Friday, March 6, 2009

Learning to SHUT UP!

New Testers of Earth! Heed my warning!

There will be a day in your career when you will implement something you've always wanted. It may be a tool. It may be a process. It may be both. But it will seem to you as though it is yours.

You will nurse your burgeoning idea from cradle, through its shaky infancy, all the way up to the point when it begins to walk "on its own". You will grow more proud each day at your child's accomplishments. How it tidies up after itself. How polite it is to newcomers. How well-behaved and dependable it seems to be. You will swell up with pride as you show passers-by pictures of your "idea" doing the most wonderful things - running, spawning, making reports. And though you will fiddle with the thing for what seems like an eternity, you know that you know this thing, this idea, this slice of heaven - born from the marriage of your intellect and your soul - will undoubtedly change the course of history for all who would gaze upon its perfection!

If only everyone else would look at it, they would see it as you see it.

And then someone will call. Someone always calls. There is a problem. And this time the problem is not going to be solved by your miniature doppelganger. Actually, this problem was a direct result OF YOUR IDEA! Perhaps it was an oversight you made while extolling the virtues of your chosen child. Some inattentional blindness you succumbed to as you wrestled with either analysis paralysis or were being beguiled by some new technique you wanted for your resume. The once crowning, glorious edifice to all your rational logic is rent asunder by the astute observation of those you placed in subjection to it.

Your first emotion will be one of incredulity. Certainly the problem is elsewhere in another you're not really responsible for. But no, the evidence points to your own backyard. Then you will seek to affix the blame on someone else. Someone else should have caught this! But alas, you'll be unable to prove that empirically and you'll realize that any effort to do so will only cause an escalation to occur. You'll be trapped. The problem finder has been found to be...a problem!

Oh, the insult to your abiding genius!

Now listen to me very closely. During all this frenetic activity, you will be tempted to lash out at those who accuse you. And you'll know all the words to say to give you the appearance of rightness. A quote here. A name-drop here. A book you read over there. Or even better, you know you could go trolling for evidence in your data farms and find the EXACT MOMENT when that ungrateful so-and-so really dropped the ball. Sure, it'll take an hour of research, but you KNOW its there. You'll even start up Agent Ransack. Are you still listening? Then hear this:

Stop it. Stop it NOW.

What you are about to do is introduce an unnecessary complexity into an already complex situation. That complexity is your personal desire to be seen as right...all the time. It is not only unnecessary, it is counter-productive.

I sometimes detect a hidden thread in our software testing conversations that bemoans our meager status. "If only they would listen to me," it seems to say. Much talk is given to methods and practices we might employ that would bolster our believability index. And this is good, but without restraint, maturity, and wisdom it leads to a kind of methodological mutiny. You can end up seeking to change the course of the development effort in a subversive manner; team buy-in be damned! This is not being progressive. This is not being helpful. This is not being clever and it will not land you a job at <insert mega-trendy forward-thinking collective here>.

You work in a team. And a team works together. You perpetuate the us-versus-them mentality at your own peril. You will make mistakes just like everyone else. Own them. Working with others is a messy affair, mostly because we are all so darned complex. We defy any attempts to metricize our behaviors, but that does not stop us from trying. Future history will be littered with our grandiose ideas to reduce complexity and manage expectation. Some may actually work, but they will only work when they work well with others.

On the cabinet above my desk, there is a post-it note stuck to the door. It simply reads:

"This is not the kingdom you are building."


Ben Simo said...

Great post Zach.

I have an ad hanging on my office wall that I pulled off some trade mag. I don't even know what the ad is for, but the message on it is a constant reminder to not become too prideful about my ideas, strategies, and tools. It reminds me to question my own work more than I question the work of others.

What does this ad say?


Mike Kelly said...

There's a principle in writing that sometimes you need to delete the scenes that you like the most. I think this has a parallel to a lot of things, but in particular process changes. Sometimes, if you find that you're too excited about a particular change, it might be best to not make it. Or at least, bounce it off a lot of people. If you're too excited about it, then you likely won't see it's flaws.

Good post and good advice.


Michael said...

A couple of years back, Adam White recommended a book to me, and last year I read it: Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me). It's about cognitive dissonance, the itch that develops in our mind when we're forced to hold two conflicting ideas at once. People will do remarkable things to reduce the dissonance. "Someone just told me the Very Expensive Tool whose purchase I authorized wasn't working properly. If I spent all that money on the tool and it weren't trustworthy, I'd be an idiot. I'm no idiot, so the tool must be trustworthy."

There are also positive ways to reduce the dissonance. One is to cop to mistakes. Nice post, Zach.

---Michael B.