Ep 55: FOMO

Or, fear of missing out.

Quick news:

  • I’m at Liverpool Tester Gathering on Thursday 5th August. Come say hi if you’re there!
  • Next week I’m interviewing Rosie Hamilton!
  • The google form for telling me your origin story will be closed on Monday 1st August, so get going if you’ve not filled it in already!

This was not the episode I planned to record today. I couldn’t get that episode to flow properly, so instead I’m talking about FOMO. Now, this text is not as close to a transcript as normal, as I recorded this mostly on the fly, so it’s a bit rambly and not actually written down, but I’ve got the main points below.

On Tuesday, a group of us took part in the first #TuesdayNightTesting, which was a remote lean coffee evening. It was a lot of fun, and one of the questions was about getting testers in a slump into the community. And it got me thinking about the community, FOMO, and people that don’t want to be in the community. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about, and I’ve basically got a list of things I try to do to limit, control, and maximise my testing community involvement.

  1. Have a to-do list
  2. Use bulletjournal, use trello, use whatever tool you want but write or type out a to-do list. Even if you remember everything you need to do, visualising it will help you see how much space you have for new things.

  3. Find a niche
  4. I am a magpie of testing, I’ve spoken about this before; that I can find it hard to focus because everything looks so cool that I want to do it all. I think its easier for me to choose a niche for contributing, because it depends so much on what I enjoy, as opposed to what works well for my context, the problem I have, etc. But pick a contribution (blogs, twitter, podcast, speaking, code/tool development), and roll with it.

  5. Have a plan
  6. I am formulating a plan for the podcast. It has taken me a year to realise I need one, but I’m going to write down what the podcast is, what I want it to be, and how I’m going to continue it, so I know what I want to do. It doesn’t have to be detailed, but I think if you’re serious about doing something in a big way, you need a plan.

  7. Say no/Defeat FOMO
  8. Say no. You’re going to have to at some point so get used to it with small things. Or say ‘let me check’ and go check fully before saying yes or know. If seeing other people do and tweet and blog about things you’re missing out on is going to bother you, pull back a bit.

  9. Take a break
  10. Related to the above. Take a break. Self care is important, and self care whilst doing stuff and being part of tech is something I’m really interested in.

Ep 52: And I say, Zangief you are bad guy, but this does not mean you are *bad* guy

Okay, I want to talk about something that rips me up when my mental health is being particularly hard, and when deadlines are looming.

I want to talk about being the bad guy. This was mentioned in Nicola Sedwick’s fantastic TestBash talk on testers being human; a talk that is well worth the watch if you can – it’s on the Dojo1.

It’s hard to be a tester and go with the flow, be under the radar. You’ve got to speak up because that’s the job – you have to point things out, and sometimes get people to explain their assumptions or decision making. I mean, you have to do that to yourself as well, but no one sees that. They see a contrarian person who wants to know why and how and when and everything else.

You’ve got to speak up and say that something’s wrong, or you think something might not be right, or that there’s a scenario that people haven’t thought of or what about on mobile etc. Most of the developers I work with see me asking the same question of clients as well, so I think that helps. I’m a dick to everyone!

Sometimes being that person, that dick, genuinely feels difficult.

Don’t get me wrong, if there’s a bug blocking the story, then it’s blocking the story, simple as. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t disheartening to reject someone’s work, especially if there are deadlines looming, or you know it’s been a tough piece of work to get through. Or this isn’t the first time you’ve sent a piece of work back to them. Or if you know everyone is stressed enough as it is. Or if you’re going to have to defend the bug – which is fine most of the time, I would much rather get called on shit and then come to a greater understanding or get other people to understand my thinking than not but there are times when that is a difficult conversation. And sometimes you want the smooth conversation.

This is the job we’ve signed up for, but it’s not always enjoyable.

I’ve finally got out of the ‘no bugs raised = bad testing’ mindset, but there is some satisfaction in finding and pinning down a nasty, weird, or just plain juicy bug.

When my mental health is bad, or I’m stressed, or I’ve got multiple deadlines or anything, I want to put my head down and get on with work. If I find a bug, chances are I can’t do that. The majority of small bugs I’ll file without talking to a developer, but a big bug warrants a conversation. I want to double check that the bug actually exists and isn’t an environmental issue or a user issue, and I want to do that before I file the bug if possible so I can keep admin down. Or I want to show the developer, make sure they understand my notes and repro steps; I find it’s useful to get that information on a ticket before sending it over.

Then there are scrums where I have to give updates on my testing. I want to make my testing visible2, and I need to give the team a heads up if something is blocking me or potentially blocking the sprint. I have to take the good with the bad.

And making my bugs known is an important part of the development process. Flagging up that I’ve had to send a story back to a developer is important information for everyone to have at the start of the day, as 1) they may not have seen it, and 2) they might need to rearrange their work plan. I just go for matter of fact, just like I’d mention any other fact.

Okay, so strategies!

I do try to keep my head down when I can. Headphones, moving away from my desk to work somewhere else, generally means that I can focus and keep my head down a bit, get back to where I need to be head-wise.

Find the lesson. I’ve had a week of fuckups recently, and so I’ve took a day where I wasn’t in work, where I was away from the project to evaluate and figure out what I could’ve done. This also can be done in retrospectives. For me, I need to balance time and thoroughness. A series of deadlines meant that I was too focused on quick and not on thoroughness. I’m forcing that time by hand writing some notes for each story I test instead of typing them. I find handwriting forces me to think more and I’m more likely to remember things if I’ve written them down. I can then review these notes when I type them up in my testing session, which means I can think about these again to ensure I’m covering the bases I can.

Mindfulness. I’m out of practise, if fact I’m pretty sure my last session was in 2015. So I’ve started doing 10 minutes sessions before I go to bed. I don’t think it’s a coincidence I managed to finish this episode the night after I did a session of mindfulness: It’s been hanging around for about a month and a half while I try to find the words to describe what I find hard.

Find the good. I’ve focused on fuckups but sharing praise can also be a good way to minimise feeling like a bad guy. It also encourages other people to share praise, which I think is such an important part of team building.

Honestly, most of the time I love my work, I do. There are just times it highlights the cracks in my mental health, so I need to update my coping strategies to make sure I can still do the best job I can.

Footnotes

[1] https://dojo.ministryoftesting.com/lessons/do-testers-need-a-thick-skin-or-should-we-admit-we-re-simply-human-nicola-sedgwick
[2] http://katrinatester.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/use-your-stand-up-to-make-testing.html

Further reading

Dr. StrangeCareer or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Software Testing Industry

Ep 47 – Beyond Unreasonable Doubt

As I said last week, I’m going to talk about unreasonable doubt.

‘Unreasonable’ doubt (for these purposes) is when you doubt your own abilities wrongly – imposter syndrome, or under estimating your own abilities, maybe due to inexperience.

Sometimes this can be a good thing; doubt about a skillset you have can be a motivator to learn more and become better, but it can be detrimental; holding you back when you have no need to doubt your abilities.

I think you can tell the difference between the two – imposter syndrome is a lot more anxiety inducing than being inexperienced is. If I don’t feel confidence in a specific area, it feels like a weakness (even if I’m not actually deficient in that area), but a specific weakness. Imposter syndrome is a much more overwhelming anxiety, one that is much more diffuse; its not an area or two that can be pinpointed, its everything you are and do in your professional world.

I want to talk about a few different strategies for tackling these kind of doubts.

I’m going to start with being new, or inexperienced.

I read a brilliant blog post this week about being ‘a dumb girl in computer science’. It’s really good – it’s about just saying loudly ‘I don’t understand’ and people coming together to help each other out.

Asking questions is really important! And yeah, sometimes it does feel like showing weakness, but everyone’s been where you are, and a lot of us still are – the world of testing is huge (and I think this applies to all spheres of professional life), and you can’t know everything and all things.

So question things. You may get corrected, in fact, through your career you probably will get corrected. Firstly, try to step back when someone corrects you. Assuming they’re not being a cockwomble about it, they’re helping you out. Also, don’t be afraid to question their corrections. They might be wrong? Both of you could be wrong? Start a discussion, go somewhere with it.

You could try focusing. This is something I’m having issues settling on. I’m very much like a magpie in that I’ll go ‘ooh, shiny’ and go over there for a bit, then get bored and never actually sit down and focus on anything (like this podcast!). You may find, if you focus on one or two areas that interest you, and settle on those, becoming more knowledgeable, keeping upto date, you can carve a place for yourself, and feel a bit more grounded and ‘deserving’ of your place in your professional world.

While some of these may help to lessen your imposter syndrome, there are some steps you can take help tackle imposter syndrome specifically.

Talking about it is a key step (yes, it does feel like you’re fishing for compliments, but sharing experience is important). This is a thing that a lot of people suffer from, and so you’ll get a sense of solidarity and knowledge that it’s not just you. It will help.

Studying is sometimes recommended, and while professional and personal development is important, if the motivation is to combat imposter syndrome, you’re gonna get worse, because there is always a lot of stuff you don’t know, but that doesn’t make you a fraud, it just makes you human. However, if you’re aware of a deficiency in a part of your skillset, or something you want to get better at, it’s good to build on these, and it might make your foundation solid and help you find your place.

Share. Tweet, blog, vlog, podcast. Sharing has so many pros – it’s good for you, and good for others. Talking to others will help you structure your information, and will let you realise how much you do know about a thing. Share what you know, and, what you’ve discovered, what you succeeded and failed at. People will listen, and interact, and bring you into the community. Don’t want to maintain your own blog etc? Comment on other people’s’! Retweet, become a curator of awesome, because you’ll be reading this stuff anyway, you may as well share.

Comparisons will kill you slowly, they will. You have no idea what people are choosing to trade off when they do all these extra-curricular things, you just see them fly about doing talks and running events and holding down a job and they’re probably an awesome friend who sends you random texts once a week to see how you are, and has the neatest house in the world but maybe that person leaves toast sweat on their kitchen counter. They drink milk straight out of the carton. And they have a secret love for Sex in the City 2. You see the point I am making here, yes? Most importantly, they probably feel the same way as you when they think about themselves.

Therapy and drugs. I’ve spoken before about my clinical anxiety, and it may be that you need some professional help. Imposter Syndrome could be a symptom of some larger issues. Get help, reach out, if you need to. People will help you, and needing help is not something to be ashamed of. A therapist is a great impartial ear, and nothing deflates your jerk brain like having to justify it out loud. Practice kindness to yourself and others.

This isn’t a comprehensive guide to overcoming doubt. This shit is hard, and it’s hard to maintain, and some of it won’t work. I’ve taken a fairly lighthearted approach to this, but don’t mistake that for me making light of this. I know it’s hard, and I deal with it on a regular basis. If you need to talk, reach out, whether it’s to me, or to the community, or a loved one, or a professional. (Incidentally, would people find an episode on how to respond if people reach out to you useful?)

Further Reading:
https://mental-health-support.herokuapp.com/
testersio.slack.com
ministryoftesting.slack.com
http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

Ep 24: I am Jack’s Medulla Oblongata

Or Geek Mental Help week

Its Geek Mental Help week next week1. Last year I wrote a series of blog posts talking about my experience with mental health, and I want to talk about this again this week. I’ve also organised an event, if people in Manchester are free on 28th October2

I’ve been struggling with my anxiety, actually, for a month or so. And it meant that I almost didn’t do this podcast, or event. But then I realised I have to talk about these things when it’s bad, when I’m not distanced a little.

The format of my talk will be around Fight Club. Because obviously.

The Medulla Oblongata controls all the stress bits of your physiology; heart rate, blood pressure, nausea. And so it seemed fitting for what I want to talk about today, which is essentially trying to get my Medulla Oblongata to chill the fuck out for once.

I AM JACK’S INFLAMED SENSE OF REJECTION

I get scared of lots of things, including rejection. Rejection of me, of my ideas, my feelings. Pre-rejection fears – the fear of the rejection that hasn’t happened.

I AM JACK’S RAGING BILE DUCT

There’s another part of anxiety that I don’t hear mentioned often. The fight part of the fight or flight response. I have on occasion lashed out, out of fear, out of intense anxiety about my work, my life, everything. Its really unhelpful, both in the moment and going forward. As I’m a woman, I’m aware of the ‘over-reacting, emotional woman’ trope, and so inevitably, me lashing out like this makes me feel worse as well.

(Anxiety also kind of makes you weirdly self-centered? Everything is totally always about you. Everything.)

I AM JACK’S COLON
I AM JACK’S COLD SWEAT

I have IBS, and that really doesn’t enjoy my anxiety. At all.

I AM JACK’S COMPLETE LACK OF SURPRISE

I dissociate from my anxiety a lot. I’ll generally either completely zone out and lose any connection to my body until I snap out of it and realise, in a distant way, my heart is pounding really quite fast and maybe I should try to stop that.

Or, sometimes I’ll feel far too small and vulnerable, or large and attention grabbing, and its really really weird, but apparently just related to my personal brand of anxiety, and doesn’t disrupt my life.

I AM JACK’S WASTED LIFE
I AM JACK’S BROKEN HEART

This is the biggie, I guess. The ‘hat if the worst happens and I lose (or drive away) everything and everyone?’. The ‘well I could do this thing I will enjoy or have to do but I’d rather sit here under the weight of my feelings and sabotage myself’

I AM JACK’S SMIRKING REVENGE

Mindfulness helps me a lot with the dissociation. It became a practise, second nature almost for me after a while, so while I do still have my moments, they are a sign that I’m really at my worse, or being actively triggered, as opposed to it just happening.

Meds. Meds give me the energy to get up and do something and then the next thing until I feel vaguely human shaped. And that helps me a ridiculous amount. Just being able to do the washing without huge amounts of cajoling, berating, and bribing means that I have more energy for things like this.

CBT. Lets logic some feelings out.

GETTING HELP

I want to preface this by saying, I do not want anyone to not get help based on what I’m saying. But I did not have the easiest time getting help. I don’t have panic attacks, I never have. I didn’t realise what I was doing when I was dissociating. I didn’t have the words to describe my anxiety as anxiety, because I didn’t realise that’s what it was until after I was in therapy. I was keeping a job. It was all I could do at one point, but I was keeping a job. I was in a relationship. I couldn’t be depressed. And when I went to the doctors they essentially said the same.

But I kept breaking down until I got some help. It took me two years and so many questionnaires, but I did it. I did all the things in my previous slide, and I’m much better off for it. I’m not recovered? I may never be recovered, fear might always be my first reaction to things, but as long as I can turn the volume down on that fear without it costing all my energy? I’m okay with that.

I try to be nice to myself, without giving in to myself. I’m learning to live with my brain, not despite it.

Footnote

[1]http://geekmentalhelp.com/
[2]http://lanyrd.com/2015/geekmentalhelp/

Ep 14: Eternal Sunshine of the Testless Mind

You’ve probably heard about Mindfulness, its got a lot of press, good and bad1. recently, but I want to talk about it in the context of work.

First, an intro, for those who need it.

Mindfulness is based on Buddhist meditation that as the name suggests is based around being aware of yourself and your surroundings.

Getting lost in the zone or work or even your own head can be wonderful for chugging through a complex problem, but it can also cause issues with the same, resulting in you not seeing the wood for the trees.

Taking a step back and bringing yourself back into your body can revitalise (or relax) you and can help you return to work with a fresher pair of eyes.

The easiest way of doing this is breathing. Just the act of firstly breathing properly2. if you can, which means engaging your diaphragm, and your stomach should move before your chest can help. That act of changing how you breathe if you don’t breathe properly already will trigger some mindfulness, because you will be aware of your breathing, you won’t be able to not feel your stomach moving, the air passing through your nose.

If you do already breath properly, ace, you’ll have to focus yourself on how your breathing feels.

Doing that (and just that) for 2 to 3 minutes can have an effect, even if it may be unsettling at first.

It took me a while to get into Mindfulness – the course I did started with full body scans, which is lying down for 20 to 30 minutes, being aware of parts of your body, starting from either the top of your head or your toes (toes to head is supposed to invigorate you, head down to relax you). And it is thorough, toes, tops and bottoms of feet, ankles, all done separately, so each session takes a while. But if you can get it (and I am aware not everyone can) I think its helpful for work, as well as personally.

Firstly it forces you to give yourself space, a commodity I think is highly valuable and should be protected and gathered more often. Rushing and being under pressure leads to fire fighting, which generally leads to short term thinking and nothing good comes of that.

Take a second, breath, then look at the issue again.

You’re also encouraged to be kindly curious about things. Focusing your mind on one thing is hard, you will wander, and that’s fine. Take note of what you’re thinking of, then slowly bring your mind back.

If you notice something off in your body or mind whilst being aware of it (pain, tenseness), you are encouraged to try to relax that part of your body, but if not, that’s fine too.

And that can be useful. You are encouraged to be curious about things, to approach things, even if they might be hard, but again, with an open mind.

This becomes a habit. Practising being more aware of yourself means you become more aware in general. It becomes second nature. You are also more likely to approach things you wouldn’t before (especially in the case of mental health issues), and you’re kinder to yourself if things don’t work out.

Thirdly, its an act of kindness, and being kind to yourself is a hard thing to do, and its not always valued as it should be. One of the steps of Mindfulness is kindly awareness, both to yourself and to others. Being aware that everyone has their own story, their own struggles is a whole section you can dedicate time to.

Go be kind to yourself and someone else today. I recommend it.

Its something else that will become second nature. And its easier to be empathetic when you get in the habit of being kind. That means you’re more likely to think about how other people interact with things, or where other people are coming from if they disagree with you.

Leading on from that is my favourite part of Mindfulness: respond, not react.

Full disclosure, I suffer from anxiety, and one of the ways that manifests is very defensive reacting to things, which is bad for everyone, as no one gets a good resolution, and I spend a week afterwards beating myself up about it. So I practise responding. Taking a momentary step back and making sure I’m not kneejerk reacting to things, make sure I’m not coming from a place of anxiety. I like to think it helps with my interpersonal skills and relationships.

Sometimes I’ll go sit in a quiet area of the office and listen to a guided breath meditation (aptly called the 3 minute breathing space), and then get back to work, and I think it does wonders. Sometimes it feels almost indulgent if I’m on a deadline or just really busy, but I really notice the difference. I complete work to a higher standard, and feel much better.

I highly recommend mindfulness, and I’ll put some resources in the show notes for learning more, and a video so you can give guided breathing meditation a go

Resources

Breathworks (run the courses I have done):
http://www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/

Example video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gcUSfTEn84

Footnote

[1]http://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2015/may/21/mindfulness-drug-free-side-effects
[2]http://www.selfication.com/how-to-breathe/