“Dear Younger Me” by Isabel Evans

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Welcome to the eighth open letter from members of the EuroSTAR Software Testing Community to their 28 year old selves, in celebration of the 28th year of the EuroSTAR Software Testing Conference.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed so far and if you would like to submit an open letter, please get in touch with us so we can help make that happen.

EuroSTAR was created by software testers to bring the European testing community together, to grow, to support one another and to develop. Every step in this 28 year journey has been taken by the testers who attended a conference (or all 28 conferences!!), the engineers who engaged in conversations over coffee and made new friends, the speakers who guided other testers and gave tips on how to approach their work, the consultants who mentored and shared their successes and failures so the community could learn and each and every person who cheered when their fellow testers achieved and were there to help in challenging times – this is the EuroSTAR Community that we love so much! This is YOUR Tribe and we greatly hope you are enjoying these letters from some of the incredible members that have helped to shape where we are today.

This letter is from Isabel Evans, our 2019 EuroSTAR Programme Chair. Take a moment to pause, read and take in the wonderful advice Isabel is sharing. With four decades of experience, Isabel has a knack for making audiences lean in and take note – this letter is no different!

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A letter to my younger self, aged 28

Hello there.

It’s 1983. So far, you’ve made a load of mistakes, personally and professionally. Don’t take it hard. You’ve had some successes too. And be aware – you are going to make a load more mistakes, and have a load more successes – some new, some repeats. Yes, that’s right. You are going to make the same mistake several times. You’ll get through it. Looking back, I don’t want to tell you too much – why spoil the surprises ahead? I do want to say overall it’s going to be good, and you are going to be in a better place in 2020 than you could have thought possible. It’s not what you expect, right now in 1983. It’s better than that.

You’ve got a mental illness, among other things. You don’t know that right now. That makes life hard sometimes, and drives some of your more egregious mistakes. It’s also the root of some of your best successes. It’s intermittent, and you don’t know why you go so wildly off track sometimes. Eventually, you’ll ask for help, and you’ll get it. Friends inside and outside the industry will go the extra mile for you, and you’ll get back on track, stronger than before. Ask for help. People want to help. You’re worth helping.

Some people just try to bring you down. They are not always right in what they suggest. People are already telling you that you are too old; too old to learn new skills, too old to change direction, too old for your ideas to be significant. They are wrong. You’ll change direction, and you’ll be learning new skills, into your 6th decade, with the anticipation of years more of learning and changing ahead. You’ll never stop learning and enjoying your craft.

Trust yourself. Trust your intellect, trust your instincts. Work out carefully which people you can trust. Observe how people behave; what they do, what they say, and whether that matches up. When you find people you can trust – hold on to those relationships. You are going to make some good friends, people who will have your back through thick and thin. Many of those friends are in the software testing industry, and that community is strong, vibrant, and exciting. Mostly, we support each other, even when we disagree.

Right now, although you’ve been a programmer, and realised that design, testing and review are more fun than coding, you haven’t made that significant step into your vocation of testing and quality management. You are experiencing – and have experienced – some startlingly bad management decisions, ways of running projects, team relationships. You’ve seen some bad bugs – in code, in systems, in processes. Store those stories up, they’ll fuel your growing exploration and understanding of better ways to do things.

Never lose the fire of your passion and anger when the customer is let down, or a colleague left distressed by some appalling piece of organisational and systemic behaviour. Always remember, the software and systems are there to serve the needs of people, and testing is done with a focus on anything that might mean those needs are ignored or damaged.

Be proud of your industry and also critical of it; there needs to be a drive to professionalism, the industry needs to raise itself up and do better – ethics, engineering, delivering what the customer needs, solving new problems, saving time and money… these will all need to be addressed and improved. No easy answers. Keep on working with people to help them understand which is the driver for each specific project.

Practice your craft, always. Just as a professional musician plays scales and practise pieces every day, keep practicing your skills, techniques, approaches all the time. Question the status quo: the taken for granted approaches for software development will change, and change again, and change back, and then change again. All the models are useful, all of them flawed, always you need to question them, adapt them, fit them to the current circumstance.

Practice the things you are bad at – like team work, speaking up at meeting, presentations. You’ll get better. Keep challenging yourself. Don’t think you have to know everything. You don’t and you can’t, and you never will. Embrace your lack of knowledge as a way to work with other people, and learn from them. Every time you encounter expertise, in IT or outside, take time to listen – you’ll learn interesting ideas that you can use in IT from other disciplines and professions.

Take time to teach others – you’ll enjoy it, and you’ll be giving back. I know right now you won’t believe this, but you are going to love giving presentations – being on stage. I know, I know, that’s sounds wildly silly – I mean you barely like speaking out in meetings – but once you have a story to tell, remember, the stage is a magical place, where everyone wants you to succeed, no harm can come to you.

Try and enjoy the ride; sometimes it will terrifying and awful, sometimes exhilarating and full of the delight a job well done, a knotty problem solved. You’ll get through. You’ll thrive. You’ll grow up to be stronger than you are now.

See you when you are older – you’ll still be you: learning, engaged, and part of a richly intellectual and consequently rewarding community of software testers. Everything I have said to you for now at 28? It’s still true for you at 65. Good luck, work hard, persist.

Isabel

 

See webinars presented by Isabel Evans here on EuroSTAR Huddle. Isabel was the 2017 winner of the EuroSTAR European Testing Excellence Award – 2020 nominations are now open so you can nominate a person in the testing community that has made a difference or continually helps you to grow in your career. Nominate before Nov. 2nd!


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About the Author

Isabel

Independent quality and testing practitioner Isabel Evans has more than thirty years of IT experience in the financial, communications, and software sectors. Her work focuses on quality management, software testing, and user experience (UX). In her software testing, Isabel uses and teaches test design techniques, and in particular works on how the theory of test design techniques can be evolved into practical approaches in real projects. Isabel authored Achieving Software Quality through Teamwork and chapters in Agile Testing: How to Succeed in an eXtreme Testing Environment, The Testing Practitioner, and Foundations of Software Testing. A popular speaker and storyteller at software conferences worldwide, Isabel has chaired EuroSTAR (2019) and HUSTEF (2018), as well as presenting tutorials and keynotes at conferences world-wide. She is a Chartered IT Professional and Fellow of the British Computer Society, and received the 2017 EuroSTAR Testing Excellence Award.
Find out more about @isabel-evans

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