A black cloud has hung over my writing for the past year and it’s been frustrating. It has stretched far beyond writer’s block. You could say I’ve had some angst. Let’s chalk it up to “mysterious writing ailments.” There are many artists who do their best work in the dark, when they are messed up, depressed, down, and/or just plain crazy. Unfortunately, that’s not me. I credit this conference, organized by Chris McMahon, and the gorgeous Durango weather with breaking me out of my writing funk. So how did this happen?
Writing!!! There was lots and lots of writing!!! We had a few writing assignments. Chris started us off with memories of high school English. He asked us to write a 5 paragraph essay. This is an essay with an introductory paragraph, 3 main paragraphs and a concluding paragraph. After being programmed by sadistic English teachers in my American high school, I can write these in my sleep. It was a great illustration of how putting some artificial structure around ideas that have grown wild can reinforce and bring them together.
I took this opportunity to pair with Zeger von Hese on the back porch of the library. The picture above shows the view from where we were sitting.
Zeger writes the blog Test Side Story. His posts on Testing, Art and Philosophy have been a bright light during my dark writing period. Zeger has a degree in Cultural Studies which I consider part of the Interdisciplinary Studies family. (I have my own Interdisciplinary Studies degree in German Studies) Since Zeger lives in Belgium and I live in the U.S. this was a unique opportunity for us to physically sit down together with our ideas about art, observation and testing. I remember one particular moment when Zeger was doing some really deep thinking and was standing up. I was typing what he was saying just to capture the thought process, and in this one particular moment some big ideas came together for me. I don’t know where else this would have happened, and yes, Zeger and I have plans to share what we were talking about.
The 2nd writing exercise was to write a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. I immediately knew what I wanted to write and have a rough cut together. It’s inspired by an anecdote Trish Khoo shared with me. I was surprised at how quickly the story came together, actually. She wasn’t at the conference, but I’ve been talking with her about fleshing the story out a bit. That piece will also be showing up somewhere in a blog or maybe one of the testing magazines.
Besides writing, most of the attendees presented on a topic. My impression of these was that most of them were half-baked and brilliant. There are not enough places to work with half-baked but brilliant ideas in testing. I enjoyed every presentation and was happy to see the attendees embrace mine.
My own presentation was based on my “Are you a testing asshole” post. In the wake of that post, I’ve been researching into why I think testers are automatically at a disadvantage on most software teams. If you count my blog post as the first time I talked about this topic, WAT2 is my 2nd time discussing it. Every time I talk about it, I am more alarmed by the feedback I get. We’ve got a serious asshole problem in our community. This is a challenging, non-trivial problem, but not an impossible one. We need to learn ways to improve the way we talk with others and the way we argue when we disagree.
The Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference agrees with me that our asshole problem needs some addressing. I submitted an abstract to them on this topic and it’s just been accepted. I’m gonna go listen to some Phoenix. See y’all in Portland.