This morning, fresh from a long night’s sleep after I returned from the EuroSTAR conference, I sat in the conservatory and watched the sky – a skein of autumn geese flew high, by v-skewed across the pale autumn sky. A murmuration of starlings. The parliament of rooks that sweep across the garden. I refilled the bird feeders for the smaller birds, and reflected, how blessed I am to have found this place as my haven and my home.
This year – 2017 – so much has happened, personally, professionally. So many changes, so many challenges, so many new things that I have tried.
I have travelled to India, Canada, France, USA, Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Malta, I have lived all around the UK – in flats, in houses, in cities, towns and the countryside. Moving on, moving on, all the time.
My friends have been my safety net, my front row, my supporters, bringing me encouragement, reminding me of what I want to be and what I am. I think of my long standing friends, and also friendships renewed across the years, and new friends, people I have met for the first time in 2017, yet feel I have known forever. Some encounters built on years of friendship, some encounters were only of minutes in length. Souls touching and parting, linked now only by the tenuous threads of memory.
I have stretched, grown, released tired and knotted muscles, been still and moved swiftly, listened and spoken, laughed and wept, started to spin the threads that I will weave to fabric and sew into a new patchwork quilt of a new life. And now, at the end of the year – I am. I am an expert, I am a student. I am a thinker, I am a comedian. I am a sewer, I am a painter. I am a writer, I am a musician. I am a dancer, I am a swimmer. I am a listener, I am a speaker. All these things I have done, some not so well, but all of these things I have done.
2017 has been an extraordinary year – my life has changed. I acknowledge that I have much to be grateful for in my life: my energy, my friends, everything that has happened. I acknowledge the suffering and pain so many in the world feel, and hope for its cessation.
“Looking forward and not back” says one of my friends, and that is the watchwords – after this brief review, this acknowledgement that 2017 has been a year of personal growth, of creativity, of energy, of growing to know myself better.
What will 2018 bring? What do I want and what can I achieve?
Look back, see the past
landscape clear. Looking forward:
new path starting now.
In autumn 2016, I travelled by train from Budapest to Stockholm, via Hamburg and the ferry. This is an exciting journey, passing through so many places of historical interest, and such varied landscape. But, it is also exciting because the train from Hamburg to Copenhagen goes on the ferry – they drive the train onto the ferry, with you on board, and then off the ferry on the other side of the water. I love long train journeys. I love to go from one end of the line to another.
This quilt celebrates that journey: the colours of birch woods and autumn leaves, dense woodland, rocks, cities and water streaking past the windows of the train.
The first part of the route is a train from Budapest to Hamburg. This train was a delight. Old fashioned compartments and a dining car. I had the company of a group of Hungarian lads on their way to Prague for the weekend. They leapt on the train at the last minute before it left Budapest, opened up their packed food and ate continuously all the way to Prague. They did not stop eating! The capacity of youth for food!
At Hamburg, I left the train and met my brother who joined me for the second part of the journey – especially to experience the train on the ferry between Puttgarten & Rødby. He is keen on trains so had a great time photographing all the different trains, on all the platforms, on all the stations… and we talked, and talked, and talked… The capacity of middle-age for conversation!
We spent the night in a hotel, and got the train to Copenhagen next morning. Through countryside, and then we drew into the station Puttgarden to await the ferry to Rødby. My brother took photos of the train, the train driver, the view through the train driver’s window, us on the platform, on the train, by the train, of the ferry as it came in… The excitement of being on a train pulling onto the lorry deck of a ferry cannot be overestimated – it was brilliant! Once the train was parked in the lorry deck of the ferry – on its own rails – everyone got off the train and onto the deck to enjoy the sea crossing.
It was a beautiful day, the sun sparkling on the water and the gulls wheeling above. The colours of the world had changed from orange, russet and gold to blue, silver and grey. As the ferry drew into dock, all the train passengers had to rush down to the lorry deck and get back on the train before docking, as it sets off as soon as the front of the ferry opens.
In Copenhagen we changed trains, and again crossed water, this time via the ØRESUND BRIDGE and then north through gathering darkness to Stockholm.
I took numerous pictures, but the ones that most evoke the journey for me and which are the source shots for the quilt are the slightly blurred landscapes. Here are some of the inspiration pictures for the quilt.
I made a preliminary sketch based on these impressions and memories.
The key inspiration was the way that – from the point of view of the passenger – the landscape rushes past the window, becoming smaller as it moves away. The colours of autumn and water streak past horizontally, while the trees and their reflections make strong vertical lines – especially the birch trees, strong yet delicate.
I gathered fabrics in colours that matched the autumn and water, and started to play, plaiting, rouching and manipulating the fabric, experimenting, sewing and unpicking. Gathering, and gathering.
Eventually a theme started to emerge, but I was sketching with fabric – I did not know where it was going to end. The photos below show some stages I went through.
I’ve used the material itself and folds to indicate waves on the sea, and folds in the landscape – from the furrows in ploughed fields to the roll of hills and sides of mountains.
As I manipulated the fabric, the ideas for how to express the quilt’s theme changed. The essentials of horizontal lines moving to a point to give left to right movement, punctuated by the horizontals to represent birch trees remained, but the colour, texture and draping qualities of the various fabrics affected how I could use them.
Eventually I stopped pinning and tacking, and went to the sewing machine – I had to commit to this or it would never happen.
I spent a couple of days sewing with the machine, pulling the fabric around, adding details, joining fabric pieces, overlapping, pleating, rouching and running quilting stitches over the surface – pale vertical stitching to indicate trees, and blue horizontal stitches for water and wind.
And is this the finished quilt?
It is as far as I can bring it at present. As ever I am dis-satisfied, but it has some aspects that I am pleased with. It does feel vertiginous, it make you feel a little dizzy to look at, so there is some sensation of speed. The folds of the cloth do indicate the folds of the landscape and waves on the sea. Probably, I would like it to be longer horizontally and smaller vertically. But there are some ideas I can reuse.
An autumn train journey across Europe from Budapest to Stockholm
via Bratislava, Prague, Berlin, Hamburg, Lübeck, Puttgarden, Rødby, Copenhagen, Malmö, and Linköping.
Woods and fields, trees and rocks, sea and ships, towns and cities.
Thank you to the HUSTEF, UCAAT and EuroSTAR conferences in 2016, whose choices – of date, city, and myself as one of the speakers – meant that I had to make the journey between Budapest and Stockholm, and could choose to make it by train and not plane!
When planning this trip, I consulted “The Man in Seat 61” and I recommend him if you want to plan or dream a train trip anywhere in the world!
Seth’s course continues with him speaking, giving examples, explaining concepts and exhorting… I am not going to go through everything he suggested (do the course! I urge you… do the course! Seth Godin’s Freelancer course) but I will give some ideas of the challenges in the exercises, what they made me think about, and some of my answers.
The next questions Seth posed (as exercises 2 and 3) are really thought provoking:
- What do people buy when they buy something from you?
- Leave out the easy, repetitive, generic stuff… what are you doing that’s difficult?
This really got me thinking, because, the easy answer is “consultancy and training,” but… what do I mean by that? What exactly do people want to buy from me? My engagements with customers don’t necessarily offer concrete deliverables – although they can do. I’m not providing wedding catering, or photography, where people can see something they have bought. What I offer could seem quite nebulous. The type of feedback I have had from satisfied customers (especially senior people like CEOs) are words like “happier because you are here,” “calmer days,” “more confidence”. This requires some thinking – what are people buying, really, when they buy from me? This is not about what I think I am selling, but about what other people think they are buying.
What do people buy when they buy something from me?
I provide consultancy, training, coaching, mentoring in my specialist areas within IT. That is software quality management, software testing and user experience testing.
Therefore people buy my expertise and knowledge.
More specifically, if YOU buy from ME: you buy my confidence, energy and enthusiasm, my ability to enthuse others. You buy my diligence, my competence, my ability to find out or synthesise new things from a set of information / data and therefore suggest a (new to you) solution to a problem that you have.
You buy the knowledge that you can trust me, because I am a professional.
Leave out the easy, repetitive, generic stuff… what am I doing that’s difficult?
The difficult parts of my role, the reason I succeed, is because of two contrasting areas: People and Data.
Most of the problems I encounter in organisations, and help to solve, arise from gaps in people’s communication, understanding and skills. I’m an enabler and teacher. I enable others to become more confident and to learn new skills, both technical and interpersonal. After time with me, you’ll have bought the ability to close those communication gaps.
Data arrives on organisation’s laps in vast and unmanageable clumps. I have the ability, the patience and a certain enjoyment in unravelling data, analysing it, researching, thinking, synthesising, making data into information. Ideas arising from this work are often hard to explain and convey, but I have a skill in transferring and clarifying concepts via story-telling and metaphor. After time with me, you’ll have bought knowledge you’ve gained from those stories.
Here are ten things you’ll get from me, if you are my client:
- Trustworthiness – if I say I’ll do it, then I’ll do it.
- Kindness and respect – I’ll treat people as people.
- Diligence and hard work – you won’t wonder whether I could have done more.
- Honesty in feedback – I won’t flatter, I will critique, and I’ll praise
- Enthusiasm and positive attitude – I will look for ways to make things work.
- Stories and metaphors – I’ll seek many ways to explain and transfer ideas.
- Listening and understanding – I will take time to make communication two-way.
- Timeliness and scheduling – I will work to get things done ahead of date.
- Confidence and worth – I want to leave you feeling more capable than I found you.
- Sharing and giving – I want to transfer to you the knowledge I have.
Then came a really hard question, but one that I found important to reflect on really carefully. How do I rank, against others, against myself as I used to be, and against what I could be in the future? Seth asked: “Compared to others who do what you do, rank yourself on reputation, knowledge, expertise, tools, handiness”
So, how do I compare? And, who do I compare myself to?
I took a long hard look at my skills and expertise. There are some areas where I have specialised, practised, and continue to grow. There are other areas which are no longer my specialism. It’s like spring cleaning a cupboard – what do I want to keep? what do I want to mend? and what do I throw away? As I continue to specialise, it is clearly impossible to know everything.
Then, I reflected again on all the earlier exercises.
- What are people buying from me? Have I the expertise and skills to offer those things? Yes, I do.
- My most important skills and knowledge – am I nurturing those well enough? Probably, but still, I made a plan for professional development, focusing on the things that are important
- Where I have neglected a skill and got rusty, are those skills still relevant? Probably not, so I need to decide whether I revisit them or not.
Lots to do, lots to learn. Even if I was completely satisfied with myself, the world around me changes and I need to keep up to date.
Next: Fear, selling and tiptoeing through the marketplace….
I’ve started 2017 by working on Seth Godin’s Freelancer course. Of, course, I have worked for myself for a long time, on and off, but this time, I really want to work in a way that maximises the good effect I know I can have, if I put my mind to it. Following on from GTAC and other experiences last year, I want to find myself and flourish this year – in my work and in my personal life.
I like Seth’s blog, so, let’s see what he can say that helps.
The course starts with a series of quick lectures to camera from Seth with some immediate ideas about WHY one might wish to freelance, and some characteristics: “A freelancer is a warrior without a king”. I listen, watch and take notes.
And then, the first exercise. Seth challenges the student to think about 6 questions about their desired freelance career, and answer these (reasonably) publicly – blog or facebook. So – here goes!
The six questions are:
- What do I want to do?
- Who do I want to change and how?
- How much risk will I take?
- How much work will I do?
- Does the work matter?
- Is it possible?
The first challenge from Seth…
What do I want to do?
My work, my purpose, is to enable individuals, teams and organisations provide software products and services that truly delight and enhance the world.
I want to build and use my talents and skills as a teacher, story teller, mentor and coach, to enable others to provide those beautiful software experiences.
Enhancing and using my talents and skills as a quality management, testing and user experience (UX) practitioner, will allow me to enable others to provide those beautiful software experiences.
Analytical, cognitive and emotional skills that I have, need to be maintained, enhanced and nurtured, so that in research I can find and share evidence of what is required to provide those beautiful software experiences to people within software teams, in order that they might share them in their own work.
In order to do this I want to cover some specific work, not being done elsewhere (as far as I know)
- Carry out research on the UX of testing tools and provide evidence and guidelines of what is required to improve them, leading to an improved tool set for testers
- Speak, write, teach, mentor, coach and advise people in software teams about quality, UX and testing
- Take part in projects, demonstrating by my own practise the ideas I am advocating.
Who do I want to change and how?
Organisations, teams and individuals who are designing, building, testing and delivering software products and services.
How do I want to change them? By changing their attitudes to UX, making it an essential rather than optional part of their delivery. By enabling them to provide a beautiful UX, and giving them permission to use the methods and techniques they need. By broadening the industry’s understanding of quality.
How will I do that? By providing coaching, teaching, support, and guidance. By example in my own work. By providing evidence of the current status of UX and what is required. By story-telling, performing, writing, and teaching.
How much risk will I take?
I have already stepped off the cliff, and I am gliding. I have already taken risks: personal, financial. This is it, this is the thing I want to do.
I need to make sure I have a home, food and other essentials. But I need to fly.
Risk: a 6 to 8, out of 10 is what I am prepared for and am taking.
How much work will I do?
My world needs to be balanced, rounded. It needs to contain things other than work. So, this will take diligence, enthusiasm, dedication. It will be hard work, especially to learn new things. I can see myself spending 50-60 hours a week on this.
I need to allow time for all the balance of yoga, meditation, sewing, walking, reading, gardens, and the other things that recreate myself. I need to allow time for friends and family.
Does the work matter?
Yes. Although I did not get funding from the WII application that I did last year, the feedback said the idea of investigating UX for test tools was potentially a game changer, and ground breaking. The feedback also said this is at a research stage. So, the research project is vital as a next step. I need to find a place/way to base the research so it is well founded and leads to useful results.
Is it possible?
- There are others successfully offering consultancy in quality, testing and UX (but as separate subjects)
- There are others researching into the UX of other tools used in software development and support – test tools is in a gap between research
This is not outlandish, but it is new.
Coming soon: what Seth challenged me to do next… and whether I succeeded…
I’ve rebooted. I’m renewing myself; my self is new. I’m starting again. At 61, it’s time to embrace my next 50 years of productive, happy, useful and fulfilling life. Everything is up for grabs, anything is possible: work and play, friends and family, where I live, what I do, how I see myself and how others see me. Attending the GTAC conference in November 2016 has been a major part of that reboot.
This is part of my story. If I can get to GTAC and reboot, you can too. Application, Acceptance, Conference, Project.
Watch my feet dance now In my new red pixie boots Rocking a new tune. New found freedom scares And exhilarates me. I Reach out and kiss life. Old white woman fears. But she was wrong two ways: Young, not old. Not fearful. GTAC wakes me up. I hold my head up, standing proud. I am ready, able. I hold my hand out. You take it willingly. Love and friendship always.
- A formal request to be considered for a position
- Sustained effort
- A program or piece of software
I subscribed to the Google Testing blog, and got an email which said that there would be a conference about test automation (GTAC 2016), and how to apply to go. I thought: “that doesn’t mean me” but I was waking up in my life, and wanted more than I was experiencing. Could I do this? Was I even allowed?
What’s the worst that could happen, when an old white woman applies for a diversity scholarship place at Google’s GTAC conference? That she gets laughed at? Go for it! Being an older woman in tech is not that unusual, but it does feel like being in a minority… And 61 is not old, it is the accumulation of decades in the industry, rich experience, and the knowledge there is more to learn.
So I applied, with the encouragement of friends. I was starting to think about the user experience and usability of testing tools, and how that needed to be addressed. I realised I had a story to tell, about myself, and about the user experience of tools. It took application, but I applied. The act of applying made me look at myself and my life. It made me think more clearly about the UX for test tools. I’d been thinking “Someone needs to do something about this”. Maybe that was – me.
After applying, I had to “forget” GTAC for a while. But I kept working at ideas around the user experience of test tools, attending the CREST workshop, following up on-line with research, writing a paper for UCAAT 2016. I discussed the ideas with other people, friends in the industry. I made an application to the Women in Innovation funding, for money to carry out a project during 2017 to research UX of test tools and develop UX guidelines for tools builders. The application was not successful, but the act of applying made me clarify my ideas some more, and the conversations with colleagues in the industry built my confidence. Something was beginning to happen… and it started with applying to GTAC2016.
- The process or fact of being received as adequate, valid or suitable
- The action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered
- Willingness to tolerate a difficult situation
The day dawned that successful applicants for scholarships would be announced. I had told myself repeatedly not to expect success, so I was disappointed but not distraught when by close of business UK time I had not heard anything. But later that night I could not sleep and was on my laptop, working, surfing, thinking, worrying, self-criticising, when at 4am UK time an email arrived. I had been accepted. I leapt up, amazed, delighted, elated. I was accepted, validated. I accepted the place.
Between acceptance and the conference, in that space of time, my confidence start to grow and yet falter. Could I do this? Was I capable? Would I fit in? All the excitement and frisson of encountering the new was upon me. That delicious yet terrifying mix of anticipations, that urge caution and its opposite, that cause the heart to pound, and the adrenaline to surge.
And yet, amongst the congratulations and the excitement for me, there were those who were dismissive, who said that achieving the place and the scholarship was nothing, and that I would not succeed when I got to the conference. The naysayers and the draggers-down, with their grey and dreary negativity, trying to close around me. I learnt something about the people around me because of applying to and getting a scholarship for GTAC. I learnt who are my friends, who loves me for myself. And so it was that, shortly before GTAC, I walked away from my home and into the light of new possibilities. I started to meet new people, make new friends, present at new conferences.
- A formal meeting of people with a shared interest
I’ve attended and spoken at several conferences this year: story-telling, user experience of test tools and quality in use. Some of these have gone very well, some less so, but each one provides me with lessons, about myself, how people perceive me, what I am capable of, what else I want to do and learn. I’ve learnt from others as well as teaching. At UCAAT in Budapest, I spoke about the user experience of test tools, and about human factors in test automation.
And so to GTAC2016. I arrive nervous, but quickly realise that all the scholarship recipients are in the same hotel and that I’m on the communal list that Joel and others have made – we are in this together! I make a post to my 5 Facebook friends about imposter syndrome, and then over lunch it turns out that the others have had the same thoughts. Am I an imposter? Do I belong? I am amazed – this group of young, vibrant, beautiful, intelligent, witty, accomplished, younger people accept me and they are also a little apprehensive! They are wiser than me in many ways, and I get good advice on networking, social media and smartphone apps…
We visit the LinkedIn offices and Olga is a great host, showing us around, sitting and chatting with us. We start to share experiences. It’s fascinating, hearing the similarities in what we experience. Also, I would like to work somewhere that has a meditation room. And we visit Stanford University. Pink fountains, wildly funny celebrations in music, dance and teddy-bear impalement of the upcoming match with Stanford’s big football rival (CalTech? I cannot remember, all other memories overshadowed by the sight of beefy football players attempting cheer-leading dances.)
In the evening, the reception at the Computing History Museum. Interesting place, but I become overcome with nerves, and my attempts at networking flounder. Thank you, Ari, for your intervention. I survived…
The conference itself, 2 days of great talks, with insights on the need for speed and value in test automation. Over and over, people talk about the need for improved usability and user experience for tools, to enable better productivity for engineers. I listen to people who have research results with evidence that points to how we can improve, to people who have solved practical problems to automate tests in diverse and challenging circumstances, who have succeeded in providing value and speed. I make notes till my hands hurt. My brain fills with ideas and sparkles.
In the evening, there is a funfair. It is worrying. People, noise, strange things to do. I do them anyway… I survive, I enjoy myself.
The highlight talk for me among so many great talks: Niranjan Tulpule gives a keynote where he talks about the democratisation of the development process. I am blown away. He is focused entirely on the need to widen the group of people who can engineers software successfully. He is talking about the drivers that made me think about the user experience of test tools. I start to think more, as he speaks. It is not just engineers who test. It is not just engineers who solve problems. The problems that need to be solved are not just engineering problems. If the tool set allows a wider range of people to engage, we are more likely to reflect the diversity of people in the world, and we’ll get software that solves people’s problems, allows them to work as they want, instead of building software that forces people to be like software.
I finish the conference elated. My brain is happily buzzing, and I want to take the next steps.
And I have learnt in these few days – you can out of your comfort zone and survive. Doing something that makes you look foolish is not as bad as doing nothing. At a conference, we have a lot in common. More than separates us across our diversity. I link to some of the others, and make Facebook friend requests – another small step into the world.
- Enterprise that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim
- Estimate or forecast
- Extend outwards beyond
- Throw or cause to move forward
So what next? Where will I project myself? How do I move forward? I have two areas of work to explore. Story telling and TX: The tester experience of tools.
Storytelling project: I applied for and have been accepted on a story telling and art workshop in Italy 2017 run by Tania Katan and Angela Ellsworth (The Topography of Memory). This is so exciting! And, succeeding getting a place at GTAC was one factor in building my courage to apply. This blog is a piece of storytelling, as are the haiku that I wrote yesterday on a plane, reflecting on GTAC2016.
TX project: I will do a project on the tester experience of test tools. I made a small survey at a conference in Lisbon last week, to try out a tools usability questionnaire that I wrote. I am going to talk to several people about how to make this project happen. Watch out world: GTAC2016 has given me confidence, motivation and the will to make this happen.
Thank you GTAC2016: organisers, speakers, other attendees, fellow diversity scholarship winners: for being you, for welcoming me, for helping me reboot. With your kindness and friendship, I felt accepted, welcomed, enabled to learn and grow.
GTAC2017, London: looking forward to seeing you all again.
I’m lucky enough to be presenting at several conferences this year… Here is a quick list of what I am presenting, where and when. My themes for this year are:
- teamwork and people;
- test design;
- story telling;
- user experience and quality in use;
- influence diagrams;
- which are all contributors to the workbox we each carry with us to perform our roles.
- Workshop: “Using Influence Diagrams to Understand testing.”
- Workshop/discussion: “Learning to tell our testing stories.”
- Tutorial: “Your testing workbox.”
- Tutorial: “Using influence diagrams to understand testing.”
- Lightning keynote…
- Keynote: “Telling our testing stories.”
- Presentation “Quality in use: the beating heart of the user experience.”
- Keynote: “Telling our testing stories”
- Workshop: “Build an influence diagram – practical” (with Stuart Reid).
- Workshop: “Leave me alone: Hey I’m hiding from my team” (with Nadine Raes)
- Lightning key “I was so much older then…(Rebooting to 25 and re-imagining my career”)
Webinar on 21st July “Stories: realising their potential and power in projects”
- Tutorial: “Quality in use: the beating heart of the user experience.”
- Tutorial: “Your testing workbox.”
- Tutorial: “Using influence diagrams to understand testing.”
- Tutorial: Leading, following or managing? Efficient and effective ways to help your group thrive
- Keynote: My Failures in Software Testing
- Tutorial: Human factors for test automation
- Keynote: TX – the UX for test automation
- Webinar on 21st July “Stories: realising their potential and power in projects”
- Workshop: “Learning to tell our testing stories.”
So the passport will see some action this year!
I have not blogged for more than a year – for all sorts of reasons – but I had not realised it was such a long time since I had looked at this site. I’ve been doing a great deal of writing, but all of it pencil and paper, and all of it private. So… in the meantime the WordPress interface has been updated, so I will have to learn it again. Hmmm… pencil and paper beckons….
Isabel Evans has more than twenty five years of experience in the IT industry, mainly in quality management and testing in the financial, communications, and software sectors.
Since the mid-1980s, her quality management work as a practitioner on delivery projects and as a quality manager has focused on encouraging IT teams and customers to work together, delivering results via flexible, customer-focused, risk- and test-driven processes designed and tailored by the teams that will use them.
Isabel is a popular speaker at software quality conferences worldwide and has been a member of several working groups for industry improvement.
Her publications include Achieving Software Quality Through Teamwork and chapters in “Agile Testing: How to Succeed in an eXtreme Testing Environment”; “The Testing Practitioner” and “Foundations of Software Testing”.
Isabel is a Chartered IT Professional and a Fellow of the British Computer Society.
Away from IT, Isabel works in her allotment & garden, growing fruit, vegetables and flowers. She is making a patchwork quilt, a project that has been going on several years now…