“Dear Younger Me” by Michael Bolton

Welcome to the sixth in our series of words of wisdom from members of the EuroSTAR Software Testing Community to their younger selves.

We started this initiative to mark 28 years of the EuroSTAR Community coming together and invited many leading lights in the community to pen an open letter to their 28 year old self; be it to share a life lesson or tips they’ve picked up along the way. We are highlighting the amazing people that have been instrumental in developing EuroSTAR and our annual conference the past 28 years. Community is about the people, the support that each member gives (and receives) and our EuroSTAR Community is just the best at encouraging and cheering each other on. Primarily based in Europe, EuroSTAR welcomes active contributors, speakers, attendees and supporters from all over the world.

Michael Bolton, author of our latest open letter and from Canada, has spoken, tutored, mentored, programmed, danced and rapped his way (caught on camera!) through many years of EuroSTAR and has helped shaped so many key memories for attendees and speakers alike.

We invite you to read Michael’s letter and enjoy!


Dear Michael….

After several years in theatre, mostly as a stage manager, and a couple of years working in a bunch of software-related roles for a head-hunter, you’re about to plunge into software development and testing full-time. I know you didn’t intend this, but here’s the opportunity.

The good news is that software is a lot like theatre. You’ll be collaborating intensely with a team of people with diverse talents, skills, temperaments and preferences. You’ll be creating something that you hope people will enjoy, but you can’t be sure in advance that they’ll like it. You’ll be under pressure, because management has a debut date in mind, and it’s not likely to change.

Just like in theatre, in a few places you’ll find a good mix of knowledge and respect for history, daring innovation, and cautious risk-taking. In most others, you’ll encounter hidebound tradition, folklore, imitation, and recklessness. Study your craft. Immerse yourself in it. Go meet the people you want to meet and learn from them. Progress will seem slow, but when you’re working with a great team, and learning new things on the job every day, there’s no feeling like it.

Having been a stage manager will definitely help you as a program manager and a tester. Everybody else is ambitiously working on creating good experiences for the audience. While you’ll be helping them with that, you’ll need to stay alert to the ways in which things can go wrong for people. You know what really good critics are like, right? Testers are like that: they help the company to see problems that the company doesn’t see on its own. But good critics don’t just complain; they explain and contextualize how something that’s great from some audiences might disappoint others. That means understanding both the product and the audience. Get to know them both as deeply as you can.

Don’t let success fool you. Just when you think everything going fine, something someone built will fall over, or people who used to get along will have a huge fight, or something everybody thought would be great will turn out to have terrible problems. You’ll make lots of mistakes. Don’t sweat that; it’s normal when people are developing something for the first time, which to some degree we’re always doing. Cop to the problems, learn from them, and move on.

Software development can be just as creative as theatre is.  The key element is the people.  Just like in theatre, some of your passionate colleagues will be easy to deal with; others will be harder. Of course, they’ll find you hard to deal with too, so stay reasonable and stay humble. And just like in theatre, some people have been promoted to management roles because they were stars, not because they were skilled at management.  Those people are often in over their heads. Do your best to help them know what they need to know so that they can make the best decisions they can.

Inside the company, help people to remember the crew and the supporting cast, not just the managers and the stars. Facing out, help to keep the company aware that the audience is composed of real, individual, diverse people, who have differing sets of values and preferences. And remember that you can’t please everyone all the time — including yourself. The people actually running the show, not you, decide how things should be. Your job is to help them to present what they want to present. And it’s a great job.



Michael Bolton will be hosting a half day tutorial at EuroSTAR Online this year and will also take to the keynote stage to help testers approach problems courageously. Get your ticket today and join Michael at EuroSTAR 2020 Online.



About the Author


I'm a consulting software tester and co-author (with James Bach) of Rapid Software Testing. I have 25 years of experience testing, developing, managing, and writing about software. For the last 18 years, I have led DevelopSense, a Toronto-based testing and development consultancy. Prior to that, I was with Quarterdeck Corporation for eight years, during which I managed the company’s flagship products and directed project and testing teams both in-house and around the world. Contact me on Twitter @michaelbolton, or through my website, http://www.developsense.com.
Find out more about @michaelabolton

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