Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Being a Fraud and a Failure

Often I feel like a fraud.  This comes in multiple sizes and shapes and I think it is often ignored in creative industries such as software because we liken ourselves more to scientists rather than artists.  Artists already know the feeling I am thinking off.  Art & Copy had some of the best Marketer's saying things like:
The frightening and most difficult thing about being what somebody calls a creative person is that you have absolutely no idea where any of your thoughts come from, really. And especially, you don't have any idea about where they're going to come from tomorrow. - Hal Riney
I think most of the creative people are so damn insecure that they want to think they know everything, but they know deep in their hearts they're just in deep trouble from the minute they get up in the morning. So if you can tell them "that's what you're supposed to be", that's kind of liberating. - Dan Wieden
When I go to test something, I start out with panic for a second or two, wondering what the hell I am going to do.  Then I draw from my experience and start developing tests.  But that panic for someone with less experience might last a good deal longer.  In CDT, there is a sort of freedom given, because 'it depends' on what your context requires.  I sometimes wonder if it isn't that there is a science, a way of telling what is best to do, not because context gets in the way but because what testing requires is as much art as science.  I may not be a pretend expert, but I know much of my creativity in testing comes from some place that is not just from my smarts.  Sure I have science to back up some of my testing, but I also have 'hunches.'

Hunches are not always easy to swallow when I know they could be wrong.  If I only have time for one feature but two features need testing, I could test feature X on a hunch and fail the entire company when feature Y is broken in a way I had not predicted.  Elizabeth Gilbert suggests we simply shift blame from the personal 'I failed' to a third party entity such as a muse, in which a muse hinted to me, giving me a hunch.  I don't find this a particularly satisfactory way of dealing with my feelings of being a fraud, failing at my job.  I don't like putting credit and blame onto a external entity, so I need another way of dealing with my feelings.

Alternatively, I can read testing blogs where we all collectively struggle to find better ways to improve our chances for success.  This can go all the way into the more scientific side to testing.  If only we had enough data, we could kill off the hunch completely.  The Factory School seems to see it as a problem of Taylorism, if only we could just lock down all the changes.  Document everything, know everything, then hunches aren't needed.

The more I research, the more I think our industry is full of fraudulent feelings with different people attempting to resolve them by adopting 'proven' systems and techniques.  They aren't the fraud, considering their sincere attempts to learn, but they have to find a way to limit failing.   So they turn to these 'experts' to solve your problems.  They have the answers, and you should just trust them.  They provide systems and will teach them to you, often for a fee.  However, if you fail, you aren't doing their system right, not that their system is broken.  You are forced to feel like you failed to heed the words taught, and only if you had worked harder, followed the rules closer, etc. you'd have succeeded.  These tools make us feel the failure and not that the tool failed.  Who is to blame, particularly if the tool often succeeds?

Then we move to team oriented solutions such as Agile.  Agile says it is a team effort, so if a bug is found in production by customers, the team is to blame.  Moving from an "I" to a "We", much like the muse.  This is a paradigm shift, even if not a perfect one.  You now can know if you are a fraud or not based upon the feedback from the team.  The problem is you cannot know if the team is filled with frauds, if the team is just being polite or if they are simply more experienced then you are.  To assume the group will be wiser than yourself, and able to judge your success has its limits based upon who they are.  To assume you are able to judge the team also maybe flawed.  To quote Robert Heinlein,
Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How's that again? I missed something. Autocracy is based on the assumption that one man is wiser than a million men. Let's play that over again, too. Who decides?
Every method is flawed.  I personally like the method Art & Copy suggests.  Rather than blaming a third party or putting your faith in someone else's system, I think it is healthy knowing that sometimes you will fail.  That the feelings of being a fraud comes, but with as many wins, as many bugs as you've found, you aren't just pretending to test, you aren't a fraud.  You really are helping the customers, finding bugs early on, helping resolve issues.  Maybe you do fail, but pick yourself back up and do it again.  However, that is personal preference.  I don't think there is an answer.  Some will like science.  Some will like the sales pitches.  Some will like the art.  Some will like the team.  Some like having no right answer.  They are all fine and all flawed in their own way.

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