Wednesday, 13 September 2017

On Blogging - the Fears and the Inspiration

Whilst I don't write as many blog articles as I would like - and it sometimes takes a lot to get me started, I do immensely enjoy the act of writing tech and testing blog articles. The act that any tester, even someone as ordinary and relatively unknown as I, could write and self-publish (unedited by others) something that expresses personal thoughts and experiences related to tech - and yet without cost to me could be read by and stimulate thought and conversation for anybody in the world as soon as one posts it - is the kind of marvel that the great writers and philosophers of the past would have killed for. We take it for granted.

Nevertheless, it took me ages to overcome my fears about putting my thoughts out to the world. I had written blogs about other things that seemed more trivial in nature (My Another Sydney Blog about less touristy areas of Sydney was a good example) but writing out about Testing?!?

Fears I Had....

1) What about if I write something awful and contentious or get something wrong and end up vilified on Twitter?

2) What about if my current or future employer took offence at it?

3) Testing is still a landmine of arguments and fierce debate even today. What about if my experience didn't match up with some perceived glorious vision of modern testing practice - I'd look like some old fossil!

4) What do I have to say that the testing experts and gurus haven't already said? I'm just an average journeyman tester who had never spoken at a conference (at the time) or written a bestselling tech book, studied CS at Oxbridge or MIT or worked at Google. Who cares what I think?

5) I don't know how to write like a pro. Will people be interested?

...and others I have probably forgotten.

Of the fears above, some can be real issues whilst some are laughable and more indicative of my own issues with imposter syndrome at the time, however I am sure that they do put off others from sharing their thoughts and experience online.

So how did I get started? By chance actually. I went to a talk many years ago by the testing expert and prodigious blogger James Bach at Google Sydney - not long after reading his great book "Secrets of A Buccaneer Scholar", then having the pleasure of talking with him afterwards in person and by email about writing articles. He was extremely encouraging on the topic of blogging and if I hadn't met him it is quite likely that I would have never got started. I asked him what a tester should write about that hadn't already been said. His answer "Write about your experiences!" Perfect...

My first efforts were tentative and not great. I wrote a rather muddled and unsatisfactory article about ISO29119 - the impending software testing standard that ended up widely hated and disappeared. My next article, taking the de Montaigne approach, was a very personal article about my own Imposter Syndrome.

From my first few tentative blog articles I entered a period of fear and procrastination that lasted for over two years until I started writing again in early 2017. The last several months has been a period of experimenting with different writing styles and finding my own "voice" - which I am nowhere close to yet, however there has been improvement and an encouraging reception.

What about the fears I mentioned above, which caused so much hesitation and procrastination? None of them have materialised at all (thankfully).

1) I have made mistakes and written about contentious subjects but the feedback received has been overwhelmingly positive. Where criticism has been levelled, it has always been polite and constructive. I presume that for most new testing bloggers not writing controversy for its own sake, their feedback will also be civil.

2) Of course it is possible that your employer could take an issue with your blog article, however I think companies are generally supportive of their staff blogging as long as some details remain confidential. My employer has generally liked the blog and @TestingRants twitter handle and I have had likes and retweets from its social media (much appreciated).

3) Testing is a large enough field with diversity of practice for all types of experiences to be shared. For all the companies practicing agile, exploratory, devops, continuous integration, various levels of automation etc. there are still lots of companies taking traditional waterfall/V-Model approaches doing scripted manual tests (prepared, matched carefully with requirements, stored in HPQC to be approved by a BA or stakeholder beforehand). My last project was very similar to this. I do expect this to diminish over time however - even so, with the incredible rate of change in IT the future of testing and QA is unwritten. We can all write about our experiences without embarrassment.

4) This is probably the most laughable and mostly indicative of my struggle with imposter syndrome at the time. My experience is that if you put your thoughts out in a blog and make considered and rational points, people will read it and appreciate it - if only because the act of writing honestly about one's work is challenging. However we all have something others can learn from and nobody started off a testing expert. This was developed through years of experience and reflection. Also, whilst prestige does matter in IT to a degree the vast majority of dev and testing bloggers have never studied CS at Oxbridge or MIT or worked at Google and do just fine!

5) The reality is that your first set of articles will be woeful to middling. Everyone starts off like that and the chances we will ever truly write like a great a very slim anyway, however don't let that put you off. You will be struggling to find a writing style that suits you, and many times something to write about. Your content may be inspired or random more than considered - mine tends to be. You may look back at it and think "What the F**k was that?", however the reality is that when written from a position of personal experience and thinking about the field, your article will be interesting and useful to someone - and over time your following will grow as your confidence and skill grow.

So if you haven't yet started a blog, come and join us! We don't bite, and sometimes we even offer kind words and encouragement! Get started!

And one final note - Thanks James Bach for your kind words and encouragement at the beginning. They meant a lot.

1 comment:

  1. Writing does not come easily to everyone, even those who make (or try to make) a living from it. Many professional writers will say that they must sit down and write a minimum of a thousand words a day, even if they then tear up 950 of them. Writing for others to read to a process like any other, and involves not only setting first thoughts down but also at least one revision. With experience, you can get away with doing that revision on the fly; but anyone who is unsure of their ability might find it helpful to produce a first draft and then let it sit for 24 hours before reviewing it before publication. Chances are that you'll spot something that you can improve on second reading.

    The other tip that I can give as a reader, blogger and writer is that the other best way of improving your own writing is to read as much as you can - preferably formally published work rather than other blogs. (That's not meant to sound elitist; anything that has been through a formal publication process will have been through some sort of peer review, most likely by at least one editor who will have had some opinion on style or content. Blogs are fine, especially with more established bloggers, but the process of refining the writing in blogs is a bit more hit-and-miss.)

    I've had my own blog (Steer for the deep waters only) for about six years now. It started out as a vehicle for promoting my work at a time when I was freelancing in a different field. My posts have become less frequent as my focus has changed, although a lot of everyday stuff has happened in the past six months that I've wanted to blog about and haven't had the time! Stuff like that happens.

    After a while, I found that there were areas of my life that weren't relevant to that blog but which I thought deserved to be more widely seen (or at least, be made available), so I started a separate book review blog (Deep waters reading). It's hardly one of the top reviews blogs on the Net, but it satisfies me and does get looked at by others from time to time.

    As for testing, as a self-taught tester with no formal qualifications, I thought I had nothing to offer the te4sting community. Then I started attending tester meetups and realised that the one thing I could talk about were my own experiences in the interface between the discipline of testing and the needs and pressures of the corporate world (and some strategies for surviving that contact). There's always a subject there if you just wait for it to reveal itself.