Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Flashback to Learning

I rarely have the concentration span to write complex and analyzing posts. If I believe that the subject has more to it than I can scribble in 90 minutes, it will more likely become a candidate for an article and will be more fine tuned than a regular blog post. Now I thought I would write an update to my blog describing the second day at the Rapid Testing Course, but then I thought writing another a diary-like entry was not exciting enough - and I want my scribbling to be at least a bit exciting.

So why do I have to make a blog post about something that I’m not willing to investigate? I don't! That's the beauty of it! But I want to make a quick post on something interesting. In order to do a blog post from something that requires little to no research it could be about an experience that is worth sharing. This post is not from today’s class but from past but the topic was brought up today in the class.

James Bach and Michael Bolton use the Socratic Method to help learn stuff in their courses. To simplify, they ask a bunch of questions from a tester to squeeze out an answer - not possibly the right answer but one good enough. I got my share of the method in the class but I’m not going to talk about that. I’m going to talk about an event that happened 4 months ago. (Enter fairy bells tinkle and a wobbly picture to demonstrate a flashback...)

I wrote a white paper about six months ago about heuristic testing implementation that was discussed in a Peer testing session late last year. The article was about to be published in a testing magazine and it was fine tuned for couple of months by the editor and a couple of voluntary proofreaders. I still wanted to have a comment from James Bach and Michael Bolton as I have a respect for their opinion in all testing related issues. And so I sent a reviewed draft to them and waited for approval.

What then happened, I couldn't expect. I had high hopes on the content of my article as it had been reviewed multiple times by bunch of different people. I thought I was in a verge of a breakthrough and praises would that flying my way. Instead, James’ reply was simple:
“I'm completely opposed to this.”
What followed was an exchange of emails between me and James about the problems with the article. It concluded in a suggestion to remove the essential elements that I based the article on. I thought James had got it all wrong and I requested him to discuss the difference in views that we seemingly were having. Skype was the medium of choice.

We ended up talking for 90 minutes. First we were talking about the article itself and he clarified some points he had made earlier. Then James challenged some of the essential elements of the article and I tried to defend them as best I could. All the while doing so I thought better descriptions for the principles I was using. I was on hot coals during the conversation: if I had chosen a bad wording for my answer, he would grab it and ask the real meaning behind the words I was using.

The article did not survive, but I did. Later I was a happy to have endured the barrage and decided to hone the article so that I could later publish with pride and joy. I never really understood how much the discussion had given me, though. I had learned some very valuable lessons. The critique on the article was secondary compared to the practice I got performing under pressure and all the while holding to my beliefs. As James said in the course today, there is none worse than tester who is “pathetically complying”. I could have said “OK. I won’t publish! Just don’t yell at me.” and I would have lost all my credibility. I learned how to defend something even though I might be wrong. Ilari Henrik Aegerter gave me a coaching session once where we practiced exactly that: how to be able to defend your point. And so I became better at explaining myself and defending my point under pressure.

What I would have done differently is that I never really tried to sympathize to James’ point of view as I so aggressively tried to get mine across. I could have got more out of the conversation if I had listened more carefully and sought for meanings and advice that he gave between the lines.

Having shared this experience also enforced the learning that I experienced, for I was able to verbalize some of the stuff that I had thought only briefly. Next steps for me are to revisit the article bearing the real purpose of the article in mind, and try to make it better (if not perfect). The article is resting and collecting dust currently, but I will tackle the beast soon enough. I believe that the Rapid Software Testing course will give the inspiration boost that I need to get it done (although I think extrinsic motivation plays no part in this, as I already WANT to finish the article). Too bad I didn't sign in for the Let's Test! conference with the paper. ;)


James Marcus Bach said...

You have earned my respect and that of others by your reaction to criticism (and how you performed in Michael's version of the Rapid Testing Class, which is why I invited you to be a special guest in my version of that class).

You can use this credibility in different ways. One of the ways is to make me listen to you, even when that might be hard for me. This is the basic dynamic of community, isn't it? We form associations of people who agree to be influenced by each other.

Different communities have different barriers to entry. Some are ethnically based, some are based on passing formal tests. In our case it's mostly about impressing each other with meritorious behavior. Over time, we evolve and change in what we consider worthy of merit, based on each others leadership.

Anyway, welcome to the community.

-- James

Pekka Marjamäki said...

Thank you, James.

- Peksi "Pesky" Marjamäki