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Credo Work: At the end of the world

“In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim
Waves of regret and waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You…you said you’d wait
’til the end of the world”

 

-U2
Until the end of the world

 

This credo work is nearly over.  Next week I will be presenting the whole of the journey at Better Software West which includes the unveiling of my own Credo.  There is still, however, a bit of work to be done.  In this post, I explore the meaning and purpose of professional life.  If we were hiking through the desert, this would be the point in the trip where we reach the edge of a great precipice and, peer over the side, pondering our next move.

Road Follows the Twists and Turns of Island in the Sky, a Mesa in the Northern Section of the Canyonlands, 05/1972

Island in the Sky - U.S. National Archives

This photo is from a cliff I stood atop years ago with my husband.  It is in an area called, “Island in the Sky” in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.  I remember standing at the edge, my husband politely suggesting in a louder-than-normal voice that I step back.  It was exhilarating because I was staring at the end of the world.

 

This is the raw place I have written about where everything is stripped away and all you can see is your own bare reality.  All of the activities I have blogged about are levels of stripping away bullshit until you get to this moment and the meaning of your life is staring you in the face, intertwined with your physical mortality.

 

All of our careers have a shelf life, and before that day comes, it’s worth asking questions about the meaning of our careers and what we intend to leave behind.  If this seems too abstract and distant in terms of your current context, never fear!  There is a “purpose in life” quiz you can take!  It is not a magical cure for anything, but if you have lost your way and are too caught up in a daily grind (which happens to everyone at one time or another) this test will make it fairly obvious.

 

I took this test and managed to squeak over the edge of having a clear purpose.  I’m sure there are improvements I can make, but I’m in a pretty good place with what I’m doing.

 

Here are a few open-ended  sentences you can complete.  Some are from the book, “Building your own theology,” by Richard S. Gilbert.  Some of them I adapted to those of us working in software.  Don’t overthink them, but rather, jot down the first thing that pops into your head:

I most want:

My career is:

I hope I can:

I have achieved:

My highest professional aspiration:

The most hopeless thing:

The whole purpose of my career:

My day-to-day job:

My role in software:

To me software is:

I am accomplishing:

This should get your writing juices flowing.  Now try writing a paragraph about your professional aims, ambitions and goals.

 

In writing my paragraph, there were no surprises, but then, I’m nearly at the end of this journey.  At this point, it’s all about distilling the most important bits out of all of the work that I’ve done.  Whenever I find myself standing at the edge of a cliff, faced with my own physical mortality, the important stuff typically finds its way to the surface.  Who cares about stand ups or the commute or the fact that the office I work in is always so freaking chilly!  Whatever I want to accomplish most unfurls itself and hangs over the earth as I gaze out into the distance.

 

To end this chapter in the credo work, I’ve written a cinquaine which is a variant of the haiku.  Here is the structure if you would like to write your own:

 

start with a noun
two words modifying the noun
3 “ing” words related to the noun
a related 4 word phrase
a synonym of the noun

 

Here is mine:
data
messy unparsed
illuminating, clarifying, expanding
now you see it
information

Credo Work: A few bits from Software History

The Cathedral & The Bazaar

The Cathedral & The Bazaar (Photo credit: Hades2k)

Even though the software credo I am writing is a personal thing, I’m not writing it in a vacuum.  We are all writing the history of software and, at this point, the history of computers and software is big enough and old enough to have it’s own corners and back alleys.

 

In this post, I’ve researched into some questions about computer & software history. I’ll be writing about some events that were important in my corner of computers, some of moments which were not the best, and the event I would most like to have witnessed.
Who are some of the important people or events in your particular area of software and what did they contribute.

I’ve already blogged about The Ultimate Nerd and my ultimate nerds so I’ll be focusing mainly on the events in computer and software history that has meant the most to me.

 

The fight between Internet Explorer and Mozilla
I may have just left Mozilla as a corporate employee, but Mozilla and its mission are still very much alive to me.  If you don’t understand what the whole fight for the open web is about, it is worth Investing 40 minutes of your time to watch Mitchell Baker talk about the history of Mozilla.

 

Back in the nineties, I remember listening to NPR every day for news about how the lawsuit between Microsoft and Mozilla was proceeding.  I hope that, at some point, a book is written about the history of Mozilla and some of its projects.  I had chills more than once as I watched Mitchell Baker give this talk on the history of Mozilla.  A lesson she learned from the Mozilla project and her most memorable quote from this talk is something I will carry around with me until I die, “Leadership depends on who will follow you.”  (It’s at 11:30 if you wish to listen for yourself)

In fact, the fight isn’t over.

 

The blossoming of the open source software movement
The theology of the open web and open source software is deep water which I’m not expecting to plumb in a couple of paragraphs, but if you give yourself the time to really dive into the history and its ideas, you will be rewarded.

 

If you wish to wade into these waters, I highly recommend reading through The Cathedral and The Bazaar by Eric Raymond.  It is beautifully written and I think I must have highlighted half of it.  Although there are frequent references to the creation of Linux, the paper itself is timeless like K&R or Unix Shell Scripting.

 

Reading through this paper, I could see some of the groundwork for agile being laid.  There is a spirit of egalitarianism coupled with a “need for speed.”  Raymond mentions in a few places that it is important to “release early, release often.”  He also writes about the very inclusive development philosophy of Linus Torvalds which was counter to the more exclusive “cathedral” model of isolating a few geniuses and letting them polish the software creating a longer release cycle.

 

This actually deserves a longer post and critique in the context of what we know about open source today.

 

The signing of the Agile Manifesto

Looking at the number of people who were present for this event, I will never understand how they were all able to agree on the document itself.  It appears to me to be one of the greater examples of consensus.  The fact that what’s in the manifesto meant enough to these guys to get together and agree on it sends a strong message.  I consider myself lucky to swim in this every day at Pivotal Labs and I hope my blog helps you push further with it in your own professional life.

 

Historical Software Defects
These are the moments in software history that are not the greatest but they have valuable lessons to teach.

Therac-25
The, “primary reason should be attributed to the bad software design and development practices, and not explicitly to several coding errors that were found. In particular, the software was designed so that it was realistically impossible to test it in a clean automated way.”

 

The Therac 25 was designed to automate the delivery of radiation therapy to cancer patients.  Tragically, it sometimes injected patients with levels that were too high, even tragically high.

My software engineering teacher, Dr. Susan Duggins, first introduced me to this in our software engineering class. It’s important because it highlights that testing should be involved earlier in the software process and that building software is not just about typing out the code.  I am in love with the idea of ecosystems as they apply in software and in open source.  This legal case points the way towards software occurring in an ecosystem.

 

The Mars Rover
Imagine that you’ve spent months working on a small vehicle that will land on Mars.  Imagine the pressure of knowing that many millions of dollars has been spent for you to do this work.  It’s a crowning achievement involving your team and other teams as well.

 

Imagine that the Rover lands and doesn’t work because you’ve been programming in standard measurement units, but an external team you’ve been working with has used the metric system.  I would have cried for days.

 

The failing of the Mars Rover demonstrates the power of good communication and how major defects can occur without it.  If you are a tester and you sometimes feel like the team therapist because you’re trying to get developers to talk with each other, I have news:  You are not alone in feeling like a therapist.  If you ever wonder if you are doing the right thing or sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong, think of the Mars rover team.

 

If you could only witness one moment in computer or software history, what would it be and why?
For this question I am brazenly cheating.  I’d like to watch one of the great visualizations being drawn just to see the tools that were used and the place where it was being drawn.  These had to be hand drawn as there was no machinery to produce them.  I’d like have a look at the instruments used to make the measurements and the drawing implements.  I’d like sit in the chair that William Playfair sat in or watch Charles Joseph Minard explain his visualization of Napoleon’s March.

 

This concludes my look at software history for my blog post, but it’s brought up some threads I’d like to push further.  I’m not quite finished reading and writing about “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.”  I’m also not finished with “Leadership depends on who will follow you.”  It’s a funny thing about these credo posts.  They tend to open more doors and windows than I have time to close.  I don’t mind leaving them open, however, as this is letting in some fresh air.  Wherever you are, I hope that when you get to the end of my post, you take a minute and just…breathe.

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Lady Lego Pirates or Why My Mom is AWESOME

Pirate Legos

My sister and I opened our Lego gifts and were delighted!  What kid wouldn’t be excited to get a huge box of Lego pirates!  After we’d opened the boxes, Mom told us she was not happy that all of the pirates were men and that she’d written Lego a letter and received a response back.  “They actually do have lady pirates, they just hadn’t started making them yet.”  She showed us a letter she had received on Lego corporate stationary.  “They are sending us some lady pirates, but they won’t be here for a few days.  You two are getting some of the first lady pirates.”

Photo by Mom

We did, indeed, receive the lady lego pirates and enjoyed the pirate lego set.  In fact, we entered a Lego contest at the Kmart down the road and my sister won!!

 

This would certainly make a happy end to the story, but life is not a fairy tale and moments like these feed into what happens to us later in life.  At the time, I did not know that I would eventually be getting a BS in Computer Science or that I would spend a lot of time questioning why I was one of 5 women in the BS program at my school.

 

After listening to presentations and reading research papers passed around the Vancouver Grace Hopper conference, the conclusion I reached is that, at least in the U.S., girls are trained and messaged away from math and science at a very young age. The message is that we don’t want to play with erector sets or to take apart our computers.  According to the marketing, the only thing we’re supposed to want is an E-Z bake oven and a birthday party at the American girl store.  Don’t mistake what I say as a 100% rejection of those things.  I think it’s fine to learn how to bake or play with dolls. I do, however, reject the way it’s shoved down our throats as “what girls like to do.”

 

When I hear people say girls don’t stick around in math and science because they are not interested, I’d like to point them to the commercials that play on Saturday morning cartoons or to the faces they see on the boxes in the toy aisles.  If you have kids, take a minute to look around the next time you are buying toys. You might find it eye-opening.  Although I haven’t seen it, I hear the documentary “Miss Representation” deals with this topic.

 

I was prompted to write this post after reading Legos, Spaceships and Breasts by Kate Bachus.  Kate appears to be a mom who shares some of the frustrations my own mother experienced years ago and so I decided it was time to share my family’s story.  These types of choices and voiced frustrations reverberate long after the legos are put away.

 

I do think that there has been some progress although I feel extremely conflicted about some of the progress. While I understand on some level it’s good that lego is trying the “girl” lego thing (kind of like Barbie made a “Computer Engineer” Barbie), I also think it’s great that there are moms out there wanting to know why the girl legos aren’t better, and encouraging their kids not to care about whether their legos come from the pink aisle or the blue one.  My mom gave me the same encouragement and this is part of the reason why MY MOM IS AWESOME.

 

(With the Barbie…does anybody seriously wear pink cat eye glasses or carry a pink laptop?  I better change my vim color scheme to Flamingo or the Barbie police will arrest me.)

 

 

Sketch it Out with Thelma and Louise

A Sketchnote of Thelma and Louise

 

Vacation is always such a great unraveling of the mind.  Usually, it takes me a few days, but I inevitably come to a place where I’ve sloughed off enough dead weight in terms of daily bullshit to really get down to it — that mossy dark place of, “so tell me how you really feel.”

 

When I get to this place, it reveals itself through some type of artistic expression.  I tend to go in phases with painting, drawing, writing or playing guitar.  This time it’s drawing, or more precisely, sketch noting.

 

The designers at Atlassian are completely and utterly to blame for this.  I follow some of them on twitter and whenever they go to a conference, they post the sketch notes they make.  If you have a look, you might also find some inspiration in them.

 

When I’ve gone to conferences or listened to brown bag talks, lately, I’ve been sketching things out.  In school, I chalked up a lot of success to the fact that I would take notes the old-fashioned way — I wrote them out.  There was something to do with the physicality of writing things as I listened that helped me process information, make connections and remember it all later.  Sketching has a similar result which I learned about when I watched this brief you tube from Jeannel King called Visual Notetaking: Why What You Draw is Good Enough!

 

Flashback to this past Winter: every Monday, I would sneak out of the office and drive up to San Francisco where I would take a fiction writing class.  We discussed a lot of fiction, but none of it was the stuff I read in high school.  In one class, we watched scenes from Pulp Fiction.  In another class, we talked about how the opening chapter of a book or the opening scene of a movie sets the stage and, if done well, is a microcosm of the plot.

 

One such movie that accomplishes this is a favorite of mine, Thelma and Louise.  In the opening scene, you see Louise waiting on tables. She gets the eat-shit-and-die look after she tells a table of young girls that they shouldn’t smoke.  She then goes to the back and takes a smoke break.  Thelma’s husband, makes his entrance by screaming, “Goddammit Thelma! Don’t holler like that!”  If you can’t tell, this movie is all about the voicelessness of women.  It is also one of the ultimate road trip movies of all time (up there with The Endless Summer)  If you haven’t seen it, I highly suggest checking it out.

 

Since my writing classes have ended, I’ve been reading the books and watching the movies that we talked about.  For some of them, I’ve even done some of my own literary analysis.  In the case of Thelma and Louise, I got out my sketchbook, and did some drawing.  Note that for some of these, I paused the movie to capture some extra detail.  This is, after all, vacation!

 

I’ve always liked this movie, but after paying some attention and tracing what happens along with what is said and the song lyrics that come out, I like it even more.  Learning how to speak up for yourself can be messy, and this film takes us through that mess for these two women.  For some reason, I’m reminded of the Weekend Testing session I hosted on close reading.  I guess this counts as close watching, and is certainly more fun than reading through java stack traces.

 

Excuse me while I go find some Wild Turkey.

 

 

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Webinar with me: Using Firefox Add-ons for testing

As a tester of web applications, I’ve become familiar with how web pages are constructed and rendered through the browser.  Firefox Add-ons provide a great set of tools for doing this and have been a mainstay of my testers toolbox for quite a while.  One of my jobs as a Mozilla employee was to show others how to use some of these addons.

 

Below is a chat I had a while back with a contributor (name anonymized for privacy) about Firebug and Firepath, 2 addons that I use all the time for getting information about the elements, called locators, on a webpage.  We use these all the time in Selenium testing and it is a taste of what I’ll be talking about in a free webinar I’ll be giving for the Software Association of Oregon on Tuesday, May 15 from 12:00pm to 1:00pm.  Registration is free :o)

 

In addition to Firebug and Firepath, I’ll be talking about an add-on developed at Mozilla, Mem Chaser and some browser functionality that started as an add-on but has made its way into the Firefox browser, Tilt.

 

marlenac  Have you used Firebug before?
olivier No i have heard of it
olivier  Its a firefox extension
marlenac  You’ll want to install 2 addons: Firebug and Firepath into firefox
marlenac  I use both of these all the time to help with the locators.  I’m also looking up a good link on CSS for you.
marlenac  This blog post explains some of it and has a bunch of other links for working with Selenium and CSS:  http://blog.reallysimplethoughts.com/2010/10/12/a-quick-introduction-to-css-locators-in-selenium/
olivier How does firebug help with locators?
olivier  Does it generate the expression?
marlenac  It allows you to inspect web pages so you can see what the locators are.
marlenac  If you’ve got it installed, choose an element on a web-page, right click and choose “inspect element”
olivier  Kk
marlenac  As an example, I’m on the homepage for addons: https://addons-dev.allizom.org/en-US/firefox/
marlenac  If I hover the mouse over the big “ADD-ONS”, right click, and choose inspect element
marlenac  It will split the window of the browser and show me the html of the page at the bottom.
olivier  Kk
marlenac  the line starting with “<a title=”Return to the Firefox…” is highlighted.
marlenac  Just above that is a css class “site-title”
olivier  Right
marlenac  If I want to select the link at “ADD-ONS”, the selector will be “.site-title > a”
marlenac  We can check that this is correct with Firepath.
marlenac  In the Firebug pane, there are several tabs at the top.  “HTML”, “CSS” and further over is “Firepath”
olivier  Kk
marlenac  If you paste in “.site-title > a” without the quotes, it will highlight the element for you.
marlenac  It’s pretty great!
olivier  Thx so much u just made my life easier
marlenac  I know!!!!!!  We’d all be suffering without Firebug and Firepath!!
marlenac  A couple of tips.
marlenac  Use .blah to specify a class name
marlenac  Use #blah to specify an id.
marlenac  Use the “>” to get to a child element.
olivier  What if there are many child element?
marlenac  You can keep going with it.
marlenac  or if there is a list, you can use “nth” to specify the 1st, 2nd, 3rd.
marlenac  This post has a great explanation of that:  http://saucelabs.com/blog/index.php/2010/01/selenium-totw-css-selectors-in-selenium-demystified/
marlenac  I’m just finding an example in our code as well.
olivier  I think i get it
marlenac  Cool!
olivier  I will ask i get stuck
olivier  Thx again
marlenac  You’re welcome :)

Pivot!

PIvotal Tracker Icon for Fluid

In a few weeks, I’ll be joining Pivotal Labs to work on the Pivotal Tracker team.  I’ll be mainly handling support requests and helping with some testing as well.

What drew me to Pivotal?  After all, I’ve got a job as a Software Engineer in Test at Mozilla working with Selenium tests all day every day, what more could one possibly want?  Judging by the number of recruiter emails I get, a Software Engineer in Test working with Selenium all day can pretty much right their own ticket, can’t they?
Well, yeah, and I <3 Selenium, but it’s just one part of testing.  In fact, writing Selenium tests is just one aspect of making software.  I’m ready to own up to being a specialist who knows a lot about testing and automation, but I’m also a generalist who helps make software.  At one point, I thought I only wanted to work on test automation infrastructure, but I’ve since learned that I prefer working with a product team.
This all came about while writing the credo posts that have pre-occupied me since January.  I’ve learned that I love writing more than any other occupation and that participating on a team making software is more important to me than identifying as a tester.
This change will move me into a world where I toss out my own self-imposed label of “tester” or “automator” and throw my bucket of skills at a highly collaborative software team.  In letting go of being “the tester,” there will be other skills that I now get to exercise:
  • Being a great teammate.  While this is important at Mozilla, I expect even more emphasis on this in the tightly coupled, rabidly agile environment of Pivotal Labs.
  • Since Tracker support is 100% email (plus whatever y’all throw me on twitter), I get to use my communication & writing skills as a primary part of my job.
  • The x-factor skill which isn’t an obvious skill in software, but will be crucial for support is having a developed sense of “mindfulness” or non-judgmental awareness.
  • This is all in addition to flexing my technical skills at bug isolation.
Despite leaving Mozilla, I still have quite a fondness for the company, its mission and my teammates there.  As a parting gift to them, I have stolen the following anonymized excerpt from deep within the bowels of irc.  I hope it gives you a chuckle and some encouragement to, “whisper to the fox:
FirefoxLvr404: come to think of it sweatsbac0n, I’ve seen you blogging, but I haven’t seen you blogging about how opensource html5 makes you opensmile
FirefoxLvr404: how much more delightful canvas web technology do you fucking need?
sweatsbac0n: *laughs*
sweatsbac0n: what the hell are you talking about?
FirefoxLvr404: I’m talking about firefox enriching your happiness & defending your freedom by exposing webgl & websockets APIs on top of a lightning-fast javascript engine
FirefoxLvr404: and all you do in return is treat their animonsters like DIRT
FirefoxLvr404: I hope you feel <yourself proud=”true”/>
sweatsbac0n: a little bit
sweatsbac0n: <yourself proud=”true” proudness=”15%”/>
FirefoxLvr404: I bet you assumed that blue mass was the world
sweatsbac0n: You mean it’s not?
sweatsbac0n: Is it an egg of some kind?
FirefoxLvr404: it’s the cold lonely heart within all of us
FirefoxLvr404: that can only be warmed by having a fox wrapped around it
sweatsbac0n: *laughs*
FirefoxLvr404: a firefox, warming your chest cavity.
FirefoxLvr404: making you whole again.
FirefoxLvr404: whisper to the fox, sweatsbac0n
FirefoxLvr404: wind your arteries gently through its fur
sweatsbac0n: Wow. I’ve never felt closer to a browser before.
FirefoxLvr404: I should hope not.
FirefoxLvr404: You deserve better than any other browser
sweatsbac0n: it feels so wrong. and yet….so right.
Enhanced by ZemantaIndeed…don’t forget to update your Firefox today and did you know that Pivotal Tracker let’s you have as many public projects as you want and 5 private ones as an individual for free?

Credo Work: My Many Manifestoes

Prologue of the Code of Hammurabi

Prologue of the Code of Hammurabi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

Trust in your calling, make sure your calling’s true

Think of others, the others think of you
Silly rule golden words make, practice, practice makes perfect
Perfect is a fault and fault lines change

I believe, my humor’s wearing thin
And change is what I believe in

“I Believe” by R.E.M.

 

These are some words from a song I listened to on repeat in high school.  When I listen to it now, I hear some irony in the lyrics that I don’t remember hearing before.  We get handed so many rules in our lives.  When we are younger, many of us are taught about different creeds and rules at our parent’s chosen place of worship.  When we begin our professional lives, we might encounter mission statements at work or within our professional network.  What do we with all of these?

 

For this credo post, I’m examining some of the manifestos, mission statements and declarations I’ve learned from and used in my life.  Some of them are historical, some are from jobs and some are from teh tubez.

 

The Golden Rule:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

This rule sets the bar for my behavior in all aspects of life.  It just doesn’t get any more basic than this.  When someone treats me like crap, this rule is what pulls me back and helps me center myself.  It also leads me to the second rule in life.

 

The Code of Hammurabi:

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…

The reason why I’m including this is because it’s an example of how not to treat people and a code that I learned about and decided to toss out.  If someone screams at me, this doesn’t give me the right to scream back and only makes a bad situation worse.  I think that the Code of Hammurabi is, in actuality, a great way to escalate a situation from bad to worse.  As the saying goes, “if we all followed the Code of Hammurabi, the world would be toothless and blind.”

 

The Declaration of Independence:

This one may come as a surprise, but if you take time to read it, I think you’ll see why I’ve included it here.  It was written 236 years ago, but people then had many of the same basic wants that we have today and at work, even.

 

Here’s my favorite bit, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.”

 

This is all about personal empowerment.  The people who wrote this were far from perfect, but they made quite a strong and enduring statement here.  Not only is it ok to want liberty and happiness in your life, but it is your right as a human.  This is strong stuff.  If the government is crushing your liberty and path to happiness, it is your right to change it.

 

It’s very easy for life to drag you down and tell you that you should be content with having a roof over your head, a flush toilet in the bathroom and decent beer in the fridge, but this document suggests that there is way more to it than that.  We have a right to find happiness and contentment in everyday life.  This includes our jobs even if they are in the tech industry.  In software today, we’re often expected to work crazy hours for a release or do our best to work with programmers who are brilliant assholes because their code is so fantastic.  I don’t think so.  It violates our right to happiness and ultimately creates software that is harder to maintain.

 

But that’s not the end of it.  There’s also an implication in the Declaration of Independence that if your rights are being violated, it’s on YOU to do something about it.  For this reason, if I see shitty software practices, I tend to stir the pot.  In some places it’s welcome.  In other places, it’s not welcome.  In the places where it’s not welcome, I know I’m not welcome either.  These truths I hold to be self-evident.

 

Agile Manifesto:

We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

There are several reasons why the Agile Manifesto is my “go-to” document when it comes to software and also when it comes to framing my own credo.

  • It is short and memorable, especially “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” If someone asks me what’s in the Agile Manifesto, I don’t necessarily have to look it up. When I look at the list of people involved and then see how boiled down this Manifesto is, I know that there must have been some very interesting conversations about what to include and what to leave out.  That fact that the people involved were able to come up with something that is at once concise yet filled with meaning is quite an accomplishment.
  •  Instead of talking “beliefs” this is a statement of “values.”  I noticed that the Software Craftsmanship manifesto which seems to be sprung from the Agile Manifesto is also a statement of values instead of beliefs. This gives both more flexibility because a belief seems more black-and-white but a “value” can happen on more of a sliding scale.  My sliding scale of value in the Agile Manifesto might be different from yours.  Maybe when you think of the Agile Manifesto, you think of “Working software over comprehensive documentation,” first. We can still share these values and it’s all good!
  • The content squarely places emphasis on humans and their patterns of interaction as being important to the making of software.

The Atlassian Core Values:

Open Company, No Bullshit

Build with Heart and Balance

Don’t Fuck the Customer

Play, as a team

Be the Change You Seek

Although I no longer work at Atlassian, their core values still resonate strongly with me.  As is the case with the Agile Manifesto, they are succinct, memorable and from the heart.

I especially like that they included “play as a team.”  The team work ethic I experienced at Atlassian was magnificent and has now set a high expectation of teamwork for me.  Maybe it’s just my personal stereotype, but I noticed collaboration and teamwork seems to be an understood commodity in Australia more so than in the United States and especially Silicon Valley (Note: I differentiate Silicon Valley from San Francisco).  Although I hear that Silicon Valley is what it is today because it had an open culture in the early days of tech, I’ve seen enough exclusivity and competitiveness in valley culture, that I’m convinced it needs a few lessons on collaboration and “building with heart and balance.”

These core values remain one of Atlassian’s competitive advantages, and if they stick with these, I’m sure their established freight-train of success will continue.

 

Thus concludes my look at manifestos, values and mission statements.  I’ve been writing down my beliefs and have seen the list grow week over week.  It looks like there will be “value” in distilling them down to something short and memorable.  Although a credo is supposedly a statement of beliefs, writing them as values gives them more flexibility so I plan to reframe some of the belief statements I’ve made as statements about what I value. There are more than a few of my belief statements centered around humanity in software, but I might also have a think about the heart of software.

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Credo Work: A few of my ultimate nerds

Previously, I blogged about “The Ultimate Nerd.”  In this post, I will introduce you to some people who make my list of Ultimate Nerds.  The only rule I made for my list is that I’m not writing about people I know personally.  I’ve done this to force myself into doing some research and thinking through the reasons why each of these people have made the list.  There were people who I initially thought were no-brainers that came off and people I added much to my own surprise.  It will be interesting to come back to this list in a few years and see how things have changed.

 

Español: Bjork en Jalisco.

Español: Bjork en Jalisco. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bjork
Fans of Bjork won’t be surprised to see her on my list.  She left “has a good beat and you can dance to it” somewhere in the last millennium in favor of risking weird crazy experiments that don’t always work out but can be quite inspiring when they do.  Whenever I read about her projects, it’s not just about her singing or coming out with a new album, it’s about some new technology she’s exploring for making her music.  ReacTable?  Check!  Tesla Coil?  Check!  Swinging pendulums?  Check! Check!!  This is someone who sees technology and pushes it through music.  In my dream of dreams, she and Jack White have a love child.  But that’s another blog post.

Charles Joseph Minard
There are so many reasons why Minard makes my list of ultimate nerds.  Aside from being a pioneer in the field of data visualization, he’s a study in sticking with what you want to do even if it’s not something those around you care about or immediately understand.  He earned his living as a civil engineer and retired as a superintendent for a school of roads and bridges at a French university. It was only during his retirement that he started producing visualizations.

Charles Minard's 1869 chart showing the losses...

Beyond the fact that his visualization of Napoleon’s Russian campaign is ground breaking work, this is something he created at seventy-eight years old. There is so much focus in tech on completing your most important work in your twenties or maybe early thirties at a stretch, and it’s bullshit.

While Minard could have chosen any number of subjects for his visualizations, he chose to visualize the loss incurred by war.  Looking at his flow map of Napoleon’s Russian campaign the horrific losses of troops are immediately visible.  Minard has set an example of visualization as humanitarianism that I intend follow with the open data available on today’s web.

 

Eric Schmidt
In addition to being the former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt wrote the forward to one of the few “business books” that managed to hold my attention, Artful Making.  You can see Chris McMahon’s blog about it here.

Recently, James Whittaker wrote a post about why he quit Google.  In the post he talks about the culture of innovation that Schmidt fostered at Google and it’s right in line with what I read in Artful Making.  In the testing world, Google has recently gone through an exodus of A-talent in testing.  It’s quite telling that a good number of the folks whose talks I most enjoyed at the last Google Test Automation Conference have quit the big G.

By all appearances, the company is undergoing a lot of change and seems to be embracing more of a top-down management.  Seeing this change and looking at the “leadership” I’ve experienced in my own career has shown me that it is much more challenging to embrace the path of trust and letting smart people do what they will than it is to throw on the black turtleneck and go all Steve Jobs on people.  Screaming may have worked for Steve Jobs, but those who decide to follow his leadership path should take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves 1. Am I really that brilliant?  2. Am I living in the same context?  (Hint: the answer is NO.)

In my own work life, I often hear ideas that I myself would not reach for.  I work at saying, “let’s see if this will work out” instead of “you are freaking crazy.”

Eric Schmidt makes it onto my nerd-of-nerds list because he had the audacity to hire smart people, trust them and let them go.  Look at what they built. The ideas about software and software testing that came out of Google under Eric Schmidt’s leadership changed me and my career forever. I suspect I am not alone.  We need more leadership like this in software and software testing.

 

Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg
These two people are a dream team of data visualization.  Although they both do solo work, they work mostly as a team.  In fact, Google hired them as a team and they lead Google’s “Big Picture” visualization research group.  Although their work is always gorgeous, it’s also thought provoking and always has a solid basis in data.  Their first collaborative project, a visualization of Wikipedia, highlighted the controversy amongst some of the pages which, to be honest, I’d never stopped to consider before.

abortion on wikipedia

http://www.research.ibm.com/visual/projects/history_flow/gallery.htm

The artist statement on their website reveals how connected they are to what they do.  Although it’s worth reading the whole thing, (it’s not that long, actually), here are a few of my favorite bits:

“…our artwork complicates and subverts a tool that is largely used by the business and military elite. Unlike these traditional uses, we believe visualization to be an expressive medium that invites emotion.”

“Eventually we start to ask questions that can’t be answered by direct observation.”

For me, this team is an example of being open about collaborative work they do to move technology and mankind forward.

 

Ward Cunningham
There are a few reasons why Ward Cunningham makes my list of ultimate nerds.  He’s the father of the wiki which is a tool I consider mandatory to be effective for exploratory testing and can also be a framework for automated tests.  He helped lay the groundwork for design patterns.  He was also involved in the writing of the Agile Manifesto which is something I frequently reach for to remind myself about the human aspects of software.

Currently, Cunningham is a fellow in the “Code for a Better World” program at Nike where he oversees the Smallest Federated Wiki project.  This is a really neat project as the focus seems to be creating a community of wikis that can talk with each other.  It is also completely open and available on Github.  You an look back through some of the closed issues and see the constructive way in which Ward engages contributors to the project.

Part of the skill for maintaining longevity in a tech career seems to be the ability to simultaneously have a vision but also the ability to break that vision down into pieces small enough to implement.  Cunningham’s engagement with the idea of a wiki over time has shown me what this looks like.

 

So that’s my list of Ultimate Nerds.  In these people, I see what I wish for myself reflected back at me.  There are themes of collaboration, creativity, experimentation and longevity.  It’s easy to get burned out in this industry, but we are surrounded by fantastic mentors and role models if we choose to seek them out.

Last Fall, I ran a half-marathon.  Everything after mile 8 happened through a wall of exhaustion, but I stuck it out.  When I made it to the finish line, there were people lined up outside of the barricades on the street, cheering all of the finishers on.  I ran over to one side and got high-fives from anybody who would give me one, and ended the race feeling ecstatic.  When I feel burned out or when I just don’t know where I’m going with my tech career, it will be easy enough to picture these people lined up and ready to give me a high-five.  Now, there’s a visualization.

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Credo Work: The Ultimate Nerd

Through this process of building my own software credo, I’ve been taking liberties with the Unitarian process of building your own theology.  For this post, I’m taking an ultimate liberty and switching the chapter on examining my personal theories about “ultimate reality” to examining my concept of the ULTIMATE NERD.

To begin this exercise, I’ll examine my take on the stereotype of nerd and “ultimate nerd” during these various phases of my life:

 

  •  As a child
  • As a young adult
  • As a Computer Science major
  • Now

As a child
Let’s just get this out of the way, because we all know it’s coming:  If you grew up in the U.S. during the ’80s, it’s highly likely you share a youthful vision of a definitive nerd with me.

English: An illustration of a stereo-typical &...

It’s quite difficult *not* to associate “nerd” with the nerds portrayed in the movie “Revenge of the Nerds.”  The stereotype was pretty abstract for me and didn’t change that much for a long time.  As I got older and went through high school and college…well…the first round of college, a nerd meant an unattractive man with glasses who liked computers.  There’s no depth to this stereotype, but that was to change…

As a young adult

If you lived in Atlanta or even possibly other places in the Southeast during the 90′s, chances were that your ISP was Mindspring.  This had a big impact on my ideas about nerds.  As I began to cultivate a healthy respect for computers and even began dabbling in programming, Mindspring became it’s own cultural nexus in my hometown of Atlanta.  I swear they must have blasted the lunchtime 80′s radio show, House of Retro Pleasure, at lunchtime in their offices since half of the song requests came from Mindspring employees.   Calling their tech support was fun!!!  Nerds were no longer the cardboard cutouts of my youth.  They were now friendly, vibrant people with enough intelligence to work with computers.  My vision of the ultimate nerd switched to a guy my age, slightly gothy with a dark sense of humor.

As a CS Major
AND THEN…I enrolled in a CS program.  Did I think of myself as a nerd in my Programming 101 class?  Not really.  I was learning C++ and conquering Computer Architecture but there was always that guy in the class who had owned a Mac or Commodore since he was 4 years old.  It is really hard to claim street cred when you are the only girl in a class and struggling to make a B (sometimes I made A’s but not always).  This eventually changed when I attended a Grace Hopper Conference and saw a presentation on what we see when we think of “nerds.”  I realized, I had assumed for many years that to be a nerd, you have to be male and/or have snuggled up to a computer like it was a security blanket every night since infancy.  It took this presentation to help me let go of those particular stereotypes.

Now
“Nerd” is definitely a stereotype and a label. As with any stereotype, it can be used for good or for bad, but in my case, I see it as a positive label and one that I’m happy to own.

I believe a nerd is someone with a deep understanding of technology, but it doesn’t end there.  A nerd is someone who has a deep understanding of technology and who also understands the connections between technology and real life.  As for “deep understanding of technology,” that can be parsed forever and I’m sure there are plenty of nerd fights about what’s more technical.  I’d rather focus on the second half of this because it means wanting to share technology with others.  What good is all of the technical knowledge in the world if you’ve locked yourself away, sneer at everyone you see as “less technical” and refuse to explain anything to them.  Good luck with that.

A nerd is someone who gives their Mom an iPad or who loves making crazy websites and having their friends play with said crazy websites.  They might wear glasses or they might not.  They might be transgendered or they might be a family guy who wears khakis and a plaid shirt everyday.  They might live in Silicon Valley, Conyers, Georgia or Mozambique, and keep in mind, this is just my version of a nerd.  Yours might be different.
The Ultimate Nerd
An ultimate nerd is someone who embodies these qualities I consider to be “nerdly,” and takes them further.  Ultimate nerds not only have a deep understanding of technology and a willingness to share it, they change what’s possible and they don’t have to put people down to do it.

This significantly narrows the field, but that’s ok.  There are plenty of asshole nerds out there who have dazzled us with one thing or another while treating the people around them horribly.  I demand more than that from anyone I consider a leader or “ultimate” anything.

While “nerd” is a label and a stereotype, it holds relevance for me because it describes something I found in myself at the end of a wild and uncertain journey.  The idea of an “ultimate nerd” points me towards places I want to go in my career but haven’t yet reached.

In my next credo post, I will indulge in labeling a few people as “ultimate” nerds.  Hopefully, they’ll be ok with that.

Credo Work: Human Nature

This credo assignment was a lesson on the different aspects of human nature.  The beginning exercise was to read through a bunch of statements about human nature.  Here are a few of the quotes on human nature that spoke to me:

 

You have millions of virtues, but you post-pone their practice.
– letter from a friend to May Sarton

I see the right, and I approve it too, condemn the wrong, and yet the wrong pursue
– Ovid

When all the doors of opportunity seem closed and your precious dreams have turned to ash, remember the human race ranks first in the realm of wonders.

– John A. Taylor

The next section is to think of historical examples of the worst and best in human nature.  Here are my answers:

 

Worst:
Genocide – any occurrence, any time period
The closing down of so many mental health hospitals in the U.S. during the 80′s

Best:
The Civil Rights movement in the 60′s
The Renaissance
Penguin Sweaters

 

The next part of the lesson was an examination of this “continuum” of human nature:
The Human Continuum
Freedom
Environment
Animal
Fate
Genetics
Spiritual

 

There were also a few questions that went along with “the continuum.”  I won’t reproduce all of the questions, but one of them really hit home:

 

Are we trapped with the ancient Greek notion of the mind as good and the body evil?

Although this question is, itself, a leading question I am a big believer in the connection between mind and body.  Our stress reactions have a lot to say to us.  Our body language is half of what we are trying to say when we talk with someone.  Perhaps in the past, all of this has been irrelevant to making software, but we are living in an age when some software processes are beginning to recognize humanity.

 

What do I mean by this?  There are some places where the release of software is a low-drama, non-heroic process.  Releasing the software does not require crazy hours or last minute herculean efforts.  It does not mean weeks of testers, developers or anyone else sleeping in their cubes.  These things are not required because it is understood that  the human brain does not function at its best under these conditions.  Our ability to be good teammates suffers when we are over-tired as does our ability to think logically, find bugs, write code, etc.

 

This is a dialog from Esther Derby and Johanna Rothman’s book, “Behind Closed Doors” that brings this together and is foremost in my mind when I hear about a release which required heroic efforts and/or serious overtime.  Their book is written partially as the story of a manager leading a team.  In this scene, Sam, the protagonist and a software manager is discussing the features that can be included in a release with Marty, his boss:

 

Thursday morning, Sam strode to Marty’s office, plan in hand.
“Marty, I’ve spent the last two days working with my team to replan
this release. We focused on the most important features based on
the list you gave us. We’ve organized it and reorganized it and
arrived at an achievable plan. These are the features we’re going to
work on.” Sam handed Marty the list. Sam waited a minute while
Marty scanned the list. “Not all the features originally planned
for this release are on the list, but the most important ones for
BigCompany are.”
Marty examined the list. “Is this the best you can do?”
“Yes. We’ve spent the last two days figuring out how to get this
much done. If you see a better way, let me know.”
“Couldn’t you just add these two features back in?” Marty asked.
“Not and meet the release date. We know what our capacity is, and
we’re at it.”
“I better talk to the sales guy if this is the best you can do. What if
you put everyone on overtime? Or hire more people?” Marty asked.
“The learning curve is too steep. If we hire people now, they won’t
be up to speed before the release date. And extended overtime—
three months—would guarantee the developers make too many
mistakes and the testers will be too tired to find them.
“I’d be happy to talk to the sales guys with you,” Sam finished.
Marty harrumphed but agreed.

This is what it looks like to recognize human nature when you are making software, and I think we all know that in reality, the dialog doesn’t typically end with “Marty harrumphed but agreed.”

 

The beginnings of my credo
I’ve now written a few posts involving work that will end with my own personal software credo.  With this chapter on human nature, I’ve written the first few belief statements in my credo:

I believe humans work best when we are allowed to be human.  To deny our humanity, our emotions, our physicality and the ways these work together to form us is to cut ourselves off from ourselves and results in work that is less than our best.
I believe that if we don’t, as individuals, understand our own human nature, we will not be able to understand anyone else or what they try to say to us.
I believe that people mis-use or over-use technology when they don’t understand or are fearful of their own humanity.
I believe that there are a few people in this world who willfully damage others.  Those people don’t belong on any software-making team.

 

 

 

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