Putting Things in Context

In the movie “The Right Stuff” there’s a scene where character Chuck Yeager is barreling up to the sound barrier in the Bell X-1. 

He’s being shaken to bits from turbulence (transonic speed before 800 mph).  Just when you think the plane will break apart, it breaks the sound barrier (goes supersonic) and all is smooth.

That’s what it’s like to reach the zen of “crazy busy.”  You reach a point where one day you look at your to-do list and everything is Priority 1.  You buffet and shake and are about to implode when you get yet another to-do item to handle.  Then you get another one.  Then, just as you start to fear email, someone walks up to your desk and asks you a question, or worse, reminds you of a commitment you made.  A minute later, you remember you are late for a meeting, and then the phone rings, and then a text message buzzes on your iPhone just as Skype pops up with a request… then, out of nowhere, there is calm. 

It’s a panic-calm as if someone has told you “go to the ocean and put it all into this little cup.”  You can’t do it and you fear failure, but you go to the beach anyway and you see the impossibility of it all and the voice says: “Yes, this was your test. You found your limit. Nice job.”

I am 7 months after my last post here and I’ve been tested and tested and tested and tested and tested.  Sometimes failing, sometimes passing, sometimes the context changes and what used to pass in me now fails, and vice versa.  It’s like being crazy-busy.  You reach a point where you know you are doing the best you can, even though you may forget it 5 minutes later when a new email comes in that tests your abilities.

The tests don’t stop.  And rightly so.  I am made up of a code base to which I am constantly making changes, and with the code that doesn’t change, the Universe seems to provide a test suite of cases with a taxonomy as diverse as James’ Heuristic Test Strategy Model.

The name of Pradeep Soundararajan’s blog is “Tester Tested”.  I’m not sure what he means by it, but I’m assuming he means that to be worth our salt as testers, we have to agree to be scrutinized.

There’s an ocean of things to do as a Quality Director at eBay — as there is with most e-commerce companies.  The site is open 24 x 7, worldwide. At any time there could be a live site issue that affects any type of user Right Now.  I get 200 emails a day.  I am often triple booked and have to choose which meeting I’m going to grace with my presence.  I walk 2.5 miles a day going from building to building talking to people and solving problems.  I come home, spend a few hours with Charlotte, put her to bed, and get right back online — my quiet time to do homework for the next day of classes.

But always always always, there’s me, evaluating myself.  Am I good enough (in this person’s judgment), to accomplish (this task), (at this time)? 

“Good enough” depends on (at least) those three contexts, and I’m embarassed to admit that I have forgotten (more than once) my own advice in Playing the Expert Game.

If you’re looking for those kinds of answers in your testing of software or in yourself, let me say that I’m hoping CAST 2011 starting Monday in Lynnwood, Washington has some answers. It’s a conference dedicated to talking about Context-Driven Testing whether the topic is software or your good-enoughness as a tester.  The speakers there will be tremendous.  They’ll be available and they’ll be willing to be scrutinized unlike most conference speakers.  There will be discussion and debate, competition and collaboration, food and fun.

I’m ready for a bit of a “spring break” from a long semester at eBay to reacquaint me with colleagues I care about and meeting friends I haven’t met yet — those who might have answers I’m looking for.

I tweeted tonight that I have given up my career in testing to learn what I think I *know* about testing. So far, so good.

A colleague tweeted back “Intense is good, otherwise anyone could/would do it.”

That’s a context I was hoping to be reminded of, and I hope not the last for me before it’s time to get back my place by the ocean of all-there-is-to-do.

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4 Responses to “Putting Things in Context”

  1. Tim Western Says:

    John,

    I can so relate to that. The last project I was on, was very much like that. We often talk about the inability to ‘Completely Test’ non trivial apps, some of us may even snicker at times when we say it, but every now and then the scale of an app we are testing (or its many hydra heads of application) becomes so huge that we realize how much more we could do if we just had a bit more time, or just one more day to complete it all. Yet we are only one person, one tester, one shining beacon of light in an otherwise dark software landscape.

    Personally, while I was pulling my hair out on that project, it was worth it. Yeah I learned my limit, I learned areas of testing I need to explore deeper, but more than that I learned about myself. They say the best steel is forged in the hottest fire. I say the same holds for testing. Until you’ve been through at least one really hot testing fire, you may not realize how important what you do and know really is, or how good enough you are for the task. It’s only after we emerge from that fire, and realize, despite the stress, and the constant bombardment, that we are better, stronger, and tested in battle.

    Then I remember the words of my High School Cross Country Coach, and I don’t recall who he was quoting, but those words have stuck with me. First that the race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running, but secondly and more important than all others. “I am someone special, a unique individual, created by God, and filled with his potential.” It is only when we get a shot at projects of that scale that we really can see how much potential we have already realized, and how much more we still could be.

    -Tim

  2. Ann Tracy Mueller Says:

    Jon,

    In all that busyness, you haven’t lost what I knew you had all along – your ability to write beautifully. It will always be there. I hope you come back to it someday.

    In the meantime, savor the eBay experience, have a wonderful time at CAST2011, learn, learn, learn, and enjoy Charlotte. She’ll grow older much too quickly.

    Cheers,
    Ann

  3. Jacob Stevens Says:

    Jon you remain an inspiration to me. I love your attitude in this context which enables your perspective.

  4. Lakshmi Bangaru Says:

    Nice to know about “Good enough” and Tester Tested.

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