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 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/