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It Is Time To Take Care

Kevin Harris ATD2019

I am writing and rewriting this post already a week. There is no easy way to do it, so I think I simply will publish it… 

Before ATD I said to somebody that I give so good consultings to others, that maybe I should book a session for me with myself. Ha-ha – very funny. Then ATD happen and Kevin Harris from keynote stage said: take care of yourself!

It maybe looks that I am doing great, but I am not.

I am not sleeping. I cannot sleep in hotels… I also know that hotels are not the real problem.

Some of Kevin’s slides could be mine. His talk was another wake up call. I could ignore it just as all others before or act as an adult and finally deal with it.

I decided to deal with it. My first step is to cancel my volunteer activities. I will try to keep participating in the school board, but I will leave most of my tech communities/organizations.

The hardest decision was to leave SpeakEasy. I put my heart into it. Here is a short summary of that journey:

 

  • I applied for the program October 22, 2015. 
  • I was matched with my mentor Gerie Owen on January 12, 2016. 
  • I gave my first international conference talk and graduated from SpeakEasy on June 15, 2016. 
  • Year later : June 12, 2017 I came back to SpeakEasy to support Anne-Marie and Fiona. I became the matchmaker. If you believe my email system, I have written 347 emails and matched around 88 mentees (I counted only matchmaking emails, with orga stuff it goes over a thousand). When I remember how we did it at the beginning with excel lists…
  • Since September 1, 2018 I was on leadership team together with Abby and Maaret.
  • I also mentored two mentees myself. 

 

While I am writing and rewriting this post unexpectedly SpeakEasy was informed about existence of registered trademark on the same name. That means our initiative has to change the name! Emotionally it changes so much for me, it becomes easier to let it go.

It is 23:10 here in Romania. I am am in hotel room in 12th floor. My window is open and I listen to jazz music down there in city center. Tomorrow I am flying home. I hope I can sleep tonight.

Cynefin Framework for a Training

In the trainings students quite often want to hear the only right answer to the question, even if I said earlier that there are multiple solutions. I am very cautious with examples as well because they are threatened often as only possible ways how to use/adapt. To overcome this, I give diverse examples, but my favorite way is to give example in some area of life and to ask my students to transform it in they software or system. In many cases it is real challenge! But that is exactly what you need! Class who just sits and listen, is not a class which is learning.

Lately, to prepare people better for this kind of learning, at the beginning of training I explain simple version of cynefin framework – to categorize problems and to decide how we will deal with them.

If you are not familiar with Cynefin Framework read about it here. Or watch how Liz Keogh explains it:

Embrace Weakness To Become Stronger

Since I am exploring personal branding I am very interested in all related topics, one of which is authenticity. I had a rough upbringing in software testing, many times I was told that I do not belong. Each time when it happened, some of my personal characteristics were named as an example. Because I wanted to belong I stopped to show what was mentioned by the critic. At the end there was no me in my public-me and I still was not enough… Finally it rung the bell. I have reached the bottom. Since then I am recovering from bad management and on my way to build authentic public-me.

Here is another one talking about authenticity. Meet Lina Zubyte! I was happy to get to know her in BTD2016 conference in Belgium, where I gave my first public test talk. She made an impression of young, smart, bright and unfearful woman. I looked at her and thought – it could be me in parallel universe – so unstressed and cheerful. After she started public speaking, it led her to her next career move, which did not turn out so well at the beginning, but as courageous as Lina is, she found strength in her weakness. You can learn about her journey in Linas talk “Finding Power in Authenticity”.

Last year when I met Lina at ATD, she said that I was one of people who inspired her to start public speaking. And again I thought – huh, parallel universes are only there to comfort us, but it is necessary to remind ourselves that they do not exist.

 

Addition from myself, while being weak and vulnerable: stay away from negative people.

Learning: Human Factor

Every week I repeat: sitting still and listening to me is NOT a learning.

For me learning means to change behaviour.

If I understood how important for my well being are physical activities and implemented them into my daily routine, I can say I learned it. If I continue to practice movementless lifestyle, I didn’t learn a thing and there is no improvement to expect.

It does not matter how many trainings you take/ conferences you visit/ books you read, if you don’t implement topics your experienced in your daily activities. No trainer, speaker, book writer can do it for you.

You have to do it by yourself.

Personal Branding

I am a professional. I am all about techniques, methods, processes and approaches. I have nothing to do with marketing and branding. I used to think those things are for companies only. Oh my, how wrong I was…
What changed my mind? Three unrelated situations made me think that maybe, just maybe I am missing something.

Getting hints

The first situation happened in Manchester 2016 during TestBash. Attendees in big group were walking to the next location and enjoying their conversations. While waiting on crossroads green light someone said to me: “I know you! ..no, I don’t really know you. Your face looks familiar. I have seen it on Twitter. So you are famous, but not famous enough that I would remember your name”.
To be honest that short exchange scared me. Yes, I am a frequent Twitter user, but I use it to get access to information and to “store” interesting, thought provoking or simply useful pieces of it. I am professional, remember? Fame doesn’t exist in my world. But ok, let’s take “famous” part out of that message and what stays, is that he could not remember who I was. When I look back, I see that was the first clue that I am missing something.

In August, 2017, the Women In Testing (WIT) group with Agile Testing Days’ (ATD) support, published a list of 125 awesome testers. I am not on the list. I knew many of authors, and had some business together with a few of them, but when they put that list, they forgot me. Some authors felt very bad afterwards and apologised to me. I did not take it personally –  it happens right? I am on second edition, thanks Maaret! But this was my second clue that I am not memorable. I realised that it could be based on my behaviour. In the testing community which is supposed to be so welcoming and inclusive, I did not feel welcomed. Even in WIT group which most of the participants described as a safe place, I don’t feel safe. All this  leads to the impression that I am reserved, restrained and unemotional, which is the exact opposite of how my friends and colleagues would describe me. There was an imbalance between who I am, and how I behaved and that did not come across well.

In September 2017, I started to work for trendig – I finally found people and a place where I am not the strange one (I had worked for companies where I was the only one married/with children, or the only woman or only tester etc). At trendig everyone is accepted as he or she is. Also for me, it was very important that Jana and Pepe, owners of the company, have a very similar value system to mine. It is a pleasure to work together if you don’t have to bother about general things, because you know you are on the same page.
Then came ATD and I got a “cold shower” about how it looks for outsiders. During one break, I was talking to some of sponsors and having questions about their newest product. We were interrupted by someone who I knew, with the sentence: “Don’t put so much effort in explaining it to her, she is one of Pepes people.” To my surprise, the conversation stopped and I did not get answers to my questions.

The Decision

That one sentence made me really angry and that was the last push to start doing something about how people perceive me. After a quick research I realized it will be not so easy. Building own brand is a part time job itself. If you are used to invest your free time to study on testing/ development/ agile 4-8 h a week, be ready to invest the same amount of time into your brand. So I decided to focus it and because I was on a new job and new domain, I built my brand as a trainer for a very specific audience – my students.

I started with everything around how I introduce myself: what is my story, what is my message, what kind of emotions I want to create/provoke. Because I was new to this – I experimented a lot. Every week before starting a training I decided to highlight a skill/experience and observe the reaction. I learned that there is no such thing as a “Best Introduction”. Every group is different, every individual is different. I am happy if I manage to achieve the sweet spot where my students trust me and open up for new ideas, new experiences, if we have deep discussions over lunch and at the end of training people decide to say good-bye by hugging me. But sometimes there is nothing I can do to ignite people to put their smartphones aside. Or a group that refuses to interact with me to shape training according to their needs. They are used to being controlled and to follow commands and that is how they want to be in the training.

Now that I feel good with my brand as a trainer standing in front of my students, I feel comfortable to share some of my learnings. From time to time I will share resources which I found useful for me. Right now, I share three questions with what I suggest you to start.

The Three Questions

Who am I?

Sounds like a simple question, – You know yourself, right? – but I found it very hard to answer. Here are just a few of the things that I considered. When I think about who I am, I start with things like: I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend. I am Latvian, my heritage and my culture, my age, my background and experiences. Only then I think about my professional details. At the beginning when I was shaping my trainer brand, I chose to skip personal details and look only at my professional life, but I did not feel good about it. I decided to experiment and to introduce myself as a family person. That decision created the opportunity for discussions about family and work. I like to think that I encourage people to know that it is possible to have both: kids and exciting work which demands traveling.

Where is my strength?

Another simple question, but many (including myself) sabotage themselves by choosing to name things that they think others want to hear and does not really represent who they are. Typically what is suggested as strengths are experience/education, talents and soft skills. As a trainer, I have several strengths that I want to highlight: my experience in IT projects and as a tester, my moderator skills and my teaching skills (I was a substitute teacher in my 20s). One of my soft skills is observation which fits my trainer profile and gives me e.g. the ability to spot team dynamics.

What emotions do I have?

This was the easiest part for me. During most of my 10 year testing career I was flying solo, and the feeling I had and wanted to share with my students was understanding. I can teach and coach because I had very similar challenges as my students have. The biggest difficulty that I had to overcame, was to learn to talk freely about my mistakes. The  mistakes I talked about before, were mistakes made by my “friends” or “colleagues” had, not mine. I didn’t feel comfortable publicly to admit that I have made mistakes as well. My turning point was a conversation I had with a young professional. At a meetup where a mutual friend introduced us, she told me about her current challenge at work – she got promoted as manager and felt powerless. I  listened to the story which was so similar to my story and was thinking about how to help her. I gave a few tips, but she didn’t believe me and she said: “It is easy for you to talk! Look at you, you are so experienced and established!”. I closed my eyes and thought, if I really want to help her, I need to take my mask down, tell how I came here and to show her my scars. I did that and she appreciated my honesty. I heard she has become a good manager and found strength to change things. I learned valuable lesson – if I truly want to build trust and an understanding atmosphere, I have to talk about my mistakes first. It is hard and exhausting, and I am aware that not everyone will appreciate it, but I am willing to pay this price.

Aftermath

I figured things out with me being a trainer, but me as a member of professional community is still work in progress. My most important lesson learned is to be myself no matter what. So who I am? I am straight forward – I like to call things how they are, passionate – if I do something I do with my whole heart, and persevering – I had to overcome so many obstacles in my life to be here where I am and this is not where I’ll stop! But I am also (over) analysing everything and wanting to belong by being likeable and politcorrect, which is conflicting with me being straight forward. Seriously: I had no idea that communication with English native speakers can be so difficult. E.g. to communicate properly I have to learn US history or to know that “female” is not a synonym for “women”. Otherwise I might offend people without knowing it.

Joining professional community I like to compare with moving to live in another country. You know what my biggest challenge as Latvian living in Germany is? To blend in, but not to lose my identity. Where I come from heritage and national identity is very important. Latvia was invaded many times over last 800 years, many invaders still live there and even after centuries their offsprings hold to their origin nationality and community – I start to understand them. I realised that by trying to fit in testing community, I made too many compromises. I didn’t act how I wanted to by trying to be nice, which all lead to me losing a part of myself and that made me unremarkable.

There are much much more than what you can ask yourself as those three questions what you can ask yourself when you are working on your personal brand. I plan to write more about this when I implement my next steps. I will be reshaping this website, make it more personal, more me. Last year I already changed my Twitter handle to my name and I plan to do the same with the website. Personal brand is about the person, so it has to have its name. There are good books available and sometimes a conference offers a workshop (I think all technical conferences should have every year a workshop on branding). Two people who inspired and supported me with personal conversations are about branding: Martin Hynie and Rob Lambert.

Do you have branding story? I would love to hear it!

Lies About Work

This week my sister was visiting us for big family celebration, that is the reason why this blog post is extremely short. My sister doesn’t work in IT, her topic is marketing and communications. I like to exchange business staff with her, because she lives in different information bubble and has different views. Last week we talked a lot about communication especially about coding the message. We also talked about team motivation and aspects which indicates or lets us to measure it.
Besides everything else, she suggested a book to read: Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World

After checking index, I really got curious about the book. Who else wants to join me to read it?

Update:

I think I did not explain enough why I want to read this book. It is not only about the index. Everyone in testing knows that communication has important role in software development, but how often we really try to understand the other side? I remember once I was listening to my colleague complaining about the project manager she had to work with. I could easily understand her frustration because I have worked with the project manager before and suffered myself. This time as an outsider I could see that the PM is visually stressed, I could see that something is wrong. I surprised myself by suggesting my colleague to have lunch with PM and to find out what is going on. Her reply was: “no way!” I am sure if someone had similar suggestion for me, I would respond in the same way.

For me that conversation became a turning point. I started to look for opportunities to build bridges with other people involved in software development. I had very interesting time, getting to know people, things what they do and work problems what they face. Time to time I met difficult people, who were comfortable in their silo or didn’t want/were afraid to open up and to have a conversation. I chose to leave it like this. I told myself that I respect their choice, but in fact I gave up. Since I have a teenager at home, I keep saying to my husband and to myself – in times when it gets harder, we need to double our love, patience and understanding. “Nine Lies About Work” maybe controversial, but it is mainstream book about corporate world. World – which I always tried to ignore. I learned from my mistakes and now I am ready to have a lunch together.

Feeling Accepted

Have you ever felt alone in crowded place? Have you ever felt not fitting or being not welcomed in a group of people? I know that feeling way too well…

When I was one year old I almost died. Doctor made a mistake. Things happen. After I recovered, I needed to learn to eat, to walk etc again. As you can probably imagine my parents went paranoid and overprotective. For example, I did not attend kindergarten, which was something unheard that time.

Time ago I had disagreement with my brother-in-law. My statement was: do not judge people because you don’t know what you don’t know. His was: everyone is judging everyone and it is very naive to pretend that it is not happening. I know that he is right, but still, I dream of living in the world where people will be accepted and not judged by others.

When I stand before group of people, ready to give a talk, training or workshop, they expect specific behaviour from me. Everybody knows how trainer should look like, talk and walk. Some very quickly notice the difference between me and their image of me. Sometimes people are positively surprised and happy, sometimes very disappointed.

You may ask – what my childhoods trauma has to do with me as professional. The answer is – everything. Only at age of 36 I realised how much my life has been affected by incident at the beginning of my life. It shaped the way how I see the world, it shaped the way how I react on people and situations, it shaped how I build relationships with people and it made me so sensitive and vulnerable. All that I use in my daily work as a tester or as a trainer.

To be vulnerable and to live in society sometimes seams as mission impossible. I am protecting myself by wearing my scars on the inside and cool mask on the outside. I am not ready to share my story from the stage or in even in a classroom, I am so thankful that others are braver then me:

We need to share more stories like this. We need to learn not to be afraid and not to hide the scars. We need to learn to accept others with and without scars.

Two weeks ago one student came to me after the training and said: “I was worried upfront about the course, but then I saw you and immediately knew that I will make it.” And I thought – it was worth it to lift up my mask.

Greediness, Ignorance and Incompetence – Are You In?

Current topic: lawsuit between Accenture and Hertz. In the same time, you know, this is not about those two companies. This is about business world meeting software development world and not understanding each other. …and about profit, interest and presumption. Soon after initial news came out, inside information surfaced:  CIO was making money for own pocket by “saving” companies money on project.

If you work in IT projects, sooner or later you will experience something similar. I have stories myself. Customers PM (no IT background) gave us (working Kanban team) introduction into Kanban (20 step waterfall). Customers Purchasing Manager (no IT background) making decision about agile or not agile and our Sales Manager (no agile understanding) kicking me under the table when I tried to explain differences (the customer was big company and they wanted publicity that it is possible for them to do agile). Last one: customer wanted performance tests without paying money for a server. Greediness, ignorance and incompetence – software development projects trinity. On both sides in management level. Yes, management level. In 20 years I have not met developer who would want to code bad software. But I have seen so many people going silent, because nobody listens and nobody wants to know. Of course there are exceptions! In my experience working on own product was the one.

As a trainer I keep seeing people, who lost their hope to do a good job. Sarcasm on: World is not driven by good job, world keeps spinning because of profit. Sarcasm off. Forget about business and software development, look into climate change. This is about society which knows, but does not react.

I love software development, I really do! That is why I became a trainer. I don’t want to be part of trinity movement. I want to explain customers and what is software requirement and why it is a key element in whole project. I want to train software people to question requirements. I want to coach people not to blindly believe that software development method will guarantee project success. Agile works for me, because for me Agile Manifesto and its 12 principles is common sense. Why should I force you to accept it as your common sense?

Choose the one which fits you the best!

    

    

   

Ethical Dilemma #MachineLearning #AI

Everyone talks about AI, I am ready to give you my 5 cents.

I started to study IT 20 years ago. In my circle AI was a thing, I thought I want to belong to the cool gang make it as my topic as well. But my enthusiasm did not last for a long time. I gave up when I realised in what early stage is it and how hopeless it is. I gave up on AI after I learned about ethics dilemma – train out of control, switch and dilemma whom to kill. My professor was amused about our reaction, I got depressed by finding puzzle which I cannot solve. Now 20 years later, being a mother and raising three children, I see unsolvable puzzles everywhere. I can only hope that my three natural intellects will learn the “right” ethics, but there is no guarantee.

My oldest daughter yesterday watch a horror movie for the first time in her life. She is twelve & we are the family who usually watches Peppa Pig or biathlon welt cup. We have not watch all Harry Potter movies yet, because she was too scared! She thought that the movie is named Walking Dad. When she realised that dad is dead, she felt that it is tool late and did not want to let her friend down. So she stayed there and watch it… It is long story how and why, but one of topics what we were discussing yesterday – if you cannot help your friend anymore (she is getting medical help), maybe it is time to end the friendship if this friendship takes too much from you. We spent all afternoon talking and believe me, I never ever thought that I will suggest my child to think about leaving her friend in trouble. So unethical! At the end it will be her decision (it is not only about the movie). As a trainer and coach, it is part of my job – to help people, but not to let their problems to become my problems.

We created the reality of big data. We created this artificial problem, now we need solution. Solution is basically analysis of data, but we are too lazy to do it ourselves, so we want that algorithms do analysis and learning for us. For me it looks like we are creating next artificial problem…  This is why I like love letter written by Smita. It is about data & algorithm and our ability to see behind it. I hope we will question our own algorithms (human behaviour) as well.

I may look like like I know something, but in fact I know nothing. Am I at the beginning or at the end of this journey?

Learning stages (my interpretation):

  • Beginning: I know nothing
  • Years 1-3: I know some things
  • Years 4-7: I don’t know what I don’t know
  • Years 8-12: I know *everything*
  • Years 13+: I know nothing

You may also want to read “Ethics and Artificial Intelligence: The Moral Compass of a Machine” written by Kris Hammond.

Learning Zone, Performance Zone

Time to time I discuss with people in industry about how to find a good software testers/developers. And my answer is always the same – do not look for a tester/developer, look for a person who likes to learn. If you can teach a bear to ride a bicycle, then a person, who wants to learn, have no limits.

How long do you work as a software tester/developer? How many years of software testing/development experience do you have? Looks like similar questions, but they are not. For example, you are paid as a software developer for 7 years. You can have one time 7 years of experience OR you could have 7 times 1-year experience.

Since I work as a trainer I see that being in a room and listening is not enough. Students have to apply learnings in everyday life and this is the hardest part of learning. I agree to educators who say learning means change of behaviour. Very simple example: child and candle. A child is attracted to a flame and wants to touch it. Parents can say 100 times, do not touch it! A child will hear it, but not learn and will keep trying to touch a flame. Only after touching a flame, lesson will be learned and behaviour changed. In Germany is used to say Lernen Durch Schmerzen which translated means Learning Through Pain. Pain as trigger to change a pattern of behaviour.

I really love Eduardo Briceño TED talk where he introduces us with his concept of Learning Zone and Performance Zone. Learning zone is where we build our skills, important part in this stage is to make mistakes and lern from them, and performance zone, where we apply skills we master. Since I work in IT , I had little chance for learning, my work life was pure performance zone. Companies want to hire only experienced professionals. If you are not one of them, it does not mean that you get time to learn, it means you work with others and have to deliver high quality, the only difference is your pay.

In Agile projects we talk a lot about learning… We talk about learning domain, learning about customers needs, learning about software we are building, but do we really learn? Is it place where mistakes are allowed? Where you are allowed to say: “I don’t know.” In many cases it looks to me like masked performance zone.

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