Q and A with Anuj Magazine – Part 2

Anuj Magazine photo
Anuj Magazine

We asked several of the testers new and experienced to share their questions with us and matched a mentor to answer them. Featured here is Anuj Magazine who was/is quintessential in his approach to these questions and answered it for you. Hope you enjoy reading the answers as much as we did.

Q) I am from a different background, I did my engineering in Electronics and Communications and I am working as an Exploratory tester, do you think me staying in testing field is productive? Will my career be adventurously continuing as a tester or will I face any difficulties in the future? Nevertheless, I currently love the job I am doing but little confused so help me out with this.

Mark Twain once said that “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education”.

Depending upon the way you look at it, educational qualifications can be your best ally or the worst enemy. More often, I have come across the people who just let go of wonderful opportunities because they weren’t formally trained in the subject of the opportunity or the subject didn’t comply with their formal education. Both these views eventually prove disastrous in the context of career planning and severely limits what one can achieve.

I do hold firm the belief that ‘Educational qualifications aren’t the end, but the means to a greater end’. The role that educational qualification play in the eventual success of human beings is nowhere closer to the role that traits like ‘loving what you do’, ‘passion’, ‘does your job allow you to live in the moment’, ‘having a point of view’, ‘negotiating your own success’, ‘managing upwards’, ‘embracing non-linearity in thinking about careers’, ‘creating positive differentiation’ and a lot more takes.

A lot of times I observe the LinkedIn profiles that tend to put the name of a recent certification they achieved next to their names. I have nothing against people doing certifications but by putting the name of certifications next to your name, you are sending signal to the entire world that your own brand is weak and you have to rely on a mere certification to give you visibility and differentiation. Don’t make educational qualifications your identity, you identity is defined by the factors bigger than educational qualifications such as the nature of problems you choose to solve, how well you execute and how well you communicate the impact you have created.

In summary, don’t let your electronics and communications degree self-limit you and come in the way of your success. Rather use it as a means to achieve something more meaningful in life.

Regarding the other part of your question ‘Will my career be adventurously continuing as a tester or will I face any difficulties in the future?’

I don’t really have a crystal ball to see your future but I do have a perspective to offer here. I learned from one of my mentors that:

‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you have a lifelong career at any moment’.

What he meant by this was that, with all the changes happening around us careers can further be broken down into multiple micro-careers. A micro-career may last 2-3 years or even more depending on the shelf-life the skill under question. In testing or any other profession, one should be clever enough to figure out when to reinvent self. Reinvention in a career context is an act of unlearning what you know and fill yourself with newer skills and capabilities that can serve you for may be 2-3 more years and continue this cycle. A career span of 30-35 years will bring with it own sort of difficulties at times. Our goal shouldn’t be to avoid difficulties when faced but to be tenacious enough to try and find the way out of them.

Q) How having a mentor / coach helps a tester be lead in a better path?

Let’s see what role a good mentor plays. As I have seen, a good mentor:

1. helps you become as good as you can be.

2. observes, judges and guides (in that order).

3. asks the right questions at the right time. A mentor uses questions as a tool to bring you closer to solution.

4. will not give you all the answers but still teach you how to think.

5. helps you see the mirror through which you can judge your performance.

6. know how to break down performance into its critical individual components and suggest a plan for ailing components.

7. focus less on themselves and more on the mentees.

8. Helps mentees find blind spots in the performance.

A few years back, I enrolled myself in toastmasters club. The toastmasters club is focused on improving the public speaking skills. One of the effective mechanisms used in toastmasters club to improve public speaking skills is to break-down the frequent problems ailing communication in different buckets and then you receive an quantifiable feedback from judges on what went right and what went wrong.

The mere act of a few dedicated people dissecting your speech and providing you feedback enables you to improve communication skills that otherwise would need painfully longer to achieve.

Atul Gawande a renowned surgeon brought about remarkable improvement in his surgery skills by onboarding a coach who could give him feedback by observing live during an operation. Before Atul came up with this idea, he had been doing operations for around a decade, had done 2000 plus operations. He could have comforted himself feeling that he is an expert but he chose to extend the boundaries and seek feedback.

As he says in his inspirational article, goes on to say-

“Knowledge of disease and the science of treatment are always evolving. We have to keep developing our capabilities and avoid falling behind. So the training inculcates an ethic of perfectionism. Expertise is thought to be not a static condition but one that doctors must build and sustain for themselves.”

Isn’t the situation explained in this quote very similar to information technology (and by virtue of it, software testing) profession?

To stay relevant, we are having to build capabilities faster than the rate at which technology is changing. And we cannot achieve the career velocity by just reading the books or taking training courses. A good mentor helps fill the performance gaps that we feel does not even exist.

A couple of more perspectives to consider:

1. As much as good mentoring can help us scale new heights, it bears repeating that bad mentoring can make professionals worse. Choose your mentors wisely.

2. Good mentors can make you uncomfortable. It can be intimidating to think that someone is observing you, judging you and more often will give feedback that may make you look incompetent. For a mentoring relationship to work, it is the job of a mentee to give confidence to the mentor that he/she will be a good recipient of the feedback.

Q) According to you what are the top 5 skills a context driven agile tester needs to have by 2019?

To be honest, i think i may not be the best person to answer about agile testing skills as i don’t practice it daily. But i do find this question important and would like to share a different perspective around it.

I prefer to look at this question from the point of view of ‘First Principles thinking’ which i fundamentally believe in.

In layman’s terms, first principles thinking is basically the practice of actively questioning every assumption you think you ‘know’ about a given problem or scenario — and then creating new knowledge and solutions from scratch. Almost like a newborn baby.

Elon Musk, as an example, is a huge proponent of first principles thinking and that’s probably why he has been able to invent many distinctive companies in a time-frame most people are struggling to get one career right.

As Elon indicates, first principles thinking essentially focuses on bringing things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there, as opposed to reasoning by analogy.

Reasoning by analogy, on the contrary, is building knowledge and solving problems based on prior assumptions, beliefs and widely held ‘best practices’ approved by majority of people.

Applying first principles thinking to this discussion around skills, i firmly believe that most skills are built on a strong foundation of elementary skills. Here’s a list of those elementary skills:

1. Listening

2. Speaking and communicating

3. Reading and comprehension

4. Writing

5. Hunger to create a lasting impact

Interestingly the skills from #1 to #4 i.e. listening, speaking, reading, writing are the first 4 skills we learn in our lives. They are very fundamental to our being yet they play a significant part in dictating eventual success. As much elementary as these sound, i am pretty confident in my hypotheses that a career built on a strong foundation of these skills will certainly outlast and outperform the career that gives less importance to these.

Irony of our times is that employees are disproportionately focused on improving functional skills (e.g. subject of this question agile testing skills) and spend almost no time practicing these foundation skills. Let me share a few perspectives about these skills before coming to practice bit.

  1. Listening: Adam Grant’s book ‘Give and Take’ beautifully drives home the point that givers are the most effective employees than the takers and the matchers. Beyond these, there is one more category of employees that I prefer to call ‘expert receivers’. Receivers are the people who are awesome at receiving anything concrete. I have been a big fan of Subroto Bagchi’s books and way of thinking and in one of the conversations, he beautifully sums up: “it is a power to receive which is the bigger determinant of success, not the power to give.”

A good leader may tune herself to give equal mentoring, advise and opportunity to her team of 5 people. But we still see that only one of five may eventually exceeds expectations. Why? The reason can be attributed to person’s power to receive and assimilate information, everything else being equal. How do you inculcate ‘power to receive‘ ? Simply by improving the way you listen.

One message: Practice active listening.

  1. Public speaking skills: Indra Nooyi once said: “You cannot over-invest in communication skills”. You may have all the knowledge in the world but if you haven’t equipped yourself to communicate it impactfully, you cannot mobilize people, you cannot achieve momentum in the projects, your career cannot attain the trajectory it deserves.
  2. Reading and comprehension: At the year-end time, one of the things that I am fascinated with is looking at the year-end reading summary of people I admire. One thing that’s constant with most effective people all-around is that they are all well read. They have their white-spaces filled with undistracted reading time. So reading skills are a given if you are looking to build a successful career. However, one of the most under-rated skills is comprehension. I know many people measure themselves by the number of books they read. It’s a good measure of your stickiness to reading habit but it doesn’t measure effectiveness. Comprehension abilities fill that effectiveness gap. As a skill, one should evolve reading habits with time. One should work consciously on improving comprehension abilities. Would highly recommend going through this blog and honestly assess and improve the flaws in the way you read: https://fs.blog/reading/
  3. Writing: I am a professionally qualified handwriting analyst. A handwriting analyst can decipher personality traits from one’s handwriting. During the course of getting trained in handwriting analysis, I learned quite a few ‘parallel’ skills such as NLP, graphotherapy. Graphotherapy, for example, deals with a changing one’s personality by changing one’s handwriting. Like with anything, there are believers and non-believers in this. But, the larger point that I am driving towards is that writing on paper helps to connect with your inner-self. I heard the entrepreneur Alok Kejriwal mention that one should write at least one page a day. In addition to improving your writing skills, it is also a sort of self-purification process. A process that helps you clear the traffic jam of thoughts in your mind. One way I have found helpful in improving writing skills is to read and observe the email communication from the leaders you admire. Inculcate good points in your writing.

5. Hunger to create a lasting impact: One of the business leaders that I admire, Prakash Iyer when asked what he would suggest for people to play to their full potential, said: PHD, which is:

Passion: which gives us direction

Hunger: momentum

Discipline: shows the way forward

In the various global innovation programs that I have run from my organization, most teams struggle to find time to do justice to their innovation projects (which is often in addition to their regular work). All things being equal, the teams that eventually do well are not the ones that have more skills or potential but really are the teams that have more fire in the belly, more hunger to succeed. To me, that feeling of hunger (how badly you want the outcome you desire) is the single biggest factor leading to success.

Given the elementary nature of these skills, we often take these for granted i.e. since we have been doing these for many years, we may consider ourselves being good at it. That may be true but more often it is not.

How can one improve on these skills ?

The answer lies in a process known as ‘deliberate practice’. Andrew Ng, the world-renowned AI expert, in this profound experience sharing describes how he turned-around the flaws in his public speaking by embracing the deliberate practice. To quote him:

We all know that to get better at a musical instrument or a sport, you have to practice. Practice does not simply mean “doing the activity over and over.” Instead, you learn fastest when you engage in a focused process called deliberate practice, in which you repeatedly attempt an especially challenging part of the task.

When the best musicians are working to improve, they don’t just play their favorite tunes for hours. Instead, they pick a short but challenging passage in a larger musical piece, and repeatedly play that passage until they get it right. Athletes use a similar process to hone their skills. This is hard work—you focus in every attempt, try to figure out what you’re doing wrong, and tweak your performance to make it better. If you do it right, you might be mentally drained after 30 minutes.

Q) What education should the testers, test leads equip themselves with prior to getting into management roles?

I am not a huge fan of educational qualifications as a criterion for entry into management roles, so I won’t answer this question citing any degrees or certification. More often I have seen degrees and certifications to be self-limiting than really empowering.

You may be the best individual contributor but that’s no guarantee that you would make a good manager. Most organizations make the mistake of promoting best individual contributors to managers. This doesn’t always work because a job of manager requires more skills than the mastery over functional skills. So what skills should testers, test leads should look to educate themselves on before picking management roles:

1. Empathy (Can I anticipate/feel the pain of my employees ?)

2. Conflict management (Can I turn around dysfunctional team/members?)

3. How to be a role model (Do my team look up to me?)

4. Bigger picture thinking (Can I translate organization’s vision into the goals that my team get excited about?)

5. How to effectively represent your team to upward management (Do upper management see my team as being effective and making impactful contributions?)

6. Executive maturity (Do I know informal channels within the organization to get the work done?)

7. Having a presence in the organization (Do the people in the organization know me and what I do?)

8. Performance management (Do employees perceive me as being fair in my approach?)

9. Being a sponge (Do I absorb pressure or excessively put the pressure on the team?)

Q) What are some of the ways in which we can build the team towards being better at communication?

a) between testers and 

b) between testers and the others in the team?

You can do all sorts of team outings and team games to improve teamwork and communication among the team members but most of the times such events just give a momentary feeling of accomplishment and not make a long term impact. Why?

Because most such events fail to touch the foundational elements that impact team communication. What are these elements? How do these help better communicate?

1. Focus on building trust:

Trust is at the very foundation of the way human beings operate. Lesser the trust, lesser the communication. More the trust, more the meaningful communication. There are no two ways about it.

Being well-intentioned, being an unconditional giver, helps build trust.

2. Understand the personality differences.

Introverts draw energy from within. Extroverts draw energy from other people. Both communicate differently, both respond differently to different situations. Like these two personality types, there can be many different ways of classifying personality. Most of the personality assessment tools won’t be accurate but do give an idea.

Being empathetic towards personality differences does help improve communication.

3. Inculcate Intellectual humility.

Intellectual humility is having courage to recognize that you might be wrong about what you believe. People are naturally drawn towards someone who is willing to admit her mistakes openly.

Being intellectually humble makes one authentic. Authenticity in conduct does make it easy for others to approach you.

Q) What are the new trends,topics and tools that the testers need to equip themselves with before stepping into 2019?

In large part of my career, I meticulously followed trends only to find out that:

1. Following trends is an easy thing.

2. Technology trends are often short-lived.

3. Despite 1 and 2, technology trends matter.

Since technology trends matter, we got to do something about them.

Learning about them is the least we can do and we must learn. But the real challenge is to find trends at the right time and assess their impact on our careers before they become threatening.

I follow these three step principles to deal with trends.

1. Have a beginners mindset.

2. Anticipating change and adapting to it is a skill. We often fail to give it the stature of a skill.

3. As much as we try, it’s not possible to anticipate change everytime. If that happens, do the best possible thing: follow fast.

Let me close this by sharing this story:

Years ago, the original product of Intel was D-RAM which is basically memory for computers and they had just started to invent the micro-processor. They had a real business problem, the Japanese were killing them in the D-RAM market, just destroying their market share.

So Andy Grove and Robert Noyce were at the office late one night and they were talking to each other.

·       Andy says to Robert: Wow we got a problem!

·       Robert says we sure do.

·       Andy asks- If Board says we would get the new guys to solve this problem, what would the new guys do.

·       Robert says Oh that’s easy, they will get us out of the D-RAM business.

So Andy Grove says, Yes why don’t we do that before these other guys get in.

To me, Andy’s question about “what would new guys do” is quite profound because it reflects that Andy was more than willing to be a beginner again. And to me, that is what is needed most when we drive the change efforts.

Most of the organizations fail to cannibalize the stuff at the right time.

I would leave you with this question to ponder: Would you be willing to cannibalize your career of trends suggest that your current career is going to be disrupted?

Q) What can new non-testers learn initially in their career that will help solidify their future?

a) soft skills

b) technical skills

Q) What skills can the testers learn from the programmers around them?

You can learn programming and other humane traits like attention to details, analytical thinking, troubleshooting, thinking on the feet, learnability and many others from programmers.

But you can learn a lot more if you don’t slot people as programmers and non-programmers.

When it comes to learning from others, do not bucket people into categories. Be willing to learn from everyone- irrespective of profession, seniority, gender, caste or any other innovative category you can think of.

-END-

Thank you, Anuj for answering several of the questions as part of this Q and A with Women Testers e-magazine. We appreciate the effort, time and the gems of wisdom we have received via this learning. Link to Part 1 of this Q & A: https://www.womentesters.com/q-and-a-with-anuj-part-1/

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