- Quote of the week: “All good work is done in defiance of management.”—Bob Woodward
Every time I read that, I ponder and reflect on the wonderful truth in the statement. Take some time to do so yourself.
- No big surprises here, but always good to see when research lines up with my anecdotal experiences. Big Companies Are Embracing Analytics, But Most Still Don’t Have a Data-Driven Culture.
- As far as Test Automation goes, I frequently say, “You should automate 100% of the tests that should be automated“. For a better, more pragmatic answer, read this article from Katrina Clokie (whom I still owe a proper review of her book).
- I gave a talk this week on the (AB)use and Misuse of Test Automation. If you missed it, watch it here.
- I’m giving a talk on February 27th (a panel discussion) on the future of test automation as well. Sign up and check it out.
- While recording the upcoming (episode 75) AB Testing podcast, Brent reminded me of The Starfish and the Spider – and pointed out that my personal mission right now involves me transitioning my org from a spider to a starfish.
- I try to read one book at a time. I also try to not buy books I don’t plan to read in the short term future. I succeed at this more than I used to, but it’s still a growth area for me. There’s a Japanese word for this, “Tsundoku” that really needs an English equivalent
- Maaret Pyhäjärvi is one of the best, and most prolific software bloggers I know. Her latest post is worth a read.
- My favorite quote of the week is from Daniel Pink’s When (I’m still working through it). In the book, he discusses the benefits of the 20-25 minute power nap, and how the value is intensified by drinking caffeine just before the nap (caffeine takes 20-25 minutes to hit the blood stream. “The most efficient nap is the nappuccino.” (Unity needs nap rooms)
- Finally, we saw a machine learning breakthrough </sarcasm> last month that I find worth sharing. The world needs more Nicholas Cage.
My one-year-anniversary-of-leaving-Microsoft post (link) blew up quite a bit more than I expected. It was a reflection – and while it called out some all-too-true stories of bad management and shitty leadership, a few things I called out in the post just didn’t shout out enough over the stories. I received a lot of comments – public and private, of people sharing their own similar stories. I was sad to see those – I was sympathetic to the sender, but I also didn’t want people to feel like things were so bad for me that I had to quit.
I left Teams on good terms (which probably aren’t such good terms after that post), but those stories are important to tell for those who may need encouragement to do something about their own tales of workplace toxicity. Teams, by no means, isn’t the only Microsoft organization with leadership and management issues. It’s not even the only organization with a culture that drives negative behavior. Some people thrive “playing the game” – but I had just had enough.
I followed my own advice – Never go from a job – always go to a job. I felt good about Unity from the moment I decided to work there, and it’s been a dream job for me. In a way, my experience on Teams was the kick in the ass I needed in order to leave familiarity and comfort behind, and put myself in a much better situation to grow and learn. It was a risk, of course, but I got lucky and found a product to work on with people that I respect, like, and admire.
In The Advantage, Pat Lencioni lays out strong information supporting the fact that organizational health is strongly correlated to product quality (regardless of the product). Quality – along with a strong and clear vision are important to me, and a healthy culture centered on those things allows me to do my best work.
My one year anniversary at Unity was just a few days ago (Jan 30), and I’m looking forward to what happens between now and anniversary number two.
Early edition this week, as I’m about to board a flight from Heathrow back to Seattle after a few days of discussion on quality leadership. I’m cheating slightly on counting to five this week, because the first three are really one extended trinity that captures a lot of my views on leadership.
- Quote I’m Pondering : “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – Simon Sinek
- I read, and really enjoyed this article on Servant Leadership by Christina Ohnanian, because…
- It reminded me to mention (yet another) wonderful book from SInek (which is where the quote above comes from) – Leaders Eat Last
- I had a discussion at breakfast this morning about mobile data rates (I discovered they’re dirt cheap in Europe compared to the US). I dug up this article from 2013, but my guess is that it’s an even larger disparity now. I’ve made a mental note to seek out why.
- One of my team members asked a question this week that is so oddly profound that I can’t get it out of my head. I’ll leave you with this: “Is a Soy Vanilla Latte a three-bean soup?”
- Quote I’m pondering “Asking “Why?” can lead to understanding. Asking “Why not?” can lead to breakthroughs.” – Daniel Pink
- I’m a big Dan Pink fan (my favorite is still “A Whole New Mind“), but I’m currently reading “When“
- As much as I rant about the pitfalls of UI / Web automation, I don’t discount it entirely. I spent a little time this week writing some automation with testcafe, and I’ve found it to be a really nice framework.
- A month or so ago, I spun up moderntesting.org – currently it just redirects to angryweasel.com/ABTesting, but may make something out of it this year.
- I’m giving a test automation webinar in Feb. Registration link is in the description.
My last post (from what I’m told) ruffled some feathers in my old team. I actually find that odd given how well known the types of actions I mentioned are among that team.
I live my life as if everything is a learning experience. I mean that – everything. I don’t regret my time on Teams for a moment. I learned a lot, had a chance to do a lot of what I think I do best. Even the bad management and culture are learning experiences, even if they’re a lesson in what not to do.
Last week, I had a long flight to an offsite with my leads – we work in five different offices and get together twice a year to discuss people and strategy. On the people side, we discuss impact (what did they deliver?; how valuable were there contributions?), and potential (what’s their upside?; what will their long-term impact be?)
I spent most of the flight from Seattle to Toronto (on my way to Montreal) in a half meditative state thinking about the last year, and thinking about the upcoming discussion with my team. Above all, I wanted to have a fair discussion, but between thinking about the things I didn’t like about Microsoft (someone once told me that a way to discover your values is to think of the things that piss you off the most – the opposite are your core values), it took me a while to focus. At Microsoft, a lot of the high potential pool is dominated by “very Type-A” people (not you, Dan). Given the culture of competitiveness, that makes a lot of sense. There’s nothing wrong with that for people who do (or want to do) well in that culture.
But that’s not us – while I’m sure there are ultra-competitive people at Unity, it’s not really our culture, and especially not my team. Eventually, I got a little bit of clarity and came up with a model we used to discuss potential that worked pretty well.
As a starting point, I stole a grid from HR that described “Low Potential” (no room for growth), “Medium Potential” (solid performers with room to grow), and “High Potential” (Rising stars, the heart of the operation, and a knowledge anchor).
Yes – I know. WIth that range, a lot of people will fall between Low and Medium, and Medium and High. But I realized that those descriptions (much longer in the grid from HR) were descriptions of the person, with no discussion on the what people did (actions). My initial thought was that high potential people in an org like ours were, 1) humble; 2) great communicators / leaders; 3) passionate and hungry to learn.
Egos get in the way of success People who are humble and treat others with respect will go farther.
People with higher emotional intelligence (ability to manage emotions of themselves and other people) maintain relationships better than others, and building relationships (over burning bridges) is critical for long term success. Senior employees need a network, and you need EQ (or good “people skills”) to build that network
Hunger and Passion
A demonstrated passion for learning and the courage to continuously try new things and incorporate new ideas is something I see in all of the rising stars I’ve ever met.
Incidentally, I believe these are all also things we should look for in hiring new employees.
I believe, that people who are good at all three of these have the ability to succeed in the long term, no matter what they do. People who are weak in all three are likely also weak employees. Everyone else (including those who may be excellent in two items above and average in another) have moderate (not bad) potential overall.
It’s not a perfect model, and definitely a work in progress, but it feels right – both in looking at my current team, and applying the model to dozens of folks I’ve worked with throughout my career.
I have another long flight next week – we’ll see what I come up with next.
It’s been exactly a year now since I left Microsoft (and a week away from my one-year anniversary at Unity). I (abstractly) dumped my feelings on the move a year ago in The Breakup, and posted a few thoughts and reflections in my first few months at Unity (Forty Days In, Why Unity, Musings on Microsoft, Making it Easy to do Good Work and probably others).
Now that I’m a year in, I’m happy to publicly admit that it was a scary move. I don’t regret leaving Microsoft (more on that later), but I’ve always credited a lot of my success at Microsoft to my network. I ran communities, I mentored people across the company, and I used all of my connections (and their connections) to discover new ideas, and to get help quickly when I needed it.
I didn’t know anyone at Unity, and for better or for worse, I had a reputation that I didn’t know if I could live up to. I suffer (like many others) with imposter syndrome, and worried (and still worry) that I can make the kinds of differences that I want to make.
I haven’t been perfect. I’ve made a lot of connections, but even though I know how important a network is, I could have connected with more people. While I’ve made good strides in establishing credibility within and outside of my org, some of the things just happening now are things I think I could have accomplished months ago. I’ve done enough work in my career with organizational change and shifting mindsets that I’m happy with what’s happened, yet I know how far there is to go.
I’ve been blown away time and time again how much all of my co-workers and team members like to help each other, and how much they like to help the customer. In one of the posts above, I accused Microsoft of not giving a shit about the customer – while that may not be completely true, I still believe it to be largely true.
In his Ted Talk, Simon Sinek tells a story of exec retreats he attended at Microsoft and Apple. At Microsoft, 70-80% of every executives presentation was about the competition. At Apple, 100% of the executive presentations were about the customer. While those percentages may have shifted since then, the essence of Microsoft culture is in that first sentence. At Microsoft, product executives obsess over the competition. Internally, groups compete with each other (there were at least three product groups at Microsoft besides the Teams group where I worked who actively campaigned as Microsoft’s competitor to Slack). Within organizations at Microsoft, the people competition was famous. Even though stack ranking didn’t officially happen, the employee rating process is extremely competitive and filled with monumental political efforts. I largely refused to play the game, but was inevitably sucked into discussions pitting employees against each other, often over incidental work issues that had little to do with overall accomplishments, leadership, or the bottom line.
Why I Left
Short answer is that the Microsoft culture – and especially the culture of the team I was on was the opposite of my own personal values and nature. Working on Microsoft Teams hurt my soul, but I couldn’t think of a product and role at Microsoft more suited to where I thought I could make the biggest difference.
In hindsight, I needed to leave to stay sane – the experiences of my last 6-12 months may have been the universe whispering “get out” in my ear.
The Dream Job
Teams was a dream job for me. I joined as the single “Quality” person on a team of 80 or so developers. Eventually I added people to my team, and took on more responsibility. I felt that if I was responsible for quality**, that it made sense for me to be responsible for everything from the moment a pull-request was submitted to the moment code was deployed to production (something I sometimes simply refer to as the code pipeline). I worked with smart people and was able to learn a lot about CI/CD, web tools, infrastructure and compliance. I also managed a moderately sized team of vendors (mostly offshore) who helped with build infrastructure and tools. The team I managed was the best team I ever worked with at Microsoft (with “Team-Fluffy” in Xbox a close second (that’s another story).
(** Yes, I said responsible for quality. Quality is absolutely team-owned, but I believe that I (and other Modern Testers are responsible and accountable for the quality culture in the teams we work with, so by extension, I was comfortable being “responsible for quality”).
Teams was also the most unnecessary stressful job I’ve ever had. The org was run by a VP who kept his fingers a little too deep in the day-to-day product decisions (e.g. “I think you should add a menu there. Drop what you’re doing and get it done asap”). By itself, that’s not a horrible thing, but it was coupled with a culture where pleasing your manager always trumped pleasing the customer. My manager was no different – knowing the culture (he worked for our VP for most of his career) he consistently prioritized making his boss happy over solving customer issues. And so on and so on. Two of my peers (who spent so much time together we merged their names and referred to them by a collective singular name (think Brangelina)) were famous for jumping on projects my boss or the VP wanted, doing absolutely nothing more than enough to say they were working on it, and blocking anyone else from jumping in and trying to solve things in the right way.
I’ve worked in plenty of bad teams at Microsoft, and too many times, I’ve watched strong egos get in the way of good software. I regularly read (and recommend) Orbiting the Giant Hairball to learn coping techniques (thanks Marlena for recommending this book to me years ago). I’m also an efficiency nut, and often get annoyed at many things that block team efficiency (there’s a reason that the mantra, Accelerating the achievement of shippable quality resonates with me). I had friends on the team (and still do), and mostly, I kept my team out of the crossfire, and we accomplished remarkable things.
It’s also worth pointing out that I have thought of leaving Microsoft for quite a while. I interviewed for (and was offered) a handful of positions, but none were right (Advice I often give is, “Never go from a job, always go to a job”). If the Unity job wasn’t such a perfect fit for me, I would have continued to plow forward.
A few things happened that finally put me over the edge (although as I reflect, I probably waited too long. I could list enough of the things that happened to fill a glassdoor review or a reddit post), but it’s not worth the bits, nor is my intent to bash the company.
The first was an incident with our PM lead (note, I think Teams is the last Microsoft team to still have “traditional” 1990’s msft-style program managers). He worked for our VP. Our VP wanted features – so he wanted features, and made a list of features that “had to be in” for our next release (I don’t recall anymore whether it was for a beta, or for our preview release). In a meeting, he more or less stated that getting these features done and in the product as soon as possible was the absolute top priority. Wearing my quality hat, I pushed back with examples of how similar statements from him had tanked quality so bad that we couldn’t release for weeks, and asked that we check in the features when they’re ready rather than rush them. He turned red, basically told me to stfu, and (from what I’ve been told second hand) later used his influence to tank my evaluation).
The hearsay was somewhat supported in a check-in discussion with my manager, where for the first and only time in my career, my manager made up stuff that I didn’t do – he literally listed things that I didn’t get done that I had never heard of before. I suppose I could have blacked out for a while, but I usually don’t drop the ball.
Incidentally, quality on Teams was borderline average, and that made me feel awful. We routinely ran with a bug backlog near ~500, and I spent a lot of time making sure we were fixing the right bugs and playing a violent game of whack-a-mole to make sure the worst bugs were fixed in the feature onslaught.
One of the things I loved about my role was making those decisions on what needed to get fixed, and making sure the fix was done well, tested, and rock solid. I had a chance to talk with Chuck Rossi during an interview process with Oculus, and the big takeaway for me was an insight into Facebook’s release process. Taking a page from his book, about two months before our preview release, I blocked off check-ins to our shipping branch, and began reviewing every check in to make sure it was something that was truly needed for our release, and something that wouldn’t cause regressions. It was a shit-ton of work (not to mention the opposite of my CI/CD goal), but the only way I could gain some confidence that our preview release would make the impact we wanted. Two weeks or so away from our preview launch, my manager called me at home, on a Friday night around 9pm to ask about a certain check-in that I accepted and was going to integrate the following Monday. I’m being nice to say he he asked about it. He asked, “what the fuck are you doing – you’re playing with fire – how can I trust you.”. I believe that in times of stress that people express their true self, and this was one of the final red flags for me. I ate crow and apologized, he hung up on me. I came into to work on Saturday and removed the rogue pull request and cancelled Monday’s deployment.
There are two important follow-up points to this story. The first is that we shipped with a MAJOR bug with our preview launch (if you recall, Stuart Butterfield from Slack gave us massive publicity by publishing a passive aggressive welcome letter to our team). We announced the product, opened it up for IT admins to enable for their orgs, but most orgs couldn’t create teams. It was a fuckup, but I knew we had a way to get a fix rolled out quickly (very glad at this point that I took over the deployment pipeline). In the meantime, our early adopter customers were posting things like, “I guess it’s not rolled out to us yet”, and that loyalism saved our butt.
Second follow up point is that we did have one really ugly bug that people really complained about in our first week after launch. I had people (including the VP and PM lead above) express their disappointment to me about this bug being in the release. Fortunately, I had approached the release with a mindset not of “how do we nail the preview release”, but with a mindset of “how do we get the following releases to our customers regularly”. We shipped the front end weekly at that time, so the fix was out the following week.
Oh – the ugly bug we had to fix. It’s the one my manager berated me about and insisted I pull out of the product.
I don’t mean to throw individuals under the bus (although I realize I did), but feel that the stories are necessary to convey the culture of Teams, and why it didn’t sit well with me. I also thought about sharing my thoughts on Teams shortly after I left, but felt even my early jabs at msft in my first few months away made me sound bitter and mad rather than a story of how I was able to walk away from a dream job and find something where I felt I could make an even bigger difference.
I haven’t followed the success of Teams in the year since I left, but I’ll assume that not much has changed. It’s slow, a little buggy, and yet is a really nice collaboration tool. In fact, it’ probably the best collaboration tool for teams that don’t know they need a collaboration tool – and I think it’s uniquely marketed at that audience (people using Office 365). But I fear that instead of trying to be the best collaboration tool for Office 365 users, instead there’s likely too much effort on competing with Slack. The culture demands competition, and that may be a bad path to follow for my old teammates.
A lot of what I learned – even in Teams has helped me at Unity – including some (to me) interesting insights that I never would have had without those experiences. I’m using those insights day-to-day, and hope to share stories soon.
- Quote I’ve been pondering: “An expert is not someone that gives you the answer, it is someone that asks you the right question.” —Eli Goldratt
- I’ve been thinking about the new-employee experience recently, and recalled this article about starting new employees on Friday. It’s something I want to try.
- I’m traveling this week, and wanted to give a shoutout to the Osprey Ozone 46. I never check a bag, and this bag holds everything I need for a week, along with my electronics, etc. If not fully packed, I can shove it under a seat, but my assumption is that since it’s a backpack, I’ll never be asked to gate check it.
- Yet-another-article-on-microservices worth reading.
- I may have mentioned before my admiration for Simon Sinek. I don’t normally like “fluffy” books, but I just gave my leads at Unity a copy of Better Together, as I’ve found so many great quotes and so much inspiration from this little book.
- I’m finally reading Pat Lencioni’s latest book on Ideal Teams. I’m a huge fan of Pat Lencioni’s business novels, and enjoying this one just as much as the others.
- You’ve probably already seen this article on testing microservices. I shared it with my team this week, and think it’s a good read.
- All About Lean has an article on The Toyota Employee Evaluation System. Some good stuff there, and some stuff to ignore. As an aside, I so do not miss the msft annual review process.
- A few months ago, I mentioned the neuroma in my left foot. To give my foot an even better chance of lasting longer running distances, I recently switched to Altra running shoes. Altra’s have two unique features: a wide toe box (to give my toes more room to spread out and not pinch the nerve; and a “zero drop” – meaning that the heel and toe are at the same level. So far, they’ve been fantastic.
- The 2018 State of Testing survey is out. While I’m not often a fan of these surveys (too much room for bias in the interpretation for me), this one is the best one, and the only one I take and read about. If you haven’t filled it out already, go ahead and give it a shot.
I’ve missed doing these, but glad to get started again.
- “The world doesn’t reward perfection. It rewards productivity.” – 18 Minutes by Peter Bregman
- I’ve been working my way through Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferris and finding a lot of ideas and a lot of inspiration.
- While on the subject of Tim, I also recommend his recent podcast where he “interviews” Terry Crews (I use quotes because Terry really interviews himself).
- Speaking of books, I just bought the Humble Bundle Python pack – if you’re not aware of Humble Bundle, they sell packages of books, games, comics and more on a scaled pay-what-you-will basis…with proceeds going to charity. I bought their Data Science bundle a few months back as well.
- Camille Fournier (author of The Manager’s Path) recently posted about her (self) Yearly Review. I value (and use) self-reflection a lot, but have never applied it on a full year. I’m working through the list myself and finding it valuable.