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“Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” (Carol S. Dweck)

The second of my recent airport bookshop purchases has made for an excellent read over the last week. In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck explores the influence that the way we think about our talents and abilities has on our success.

The key concept here is that of the “growth mindset”, as compared to a “fixed mindset”. A fixed mindset is “believing that your qualities are carved in stone… [and] creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over” while a growth mindset is “based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others…. [and] everyone can change and grow through application and experience”.  She notes that all of us have elements of both mindsets.

She notes that a “fixed mindset makes people into non-learners” and, while failure still can be painful with a growth mindset, “it doesn’t define you; it’s a problem to be faced, dealt with and learned from”. I liked this question as a way to think about growth vs. fixed mindsets: “Is success about learning – or proving you’re smart?”

The role of effort in the growth mindset is highlighted throughout the book:

The fixed mindset limits achievement. It fills people’s minds with interfering thoughts, it makes effort disagreeable, and it leads to inferior learning strategies. What’s more, it makes other people into judges instead of allies. Whether we’re talking about Darwin or college students, important achievements require clear focus, all-out effort, and a bottomless trunk full of strategies. Plus allies in learning. This is what the growth mindset gives people, and that’s why it helps their abilities grow and bear fruit.

It’s an interesting section of the book when Carol moves away from the individual to the organizational level:

Clearly the leader of an organization can hold a fixed or growth mindset, but can an organization as whole have a mindset? Can it have a pervasive belief that talent is just fixed or, instead, a pervasive belief that talent can be and should be developed in all employees? And, if so, what impact will this have on the organization and its employees?

She goes on to cite some research in this area:

People who work in growth-mindset organizations have far more trust in their company and a much greater sense of empowerment, ownership, and commitment… Those who worked in fixed-mindset companies, however, expressed greater interest in leaving their company for another… employees in the growth-mindset companies say that their organization supports (reasonable) risk-taking, innovation, and creativity… Employees in the fixed-mindset companies not only say that their companies are less likely to support them in risk-taking and innovation, they are also far more likely to agree that their organizations are rife with cutthroat or unethical behavior.

A reference to an excellent diagram by Nigel Holmes is a handy summary of the messages in this book:

Fixed compared to Growth mindset (thanks to Nigel Holmes)

This is a book with great messages and is of broad interest. Carol cites lots of research to back her claims and the book is made very readable thanks to the excellent examples from the business world, school, and sport.

Thinking about the book’s key message around the growth mindset in the context of software testing, it strikes me that much of the testing industry is actually stuck in a fixed mindset and the benefits of continuous learning and growth are not as valued as they could be. The idea of certifications in testing doesn’t help with this (although you could argue there is learning involved in attaining them), especially when you can take an exam to become an “Expert” level tester.

It’s personally very rewarding to be active in a part of the testing community that does genuinely value learning and growth (that’s the context-driven testing community) and where having “a bottomless trunk full of strategies [and] allies in learning” are the norm.

“Changing Times – Quality for Humans in a Digital Age” (Rich Rogers)

It’s always good to see someone from our community of software testers taking the plunge to write their first book, as Rich Rogers has recently done with “Changing Times – Quality for Humans in a Digital Age” (available in both paperback and electronic formats).

The book is written in an easy to read style, with a story about a journalist called Kim running throughout. Her daily engagements with technology – as both positive and negative experiences – are described as she goes about her work and personal life. The story line makes it very easy to relate to the topics and Rich follows each chapter of her story with an exploration of its themes around quality and technology. It is these regular dives into the quality aspects of Kim’s experiences that makes his narrative so engaging and easy to consume.

Rich uses a model called the “Three Dimensions of Quality” and illustrates each dimension again by reference to Kim’s experiences. The three dimensions are Desirable, Dependable and Durable and he identifies a number of aspects within each dimension for further exploration (for example, “Dependable” is broken down into accurate, available, clear, private, protected, reactive, stable and tolerant).

For testers, I think this is a worthwhile read as it draws everything back to thinking about quality. But the book makes for a very enjoyable read for a much broader audience, from those with no real experience of the “nuts and bolts” of producing IT systems to anyone with an interest in “quality” and how we can improve it in the software we help to build. Well done, Rich!

The No Asshole Rule (Robert Sutton)

One of the few joys of long haul travel for business is time to browse that staple of airports everywhere, the bookshop. During a few hour stopover at Dallas Fort Worth airport recently, a couple of new paperbacks ended up in my hand luggage ready to help with the sixteen hour flight back to Australia. Though neither of the books actually made an appearance during the flight, I’ve managed to get through one of them since I got home, in the shape of The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton.

The author makes a distinction between “temporary assholes ” (people who are having a bad day or a bad moment) and “certified assholes” (persistently nasty and destructive jerks) and details the kinds of behaviours and damage done by them (not only to their direct victims, but also to bystanders, themselves and their organizations). He recommends implementing a “no asshole” rule and enforcing it, by “linking big policies to small decencies” (e.g. hiring and firing policies).

Tips for surviving nasty people and workplaces are also provided here: look for small wins, limit exposure, build pockets of safety, support & sanity, and fight & win the right small battles.

Robert also acknowledges the virtues of assholes, with Steve Jobs being used as a classic example of motivating fear-driven performance and perfectionism. These virtues are dangerous though given that the “weight of evidence shows that assholes, especially certified assholes, do far more harm than good”.

He also encourages us to look at ourselves and encourages us to find ways to “stop your “inner jerk” getting out”. I liked this mantra: “be slow to label others as assholes, but quick to label yourself”.

A couple of quotes sum up most of what this book is all about for me:

We all die in the end, and despite whatever “rational” virtues assholes may enjoy, I prefer to avoid spending my days working with mean-spirited jerks and will continue to question why so many of us tolerate, justify, and glorify so much demeaning behaviour from so many people

We are all given only so many hours here on Earth. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could travel through our lives without encountering people who bring us down with their demeaning remarks and actions?

This book is aimed at weeding out those folks and at teaching them when they stripped others of their esteem and dignity. If you are truly tired of living in Jerk City – if you don’t want every day to feel like a walk down Asshole Avenue – well, it’s your job to help build and shape a civilized workplace. Sure, you already know that. But isn’t it time to do something about it?

I’ve only worked for two employers in my twenty-odd years in the IT business and, after having read some of the stories in this book, I consider myself pretty lucky not to have encountered too much in the way of asshole behaviour. There have been a number of “temporary assholes” along the way, but I can only think of two “certified assholes” that have unfortunately crossed my path.

One was a manager who definitely went on the certification course and was only removed after a group of people were brave enough to “out” their awful behaviour (sadly, this person continues to be a people manager in a different company.) The other was a developer on a team for which I was the only tester and he let it be known that if I raised another bug against his work, he’d be waiting for me in the car park to exact his revenge. At the time, this was both amusing and of course somewhat frightening – and management did a good job of making sure he wasn’t with us too much longer.

While my own experiences are overwhelmingly positive in the IT industry, it’s obvious that many people (especially females) have a really hard time and at least some of the terrible behaviours are being publicly called out (e.g. the recent Uber stories). Closer to home, my good friend Paul Seaman recently wrote a blog post, The Standard You Walk Past , in which he clearly details the actions of what Sutton would deem a “certified asshole”.

We all deserve a safe and comfortable workplace, so it’s contingent on us to call out asshole behaviour whenever we see it (and that includes anyone who works with me!). This simple statement from the book says it all: “treat the person right in front of you, right now, in the right way”. That’s something we can all do to help make our workplaces and the world at large just that little bit better for everyone.

Attending and presenting at CAST 2017 (Nashville)

Back in March, I was delighted to learn that my proposal to speak at the Conference of the Association for Software Testing in Nashville was accepted and it was then the usual nervous & lengthy gap between acceptance and the actual event.

It was a long trip from Melbourne to Nashville for CAST 2017 – this would be my first CAST since the 2014 event in New York and also my first time as a speaker at their event. This was the 12th annual conference of the AST which took place on August 16, 17 & 18 and was held at the totally ridiculous Gaylord Opryland Resort, a 3000-room resort and convention centre with a massive indoor atrium (and river!) a few miles outside of downtown Nashville. The conference theme was What the heck do testers do anyway?

The event drew a crowd of 160, mainly from the US but with a number of internationals too (I was the only participant from Australia, unsurprisingly!).

My track session was “A Day in the Life of a Test Architect”, a talk I’d first given at STARWest in Anaheim in 2016, and I was up on the first conference day, right after lunch. I arrived early to set up and the AV all worked seamlessly so I felt confident as my talk kicked off to a nicely filled room with about fifty in attendance.

room

I felt like the delivery of the talk itself went really well. I’d rehearsed the talk a few times in the weeks before the conference and I didn’t forget too many of the points I meant to make. The talk took about 35 minutes before the “open season” started – this is the CAST facilitated “Q&A” session using the familiar “K cards” system (borrowed from peer conferences but now a popular choice at bigger conferences too). The questions kept coming and it was an interesting & challenging 25 minutes to field them all. My thanks to Griffin Jones who facilitated my open season and thanks to the audience for their engagement and thoughtful, respectful questioning.

room2

A number of the questions during open season related to my recent volunteer work with Paul Seaman in teaching software testing to young adults on the autism spectrum. My mentor, Rob Sabourin, attended my talk and suggested afterwards that a lightning talk about this work would be a good idea to share a little more about what was obviously a topic of some interest to this audience. And so it was that I found myself unexpectedly signing up to do another talk at CAST 2017!

lightning

With only a five-minute slot, it was still a worthwhile experience giving the lightning talk and it led to a number of good conversations afterwards, resulting in some connections to follow up and some resources to review. Thanks to all those who offered help and useful information as a result of this lightning talk, it’s greatly appreciated.

lee_lightning

With my talk(s) over, the Welcome Reception was a chance to relax with friends old and new over an open bar. A photo booth probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but people always get silly as evidenced by the following three clowns (viz. yours truly, Rob Sabourin and Ben Simo) who got the ball rolling by being the first to take the plunge:

booth

I thought the quality of the keynotes and track sessions at CAST 2017 was excellent and I didn’t feel like I attended any bad talks at all. Of course, there are always those talks that stand out for various reasons and two tracks really deserve a shout out.

It’s not every conference where you walk into a session to find the presenter dressed in a pilot’s uniform and asking you to take your seats in preparation for take off! But that’s what we got with Alexandre Bauduin (of House of Test, Switzerland) and his talk “Your Safety as a Boeing 777 Passenger is the Product of a ‘Big Gaming Rig'”. Alexandre used to be an airline pilot and his talk was about the time he spent working for CAE in Montreal, the world’s leading manufacturer of simulators for the aviation and medical industries. He was a certification engineer, test pilot and then test strategy lead for the company’s Boeing 777 simulator and spent in excess of 10,000 hours test flying it. He mentioned that the simulator had 10-20 million lines of code and 1-2 million physical parts, amazing machinery. His anecdotes about the testing challenges were entertaining but also very serious and it was clear that the marriage of his actual pilot skills with his testing skills had made for a strong combination in terms of finding bugs that really mattered in this critical simulator. This was a fantastic talk delivered with style and confidence, Alexandre is the sort of presenter you could listen to for hours. An inspired pick by the program committee.

777

Based purely on the title, I took a punt on Chris Glaettli (of Thales, Switzerland) with “How we tested Gotthard Base Tunnel to start operation one year early” – and again this was an inspired move! Chris was part of the test team for various systems in the 50km Gotthard base tunnel (the longest and deepest tunnel in the world) from Switzerland to Italy creating a “flat rail” through the Alps and it was fascinating to hear about the challenges of being involved in such a huge engineering project, both in terms of construction and test environments (and some of the factors they needed to consider). Chris delivered his talk very well and he’d clearly made some very wise choices along the way to help the project be delivered early. In such a regulated environment, he’d done a great job in working closely with auditors to keep the testing documentation down to a minimum while still meeting their strict requirements. This was another superb session, classic conference material.

I noted that some of the “big names” in the context-driven testing community were not present at the conference this year and, perhaps coincidentally, there didn’t seem to be as much controversy or “red carding” during open seasons. For me, the environment seemed much friendlier and safer for presenters than I’d seen at the last CAST I attended (and, as a first-time presenter at CAST, I very much appreciated that feeling of safety). It was also interesting to learn that the theme for the 2018 conference is “Bridging Communities” and I see this as a very positive step for the CDT community which, rightly or wrongly, has earned a reputation for being disrespectful and unwilling to engage in discussion with those from other “schools” of testing.

I’d like to take this chance to thank Rob Sabourin and the AST program committee for selecting my talk and giving me the opportunity to present at their conference. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.