The Speak Easy program, Part 2: Arachnofobia and Fear of Public Speaking

This is a very personal story about my fear of speaking in public.

I have previously indicated I have had a great fear of speaking in public. It is not limited to a public event but in fact to mostly any kind of groups of people I don’t know. In fact even with people I know, I get nervous. Why? I think it is the feeling of being observed, judged that scares me. With that in mind it might be difficult to understand why I have chosen a career which in fact requires speaking to groups of people I don’t know very well, almost every day. It actually sounds crazy when I think about it.

Why I have chosen to follow the path that have led me to where I am today is thanks to my ambition to:

  • learn from my mistakes, even when they hurt so much you think you never want to do this again
  • continuously improve myself
  • share my experience, so that others might learn from it
  • help others to improve and find there strengths

So how did I reach to the point where I held my first recorded international presentation (Visualizing Testability at CAST 2015)? Let me first share a different story about fear.

Capturing the spider

Ever since I was a kid I’ve had what you would might refer to as a light degree of arachnophobia. I would panic in the near sight of a spider. I would start sweating and behave completely irrational.  As a child I refused opening the windows to my bedroom when it was hot outside. I would rather sweat and not be able to sleep because of the heat, than opening up an opportunity for a spider to get in to my bedroom.

One time I was laying in my bed, reading a book, when I noticed in the corner of my eye, something crawling on my pillow. The horror I felt when I saw it was a spider is completely irrational. In Sweden where I live, we don’t even have any poisonous spiders, at least not any that would be lethal to humans. That night I slept on the couch in another room, since the spider had disappeared before my parents could catch it and was not to be found any where.

When I got older I realized I couldn’t rely on my parents or other people to help me out every time a spider appeared. The breaking point was the day where I had just gotten a new apartment and my parents were helping me to move. My new flat already had an inhabitant, a spider and I panicked. I was lucky to have my father remove it. I believe I was in my twenties! This could no longer go on. What would I do next time a spider appeared?

I decided to take control of my fear. My process was rather straight forward. It has taken many, many years to get to where I am today. I still don’t like spiders, but I can control my fear a bit better. So what did I do?

catchspider

When searching for what resulted in this picture, I realized I can still easily lose control over my fear. Search for “spider in a glass” and I think you will understand. I had to bring out one of my tools from my tool box. It’s the same one I use when I get nervous on stage. I use the Deep breathing technique to calm myself down.

  • I trapped the spider with a glass
  • I slid a stiff paper under the glass
  • I watched the spider closely
  • I lifted the paper and the glass and threw the spider in the toilet (yes, sorry all animal friends, this is what I did)

It sounds easy, right? Well it wasn’t. I cried the very first time I caught the spider. The first times I left the glass with the spider in it standing for days on the floor. I also let the glass with the spider in it standing on the paper on the floor for days. I’ve made horrible mistakes using too thick paper, leaving a gap large enough for the spider to escape when trying to slide the paper under the glass. I have used glasses that were too small and completely missed the eight-legged monster. I’ve tried to throw the spider out the window and it blew back and landed on me! Yes it might be funny now. But I was surely not laughing at the time.

When I became a mother,  I had even a bigger incitement to not let fear take control over me. I wanted to be a role model and show them how you can overcome, or at least take control over your fear. When I think back to my childhood and think of how I felt when a spider appeared I can only wish I had dealt with my fear earlier.

Getting control over the fear of public speaking

It might sound like a cliche, but the more you practice the easier it gets. I don’t know how many spiders I’ve captured with a glass but today it feels a lot easier than it did many years ago.

After a speaking incident that left me with low self esteem and tears, and with a new upcoming presentation only six months later I knew I had to do something about it. On top of it, this presentation was THE presentation, my first presentation at a conference, which happened to be Let’s Test. It was THE presentation, where so many of the testers I respect would be. It meant a million to me and I didn’t want to fail again.

I used a similar approach as in treating my arachnophobia. I decided to accelerate my learning and I  was lucky enough to have a boss who supported me and agreed to pay for me to consult a speaking coach. We met 10 times before my presentation. So what was the process:

  • Speak – the moment we met, he made me stand in front of him and speak
  • Recording me speak
  • Watching the recording of me speaking
  • Showing me a structure of the speak
  • Immediate feedback
  • Challenging me – continuously challenge me to take control over the space.
  • Making me practice – over and over again
  • Setting up a sub target – a speaking event where I could practice before THE conference

The process was not easy. I don’t think my coach knows this but I cried at home during the process too. I doubted many times that I could go through with it. I doubted that I could have a dialogue with the audience. I doubted I could engage the audience and get them to respond to me. I doubted I could be or do all those things he challenged me to do. The thing I remembered the most was our second encounter where he immediately told me to get up and speak. I couldn’t get a word out of my mouth.

Since then I have only spoken three times in public counting my first presentation at Let’s Test. My last presentation at CAST went pretty well I think even though I was so nervous I couldn’t remember very much of what I said. Luckily it was recorded and I’ve managed to force myself to watch parts of it. I have also had several workshops which I don’t feel the same about. I actually love workshops.

I believe you too can take control over your fear of public speaking. That is what is so great about Speak Easy. It’s a program where people voluntarily wants to help you! You can choose for what you would like to be mentored for. Some one in that program might be able to help you as my coach helped me. The two main things to summarize my process in overcoming the fear of speaking and to get better is:

  • Practice – As easy as it sounds it’s all about practice, practice and practice. The first time I couldn’t even stand in front of my husband and present. You would think that would be easier than practicing in front of your coach. To me it wasn’t. Practice is not only about practicing your speech in front of the mirror. It is also to practice in front of people, so that you can receive…
  • Feedback – To be able to improve you need some kind of feedback. Perhaps not as part of the process of overcoming fear, but in order to accelerate your learning and improvement. When you know what you do well you might feel better about speaking in public. There are many ways you can do this. I think you can to some extent do this on your own to. You can record yourself and watch it. However I am my worst critic and prefer to ask others for feedback. The feedback I ask for needs to be constructive. If people liked my talk I would like to know what they liked. I also want to know what I can improve and how, though I mostly already know that myself.

I have come far but I still have a long way to go where perhaps I one day will even like speaking in public. Today I have reached the phase of where I have taken some control over my fear. I can now hear some of you asking: “Why do you even bother to speak in public if you don’t like it?” That is a very good question, and I will elaborate on a few of the points I did in the beginning of my post next time.

Now I wonder, what keeps you from speaking? What is your fear? How can you learn to take control of it and trap that spider?

This is the second of a few post in a series related to being a mentor for the Speak Easy program. The Speak Easy program, Part 1: Becoming a mentor

 

Hiring Testers, Part 1: How about a cup of MOCHA?

A cup of MOCHA

A cup of mocha.

Caffè Mocha or café mocha, is an American invention and a variant of a caffe latte, inspired by the Turin coffee beverage Bicerin. http://coffee.wikia.com/wiki/Cafe_mocha

This is the first post of several in a series of post on my experiences in hiring software testers.

Interview or Interrogate

A friend of mine recently reminded me of how different job interviews can be, when he told me about his latest experience. He was upset over the interrogation he had gone through for an hour with out being able to actually ask any of the questions he had prepared for the interview.

I was quite upset myself since I see a job interview as a conversation and I had difficulties in relating to the interrogation style. The interview serves as a discussion where my aim is to gather as much information as possible about the candidate. However I can see that there might be some type of information that you would get from an interrogation.

Perhaps the interrogator was interested in how the candidate reacts under pressure. Maybe the person was looking for very specific answers, correct answers since the questions where very much related to technical knowledge.

I believe most people are already under pressure when in an interview. I think there is enough stress in the situation. Unless you are looking for someone who will handle extreme situations I don’t see the purpose of using the interrogation as a style of interviewing. I prefer to create a relaxed environment and open up for a conversation when I interview people.

My experience comes from many years of interviewing in the role as a test leader and test manager. I’ve researched the field of interviewing in tech and I am very influenced by Johanna Rothman. I highly recommend her book Hiring Geeks That Fit.

I see interview as an art, where you need to follow the flow but also influence it. Asking questions is an art. Based on Johanna Rothman’s suggestions on how to ask questions I have created a heuristic to help me ask the “right” questions in an interview.

A cup of MOC(H)A

A cup of mocha describes my style of interviewing. It’s like having a chat over a cup of coffee ( or tea if you prefer). Mocha reminds me of the type of questions to ask during the interview and how to ask them, and to keep the right blend.

Meta questions
A meta question is a question about questions. I use it very rarely but something I might ask in the end of the interview is: “What question have I forgotten to ask you?”
The reason I ask this question is to find out if there is something the person thinks is important. It might help me to find new areas to discover.

Open questions
Open ended questions are the one’s I use the most. They are questions that reveal information on behavior. Questions might start with why, what, how? I mostly open up the discussion with a : “Tell me about a situation where…”  I listen, observe and follow up with open ended questions.

Closed questions
Closed questions are some what binary. They often lead to very short answers when asked. I frequently use closed questions in the first scanning interview. If there are specific requirements needed for the role I will start with these questions. They describe facts.
It might be questions like: “Do you have any experience in Python?”
I also use closed questions to find out where to explore further. Questions such as: “Have you ever been in a situation where you had to…” If the person have experience from this particular situation I would probably continue with an open question.

Hypothetical questions
I rarely use hypothetical questions (which is why I have put the H in parenthesis) They are not suitable as behavioral questions and often lead to the candidate answering what you think they want you to hear. However I use hypothetical questions sometimes as part of auditions (see below). But in those cases I am more interested in the thought process than the answer.

Auditions
I highly recommend auditions especially when it comes to testers and developers. How else can you tell how some one actually performs? The audition consist of different assignments that I give to the candidates. One of them is to watch them test a product.  This is something I believe most people feel stressed over. So putting the candidate under the pressure that an interrogation causes is completely unnecessary. It is important for me to try to make it as relaxing as possible.
The audition might also contain a simulation where the tester is given a context and special assignment to solve.

My blend of MOCHA contains a high amount of open questions and auditions.  How does yours taste?

A bugging bug report

This post was written as an article for Testing Circus – 2014 – April edition.
http://www.testingcircus.com/testing-circus-2014-april-edition/

The monster bug

The Monster Bug

It was an early Tuesday morning. The sun was shining through the windows warming up the air as I was walking down hallway to get my daily morning coffee. The office was quiet and calm and was only lit up by the sunshine reflecting off the small particles of dust floating around. I greeted a few of my colleagues who were staring into their screens with a mumbling “Good morning” and a brief smile as I passed by.
As I got closer to the coffee area I could hear the machine rumble as it was most likely brewing a steaming hot espresso. I remember thinking how glad I was that my desk was not located close enough to hear this all day, and then I heard a surprisingly lively discussion for such an early hour. It was Anna and Bree, two of the testers in my team. Anna seemed a bit agitated over something.

“Good luck with getting that one fixed.” Anna smirked and rolled her eyes. “I’ve reported lot’s of bugs to that team but they NEVER fix them!

“Oh?” Bree looked slightly surprised. “I’ve had no problems with getting my bugs fixed. I usually get my bugs fixed from that team”.

Anna frowned. She looked at Bree suspiciously and asked loudly: “Really?! HOW?!!”

“Uhm, I report the bug in our system and the I go and talk to them”

Anna was clearly annoyed. “But I do that too! How come you get your bugs fixed, and I don’t?!”

This was not the first time I came across bugs not getting fixed. In my experience I would say it is quite common. But the question is: Is this a problem?
There are many definitions of a bug. I personally like this definition: “Anything that threatens the value of the product. Something that bugs someone whose opinion matters “(reference James Bach http://www.satisfice.com/glossary.shtml#Bug).
When bugs don’t get fixed, it might be a problem. There may also be many reasons for this. In Anna’s case, there were many potential reasons worth considering both from Anna’s perspective and from the receiver of the bug report’s perspective:

  • The receiver didn’t like Anna.
  • The receiver didn’t trust Anna.
  • The receiver did not understand the bug report.
  • The receiver did not have the time to try to reproduce the bug.
  • Anna had a bad attitude when informing about the bug she found.
  • The bug couldn’t be reproduced.
  • The bug seemed unrealistic: “A user would never do that”.
  • It wasn’t a bug. It’s was a feature.
  • It wasn’t a bug. The feature was not yet implemented.
  • It would take too much time to fix the bug.
  • The bug was too risky to fix.

In Anna’s and Bree’s case the main reason turned out to be communication. When I started to analyze the situation, most of the bug reports Anna filed were lacking information about the problem. It was not clear to the programmers how to reproduce the bug. A few times they did not understand what the bug was about. When Anna communicated face to face with the programmers, they did not trust her. The programmers did not find her story compelling because most of the time Anna just stumbled upon a bug and was not able to tell them how she found the bug. Often Anna would just attach the error log in her bug report hoping the programmers could tell her what went wrong.

Bree on the other hand managed to write her bug reports with just enough information for the programmers to reproduce the bugs. What stood out the most was Bree’s ability to highlight some of the potential consequences of the bug.

Was there a problem here? Did it need to be addressed? Yes! I found one example where Anna had found a severe bug which was very difficult to reproduce. Because of her inability to clearly communicate how to reproduce the bug and what the potential consequences might be if the bug was not addressed, it didn’t get fixed and was found in production.

The problem was not isolated to Anna. This was a very important project, and so there were many poorly written bug reports being created by concerned stakeholders from outside the testing team.

Eventually, the problem with bug report quality became so serious that the project manager limited access to only include members of the project team. He became concerned about all the time being spent to understand and reproduce the reported bugs. On the other hand this resulted in loss of important information in an early stage of the development of the product.

Getting your bugs fixed
I have plenty of similar stories and events such as the one just told. They all have one thing in common, serious bugs not getting fixed.

As a tester, you will likely be remembered by the bugs you find. A bug report can then be considered one of the most important products that you produce.
You may be remembered as the lousy tester who files hundreds of poorly written bug reports. Or you may be remembered as the heroic tester who found some rather serious bugs and helped save your company’s reputation and your customer’s businesses. Who would you prefer to be?

If you want to be the latter I recommend you have a look at e.g. Bug Advocacy to learn more about the subject. http://www.testingeducation.org/BBST/bugadvocacy/

Guest lecturing at the vocational education program Software Tester in Malmö

I am currently working as a teacher in Software Testing. It’s a vocational education program running in both Malmö and Örebro. My collegue Erik Brickarp is teaching in Örebro and since February this year I am teaching in Malmö having taken over the class from Martin Nilsson. There have been several blog posts and one article written about the program where you can read more about the content of the education.

Since it is a vocational education that prepares the students to specialize in Software Testing and hopefully as an entry point to get a job, it is important to give the students as many influences as possible from the real world. A few different things we have done is to bring in people to give guest lectures. Thanks to a good network and very helpful people we have managed to provide several possibilities for the students so far. The students in Malmö has had some advantage since the location and closeness to Copenhagen airport is beneficial. The contact network in Malmö is also bigger since both teachers and House of Test are located in the area. I would like to thank everyone who have visited the students so far. I am truly grateful! I will keep adding people to the list of helpful contributors:

The students have also had the opportunity to participate at Oredev 2014 for a few days.

The Speak Easy program, Part 1: Becoming a mentor

Speaking easy, really?

Speaking in larger groups or in front of people has never been easy for me. My heart starts pounding every time I’m in front of people. Some times I have to look down at my chest, certain you can see my heart pounding through my t-shirt, like in a cartoon.

I used to hate speaking in front of people. If I could avoid it I would happily do so. Ironically I’ve chosen a career where I need to speak in front of people; in project meetings, to my team and in all sorts of context at work. It is also quite funny that my new job will be teaching software testing in a vocational program. To hate is a very strong word and a very serious matter. I don’t hate speaking anymore. I don’t love it either. Yet I choose to do it! (I will get back to why I do it and when I actually felt comfortable in a new post)

In my career I have done very few official speaking events, such as speaking at conferences and meetups. Though the ones I’ve done have been a real challenge and a great experience.  Now a days the biggest reason for speaking very occasionally is the time it takes for me to prepare ( I will get back to this part too).

My reasons for becoming a mentor

Given the background it might seem strange that I volunteered to become a mentor for Speak Easy. But the program which Fiona Charles and Anne-Marie Charrett have started is something I am very passionate about and the main reasons for me are:

  • The possibility to influence bringing diversity to the arena, specifically tech conferences.
  • The possibility to support speakers or new speakers who might share my experiences.
  • The opportunity to give something back to the CDT community and people who have supported me and helped me throughout my career.

I will go deeper in to some of the reasons in a few upcoming posts.

Kudos to Eric Proegler for the idea of creating a series of posts!

This is the first of a few post in a series related to being a mentor for the Speak Easy program.

I am a professional tester – are you?

I am a professional tester

This post is a response to Gil Zilberfeld’s post Why Tester Are Losing The ISO 29119 Battle which I actually think was a great post describing Gil’s experience from working in an ISO certified company.  It also gives me more reasons to reject the ISO 29119 standard.

What actually triggered me to write this post was the following piece:

“The uproar against traditional ISO standards is not new. When we decided that code reviews is needed, we had to document them, just so we can meet the standard. I needed to sneak in “documentable” features and tweak the form to pass an inspection. And all I wanted is an abstract framework for doing code reviews, where people pair and inspect the code for problems, not the location , of braces. But that’s life. I had to compromise.

There’s a whole system out there that works fine for most people. A vocal minority won’t change that.”

I believe by not accepting the system that Gil describes, by raising my voice and not hiding the fact that ISO 29119 is a fundamental threat to the skillful performance of software testing, is one step towards winning. I believe though this battle has been ongoing for ages( perhaps under more quiet forms) we still must continue to fight. The fact that an objection comes from a vocal minority does not invalidate the objection. I won’t let that stand in my way. We lose if we stay quiet!

That is why I raise my voice through this post. That is why I chose to sign the following petitions:

http://www.professionaltestersmanifesto.org/

http://www.commonsensetesting.org/news/files/PetitionISO29119.html

Karen Johnson has described her thoughts on the manifesto in a way that almost mirrors my own opinions and experiences. There is one big difference. In my early years as a tester I was certified. I do not regret this. I am not proud of it. But for this reason I also know how useless it is.

I believe it is up to you to make your own judgement by taking part of the discussions/information. You can decide to ignore it if you wish to. Personally I can’t choose to ignore it since it has a potentially devastating impact on my profession!

 

 

For more information on the matter:

For more information from voices opposing the petitions:

 

 

The year of the challenges – 2013

Year 2013 is coming to an end. Usually by this time I’m looking forward to my new challenges for the next year. I often get stuck in my ideas about the present and the future figuring out my next step and challenges. Once I decide for something I just hop on the train and go.

For once I’m jumping off the train and stopping for a while to reflect over 2013 which has been a very interesting year to me.

Looking back at all the things I’ve done this year there might be a reason for feeling really exhausted. In addition my job as a Test Manager added to the list of unexpected challenges to deal with this year. But that is a different story…

2013 was a challenging year filled with frustration, laughter, fear, excitement, pride and joy. These are the highlights:

  • Episode 1: Beyond the fear of presenting…
  • Episode 2: Behind the scene at Öredev 2014
  • Episode 3: PSL – avoiding getting arrested in Albuquerque
  • Episode 4: Öredev is on!
  • Episode 5. Next?

Episode 1: Beyond the fear of presenting…

January – May

My bewildered experiences from SWET4 the year before triggered a few goals for this year. That breakfast meeting with a coach on communicating and presentation skills ended up in six sessions to prepare for my talk on Tester Skills in February. The preparing itself was somewhat of an experience. My coach really challenged me to do things I wouldn’t imagine doing. He was sort of  the opposite of who I am. At times it felt that we were way apart. In the end I took what I learnt and did it my way, feeling more comfortable about my presentation.

A few things which still surprises me are how I got the participants to talk, to laugh and interact during the presentation. My coach gave me a few very good tools for how to set the stage so to say. It’s amazing how very tiny tweaks in the preparation can make a huge difference.

The preparation for my Tester Skills talk was really about getting ready for the real thing; Let’s Test! I was terrified to do this talk. I had been accepted on a specific proposal but on the way I realized that I really didn’t find any inspiration or joy in that subject. I’ve learnt that I can only do a talk on something that inspires me. So I froze and I felt so bad until someone just asked me “Why don’t you just ask if you can change your talk to something that you are more interested in?” Imagine the relief I felt when I got to change my talk!

The feedback I got on both my talks were very positive. Though I still haven’t dared to watched the video recordings ( Maybe a challenge for 2014!).

My takeaways from this episode:

  • I learnt a new English word during this journey…procrastinate! I am the queen of procrastination (though this was not really new to me).
  • My presentation is not a monologue, it’s a dialogue.
  • I can always ask the question.
  • Ask for feedback – (I asked James Bach for feedback on my talk, since he is an experienced presenter. I also knew he would give me an honest, tangible and thorough feedback.)
  • Engage someone more experienced. I decided to get help from a talking coach since this would probably get me quicker up to speed. I learned a lot from this!

Episode 2: Behind the scene at Öredev 2014

January – May

Late 2012 I was asked to join the program committee for Öredev. I felt humbled and nervous about taking over this assignment from Sigge who has done a really great job the years before. So it was with fear and excitement that I accepted the responsibility for the Testing track. So what was my fear? Well at first I’m not really the most extroverted person. Somehow I had the assumption that it would be beneficial being more extroverted meaning networking and talking to people. I love talking to people, but I’m more of a non mingling one to one person. (And yes, If the phone would ring I’d rather wait to pick it up and hope someone else picks up).

It turned out that e-mail and chatting on Skype worked out just fine. And occasionally I did a few calls too.

I had a goal with the test track. I wanted to have a mix of international speakers. I wanted it to be diverse and attractive also to developers since Öredev is a developers conference. I wanted to be proud of the test track. It had to be something I would want to attend.

I was actually the first to have my track fully booked and I could relax long before the program was announced.

My takeaways from this episode:

  • Skype is great, time differences are not.
  • It was not as difficult as I thought it would be.
  • It was really fun working on a/the program committee!

Episode 3: PSL – avoiding getting arrested in Albuquerque

August

I remember the first time I heard about PSL. I was in Colorado Springs on my first CAST conference in 2009. We were out walking in the Garden of the Gods when this workshop was mentioned. I never really understood what it was. To me is seemed to be some sort of secret society where only people on a special list were allowed to participate. And in addition it was really expensive. It seemed like something completely out of reach for me.

During the years that passed my perception of PSL changed and the more information I got the more I wanted to attend (it is really not very expensive the course itself, but adding accommodation, flight, food and days away from work it gets kind of costly).

In December last year I had prepared a list of arguments to present to my boss assuming he would demand such. But I had forgotten what a great boss I have and once he had read the very brief course description I was in!

Some of you have already been to PSL and might know what the title refers to. For those of you who haven’t you might find out if you go. I say might, because you never know what will happen at PSL. Though what you learn and take away is up to you.

My takeaways from this episode:

  • Two problems might appear to be the same. But they are not necessarily the same.
  • People most of the time really want to help. They believe they are helping. People act from different set of values.
  • I confirmed following; I definitely prefer hanging out with a very small group of people or a larger group where I know everyone really well.

Episode 4: Öredev is on!

November

And so finally it was time for Öredev in action. It started with a dinner on Sunday for my dear new friend Martin Hynie and his colleague Daryl who came all the way from Canada to attend Öredev.

And from Sunday to Friday it was all about Öredev. Monday was the famous skinny dipping in the Baltic Sea at “Kallis”. We were a few brave people who refused to do this madness. My excuse? Oh, I live in Malmö and can go do this whenever I want (the fact that I’ve lived here for more than 15 years and never done it doesn’t matter).

From Wednesday to Friday the conference was on. Most of the sessions are available here. I attended most of test sessions though unfortunately a few of the sessions were on at the same time. All in all I had a great time at Öredev!

My takeaways from this episode:

  • What I like to attend is not necessarily what others like to attend. The feedback on the test track was mixed. For next time there will be a few more hands-on sessions.
  • It will be difficult to attract developers to the test tracks mostly since there are other sessions that probably appeals more to them. It might be better to focus only on testers ( Though I know a few developers showed up on the test sessions. My husband was one of them!)
  • Space Pigs sucks (the room where most test sessions were held)! Don’t have a room that can be used as a short cut to go to another room or area.

Episode 5: Next?

December –

I finished off this year with a challenge for next year. Erik Davis and I sent in a proposal for CAST 2014. A few months ago Martin Hynie, who is a common friend of us came up with the idea for us to do a co-proposal. We have a few things in common when it comes to test management and leadership. It is also a topic that we are both very interested in.

To add to the challenge, Erik and I have never met. We live on two different continents. I am keeping my fingers crossed as hard as I can for this challenge!

My takeaways from this episode:

  • I can’t say no to challenges!

I hope you had the patience to read the entire post. Thank you for being part of my 2013!

I wish you a very Happy New Year and All The Best!