high hopes for expanding it. The machinery building team built more machinery, on the side of the machinery being used for real projects.

The fun part of this fable arrives after many months has passed. The overall project with the lost focus of who owns system perspectives was struggling a bit, and it became obvious that getting a perspective into readiness wasn't an easy task. So as companies do, a meeting was called.

In the meeting, the machinery team presented all the great things they had built, and great they were. With every example of what was built as example into the machinery, the team focusing on features brought today's reality. That test job - turned off as it broke. Same with the other. And another. All the great things the machinery promised, none of it was realized in practice.

Lesson of this story is: it's not about your team's output, but about the outcome of all the different teams together. You can create the shiniest machinery there is, but if it is not used, and if relevant parts of it in real use get turned off, your proof of concept running all the shiny things provided very little value. It may have taught the great people in the machinery team some valuable personal lessons in the technical perspective. What it should teach is that value of whatever we are building comes from the use of it.

I'm a big believer of teams actively participating in building their continuous integration machinery, and slightly loath people who believe that learning together while building it, while taking it into use isn't needed because someone else could do the learning for you.

Learning with you is possible, for you is not. Achievement in silo often end up worth a little.