Author Archives: therockertester

Launching my testing consultancy, Dr Lee Consulting

As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I’ve been working on setting up my own software testing consultancy following my exit from Quest back in August.

I finally got all my ducks in a row and launched the business – Dr Lee Consulting – publicly on 21st October 2020!

I spent a few weeks focusing on business basics and refining the idea of what my consultancy should look like. I completed two of Pat Flynn‘s excellent courses in the process, viz. Will It Fly? (the book and companion course) and Smart From Scratch. Mindmaps were my friend during this ideation and refinement stage, and my thanks go to those connections I reached out to along the way for their valuable help and feedback.

Another great source of inspiration and ideas was the “Share What You Know Summit” run as a virtual event by Teach:able (on 22-24 September). This was an excellent three-day event and furnished me with some great tips around LinkedIn profile tweaks and ideas for content generation.

In terms of administrivia, I registered for an ABN and business name online, then purchased the corresponding domain name (business name and domain name need to closely match for a .com.au domain, unlike most other domain extensions). I built my website using a free WordPress site, mainly due to my familiarity with their platform after blogging there for many years. I’ll probably upgrade to a paid plan sometime soon to remove ads and allow me to more professionally map my domain to that site.

I feel like the time I invested in the ideation and refinement of the idea was well spent and I tried not to go overboard in perfecting my website – at some point you just need to pull the trigger and get the thing out there!

My aim has always been to share what I’ve learned about testing with other organizations and Dr Lee Consulting is now my vehicle to do this. While I realize I’m not the right fit for every organization, I hope there are organizations/teams out there who will see the value in my services – I’m ready and waiting to help!

Check out www.drleeconsulting.com.au for full details of my offering and how to contact me for a no obligation conversation about engaging my services.

Publishing my first testing book, “An Exploration of Testers”

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve been working on a testing book for the last year-or-so. With more free time since leaving full-time employment back in August, I’m delighted to have now published my first e-book on testing, called An Exploration of Testers.

The book is formed of contributions from various testers around the world, with seventeen contributions in the first edition. Each tester answered the same set of eleven questions designed to tease out testing, career and life lessons. I was humbled by how much time and effort went into the contributions and also by how willing the community was to engage with the project, with almost every tester I invited to contribute then committing to doing so. A number of contributions will be added in the coming months (and additional versions of the book are free after your initial purchase, so don’t be afraid to buy now!).

My experience of using LeanPub as the publishing platform has been generally very good. When I was researching ways to self-publish, LeanPub seemed to get good reviews and it was free to try so I gave it a go, then ended up sticking with it. I’m still on the free plan and it suffices for now for this project. The platform makes most aspects of creating, publishing and selling a book really straightforward and the markdown language used for writing the manuscript is easy to learn (though sometimes comes with frustrating limitations on the control of layout). I would recommend LeanPub to others looking to write their first book.

At the very start of the project, I decided that any proceeds from sales of the book would be ploughed back into the testing community and this fact seemed to encourage participation in the project. I will be transparent about the money received from book sales (with the only expenses being those taken by LeanPub as the publishing & sales platform) and also where I decide to invest it back into our community. It seems only fair to give back to the community that has been so generous to me over the years and also generated the content for the book.

For more details and to buy a copy, please visit https://leanpub.com/anexplorationoftesters

Pre-launch announcements for my new projects

After six weeks or so of resetting following my unplanned exit from Quest, I’m getting close to publicly announcing more details on a couple of new projects.

One of these has been in the making for about a year, while the other has arisen as a direct result of leaving full-time employment.

I’ve always been drawn to the idea of writing a book and I will finally realize this idea with the release of a testing-related e-book very soon. It’s been a highly collaborative effort with input from many members of the testing community. Having more free time since finishing up at Quest has given me the opportunity to wrap up what I think is worthy of publishing as a first edition. I will return all proceeds from sales of this book to the testing community. Look out for more details of the book via this blog and my social media presences in the coming weeks!

My other project is a new boutique software testing consultancy business. The intention is to offer something quite different in the consulting space, utilizing my skills and experience from the last twenty years to help organizations to improve their testing practices. This consultancy won’t suit everyone but I hope that my niche offering will both help those who see the value in the way I think about testing and also give me the chance to share my knowledge and experience in a meaningful way outside of full-time corporate employment. I expect to launch this business before the end of the year, but feel free to express interest in securing my services now if you believe that my thinking around software testing could be of value in your organization. Note that I will not be making myself available full-time (as I’m deliberately carving out time for volunteer work and to focus on my wellbeing), so now is a good time to secure some of my limited future availability before the formal launch of the consultancy. Again, keep an eye on this blog and my socials for more details of the testing consultancy project.

ER of presenting at DDD Melbourne By Night meetup (10th September 2020)

In response to a tweet looking for speakers for an online meetup organized by DDD Melbourne By Night, I submitted an idea – “Testing is not dead!” – and it was accepted.

I had a few weeks to prepare for this short (ten-minute) talk and went through my usual process of sketching out the content in a mindmap first (using the free version of XMind), then putting together a short slide deck (in PowerPoint) to cover that content.

I find it harder to nail down my content for short talks like this than for a typical longer conference track talk. The restricted time forces focus and I landed on just a few key points: looking at the claims of “testing is dead”, defining what “testing” means to me (and contrasting with “checking”), where automation fits in, and wrapping up with a few tips for non-specialist testers (as this is primarily a meetup with a developer audience).

I did two practice runs of the talk over the same conference call technology that the meetup would be using (Zoom), even though my willing audience of one (my wife) was only in the next room at home! I find practice runs to be an essential part of my preparation and I was pleased to find both runs coming in very close to the ten-minute timebox.

The September DDD by Night meetup took place on the evening of 10th September and featured nine lightning talks with some preamble and also time for questions between each talk. I was third up on the bill and managed to whizz through my talk in a few seconds under ten minutes! The content seemed to be well received and some of my ideas were clearly new to this audience, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to spread my opinion about testing to a different part of the Melbourne tech community.

Lee kicking off his talk

It was also great to see Vanessa Morgan as a first-time presenter during this meetup and her talk was a very polished performance.

Thanks to the DDD Melbourne crew for putting on meetup events during these interesting times and, as a newcomer, the friendly community spirit in this group was obvious.

You can watch my talk on YouTube.

Decompression – phase 2

It’s already four weeks since my exit from Quest after some 21 years with the company and it’s amazing how quickly my “reset” is happening.

My calendar continues to be largely empty, apart from a number of video calls with friends both locally and overseas each week. My days are passing quickly and are filled with exercise (walking and cycling), well-being practices (meditation and yoga), reading, home/garden maintenance and relaxing. The welcome start of the Tour de France and the excellent daily highlights on SBS represent my only “TV time” during the day.

I’ve also been keeping abreast of what’s going on in the testing community and have a couple of small projects on the go – writing a guest blog post (details coming soon) and preparing a talk (“Testing is not Dead”) for the DDD Nights meetup on 10th September.

When my redundancy package payout appeared in the bank at the end of August, my ties to Quest finally came to an end. Reflecting on such an incredibly long time working in the same company, my main emotion is one of gratitude. Quest provided me with my first employment opportunity in Australia after migrating from the UK and, over the many years that followed, gave me manifold opportunities to grow professionally, contribute to the broader testing community, travel extensively, and build great relationships. I miss the banter with my good friends & colleagues and also my close collaborations with the wonderful folks over in our office in China, where I look back with great pride on the development programmes I helped to put in place and run over the years.

I continue to work on the testing-related project I mentioned in my previous blog post and expect to make an announcement on that in the next month or so, so stay tuned! I’ve also been taking part in an online business course and this may also lead to some news in terms of my next steps in the coming months.

Decompression – phase 1

It’s now been a couple of weeks since my 21-year career at Quest came to an abrupt end. My LinkedIn post about exiting Quest has by far the most engagement of all my contributions on that platform, with over 12,000 views and more than 100 reactions as I write. The irony of this fact is not lost on me.

I’ll blog specifically about my Quest exit later, but I’ve spent the time since then in “reset” mode, taking a step back from work and testing-related things in general.

An empty calendar is a real delight after so many years on the hamster wheel of frequent meetings. With my role having covered essentially every timezone, very early and very late meetings were the norm (although I’d become better at not accepting meetings starting before 7am or finishing after 11pm). Having long periods during the day without interruption from meetings has given me back opportunities for simple pleasures that have suffered greatly over the last decade (or more in some cases).

My wife and I have been practising meditation and yoga for several years but my daily practice has often failed to take precedence over the demands of work. It’s been great to put these important factors for my wellbeing back where they belong – as priorities.

Bike riding was another important and enjoyable pastime that I’ve neglected so it’s great to make a daily ride part of my routine (weather-permitting!). I’d forgotten how much I enjoy the feeling of freedom on two wheels.

I’ve also been reading a lot, some tech-related but plenty not (e.g. Status Quo gig history research, animal rights, vegan advocacy, some fiction).

It would have been nice to take the chance to travel for a while, but of course current COVID-19 restrictions make that impossible in this part of the world. But we’re at least thinking of where we might like to explore within Australia when our freedoms are returned to us.

I haven’t entirely disconnected from the testing world, though, and have invested some time into my LinkedIn profile (still work in progress) to ensure it more accurately reflects my experience and contributions in readiness for my next steps. I’ve also made some improvements to the configuration of this blog, so there is now an archive by month and I’ve categorized every post so hopefully it’s easier to find the stuff you’re interested in (and thanks to Paulo Lai for his feedback inspiring me to make these long overdue changes).

I’ve been working on a personal testing-related project for most of 2020 and have more time and energy to dedicate to it now, so it’s coming along nicely. I hope to release details of this project publicly very soon!

Everyone’s talking about testing!

I can’t remember a time in my life when “testing” has been such a hot topic of coverage in the media. It feels like every news item leads with some mention of the number of tests conducted to detect the COVID-19 coronavirus, whether it be it locally or further afield. This level of coverage of the topic of testing even exceeds that during Y2K (according to my memory at least), albeit in a very different context.

It was interesting to see the reaction when the President of the United States said that the US case numbers are high because so many tests have been conducted – and that a reduction in testing might be in order. This led Ben Simo to tweet on this idea in the context of software testing:

Stop testing your software! Bugs are the result of testing. Bugs that don’t kill users dead instantly aren’t really bugs. No testing is the key to zero defect software! If you don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. If you don’t count it, it doesn’t matter. No testing!

I felt similarly when I read some of the coverage of the worldwide testing efforts during the pandemic. “Testing” for COVID-19 is revealing valuable information and informing public health responses to the differing situations in which we find ourselves in different parts of the world right now. (In this context, “testing” is really “checking” as it results in an algorithmically-determinable “pass” or “fail” result.)

When we test software, we reveal information about it and some of that information might not be to the liking of some of our stakeholders. A subset of that information will be made up of the bugs we find. In testing “more”, we will likely unearth more bugs as we explore for different kinds of problems, while “more” in the COVID-19 sense means performing the same test but on more people (or more frequently on the same people).

We should remain mindful of when we’ve done “enough” testing. If we are genuinely not discovering any new valuable information, then we might decide to stop testing and move onto something else. Our findings from any test, though, represent our experience only at a point in time – a code change tomorrow could cause problems we didn’t see in our testing today and an unlucky person could acquire COVID-19 the day after a test giving them the all clear.

There is a balance to be struck in terms of what constitutes “enough” testing, be that in the context of COVID-19 or software. There comes a point where the cost of discovering new information from testing outweighs the value of that information. We could choose not to test at all, but this is risky as we then have no information to help us understand changing risks. We could try to test everyone every day for COVID-19, but this would be hugely expensive and completely overwhelm our testing capacity – and would be overkill given what we already understand about its risks.

Many of us are testing products in which bugs are potentially irritating for our users, but not life and death issues if they go undetected before release. The context is clearly very different in the case of detecting those infected by COVID-19.

As levels of COVID-19 testing coverage have increased, the risk of acquiring the virus has become better understood. By understanding the risks, different mitigation strategies have been employed such as (so-called) social distancing, progressively more stringent “lockdowns”, and mandatory mask wearing. These strategies are influenced by risk analysis derived from the results of the testing effort. This is exactly what we do in software testing too, testing provides us with information about risks and threats to value.

It’s also interesting to observe how decisions are being made by bearing in mind a broader context, not just taking into account the testing results in a particular area or country. Data from all across the world is being collated and research studies are being published & referenced to build up the bigger picture. Even anecdotes are proving to be useful inputs. This is the situation we find ourselves in as software testers too, the software in front of us is a small part of the picture and it’s one of the key tenets of context-driven testing that we are deliberate in our efforts to explore the context and not just look at the software in isolation. In this sense, anecdotes and stories – as perhaps less formal sources of information – are incredibly valuable in helping to more fully understand the context.

Test reporting continues to be a topic of great debate in our industry, with some preferring lightweight visual styles of report and others producing lengthy and wordy documents. The reporting of COVID-19 case numbers continues to be frequent and newsworthy, as people look to to form a picture of the situation in their locale. Some of this media reporting is very lightweight in the form of just new daily case and fatality numbers, while some is much deeper and allows the consumer to slice and dice worldwide data. Charts seem to be the reporting style of choice, sometimes with misleading axes that either exaggerate or down play the extent of the problem depending on the slant of the publisher. Different people react to the same virus infection reports in quite different ways, based on their own judgement, biases and influences. We see the same issue with software test reporting, especially when such reporting is purely based around quantitative measures (such as test case counts, pass/fail ratios, etc.) The use of storytelling as a means of reporting is nothing new in the media and I’d argue we would be well served in software testing to tell a story about our testing when we’re asked to report on what we did (see Michael Bolton’s blog for an example of how to tell a three-part testing story – a story about the product and its status, a story about how the testing was done, and a story about the quality of the testing work).

While I don’t normally focus on counting tests and their results, I’ll be happy to see more COVID-19 tests taking place and fewer new daily positive results in both my area of Australia and the world more generally. Stay safe.

(Many thanks to Paul Seaman for his review of this post, his sage feedback has made for a much better post than it otherwise would have been.)

Going meta: a blog post about writing a blog post

My recent experiences of authoring blog posts in WordPress have been less enjoyable than usual thanks to the use of their latest “block editor”, leading me to ask on Twitter:

WordPress seems to update their post editor very frequently so I just about learn the quirks of one when it is superseded by another.

This post will serve as my (long) answer to WordPress’s reply. I’m going to spend the next 45 minutes running an exploratory testing session, creating a blog post and noting issues as I come across them while using the block editor.

Session from Tuesday 21st July 2020 , on Windows 10 laptop (using keyboard and mouse controls only) using Chrome browser

4:10pm I’m starting my session by writing a very basic block of unformatted text. I note that when I move my mouse, a small toolbar appears which covers the end of the previous block (this could be an issue when in the flow of writing). The toolbar disappears as soon as I type and reappears on every mouse movement. The content of the toolbar seems very limited, maybe to just the most used formatting features (most used by the whole WordPress community or most used by me)? At least each icon in the toolbar has a tooltip. There’s a very odd control that only appears when hovering over the leftmost icon (to change block type or style) which appears to facilitate moving the whole block up or down in the post. I wonder why the toolbar is so narrow, snce there is plenty of room to add more icons to allow easier discovery of available options here. I’ve been distracted by the toolbar but now resume my mission to complete a basic paragraph of text.

OK, so hitting Enter gives me a new paragraph block, that makes sense. Let’s get more creative now, how about changing the colour of some text? The toolbar doesn’t appear to have a colour picker, oh, it’s tucked away under “More rich text controls”. I’ve typed some text, highlighted it and then selected a custom colour. That worked OK once I found the colour picker. The colour picker control seems to stay in the toolbar after using it – or does it? I’ll try it again but lo, it’s back under the hidden controls again. There’s probably a deliberate choice of behaviour here, but I’ll choose not to investigate it right now.

I’m trying to select some text across blocks using Shift+Arrow keys but that doesn’t work as I’d expect, being inconsistent with other text selection using this keyboard combination in other text processing applications. (Ctrl+Shift_Arrow keys suffers the same fate.) Shift+Page Up/Down only select within the current block, again not what I’d expect.

4:30pm After adding this new block (just by pressing Enter from the previous one), I’m intrigued by the array of block types to choose from when pressing the “+” button which appears in seemingly different spots below here (and I just spotted another “+” icon on the very top toolbar of the page and it looks like it does the same thing). There are many block types, so many that a search feature is provided (a testing rabbit hole I’ll choose not to go down at the moment). Some of the block types have names which indicate they require payment to use and the available block types are categorized (e.g. Text, Media, etc.) I decide to try a few of the different block types.

Adding a “quote” block now, which offers two areas, one for the quote and one for the citation. It appears that the citation cannot be removed and so more space is left below the quote text than I’d like (but maybe it doesn’t render the empty space when published?).

A test quote without citation

Moving on to adding a list and this works as I’d expected, offering a choice between bulleted and numbered with indentation (maybe there’s a limit on nesting here, but not investigated).

  • First item of my list
  • Next item of my list
    • Indented!

Even though I’ve been using this editor for my last few blog posts, I still tend to forget that auto-save is no longer a thing and I just happened to notice the “Save Draft” in the top right corner of the page, so let’s save.

In reality, my blog posts are mainly paragraphs of text with an occasional quote and image so exploring more block types doesn’t seem worth the effort. But looking at images feels like a path worth following.

Copying an image on the clipboard seems to work OK, though immediately puts cursor focus into the caption so I started typing my next bunch of paragraph text incorrectly as the image caption.

Options in the toolbar for the image make sense and I tried adding an image from a file with similar results (deleted from the post before publishing). Adding images into a post is straightforward and it’s good to see copying in directly from the clipboard working well as there have been issues with doing so in previous incarnations of the editor.

4:45pm Returning to simply writing text, I often add hyperlinks from my posts so let’s try that next. Ctrl+K is my usual “go to” for hyperlinks (from good ol’ Word) and it pops up a small edit window to add the URL and Enter adds it in: http://www.google.com Selecting some text and using the same shortcut does the same thing, allowing the text and the URL to be different. The hyperlinking experience is fine (and I note after adding the two hyperlinks here that there’s a “Link” icon in the toolbar also).

I remember to save my draft. As I resume typing, the toolbar catches my eye again and I check out “More options” under the ellipsis icon. I notice there are two very similar options, “Copy” and “Duplicate”, so I’ll try those. Selecting “Copy” changes the option to “Copied!” and pasting into Notepad shows the text of this block with some markup. I note that “Copied!” has now changed back to “Copy”. Selecting “Duplicate” immediately copies the content of this block right underneath (deleted for brevity), I’m not sure what the use case would be for doing that over and above the existing standard copy functionality. OK, I’ve just realised that I’ve been distracted by the toolbar yet again.

I just added this block via a “hidden” control, I’m not sure why products persist with undiscoverable features like this. Hovering just below an existing block halfway across the block reveals the “+” icon to add a block (though it often seems to get ‘blocked’ by, you’ve guessed it, that toolbar again).

My time is just about up. As I review my short session to create this blog post, I think it’s the appearing/disappearing toolbar that frustrates me the most during authoring of posts. I almost never use it (e.g. I always use keyboard shortcuts to bold and italicize text, and add hyperlinks) and, when I do, the option I’m after is usually tucked away.

Thanks to WordPress for responding to my tweet (and providing what is still generally a great free platforms for blogging!) and for giving me a good excuse to test, learn and document a session!

ER of attending my first virtual testing conference, Tribal Qonf (27 & 28 June 2020)

I spotted some promotion on Twitter for a new testing conference in India, Tribal Qonf, and the virtual nature of it (thanks to COVID-19) plus the impressive speaker line-up (including James Bach and Michael Bolton) spurred my interest. Looking into it further, the pricing was incredibly low so I decided to register for it (for around AU$30 at the time I registered).

Although the weekend scheduling of the conference and Indian timezone wasn’t ideal, the conference promised to provide all content via recordings so I didn’t tune into any of the presentations “live”, waiting instead the ten days or so for recordings to be made available. I then watched most of the presentations from the two-day event over a period of a few days.

The first presentation I watched was the opening talk from day 1 by James Bach, titled “Weaving Testing: Thread by Thread” This was a fascinating talk and it was great to see such a detailed analysis of what actually happens during good testing by skilled practitioners, especially compared to the mythology we’ve generally been conditioned with about what makes for ‘proper’ testing.

Next up, I opted for Pradeep Soundararajan‘s talk on “The Business Value of Testing”. I’ve unfortunately never managed to catch Pradeep presenting in person, but this virtual presentation displayed the passion I expected from him. It was also engaging and refreshingly honest about the challenges we face in terms of recognizing how different stakeholders view the “value” of what we provide as testers.

My next choice was “Adopting a simplified Risk-Based Testing Approach” by Nishi Grover Garg, in which she outlined the basics of the approach, very much in the style of practitioners like Rex Black. The approach was presented very clearly here and I liked the way Nishi contextualized the risk-based testing approach to her startup environment.

A nicely-crafted story came next thanks to Ajay Balamurugadas and his talk “Lessons from 14 Years of Software Testing Career”. He detailed his learnings from each of his testing jobs and offered practical suggestions for areas to focus on at different levels of experience in testing. This presentation reminded me very much of my “A Day In The Life Of A Test Architect” talk which I gave at STARWest in 2016 and again at CAST in 2017.

Rounding out the talks for day 1, I somewhat hesitantly tuned into the ‘expert panel’ on “Testing after 2020”. I’ve become a little jaded about panel sessions but I really enjoyed this one featuring Aprajita Mathur, Ashok Thiruvengadam, Rahul Verma and Pradeep Soundararajan. The panelists responses to the various questions were refreshingly down to earth and practical. I was particularly pleased to see the considered, reasonable and sensible discussions around AI/ML in testing, providing welcome relief from the usual Kool Aid drinkers around these topics in the industry at the moment. A shout out to Lalit Bhamare too for his skillful moderation of this panel session which was a significant factor in its success for me.

I kicked off my “day 2” viewing with the first talk from that day, viz. , Ashock Thiruvengadam with “Be in a Flow. Test Brilliantly” This was something a little different in terms of topic for a testing conference (which is always good to see), focusing on introducing the idea of “flow”. I was reminded of the importance of uninterrupted sessions when performing exploratory testing while listening to this talk.

Next, I opted for Mike Talks with “The Hard Lessons Learned in Test Automation”, in which he shared some interesting stories of lessons learned resulting from his chats with testers over coffee in his home city of Wellington (New Zealand). It was unsurprising to me that his chats resulted in a few very common themes, all of which were familiar territory from my various conversations about automation with testers from all over the world over the last twenty-odd years. It seems we have a long way to go in terms of learning these hard lessons, despite them being covered ad nauseam in blogs, articles, books and conference talks.

My next choice was “A Quick Recipe for Test Strategy” from Brijesh Deb and I immediately liked his take on the topic. He defined a test strategy simply as a “set of ideas that guide test design” and made it clear that we shouldn’t conflate this with a hefty “one size fits all” document of some sort. I also liked his focus on driving test strategy by asking questions, with not just a shout out to James Bach‘s Heuristic Test Strategy Model but also an example of using it in practice.

The penultimate talk I watched was “Who Are Your Stakeholders?” with Anna Royzman. We often hear the term “stakeholders” used in testing (and software development more generally) but rarely do we seem to agree on what this term means in the context of our projects. Anna gave a good introduction on how to identify different types of stakeholders and what kinds of information these different stakeholders might be looking for.

I concluded my binge watching of the conference talks with the closing session from the event, in the shape of a “Fireside Chat with Michael Bolton” with questions coming from Ajay Balamurugadas. I loved Michael’s answer to Ajay’s question “what has changed in testing from 1994 to 2020?”, “not enough!” This was a fun fifty minute session and a perfect way to wrap up the conference.

Obviously, “attending” a virtual conference is a completely different experience to an in-person event. I chose not to watch all of the presentation recordings but did watch most of them and the quality was high. I didn’t watch the recordings back-to-back either, rather spreading out my viewing across a few days alongside my usual work commitments. I also didn’t contribute to the conference’s Slack channels as the event had been over for two weeks or so by the time I got to the recordings.

I personally missed the in-person aspects that make traditional conferences so valuable, but it might not be the case that we have to choose one over the other as we move forward. I wonder if we’re entering a new era for conferences, driven by changes forced upon us by COVID-19. There are enormous accessibility benefits of the virtual model, thanks to lower pricing and the removal of the need to travel and spend time away from home & family. Such virtual events also open up opportunities for new voices who might be unable or unwilling to travel to a “normal” event, or are too uncomfortable to address a physical audience.

The selection of topics on offer during this event was good and the talks were of a high standard. It appeared to be well organized too, so thanks to Lalit and the Test Tribe crew for putting on a worthwhile testing event during these difficult times! I enjoyed the experience of this virtual conference and I am now considering attending other virtual testing conferences through 2020 before – maybe! – more normal service resumes in 2021…

My experience of working from home full-time during the pandemic

Thanks to Twitter, I spotted that a new testing-related ebook had been published recently, titled Software People Work From Home, in which a number of testers from around the world describe their personal experiences of working from home thanks to coronavirus-induced restrictions.

I really enjoyed reading this (free) ebook and felt inspired to share some of my own experiences based on more than two months of working full-time at home for Quest.

Firstly, some context around my “normal” work situation. Although I am based in our Melbourne city office, I’ve been working from home for three to four days a week for the last five years or so. Part of the reason for this mode of working is due to the long commute from my home to the Melbourne office (around two hours door-to-door, each way) and another factor is the many early morning/late night meetings I’m involved with thanks to my collaboration with Engineering teams across basically every timezone!

This hybrid model has worked well for me and for Quest over the last few years. The reduced requirement to be within “normal” commuting distance of Melbourne means I can live in a beautiful location, right on the beach with peace and fresh air – this has made a huge difference to my lifestyle and well-being. We always make time during the day for a long walk (typically around 5km) and having this as part of my routine continues to be really important to me.

I intended to resume this model of working following my return from some international travel back in mid-March. (I’ve blogged about the experience of travelling during the pandemic separately here and here.) Of course, on returning from the UK towards the end of March, our office had already been closed until further notice thanks to COVID-19 – and so began my immediate transition to working from home full-time.

It’s been an interesting three months in this new mode of working. In many ways, I am very fortunate. Firstly, I’ve kept a full-time job on the same salary as pre-COVID so there are no additional financial pressures resulting from this change. I’ve also had plenty of practice at working from home over the last several years, so the adjustment to full-time at home hasn’t been as significant as for many people. I’m lucky enough to have a dedicated room in our (albeit very small) home to work from (and the incredible water view from there never gets old!) and we are a couple with no kids so it’s pretty straightforward to maintain a quiet environment in which to concentrate on work.

Even adding the extra day or two at home every week compared to my usual routine has revealed some additional benefits of the arrangement. I’m settling into a great circadian rhythm (save for a few early morning meetings) and not commuting has freed up some more time to enjoy relaxing at home. We’re cooking together more often too.

While it’s generally a positive for me to work from home all the time, there are challenges too, the most significant of which for me is avoiding overworking. I spotted a great quote on Twitter recently:

Stop calling it ‘working from home’ and start calling it ‘living at work’

Heather De-Quincey

My boundaries between “work” and “not work” are – and never have been – very strict. I have access to all of the systems folks within Quest might use to contact me pretty much all of the time. My role operates across our entire business unit, which has people in timezones spanning the whole world.

Shortly after lockdowns became part of almost everyone’s life experience, we decided to convert what would have been a large in-person meeting in California into a virtual event. While it was a great success, organizing and running a 70+ person meeting across so many timezones was a huge effort by many people – I worked sixteen-hour days for three days straight during the event, resulting in severe over-tiredness (and unwelcome grumpiness on the home front).

There is always someone looking for something from me, so it can be hard to ignore those requests even when they’re out of what most would think of as “business hours”. The early morning and late night meetings necessitated particularly by the need to interact with folks in the US are draining, but I’ve learned to speak up more and refuse meetings before 7am or after 11pm so as to allow for a reasonably consistent sleep pattern.

There are some things I am missing as a result of not just working from home all the time, but also the general world situation thanks to the pandemic. I was looking forward to attending the CAST conference in Austin in August, but that of course has been cancelled. This is also the first time in recent memory that I haven’t had an overseas trip (or two or three!) in planning, either for work or leisure (or sometimes a combination of both). It feels strange not having these adventures to look forward to anytime soon.

Closer to home, my day or two up in Melbourne affords me a number of opportunities and benefits that I’d taken for granted. I miss my weekly coffee catch-ups with Paul Seaman, although we maintain close virtual contact. I make very good use of the Melbourne Library Service and usually have an interesting book or two on the go, but there’s been no opportunity to borrow books recently. I also miss the chance to have lunch or coffee with ex-colleagues, something I do almost every time I travel into the city. And, of course, the kitchen banter with my Quest colleagues is sadly lacking – and Teams meetings are just not the same!

Overall, I’m enjoying the experience of working from home full-time and the downsides certainly don’t outweigh the positives of both my work output and lifestyle. With Quest keeping its offices closed until at least September 2020, I’ll get to enjoy it for a while longer.