Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day!

Troop 250 scouts placing flags on the graves of veterans at Golden Gate National Cemetery

My great thanks to all of the veterans past and present that have given their all to make the United States the country that it is today. It's not perfect by any means, and it most certainly has challenging days ahead, but the fact that we have the ability to live the lives that we do today and the fact that we are all able to continue in our quest of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is owed to those brave men and women who gave their all on various battlefields to safeguard those rights for us.

Thank you to all who have made the ultimate sacrifice and to those people who are family and descendants of those men and women. I am grateful to you!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Introducing TESTHEAD: My New "Professional" Blog

Well, this is something I've done some serious pondering over, ever since reading "Linchpin" by Seth Godin. I made a challenge to myself to give something back to my professional community as a gift, and that gift is a new blog I started last week. I've made a decision to go live with it and go for broke trying to create the content and make it interesting (well, as interesting as Software Development and testing can possibly be; I think it's interesting, but your mileage may vary).

If you would like to follow my new blog, I welcome you to please come and visit TESTHEAD. The subtitle of the blog is "The Mis-Education and Re-Education of a Software Tester".

I will still post updates here, but they will be less frequent. For the foreseeable future, TESTHEAD is going to be getting the bulk of my attention.

Here's to future days, and for those who have stuck with me to read this blog over the past several years, I'm not going to abandon it, but I hope that my posts that will be made here and there will be worthwhile and fun for you all to read.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Shaking Up The System: Two Books Recommendations

In the coming days, I am going to post a few entries based on these two books, but I wanted to start talking about them here, and give those who would be interested a head start on getting the books a chance to do so.

“Linchpin: Are You Indispensible?” By Seth Godin

Seth makes the point that the “take care of you” bargain, that of going to school, following the rules, showing up to work, and being reliable will result in a high paying, low risk job that they will have for decades, and that company will take care of you, is gone. It’s a new world of competition that literally spans the entire world. If you are average, you are a commodity, another replaceable cog that likely will be replaced. What’s a person to do? Seth argues that we need to stop being cogs, and become “linchpins”, those people that every organization needs to survive. Are you a linchpin? If not, how do you become one? Seth lays out the case that we need to break away from the cookie cutter mentality of the past, where we take on a new way of thinking, a new way of seeing how we work, and a new way of interacting with our peers, colleagues, and customers. The key idea is that we need to stop thinking of ourselves as average, and consider ourselves unique and valuable contributors to the marketplace. If we feel we aren’t anything special, there’s plenty in this book to show you what to do, and a lot of consideration as to how to do it (note: there is no exact template or “how-to” steps in this book; this is a book to help you discover the internal traits that you need to enhance or overcome to make the big decisions to move from “cog” to linchpin”, how you choose to do that is as unique as every reader would be.

“Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar” by James Marcus Bach

The sub-line of this book gives a good idea of what you are getting here; “How Self-Education and the Pursuit of Passion Can Lead to a Lifetime of Success”. James Bch and I share a number of things. First is our choice of career; James and I have decided to make software testing the cornerstone of our careers. James and I also share another trait; neither of us were big fans of school when we were younger, nor did we do very well when we were there. James actually dropped out of school in the middle of high school, and never went back. He states that his 8th grade diploma is the highest “certification” he has. Yet James is known today as one of the foremost experts in the world of software testing, and author or co-author of several books on the topic of software testing. How does one go from being a high school dropout to one of the best known experts on software testing? James shows his method in this book. Some will be put off by the authors disdain for the way that schools are structured today, and may find his message dangerous. James makes no bones about the fact that he felt that traditional school was a waste of his time, and if those who find that stance distasteful and would dismiss the book for that stance, will miss a lot of great ideas and great methods for honing a desire to be a lifelong learner. James makes a key distinction with this book; he’s not saying chuck school because education is not important, nor is he saying you can become brilliant without any effort. In fact, he makes the opposite assertion; you may work way harder to educate yourself than you ever will in school. What he does show is that, like the buccaneers of yore, there’s a way that we can learn what we want to, in the ways that are most effective for us, and set aside the methods that are not. I’m going to definitely go into this book in more detail in future posts, but suffice it to say that I have found many valuable ideas in this book to read, ponder and consider.

If you decide to get these books, please feel free to comment on them and offer suggestions for other titles to consider for review and discussion.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gurus are Nice, But They Won’t Do Your Work!

It's been awhile since I've posted anything. That's going to change (LOL!).

It is common in our world of always on media, easy to attain reading, and 24/7 coverage of the most minute of things, to give ourselves over to “gurus”. While we pride ourselves on being free to think and believe what we want to, we seldom do. Religious or agnostic, politically active or apathetic, more times than not, our thoughts are not shaped by us, but often are shaped for us. We believe in someTHING, often because we believe in someONE.

Guru’s affect us for many reasons. We all have them, whether or not we want to use that exact word to describe them. In some ways, the term “guru” gives people strange feelings. When we think of a guru, we think of it in the terms of the culture that the term comes from. It comes from India, and is closely associated with Hindu spiritualism, and often conjures up the vision of a person who makes pronouncements, and people follow whatever they say, because the guru said it. Uncomfortable as that may be, if we look at many people and the way that they think and interact with others, this is *exactly* what the word means, and why I’m using it. I’ll admit it,

I have gurus I look to for certain things (or if you want, use the term mentor, coach, advisor, whatever makes you comfortable, but know that the term “guru” is still what I mean :) ). My favorite gurus are the ones that keep me entertained or well informed. If someone can do both without setting off my BS meter, there’s a good change I’ll listen to what they have to say. Below are a few of my current favorites that rise to the level of “guru” for me.

Thomas S. Monson: As a practicing Latter-day Saint, it should probably come as no surprise that the President of my church, a man whom I sustain as a prophet, seer and revelator, would perchance top my list of “gurus” that I consult. I also include within this list the men that preceded him, all the way back to Joseph Smith. Their advice is inspired, and oftentimes becomes the rock of doctrine and practice for the 12 million Latter-day Saints worldwide. Having said that, Thomas S. Monson is not in this position merely because he is the president of my church; he is here because I’ve had the benefit of listening to him for many years, applying his advice and suggestions, and feeling the surety that the vast majority of them have been to my benefit, most often spiritually, but quite a few times temporally. Does that mean I check my brain at the door and pledge to do what he says unquestioningly? No, it does not. However, over the many years I have listened to him, when I have taken him up on his advice to “experiment on the word” (not a phrase that originated with him) and give him the benefit of the doubt, I have more times than not felt the surety of his words and what they mean, and how their application has been a boon for me. Your mileage, of course, may vary, but so far, so good .

Dave Ramsey: When it comes to money, Dave’s my man. Long time readers of this blog should find absolutely no surprise in that. What are the reasons for this? First, I became hooked on his radio show after someone suggested I check it out. His style was engaging, and his humor and focus appealed to me. Ultimately, though, it was his message that meant something to me. He was as anti-debt as I was, and his advice and “Baby Steps” fit into my overall philosophy of how I wanted to manage my money. Because of this, I will confess to being a fan and one who listens to Dave Ramsey, but at the end of the day, listening to him does nothing if I don’t actually implement the suggestions he makes. In effect, I chose to “experiment on the word” again with Dave, and for the most part, his advice has been very good and very helpful. Do I agree 100% with *everything* he says? No, but I’ll give him about an 85% agreement rate. I think there is a proper use of credit, provided it is paid off in full every single month without fail, whereas he advocates fully eschewing debt, but that’s a minor nit. Overall, his message resonates with me, and I try my best to apply what I’ve learned from him.

Dan Carlin: It is safe to say that Dan has had the most profound effect on my political outlook of anyone in the past 20 years. Why is that? Well, it started with my listening to his Hardcore History podcast. As a fan of history, I love the segments that he creates, a “theatre of the mind” approach where the arcane bits of history come to life. It was through listening to these podcasts that I discovered that he had another podcast called “Common Sense”. Over the past few years, I have come to identify with his political philosophy of “neo-prudentism”, a philosophy where many of the great ideas do not belong to any one political party, and that we should not be so tied to ideas that any one political party presents, but should focus on what will work, and forsake that which does not. Why does this message resonate with me? It resonates because Dan is a master at understanding history, and how history rears its head in so many places. Because of this understanding, ideology gives way to pragmatism, and that pragmatism is really and truly the only valuable option. Don’t tell me the philosophy of the party; show me what will actually work. If it’s a good idea, I will support it on its own merits.

Larry Winget: Yeah, I have a thing for bald guys who wear loud shirts (LOL!), but that’s not the reason I love Larry so much. The real reason is that his approach to life and personal responsibility really appeals to me. He doesn’t sugar coat anything. He has a take no prisoners, kick butt approach to just about everything, and frankly, the dude is entertaining as all get out! Reading his books is a lot of fun, but even more fun is to actually listen to him. Few people could get away with telling people to “Shut Up, Stop Whining and Get a Life!”, but you look forward to hearing Larry say it :). More to the point, you look forward to putting into practice what he says.

Randy Rice: Up to this point, many of you probably knew who I was talking about because you’ve heard of them through the media or other places, but who is Randy Rice? Randy is a consultant that works out of Oklahoma City, and he is a teacher, a trainer, but most importantly, he is a tester. Yep, Randy shares my career and my avocation; he is fascinated with testing and the ways that testing is done. He’s someone who has invested a lot of time and effort into developing courseware, articles, and audio podcasts related to testing and the issues that surround it. Randy prides himself on the fact that he tries to take what can often be a rigorous and tedious job, and makes the ideas accessible. About half of my iRiver (my MP3 player of choice) is filled with Randy’s podcasts made over the past five years, and I look forward to opportunities to hear and learn from him. Still, Randy’s advice, ideas, and recorded podcasts mean little if I don’t take the ideas he presents and put them into practice.

So what’s my point with all of this? The voices we hear, the people that we look up to, the ones whose advice we seek, are there because of various reasons. The fact is, we all have them. The other fact is that, much of the time, our gurus do *nothing* for us except to maybe entertain us or get us to nod our heads in agreement (or occasional disagreement; I’d argue that a guru isn’t of much value if you agree with them 100% of the time). The true benefit of a guru is to consider their ideas, question them, look at them critically, and if they pass the criteria that critical thinking skills require, then it is our responsibility to actually “experiment on their words”. If we do that, regularly and consistently, then our gurus will actually be a benefit to us. Also, it gives us a chance to develop enough experience to the point that, like it or not, may make us the guru to others :).