Friday, 20 October 2017

I'm Paul and I'm a Failure (and it's ok!)

Every day I make one silly mistake. Be that misreading some acceptance criteria or use case, setting something to the wrong value in JIRA so that it doesn't appear in a bug report, forgetting to send a document to someone, missing my train stop on the way home, accidentally pulling out my wife's computer's power cable when disconnecting my own laptop, the large number of times I wrote a tweet that in retrospect I shouldn't have...

My life in IT has had a few pretty startling incidents of backing a losing horse. The time when as test lead I fully and excitedly backed my superior's decision to solve our automation problems by buying a licence for HP QTP for tens of thousands of dollars (buying into the logic that spending lots of money of a tool shows undying commitment) going gung ho at creating automated tests in it (my team of three being the only team to do so). When my superior left and it was sensibly decided by the tech management that we would save our money and move to Selenium, my team lost its entire automation suite overnight. I couldn't argue - it was totally the right decision.

Or the time when due to my lack of experience in development, knowledge of the relative benefits of a breadth-first search and willingness to ask for help the recursive database abstraction layer I wrote took days instead of tens of minutes to run (or more often crashed due to an out of memory error - no mean feat in a garbage collection language like C# !)  and caused severe delays to a product release. The fallout from that shattered my belief in my own programming ability for years, but I got over it slowly.

Or the time when I managed to break a database migration system I was coding a multilingual interface for due to the fact that one of the lines I (clearly in an unthinking fashion) translated into French was actually a SQL statement.

Why do I mention these potentially career-limiting paragraphs in my blog? Because whilst I suffer from self belief issues as much as the next person, I don't feel ashamed of the mistakes I made (and occasionally still do), have got over the need to be a perfectionist and slowly recognised them as opportunities for learning and self reflection. Only the most privileged and least willing to take risk of us sail through life without failing at something.

Yet when I read the blogs of some of the other testers and thought leaders in this field (not that I would ever call myself a thought leader in anything), I am unsettled by the lack of humility or mention of the hard lessons behind the advice they give. Of course we have careers to protect, conferences to speak at and consulting gigs to apply for, however none of us were great IT consultants, devs and testers out of the womb. Not One Of Us. Rarely is a career a perfect and graceful trajectory from school, university via junior to senior. We all have mistakes we have made (some of us may well have been fired from jobs and had to bounce back) and opportunities to learn, so why don't we write about them, or talk about them at conferences, or mention them on Twitter?

Why aren't we more tolerant of the mistakes our colleagues, managers or staff make? Do we think we are above them? I once had a boss whose lack of tolerance of perfect work (or for that matter, temper) was legendary. I once heard him shout "I don't pay you to make mistakes!" Was he devoid of errors himself? Not at all.

Was his team a perfectly oiled machine as a result? Of course not, and most hated him. High performance doesn't come about through bullying and threatening people. He achieved nothing but probably high blood pressure. I have seen other attitudes in teams I have worked with that, whilst they are not quite as aggressive or extreme, were no less haughty.

Let's calm down and appreciate our fallibility. Admit our errors. State what we learned in the context of how we learned them. Let's be more tolerant of the honest failures of those work with. That is the only way we will receive forgiveness for our faults in return.

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