2017 – a new year, and the start of something good

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?

Yes.

  • 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…

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Rebooting my life: the effect of attending GTAC2016

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.

Summary Haiku

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.

Application

  • 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.

Acceptance

  • 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.

Conference

  • 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.

Project 

  • 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.

Eagle or pigeon? Eagle or Chicken?

Eagles and chickens: Developing testers to their full potential

eagle-cropped

The Fool and the Eagle

A fool saw an eagle perched with the king’s falcons. “You are a strange pigeon” he said. So he cut off the eagle’s talons, and clipped down its beak. He tore off its crest, and shortened its wings and tail. “Now you are a proper pigeon,” he said. The eagle wept remembering its former glory.

Tell me my friends – Are you a fool to your eagles? Are you a weeping eagle?

The Kind Chicken and the Eagle

A chicken found an eagle’s egg, and not knowing what it was, hatched and raised he chick as her own. One day, the eagle was scratching in the farmyard with the other chickens. It looked up and saw a mighty bird soaring above it. “What is that?” it asked. “Oh, that is an eagle. They fly up high, but we stay here, in the farmyard.” “So we do,” thought the cheagle, “I’m glad I’m a free range chicken.” And it scratched the ground.

Tell me my friends – Are you that kind chicken? Or are you the eagle who thinks it is a chicken? In your role as a tester, are you fulfilling your potential? And are you enabling your team to fulfil their potentials?

For me, the lesson from this fable is not to underestimate myself, or others. We sometimes hold ourselves back, through fear, unawareness or lack of knowledge. We also sometime hold others back because of preconceptions about the roles open to people, and their capabilities.

Picture Quilt: a visit to the Bass Rock

Bass Rock from North Berwick Beach

Bass Rock from the shore

Earlier this year, I went with my pal John to visit the Bass Rock and look at the Gannet Colony. We went out by boat, on the Sula. As you approach the Rock, it looks white, then like velvet, ad then you see a cloud around it, like the electrons around the nucleus of an atom – if there is an atom with ten’s of thousands of electrons in its cloud. As you get closer, these resolve into thousands of gannets nesting on the rock and thousands more flying around it. John had recommended that I wore a hat. I’m glad I did.

On the boat, it looks smoother than it was

On the boat to Bass Rock

On the boat approaching the Bass RockHere is the view from the boat. I was finding it hard to stay upright. The sea was roughish, for a landlubber like me, and there was lots to catch the attention; puffins, seals, kittiwakes, gulls, gannets, the ever-changing sky and sea.

bass-rock-sketch-cropped

First sketch of the Bass Rock boat trip

The visit resulted in a design for and the execution of a picture quilt. I managed to work this on really quickly. I made a quick sketch of my impression of the rock and the boat trip:

I bought some materials in a fabric shop in Stirling, and sat on John’s dining room floor playing with the pieces. I had found materials in blacks, greys and blues, and in a range of textures and patterns that reflected the sea and sky colours, the white and black of the gannets, the specks of bright colour from swimming puffins, and the swirl and shift of the sea.  And then I played, pinned, stitched and altered. John showed me a website with a print of the Rock done in the 17th century; I was pleased to see the bird cloud.

first attempt at placing fabric to look like the rock and waves

Initial placement of fabric

Here is the first placement of fabric pieces: I had ruched some of the grey satin to give the idea of waves and billows, and also the black and gold material – a printed cotton in a pattern called flying cranes reminded me of the gannets, puffins and kittiwakes on and above the water around the boat. I used two shades of patterned grey to make the sides of the rock where the gannets nest. And the darker grey and black made the cliff on one side where the kittiwakes next. The top and side of the rock are white with birds and guano. Once I had placed those pieces, I started tacking them in place, and thinking about the eventual quilting. I used a piece of the black and gold to make the reverse of the quilt, and then a mix of hand and machine quilting to hold it together, indicating waves and bird flight paths.

work in progress - machine stitching part done

Bass Rock Quilt part way through machine quilting

Here is the quilt part way through machining it; you can see I have folded the backing to the front to make a border.

 

 

 

 

bass-rock-painting-crop

Watercolour pencil sketch of the Bass Rock

At this stage I also did another sketch, this time with watercolour pencils, to remind me of my initial vision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, I stitched in the cloud of birds using pale grey running stitch in curves.

completed quilt, all hand stitching done to show the bird cloud

Bass Rock Quilt – completed

 

 

Here is the completed quilt, with hand stitching done, you can see the bird cloud around the rock, and the stormy, grey billows of the sea and foam.

photos for July, August and September

Here are three more photos of water and reflections that I have taken over the years.

9 September San Diego Harbour

July, San Diego San Diego Harbour: the banana boat leaves

July: Here is a photo which, although not taken on July, signifies July to me for its memories of heat and colour.  Taken during a software testing conference in San DIego, USA, this is a photo of the reflection of a banana boa and its pilot boat and tugs in the water of the harbour. A group of software testers, myself included, were watching the boat leaving with one person knowledgeably explaining what would happen and the direction the pilot would go. When the ship and pilot went in the opposite direction an unhappy cry of “but they have gone in the wrong direction” signified that this was indeed a group of software testers, who are of course, always right…

August, Bangkok Garden

Reflected petals, Bangkok Garden

August, and the heat and steaminess of Bangkok comes to mind, as well as the relief of cooler, scented shade, water, floating petals and reflections in a garden.

My visit to Bangkok I treasure for the fabric shops, where I bought yards and yards of silks and chiffon in bright and delicate colours, as well as vibrant printed cottons with goldfish, that became part of the big quilt project.

The heat, the smells, the noise: all startling. And here, quiet. I saw an enormous lizard, maybe a metre long. When the garden attendant saw me looking at it, he ushered me away. Then gardeners drove it out. It looked safe, but maybe it was dangerous.

 

11 November Australia

Stream near Meribula

September: Stream near Meribula, Australia.

The heat, the dust, and then this stream in woodland, clear water bubbling across the brown stones under spicy air of eucalyptus. A waterfall nearby, and then sudden rain, and a dash for shelter.

 

Photos for April, May and June

Here are three more of the photos featured on the website and blogs.

4 April NZ

Stream bed New Zealand April

I used a crop of this on the website, on the Learn with Isabel page.

Garden in Bangkok May

Garden in Bangkok May

6 June Australia

Shallow sea bed Australia June

This one I cropped into three sections and used on the website on the About, CV and Blog pages.

Photos used on my website and blogs

I have used several photos on the website and blogs as backgrounds and features photographs, often heavily cropped. These have come from photographs I took for a calendar. Here the January, February and March photos from the calendar.

1 January Worcester

Icicles January Worcester UK

2 February Worcester

Canal Edge February Worcester

3 March Worcester

Lake in the Park – March Worcester

As you can see, I am interested in light, water and reflections. I have used cropped versions of the February and March photos on my website on the Home and Connect pages.