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-

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