That’s Not the End of the Rainbow

If you didn’t make it through my first post in this series, I don’t blame you. What was supposed to be a 300-word post turned into 2000. Long story short, I have an assignment to publish a blog a week for the next 14 weeks based on the readings in my Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at BYU-Idaho. Those assignments are being published on my blog.

My main insights this week came in the form of a story:

There was a king who liked to work, and wanted his people to learn the same. One night he placed a large rock directly in the middle of the road in front of his estate, and hid in the hedge to see what happened. As the day progressed, each person who encountered the rock cursed at it, complained about it, or simply walked around it. As the day wore on I imagine a path even became visible going around the rock. At the end of a long hard day, the miller’s daughter spotted the rock. Wishing to prevent the inattentive passer-by from stumbling she toiled to remove the stone from the path. After succeeding, she spotted a large sum of money in the road where the stone had been. You see, the king had set a reward for whomever had the work ethic to remove the stone from the path.

This story intrigues me. My first thought is to replicate this story in a way to teach my employees and children a good lesson about hard work. Manipulative aspects aside, that is a good lesson to teach. However, the aspect that is most interesting to me in this story is that of the miller’s daughter’s intentions. She was not worried about the stone in her path, she was alert and cognizant enough to realize the stone was there and to walk around it. However, her concern was for those coming after her, as darkness fell. She wanted to leave the world a better place for those coming behind her.

This is a very noble motive, and one that is not often rewarded externally. I am at a crossroads in several regards right now. Specifically in our congregation there are several stones that need to be moved. The problem comes however, is it even possible for them to be moved without significant effort and time commitment. I identify closely with the farmer or soldier in the full recounting of the king’s story, the men who go around the rock towards their other duties.

This whole semester has been focussed on identifying our purpose and mission in life. While this story sets the daughter apart as a hard worker, there is value in the work the farmer and soldier were focussed on as well. They were not lazy, merely focussed on the task at hand. If we are to focus on every stone that comes across our path, we might never reach the end of it. If we stop to clear none of the rocks however, we might find that the path wasn’t worth traveling to begin with. It is a great balance that we each must find.

Think Win/Win – The Mutual ‘Thank You’

If you didn’t make it through my first post in this series, I don’t blame you. What was supposed to be a 300-word post turned into 2000. Long story short, I have an assignment to publish a blog a week for the next 14 weeks based on the readings in my Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at BYU-Idaho. Those assignments are being published on my blog.

The concept of writing a book fascinates me. I have never been a big fan of reading as an end in itself. I tend to be too antsy to sit down and read a book without some sort of external motivation to do so. This tendency has been made even worse after reading a few books that felt a lot like bloated articles. Drive by Dan Pink always stood out to me as the ensign of this problem. The entire contents of this book can easily be summed up in a 10-minute video (this is one of my favorites). After watching this video, I wanted to know more, so I read the book. After spending several hours making my way through the book, I realized there really wasn’t much more to the book than the basics that were laid out in the video. I felt a little taken advantage of. What did I gain from those hours that I didn’t already know from watching the video? Not much.

If I didn’t gain much from reading the book, what did Dan Pink gain from writing it? The best answer I have come up with after contemplating this question for a few years is this – you can’t sell a 5-page paper for $15 and get on the New York Times best seller list. Pink did some interesting research, and put some interesting studies into a layman’s terms for the masses. That was a valuable pursuit, but all of it could have easily been done in 5-10 pages as opposed to 150. It seems the book selling industry is built around turning 5-page ideas into 150-page books. Even the other book we finished this week, Mastery started as a magazine article that got a lot of attention, and the author turned it into a full book.

The irony of that, is that there are a lot of people like me, that don’t have a ton of time to sit and read those 150 pages, so there is another industry that takes these 150-page books and condenses them into easy to consume 5-10 page summaries. Spark Notes is one that I remember students would use to cut through classic literature in school, but this exists in non-fiction space as well. Blinkist is one that I have been using lately to make my way through some interesting books in the business, leadership, and social sciences topics. I learned of another player in this space this week as we were asked to read a summary of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits from summaries.com.

Before I highlight my favorite of the 7 habits (per my assignment this week), I want to make a brief comment on self-help books as a genre. Having made my way through several of these books this semester, it seems everyone has their own mix of tips and tricks that helped them through life. I have no problem with reading these books, as there have been small tidbits of wisdom hidden inside the dogma that I am happy to take and apply in my own life. For example, a few weeks ago I wrote about trying to wake up earlier based on the Launching Leaders book. a month or more later, and I am still waking up at 5 am every morning, and I love it.

Maybe one day I’ll write a self-help book of my own.

7 Habits is one of those books that has always seemed very dogmatic to me. Covey is an interesting organization. They took a good 5-page paper (the 10-page version we read was still a bit pithy), and instead of translating it into a 150-page book, they transformed it into a $200-million dollar company. That’s pretty impressive. I should have expected at some point in my time at BYU-I I was going to be expected to engage with this material in some way.

My favorite of al the 7 habits was number 4, “Think win/win”. Covey talks about how important it is to get out of the mindset that for one person to win, someone else has to lose. These win/lose (or even lose/lose) situations do exist, but I agree with Covey that we should be looking for ways to push everyone forward, not just ourselves.

I understand that lots of people need to read a book to learn this lesson. I had the chance to learn this lesson as a young man working for my grandfather. He ran a small manufacturing business out of his garage and basement. Many of the grandkids had the opportunity to help out at one point or another. I remember one day when I was probably 14 or 15 asking for a paycheck for some of the work I had completed. When my grandpa signed the check and handed it to me, he told me ‘Thank you’. I raised an eyebrow, confused. Why was he thanking me, when I am the one that should be thanking him for the check in my hand? He explained, “In every business relationship there should be a mutual ‘thank you’ in the exchange. The employee is grateful for the generous pay for the work completed. The employer however is grateful for a job well done.” He taught me a lesson in those three sentences that took Covey 40 pages in his book to cover.

My grandpa also added that for that win/win situation to stick, both sides need to make sure they are treating the other side with respect. If an employer pays less than a fair wage, that abuses that relationship. If the employee slacks off and doesn’t do a good job, they are taking advantage of their employer and wage. If both parties are honest in their dealings, it remains a win/win, a mutual thank you.

I have been reflecting lately on just how blessed my life has been to be able to learn lessons like this at such a young age. As I look around and see individuals and families struggling with concepts that seem so basic to me, I have been wondering how to share the things I have learned with them. Maybe I’ll write a 5-page paper (or a few blog posts). Maybe I’ll write a book. What are some lessons you have learned that you wish you could share with others?

 

To Prepare or Practice?

If you didn’t make it through my first post in this series, I don’t blame you. What was supposed to be a 300-word post turned into 2000. Long story short, I have an assignment to publish a blog a week for the next 14 weeks based on the readings in my Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at BYU-Idaho. Those assignments are being published on my blog.

There are 2 competing ideas that were presented in our readings for class this week. I always enjoy coming at an issue from multiple angles, but I land pretty squarely on one side of this coin.

Let me start by presenting the 2 main concepts we read about this week

We cannot afford to waver in any way. We should always keep in mind that we are trying to prepare for missions, temple marriages, and activity in the Church and to be examples for good so that others will be influenced by the way we live. – N. Eldon Tanner – First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

This is very strongly worded guidance that our entire life is a series of goals that we need to be very careful not to stray from our goals. Contrast that to the book we are currently reading for this same class:

In a nation obsessed with the achievement of goals, devotion to the goalless journey might seem incomprehensible if not bizarre. But behind the slogans you read on the sports page and in the business section there’s a deeper reality: the master goes along with the rhetoric about scoring and winning, but secretly cherishes those games filled with delicious twists and turns of fortune, great plays, close calls, and magical finishes – regardless of who wins. … The truth is, they love to practice-and because of this they do get better.  – George Leonard – Author of Mastery

This second quote fits into a broader context where the author is teaching us that aikido is not a series of goals, but a lifelong practice that one never completes. This contrast to me felt so striking when I first read each piece that I knew I had to comment on it this week. If you don’t remember already where I stand on this position based on the first post in this series, let me tell you a couple stories to help you understand my thoughts.

Roughly 9 months into my tenure at Bluehost Mat Heaton, the founder and CEO, walked through the support floor and tapped a few people to come have a conversation with him. I remember very clearly nervously sitting at the table in the executive break room with several of my peers and superiors while Matt made small talk waiting to begin. Matt started the conversation by trying to understand how well we thought we knew and understood several technologies that were key to our business. He asked us to rank our own knowledge of each area on a scale of 1-10. 1 being barely familiar with the technology, 10 knowing pretty much everything there is to know about that topic.

As others began to answer the first question, I was quickly filled with dread. The founder of our company is sitting here with me, wanting to know how much I know about how to do my job! If I answer too low, he will think I am a fool. Who knows what impact that would have on my reputation with him. If I answer too high, he will see through my over confidence, and know I am lying.

‘8’ answers the first person at the table, a senior technician who has been with the company a number of years.

Now I have an upper limit, clearly he knows more about this than I do, he has is the one I go to with questions when I don’t know how to fix something.

‘9’ answers the next. Another senior technician who frequently helps me and the first guy when we get stuck.

Now it’s my turn, but what do I say? I am still trying to weigh the options in my head when i almost instinctively blurt out “4 or 5, I’m not sure”. A 4? Really? I just told the founder of our company that I know less than half of what I should know about this critical technology to do my job! What was I thinking?! Several more of these questions came around, the first 2 all giving similarly high marks for themselves while I gave middle of the road answers. I didn’t say anything higher than a 6 through that whole series of questioning.

While the rest of that conversation is a story for another time, I have often reflected on my responses to how to rank myself in terms of knowledge on any specific topic. I have been asked similar questions in interviews and conversations several times in the last 15 years and have given very different answers from that 20-year old kid in the Bluehost break room. As I have grown in knowledge, confidence, and success in my career, my default answer to that question on a topic that I am very familiar with is ‘3’, with a qualifier that I am familiar enough with that topic to know that there is so much that I don’t know. I may have more than sufficient knowledge on that topic to be effective at my job, but I recognize that almost any topic worth learning about has such depth and complexity that I would never be able to know more than about 30% of the knowledge on that topic.

On the other hand, if I feel like I do have a pretty good grasp on a large percentage of the topic in question, I am more likely to answer with a 1 or 2. my assumption there, if I don’t know enough about the topic yet to recognize that there is a lot that i don’t know, then I clearly don’t know enough to consider myself an expert on the topic, and should scale back by self-ranking.

 

My second story on this topic restates some of what I recounted in the first post for this blog series of this class. Growing up, both in school and in the LDS church, I was always told to prepare for the next thing. Elementary school was preparing me for middle school. Primary was preparing me to be a Deacon. High school was preparing me for college. The young men’s program was preparing me to server a mission, which would prepare me to get married. College would prepare me for a job. There seemed to be an endless array of preparations, but I was anxious to start living my life.

Imagine my surprise when I finally did get married and started a family. There was now nothing left to prepare for. No prize at the end of the year. No graduation, or ordination, or celebration of another preparation completed. This must be that ‘endure to the end’ part that we always talk about. While that lack of goals could seem a little jarring, honestly, it was very freeing for me. Every day I now wake up with the goal to be a little better than yesterday. A little better husband, father, employee, leader, follower, etc. In the concepts of George Leonard, I am now bettering my practice of life every day.

I think those stories both illustrate well where I stand on this dichotomy presented at the beginning of this article. Life to me is so much more than a series of goals that we check off the list, it is a process of continual progression that is never really done. The concept of eternal progression resonates deeply with me, as we continually grow into better and better versions of ourselves.

History has its eyes on you

If you didn’t make it through my first post in this series, I don’t blame you. What was supposed to be a 300-word post turned into 2000. Long story short, I have an assignment to publish a blog a week for the next 14 weeks based on the readings in my Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at BYU-Idaho. Those assignments are being published on my blog.

When I first read the syllabus for this course, my first thought was that this process of defining my life was going to require a lot of work, and a lot of collaboration with my wife. How right I was!

We have been anxiously engaged for the last 5 weeks discussing the life that we want to build together. With so many options and decisions in front of us, it is incredibly overwhelming at times. Then I saw this video from Randy Komisar and shared it with my wife early in the week. Komisar talks about the propensity to become paralyzed by the amount of choices and passions that are possible. His guidance is to set a direction, as opposed to an ultimate destination. Once that direction is set, near term decisions that point you in the right direction can be much easier to make. The quote that stuck out the most was, “My career makes no sense at all in the windshield, it only makes sense in the rear-view mirror.” Chewing on that thought this week has driven most of the conversations I have had with my wife.

With that conversation as the foundation of this week, last night my wife and I were able to experience Hamilton, the incredible musical by Lin Manuel Miranda about the story of Alexander Hamilton and the early days of our nation. One of the most piercing concepts from this story is just how focussed Alexander Hamilton was on the mark that he wanted to make on the world from an incredibly young age. Much of his life was focussed on building his legacy. To Komisar’s point, Hamilton didn’t set out to create a national bank and financial system as a young man, but he did know that he wanted to be part of building a nation. From the Revolutionary War, to a legal career, to the Secretary of the Treasury, his career made much more sense in the rear-view than it did in 1776 looking forward.

I look forward to more reading, contemplation, and conversation next week.

The Formula

If you didn’t make it through my first post in this series, I don’t blame you. What was supposed to be a 300-word post turned into 2000. Long story short, I have an assignment to publish a blog a week for the next 14 weeks based on the readings in my Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at BYU-Idaho. Those assignments are being published on my blog.

This week I finished the book Launching Leaders by Stephen A. Hitz. This self-help book for millennials was an interesting read which has given me several things to think about and apply to my life. One of the most surprising lessons that I have already started to apply comes from a concept called ‘The Formula’ which was shared in a chapter from a guest author Jim Ritchie.

The 6 points of The Formula are as follows:

  1. Get Up Early
  2. Work Hard
  3. Get Your Education
  4. Find Your Oil
  5. Make Your Mark
  6. Give Back

Each of these steps may require additional discussion. Today I want to focus on the first step – Get Up Early.

I have always considered myself a ‘night person’. Mornings are not my favorite time, and I tend to be very productive in the late morning and late evening. Left to my own devices, I tend to fall asleep between 1 and 2 am, then wake up between 7 and 8. Truthfully, I could sleep later, but ever since my oldest daughter was born 10 years ago I think I have only slept in past 8 a handful of times.

Nearly 6 months ago now I started pursuing my Bachelor’s degree online. This pursuit has added 15-25 hours of additional commitments into my weekly schedule. Finding this time while juggling all of my other commitments and family relationships has been tricky to say the least. One of the most significant impacts has been on the relationship with my wife. My wife is someone I have always considered a ‘morning person’. She is up with the sun, and ready to go to sleep much earlier in the evening than I typically am. With all of my additional time in school, she has been heading to bed by herself most nights while I stay up working on the next paper or assignment. We have almost always gone to bed together through our marriage, so this has been a big shift for both of us.

Upon reading The Formula, I was a bit skeptical of the value of waking up early. In my opinion, the 24 hours in a day are the same, whether the sun is up or not. 2 hours spent in the evening when my circadian rhythm is supporting me seems just as effective or more so than waking up early and trying to focus while I am a bit more groggy. However, in the context of school commitments, and wanting to get back into a schedule more aligned with my wife, I decided to try an experiment.

I had the thought, if I wake up at 5 am, I can do 2 hours of school in the morning, and still start getting ready for the day around 7 am like I normally do. I should still be able to have the same amount of school hours available, but instead of sneaking into bed in the wee hours of the morning, I can go to bed with my wife, and maybe even have a few minutes to talk to her before we both fall asleep. Best-case scenario – we get to see each other a bit more. Worst-case scenario, I realize I am not as productive in the mornings, my grades slip a bit, and I can go back to my old ways quickly.

I am writing this post on the third morning of this experiment. Thus far the results have been quite impressive. My time in the morning has been very productive. I’m still not sure how all of the logistics work, but I feel like I have an incredible amount of additional time in my day. I normally am scrambling to finish school assignments by Friday or Saturday. It is Wednesday morning and I am already nearly complete with my assignments for the week. Last night I got to play games with my kids instead of starting school promptly at 7:00. Every night this week I have gotten to go to bed with my wife and have had time to talk and connect with her.

In summary, I have more time to focus on the things that matter most, and am still feeling very productive. I plan to keep this experiment running for a while longer and am very excited to see the long term results from this new habit.

What time do you like to wake up in the morning?

 

Personal Code of Conduct

If you didn’t make it through my first post in this series, I don’t blame you. What was supposed to be a 300-word post turned into 2000. Long story short, I have an assignment to publish a blog a week for the next 14 weeks based on the readings in my Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at BYU-Idaho. Those assignments are being published on my blog.

This will be an interesting one to post publicly. We are talking in class about the importance of setting up ethical guardrails early in your career, to prevent these questions from coming later when times are harder and poor decisions are easier to make. We were asked to write 3 phrases for each topic: things I will never do, and things I will always do. I will share these below, with a few comments afterwards.

I will never…
…handle money improperly (steal, embezzle, cook books, etc).
…take credit for another person’s work.
…put my ego above the greater good.

I will always…
…do my best work.
…care deeply about the work and the people involved.
…learn and adapt.

As I wrote these, I was intrigued by the statement “I will never put my ego above the greater good”. Over the last few months I have been trying to come to terms with how to balance an ego, and humility. I have very intentionally avoided boasting of my own skills and abilities to avoid creating an oversized ego. I value humility, and assume that others will see the good work that I do and make their own assessments as to my capabilities. While this has been a semi-functional strategy thus far in my career, I’m sure I would be a bit further along in my career if I were a little more vocal about my skills and abilities. This issue has made itself very apparent through some experiences in the last 6 months.

Because of those experiences, I have been contemplating this time in my career. I have wondered if that humility that served me well to this point may have outlived its usefulness. I have been slowly realizing that being confident in my abilities, and expressing that to others is a healthy thing to do. As I was writing these statements for this assignment, the concept of putting my ego in its place behind getting the job done makes a lot of sense. Self-promotion is important, and something I need to work on, but that will take a back seat to actually getting the job done for me.

How have you handled the balance between ego and humility?

Living Your Dreams

If you didn’t make it through my first post in this series, I don’t blame you. What was supposed to be a 300-word post turned into 2000. Long story short, I have an assignment to publish a blog a week for the next 14 weeks based on the readings in my Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at BYU-Idaho. Those assignments are being published on my blog.

This week, the most impactful topic of the hours of reading and videos came in a 30-second clip from a lecture from Randy Pausch at Carnegie Melon. 9 months before his death from pancreatic cancer, Pausch gave a lecture on achieving his childhood dreams.

“So what were my childhood dreams? You may not agree with this list, but I was there. Being in zero gravity, playing in the National Football League, authoring an article in the World Book Encyclopedia – I guess you can tell the nerds early. Being Captain Kirk, anybody here have that childhood dream? Not at CMU, nooooo. I wanted to become one of the guys who won the big stuffed animals in the amusement park, and I wanted to be an Imagineer with Disney. ”

The 30 seconds that were the most impactful to me of this lecture were his discussion about winning the stuffed animals. The most mundane of all his listed childhood dreams captivated me. I too have childhood dreams that seem mundane, but are incredibly important to me.

A few years ago I had received some birthday money that I was wondering how to spend. With my oldest daughter beginning to express interest in creative processes, I went out and spent close to $300 on several large collections of Lego and K’Nex. While $300 doesn’t normally go very far when buying Lego, I found ways to make my dollar stretch, and ended up with 2 large totes full of the toys, without talking to my wife about them. When they all started showing up in the mail, finding a place to store these started to pose a problem.

The following conversations between me and my wife turned up the fairly obvious realization that I wasn’t actually buying these toys for my 6-year old daughter, I was buying them for me. I was unaware of my own childhood dream of owning more Legos than I knew what to do with. Meeting that dream was surprisingly important to me, and I didn’t even recognize it.

Several additional ‘mundane’ childhood dreams have come up in the years since. Things like having an ice maker in the refrigerator door, buying a coffee table, and owning a dog have all been major milestones in our lives. Allowing ourselves to recognize and experience these simple dreams have had a dramatic improvement in the life of my family. Hearing Randy talk about the stuffed animals as one of his dreams was very cathartic this week as I have wrestled with the assignments of setting life long goals and creating a bucket list this week.

What are the little dreams that you have realized, or still hold on to? What could you do bring those dreams into reality?

This Blog, a New Hope

A long long time ago, on a career path far away, I started this blog wit the hope of contributing my ideas to the software testing community. I wrote a few articles, got some engagement from good friends, and enjoyed the time I invested here.

Since then I have changed companies several times, changed roles, changed lifestyles, and the amount of time I spend focus on writing has completely stopped. This is all evidenced by the fact that my last post was nearly 6 years ago.

Fast-forward to today. 15 years into my career, I am now pursuing a formal education. I still stand by my autodidactic identity and tendencies, but found an opportunity to finish my undergrad and MBA that I couldn’t pass up. I am now in my 2nd semester back in pursuit of my Bachelor’s Degree, and have an assignment to publish an entrepreneurial blog for the remainder of the semester. Where this goes after that…who knows?

This assignment will be reflecting and sharing insights I pick up during the semester. The class is Introduction to Entrepreneurship. While one might assume (as I did) that this class would be a discussion about all of the tasks it takes to get a product or service into the market, instead it is all about building a meaningful life and answering the following questions:

What is my calling in life?

How do I create meaning?

How will I measure my life?

Honestly, this course scares the living daylights out of me. I’m 33 years old, and the concept of finding my calling and measuring my life is a bit overwhelming. For a large part of my life, I knew that I wanted to grow up, have a family, and start working. The years and years of preparing for the next step were exhausting. Elementary school was supposed to prepare you for middle school. That was in preparation for high school, to get you ready for college, and so on and so on. I just wanted to start living.

As a brief aside, I think all of that endless preparation actually made me tired of waiting and caused me to be a pretty terrible student in college the first time around. I wrote a paper last semester where I pointed out that school was supposed to prepare me for life, but I found I was built backwards. Life prepared me to be a better student.

Anyway, back to the main point. The idea of identifying my calling in life as part of a 14-week college semester – complete with a mission statement, code of conduct, even a bucket list – feels like a big task. Add to that the fact that I’m not the only one making these decisions. I have a wife and 3 kids that are all primary stakeholders in this partnership, and their input is valued and important in this process. Like I say, I expect this to be a lot of work.

However, as I started reading through the materials this week, one specific sentence jumped off the page. In the introduction to the Acton Foundation’s  Introduction to Entrepreneurship Course the very first sentence states, “To put it simply, living a life of meaning is about living life with intent.” The concept of intention, and making intentional decisions has been a huge topic of conversation in my house over the last few months. It was a major decision for us when we decided I would go back to school. It was a major decision for us to decide to stay in the area we currently live and work. Our decisions, and the intent we put behind those decisions are huge.

As I look back over the last roughly 15 years of my career, I have made an incredible amount of large decisions. The intent behind each of those has been significant. Please allow me to explore a small sample of these here. For those reading this, I hope you gain some insight into your own decision making processes.

Getting Married – I always knew that getting married and raising a family was what I wanted to do. In my religious tradition, putting off marriage until after serving a 2-year mission is a very significant cultural norm. I chose not to go. At the time, I wasn’t very vocal or forthcoming in my intentions, but looking back, I know that my not going ultimately came down to the fact that all I wanted to do was get married and have a family. We are told that serving a mission is meant to prepare us for a family and eternal life. I was so tired of the endless preparation of school and everything else that I just wanted to actually start living. This intention, to live my life, continues to be a motivating factor for me.

Software Testing Career – This summarizes a lot of major decisions, and big moves in my career. My professional career really started in earnest around 2007 when I started working at Bluehost. I interviewed and accepted an offer based on a 30 minute phone interview with Dan Handy. We were living in Michigan at the time, and had 2 weeks to pack up and move to Utah. I had been flirting with a culinary career for some time. At the time the Bluehost offer came through, I had just gotten back to work after an extended dramatic reduction in hours. One of my last paychecks from my employer at the time came out to $4 for 2-weeks of work after taxes, insurance, and union dues (ugh, unions!). This move really signaled the end of my culinary career, which was a decision I was happy to make.

Once we got to Utah however, I was committed to providing a comfortable life for my wife and newly born daughter. I very intentionally invested my energies and faculties at work and home to learn everything I could about the web hosting industry. Extra hours, extra shifts, side jobs in related work, and creating a competitive energy at work to help others along in their learning were all very intentional decisions I made during that time. When the offer came through to be a full-time software tester at Bluehost I jumped on it. I applied myself there in all the ways I had before and continued to progress. In my 3 years at Bluehost, I progressed very quickly from entry-level tech support to Director of Software Development.

Moving Back to Michigan – While we loved our time in Utah, we could tell that my career was taking off. At the ripe old age of 24, we decided that the next years in my career would be very influential. We found a fantastic opportunity back in Michigan, and my wife and I decided it would be wise to invest the coming years building my network and career a little closer to home. We moved back across the country, and I spent a couple years dismantling my first software testing team. It was during my time at Northpointe where I got some of the most shocking feedback of my career. In one of my first performance reviews at the company, I was told that one of my strongest attributes was that I care so deeply about the work that I do. The reason this was shocking is not because it wasn’t true, or because it was downplaying any of my other skills that I bring (it was a very positive review), the shocking bit was that caring about your work was something that was deserving of praise in this company. This was a small company, fewer than 30 total employees. To be told that I clearly cared more about my work than most was very indicative of other issues in the company. I still haven’t unpacked all of that, and that’s not the point of this post. I think it has something to do with leadership, location, and the fact that we worked in the government contractor space. For this and a variety of other reasons, I knew I needed to get into a new company. We loved living in Traverse City, but we had to move.

Users and Customers – As I said, Northpointe worked with governmental clients. We wrote software for prisons and jails. Somewhere in this lesson about intent, and a meaningful life, I learned that a critical piece of my joy comes from working directly with users and solving their problems. I also like the direct feedback loop of that user also being the person that is my customer, the one paying the bill. In prisons, the customers are politicians and bureaucrats. They are the ones footing the bill for the software and driving the requirements. The users are the case workers sitting in the jails and prisons trying to do everything they can to help people get their lives back on track and stay safe. This separation of user and customer is a place I never want to work in again.

Making Decisions Together – This is a negative lesson of intention. I spent a year searching for the right opportunity to leave Northpointe. I got to the point where I was feeling a bit desperate. The technology market in Traverse City at the time was incredibly small. I had looked at a few other opportunities, but nothing in the area solved that direct access to the customer for me. I eventually got a job offer in Lansing, MI. For those that aren’t aware, Lansing is in the exact middle of the Michigan. We had moved to Traverse City not only to be close to family, but to build a life in the most beautiful place in the nation (as voted by ABC in 2001). Lansing is as far away as you can get from anything beautiful in Michigan. My wife was not thrilled to leave TC. I was not thrilled to stay at Northpointe. I made the decision to accept the job anyway. Several years later, I am happy at my job, but she is miserable in Lansing. I learned the importance of making decisions together. That is not a mistake I will ever make intentionally again.

Data Analytics – The last big shift for me in this article has been the shift from software testing manager, to agile coach, to Director of Analytics. I always described software testing as a learning process. From the overarching process of testing being learning about user needs, requirements, and the tools, down to the individual unit of testing, a test, all of it is focussed on learning something and sharing that knowledge. This focus on learning shifted well into the agile community, which focusses on learning quickly and applying that learning to business. This led to another natural progression from agile coaching and management into managing data and analytics teams across the organization of Liquid Web. The lesson here for me, is that I always intend to learn, and apply that learning. I am currently very happy doing that with data and analytics processes. This love of learning however goes back to my early days at Bluehost, were I learned everything I could to be successful. That drive continues, and I intend to continue to learn through the rest of my career.

 

Whew! What a walk down memory lane. While this course still scares me a bit, I already see that it is going to be beneficial. This exact post has been swirling in my mind for 2 years now as the next thing that I wanted to write on this blog. I thought I was sitting down to write a quick school paper, but this is what came out. Maybe this class will push me to do some of the work that is already sitting inside of me waiting to come out. We will see.

I believe this is a weekly assignment, so look forward to another 13 weeks of content on here.

-Wade-

Quality Assurance vs. Software Testing

For a vast majority of my time in the Context-Driven community, I have loosely accepted many “truths” as presented. I have pushed back on some, argued with a few, and flat out rejected some others. The idea that Quality Assurance is an inferior title to something more appropriate such as Software Testing, Light Shiner, Information Gatherer, or Bug Master. Recently I have found that I have a loose agreement with this idea. This post is an attempt to come to a better understanding for myself, and hopefully others in the community.

So not long after my whole team took the RST course with Paul Holland, they decided as a team that the name of our team should be more representative of what we actually do. It was a unanimous decision to change the name from “Quality Assurance” to “R&D Testers”. This was indicative of the fact that we were first and foremost, members of the Research and Development team, and that the role we filled was testing, as opposed to “Assuring Quality”.

Great! I left our meeting that day thinking the team really listened to some of what was taught. I thought the process of changing the name of the team would be rather simple. Change a couple e-mail aliases, a couple quick conversations with the R&D team leadership, and we’d be done.

So I went to start those quick conversations, and it turned out that they weren’t as quick as I thought. Before I go on, I want it to be clear that these individuals I was talking to are engaged development leadership that really care about what we do, engage in community discussions on agile and kanban topics, and actually have my respect in some ways. This isn’t a “bash the ignorant” type of blog post. In that framework, I brought this idea to the R&D team leadership and was met with some resistance. In my side of the conversation, I parroted the arguments I have heard from others in the community, “testers don’t do anything to assure quality, we can’t be certain (or sure) of the quality of a product.”

This was not received as well as I thought it would be. I was under the impression that this was a self-evident truth. That others in the industry were simply too ignorant of what testing actually is to understand this, and all of this “QA” garbage that flies around are relics of manufacturing processes that get applied to software. Here I was talking to people that I share many beliefs about software development, and they disagreed with me. The main thrust of the argument was disagreement with the notion that testers do nothing to assure the quality of a product. In this person’s opinion every project and team they had been on, testers were very influential in increasing product quality and therefore the name QA wasn’t altogether misleading.

“But we don’t ‘ASSURE’ anything, impact perhaps, but not assure,” was my dutiful context-driven retort.

“Assurance doesn’t mean that the product is perfect, but QA people definitely bring a great value in improving quality,” was the response I got.

I was able to walk away from that conversation with a kind of do-whatever-you-want-to agreement from our team leadership, but I wasn’t satisfied. I went back to my desk to look up the definition of the word ‘assurance’ to prove that my point was right, we don’t assure anything as testers. In looking up this definition, this is where my agreement with CDT started to get a little looser.

The definitions of ‘assurance’ all pointed back to the root word ‘assure’. Miriam-Webster offered 4 definitions of ‘assure’. I pulled each one and started detailing why each of those definitions didn’t apply to what testers do (the outcome of that process can be seen here). I eventually came to a definition of assure that stopped me though: “to give confidence to”. For example, “The child was scared to go to the dentist, but her mother’s assuring words gave her the confidence to climb into the chair.”

This reminded me of a conversation I had with James Bach a few years ago. The first conversation that really pulled me into the CDT community was that they were the only people that seemed to agree with me on how testing is valuable. As James and I were talking he made the following comment, “I test because my clients are worried that something they don’t know about the product will hurt them.”

To me, that statement seems to agree that testing is done to build confidence in a product. At the end of testing, all wrapped up in appropriate safety language and carefully crafted words is a report about the level of confidence in a product, or at the very least information that is meant to affect some stake-holder’s confidence in a product.

The rest of the definitions of the word assurance I agree are misleading, even a bit scary. But the idea of Quality Assurance being a process of building confidence in a product, or gathering information for others to build that confidence, is one that I think I could get behind.

This isn’t to say that I dislike the term ‘testing’ or anything else that does a decent job of describing what a team does. What I am trying to do here is gain a better understanding of why the community is so opposed to the term “Quality Assurance”. Please let me know in the comments if you agree with how this is presented, or where I am way off.

My next post will be about the cultural impacts in an organization of changing the name of team from QA to Test. That is what this post was supposed to be, but I thought this was a better point to start the conversation.

January 9 2013 Update

So after letting this post simmer for a few months, I have decided that taking up the fight internally to officially change the name of the team wasn’t worth it. We refer to ourselves as testers. The rest of the development team understands that we are testers, but in terms of support, sales, marketing, etc. I didn’t find there to be any payoff to changing the team name. Heck, I don’t even have the energy/time at this point to write another full post about why I feel that way. That is why I am updating this post rather than writing a new one. I wanted to cover another topic in my next post, but didn’t want to leave this topic unsettled.

Assure

Definitions of “Assure” from Miriam-Webster:

– to make safe – The testers don’t actually do anything that makes the code/products/releases safer. We provide information about potential risks, we point out logical flaws that could cause problems, but the developers are the ones that actually fix those.

– to give confidence to –

– to make sure or certain – This get’s to that perfection idea. I agree that it can’t be reached, so using words that it can be seems off

– to inform positively – This one worries me a bit, because that ‘assurance’ is not based on fact, “I assure you that we can do it”. I would rather provide information and facts that allows decision makers and other team members to make informed decisions.

– to make certain the coming or attainment of – see above