exploringMindMaps.part1

listeningTo: The Addams Family

inRealLife: It’s fall! And I’ve officially been pumpkin picking twice already, planning to carve today. I love spooky season.

We had a MASSIVE platform release last week which called for lots of overtime hours. It was a few months in the making, definitely nail-biting near the end, but at the end of the day, we are up and running on the recent version of Symfony in addition to many other important tech upgrades. While it wasn’t the most flashy release we’ve done, it was definitely one of the more vital in combating the never-ending list of technical debt we have built up, which is a great feeling.

And, to follow up, somewhat, on the last post’s topic – career stuff – I recently found out that, after more-or-less asking for some more responsibility, I’ve been named tech-lead on a large WordPress migration project we have going on for one of our WordPress sites, but, also, all the other sites (a total of 3)! It’s been a hard time for me, personally, and I’ve been feeling pretty defeated, but the opportunity came up, and I decided to practice what I recently preached and went for it. I am SO excited to tackle this thing and prove to myself I can do this, and more.

whatIReadThisWeek: I’m in a reading rut, which is unlike me as I usually get through at least a book a week. I’m sure I’l get back into it.

Tech-wise, I have been reading a lot about exploratory testing ideas and mind maps. When I first started considering my next blog topic, I thought the two would go hand-in-hand. I still think this, but I decided to focus solely on mind maps today. There is so much cool info and ideas floating around my head I think they deserve their own posts. If you’d like to read along:

whatILearnedThisWeek: I have definitely heard of mind maps before, even saw the phrase tossed around in various testing-related research I’ve done, but I never really knew why people used them, or how they corresponded with testing practices. They look nice and organized, at least as organized as a scattered bunch of words can be. The resources I read this week have helped shape a pretty good definition of what a mind map is actually intended to be and gave me lots of inspiration to create my own.

I was under the impression a mind map was something you wrote down during brainstorming (mind > brain, you know?); however, I found mind maps to be much more orderly and thought out than typical brainstorming notes. To start, I was really looking for a definition of what a mind map was. The examples I found all looked differently and had different levels of detail, but some of the qualities all mind maps shared were a very focused, organized, attractive organization of whatever topic the map was being used for. Elizabeth Zagroba explains mind maps as “smaller, prettier, more focused” than a stack of text-heavy documentation; SoftwareTestingHelp.com defined them as “a graphical representation of ideas and concepts”; and Dragos Campean simply explained they are “a diagram used to visually organize information”. None of these definitions are terribly scary or overwhelming, so why was I assuming this was some high-level, complex project likely out of my scope?

Now that I wrapped my head around what these things are, I was interested on seeing all the examples of how software testers use these products to help facilitate their tests or their jobs in general. Zagroba succinctly says a mind map just provides an overview of the whole product. Okay, this makes sense to me – my application isn’t extraordinary big, but we have a lot of moving parts. On the product management side – which we all know I’m still somehow involved with and we’re not at all bitter about it – we often create visual flow charts for explaining how complex features work or explain how our APIs talk back and forth to other APIs. Mind maps, then, can just be a really big flow chart for the whole product. Cool.

I had a vision – I was staring at a huge mind map that for some reason I printed out and tacked up to the wall of my home office despite not even having a printer let alone one large enough to print a, literally, wall-sized map. I could see each teeny tiny section of my site represented. And I could see, in my mind, tiny automated changes occurring in the branches when thinking about introducing a change to a specific feature. “Oh, you want to add another required field to the member registration form? Look at the “member profile” branch rebuilding a la Game of Thrones intro style. I’ll need to make sure positive and negative form testing occurs here, and here, and here” and I traced that branch from the member registration branch out. The implications were terrifying and I had immediate anxiety about all the times I thought I remembered to test everything when introducing a tiny change and maybe (probably) I hadn’t. When the hallucinations and anxiety passed, I whole-heartedly decided a mind map was in my future.

It might be fun – at least that’s what SoftwareTestingHelp.com would like me to think. It “increases creativity” which is an alluring thought. I consider testing in general a very creative process, despite it being fairly technical and sciency. My test plans are boring, though, and my documentation probably has never been read by anyone but me (and my boss, as I’ve learned). As I was having the thought, I read Zagroba’s point that a mind map can “help you share information with your team”. Of course! No one will ever read my test or feature documentation, but I know our flow charts go over very well with the non-technical team, and it is definitely worth a shot.

whatIAmThinkingAbout: Back to hallucinatory-Amanda for a second – imagining my mind map encompassing the entire wall of my office – I start to wonder how big they end up, or, more interestingly, how small they can be to still be beneficial. What if I didn’t map my entire project, but instead just map at the feature level? I think it would be less useful when trying to determine everything a code change could effect, but I think it could very extremely helpful when writing test cases and QA plans at the individual feature or even case level. Similarly, since I have to wear my tester and project manger hat at all times – could the mind map be created at the feature planning level, and then updated and reused when it’s time to test the thing? I have big plans, I’m excited to try generating some of these things.

recommendationsAndTakeAways: I wrote a few months ago about really wanting to dive into a persona-writing project, and, of course, have not found the time yet. I’m thinking of marrying the two ideas and coming up with a mind map for a few specific personas. I’m not sure how this will work, and I’m thinking maybe it will be better to not try and get too fancy my first time out, but, why not?

I don’t have any recommendations since I really only just understood what these things were the last few weeks. Once I put it into practice, which I’d like to work on this week, I’ll hopefully have some more recs.

Part 2 of this post will focus more on exploratory testing – a concept I have heard MUCH about and have, embarrassingly, never actually participated in. Does that make me less of a tester? Probably. Does it sound just as fun as making a mind map? It does! Will I make my life even more complicated and try and marry a mind map based on personas from an exploratory testing session love-triangle style? Yeah, most likely.

formingYourCareerInTesting

listeningTo: The Simpsons Season 2 Episode 5

inRealLife: I’ve been intending to write for weeks, I really have. Things have been serious health wise, busy work wise, there’s no real good excuse. I just checked though, thinking “I bet I haven’t blogged in over a month” but AH HA! as long as I post this today as I’m writing it, I will just miss my month-a-versary by a day, so, small victories are still victories.

whatIReadThisWeek: I finished Recursion by Blake Crouch. I’m going to write a better review for my company’s consumer-facing blog later this week, but, the short version is: please read this book.

Otherwise, as the post’s title may lead you to believe, I have read a few articles on careers in testing. This is a topic I’ve been drawn to lately. Possibly because of the aforementioned “busy work wise” (to put it mildly) statement, possibly because I’m about to be 30 (alright in like 8 months) and I still don’t know if this is what I want to be when I grow up, or, possibly, because there happen to have been a bunch of good content popping up in my feeds on the topic in the last not-quite-a-month since I’ve written. If you’d like to read along, here are the links:

whatILearnedThisWeek: Not to go too far back into my career history (you can get that on the usually-ignored About page), but, I, like most testers I’ve heard from, simply “fell into testing”. I applied for a QA Analyst/Assistant Product Management position on a whim, primarily because it was a work from home job because and I, as a 25 year old with 1/2 a masters degree, had just been asked to clean out my boss’s file cabinet which I decided was an outrage (okay I’m still bitter about it 4 years later)… Somehow I managed to twist whatever minimal job experience I had into skills my company was looking for in an entry-level tester, and, that was that. My career path so far has been QA Analyst/Assistant Product Manager > Project Manager > QA Manager.

My titles have never really meant that much to me. When someone asks me what my title is it is usually always followed up with a blank drooly stare and an immediate follow up “so, like, what do you do?”

“I test things”

“Oh, okay.”

(If you ask one of my friends, I am a book editor, somehow, another one thinks I’m a journalist and if you ask my mother what I do, she’ll tell you “Oh well, she gets free ebooks, really, like any ebook you could ever want to read”. My grandpa just thinks I’m unemployed since I “sit at home all day” and my dad is convinced my work-at-home company is a scam “I have health insurance and a 401K” “I don’t know, Amanda, I just don’t trust it”).

I’m a woman, and as a woman I’m as interested enough in the equal pay, equal opportunity buzz as the next chick, but probably not as much as I should be. In the publishing industry, which I work in, it’s really very common to be surrounded by female co-workers, female bosses, female mentors, and we all want to lift each other up. It’s really a beautiful thing. I know other industries are absolutely not the same.

What I found interesting about the CNET article is that there is not a big shortage of women in tech, we’re here, we’re not going anywhere, but we’re in places you wouldn’t expect: non tech-companies. When I first started working in the tech field rather than the editorial field, I was like “duh, so many industries need testers, developers, ‘computer people’ – not just Google (the dream, Amanda, you’ll get there)”.

A refreshing stat from the article, in 2019, of the companies included in the study, almost 30% of entry-level tech jobs were held by women, and there is a higher rate of female promotions this year, too. Though, also, there is a higher rate of women leaving their companies. This makes me hopeful that not only are more companies hiring young women, but we are making career moves into, hopefully, bigger and better positions, more frequently.

As I soon realized from reading the articles this week, I’m not alone in the weirdness around tester job titles. Do they really even mean anything? My takeaway from Del Dewar’s Testbash talk, is, nope. In his talk – which I highly recommend for just normal life advice not even related to “stepping back” in your career or like testing at all – he explains how he went from a Test Manager title to a Test Analyst title, and a recruiter accused him of moving backward in his career, even though he did not feel that way. It’s a natural assumption that moving away from being a “Manager” is a step back, but, is it?

As explained and as I’ve noticed, every company has their own role titles, and, like Melissa Eaden’s article briefly mentions, a lot of us make up our own titles and career paths. I know I certainly did. QA Manager means… nothing? I mean I assume it would seem like I manage the QA team, but, you know, the QA team is… me. But I not only manage the test process, I write all the automated scripts, write the manual test cases, write the QA plans for every Jira case, consult with the other devs on testing approaches, and let’s not even get into the I’m-still-a-project-manager-but-no-ones-talking-about-it part of my days. How do you summarize that in a single job title? A lot of titles were thrown around when I got this promotion last year “QA Engineer” “Test Lead” and really just “Developer”. I think it was easier to just replace “Project Manager” with “QA Manager” in my email signature so we settled on that (not really, my boss just picked since I couldn’t make up my mind). Back to the point, though, as Dewar muses at the end of his talk when considering a career as a consultant,

Don’t let the role define you. You define the role.

So, what does a “typical” career path even look like? The examples from Eaden’s article are: Tester > Management, Tester > Business Analyst, or Tester > Development. Where that leaves me as a tester-project manager-developer, I’m not too sure, but it’s nice to see I’m heading in the right direction, or at least know what to realistically expect if I continue in this career.

whatIAmThinkingAbout: One more point Eaden’s article makes is that most testers will naturally navigate towards a role as Automation Tester, and while that’s great and necessary for many test teams, it is not usually a real role at many companies. It’s suggested, instead, to use automation testing skills as a stepping stone to a role as a developer or test lead. I know for me, my experience learning to code specifically for my automated test suites is making me fall more in love with software development, and making me more inclined to take on more development-related projects. I can see myself drifting off into the development side of things, eventually.

I’m still learning to code way too slow, or at least slower than I’d like to be, even considering I generally pick things up pretty quick. There isn’t enough time in the day to dedicate to learning a new skill that technically isn’t directly related to my current job, though I would like it to be. I’m always considering a coding bootcamp or other kind of paid, formal program, but then they are usually a ton of money and many require too many hours a week and, though I’m sure they are very beneficial and worth the time and money, it’s not a commitment I can make now.

Mostly I’m just thinking a lot about where I hope my career leads me, and what I think I’ll be doing in 5 years, 10 years, and more, but none of that anxiety makes for exciting blogging. Despite the anxiety that is with me, always, (love you), I do feel better digging into these articles – I feel good about the future for women in tech, and I feel good about not really understanding the tester role hierarchy and where I stand in it.

recommendationsAndTakeAways: I don’t think it’s ever a bad thing to pause and think about where you are in your career and where you want to be. I’m going to be thinking even harder this week and coming up with a list of short-term and long-term career related goals and see where that takes me.