Monday, July 27, 2015

On Elections for the AST Board of Directors

An Open Letter to the Members of the AST on the Board of Directors Election next week:

Elections are an interesting thing. It does not matter if it is for a National Election, a Regional Election or the Election of Directors of an organization like AST.

I remember reading once that the problem with Hereditary Monarchy is that from time to time you get a reluctant ruler. The problem with Democratic Elections is that they actually want the job.

For the last three years I have been a member of the Board of Directors of AST. My first year was finishing a partial term after a vacancy. At the end of that year I stood for election again. After three years on the Board, I am stepping down to let others step up.

The time commitment varies, of course. Not everything takes every moment of available time.

Sometimes it feels that way, though. For some, well, that is another story altogether.

Things I’ve learned

I have been on the Board of several non-profit and volunteer based organizations. The first time was shortly after I got my Bachelor’s Degree. There was a vacancy on the Board for a Credit Union and one of my former professors recommended me. I was voted in by the sitting Board, then was re-elected several times, stepping down when it was time for new challenges.

Other organizations were examples of an axiom I learned many years ago “Never Volunteer.”

When an organization functions because of the work the volunteers do, it is easy to be drawn further and further in. Keeping a balance as to what and how much you are willing to do is a bit of a fine dance. You want to make things better and you need to maintain a life as well. Rather like the “work-life balance” so many people wrote and spoke about a while back.

The common theme between these is simple: Great ideas, visions and huge ambitions are important; someone needs to take action and do something to make them happen.

The bulk of the work that needs to be done by members of volunteer the Board of Directors of any non-profit – including AST – is taking the ideas and visions and doing the hard work of making them reality.

Much of my time on the Board has been doing things that are not noticed. I’m OK with that. Part of me likes the limelight, as many years as I have played in bands, in public, I like applause and I like cheers better.  Still, when it comes to work, I am most comfortable making sure things happen. Part of this also is supporting people as they work on their initiatives – from revamping a program to working through the details that might be mundane, but are needed for the organization to function.

There are many people who can give inspiring visions. Can they make the transition from vision to action and fact?

Politicians are criticized for not doing what they promised to do. Part of the reason they fail to “keep their promises” is that they are not actually the ones turning the promises into a reality.

Once elected, they need to work with other politicians and get them to support the initiatives, the promises made to get elected. Except those other politicians also made promises to get elected.
In the end, if the politicians are not ready to help each other out and offer reasonable compromises, not much happens.

This is not how the Board of Directors of AST is intended to work.

People, Board Members, have projects and initiatives they’d like to see done. Then they do what they need to do so those things happen – or don’t.  Of course, there is the always popular “this was not a priority for the Board.” This can be translated a couple of different ways.

The first way is this – when talking with the Board about what was important, no one agreed that that initiative was important. In my three years on the Board, I cannot recall any initiative that was not important enough to at least be considered and researched – as in “What would it take to make this happen? What would success look like? What obstacles or risks are there to success?”

Typical project planning work – except it withers and dies because no one actually takes the step of doing the research - and then the actual work.

The second way is this – the idea is presented to the Board, there is some discussion and there is agreement on it. Instructions are issued: “Go forth and make it happen.”

And then the person realizes that THEY are the ones who are now expected to actually “make it happen.” They need to do something.

That something might be to get people with similar interests to talk about and help on the project. That something might be to simply start working on it and blow trumpets announcing the “new initiative” and see if others join in.

And this is where I have seen “Big Idea” people fail time and again – the actual doing part.

Elections for AST

For the last three years I have tried to be a person doing something. I have tried to make the things I was doing meaningful and of value to the membership of AST.

It is well and good for people to “blow their own horn,” as my grandmother used to say. It is better when others sing your praises for what has been accomplished. Shallow accolades sound well, but for me, mean little.

In the end, Leaders are needed. Leaders who get things done and make things happen. In “work” environments, these can be people who issue instructions and others will go fulfill them.

Again, that is not what happens with volunteer organizations. Here, “Leaders” are not the ones who say “Go do that.” Leaders are the ones who roll up their sleeves and dive into the dirty, hands-on tasks that need to be done. They lead by example and recruit and encourage others with similar interests.

They set the environment and call out “Follow me!” And then they move forward.  

They make things happen.

When considering the candidates for Board positions this year, look at the candidates’ Biographies. Read them carefully. Google them. Google their organizations. If you are at CAST, look for them before voting and chat with them in the hall. Ask them (in person or by email) “In what way will you do the things you said you want AST to do? How will you go about making that happen?”

Then look for the people with a track record of doing things. It is people who do things that we, as an organization, need leading us.

Dreams and visions are wonderful.  It takes work to make them more than dreams or empty promises.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Why CAST (Director's Cut)


It is a good question. I was asked that by a manager I had several years ago and it is still relevant.

For the last 13 months, I have been working on the preparations for CAST 2015. The last 2 months have been amazingly busy (which explains the lack of blogging from me - not an excuse, something simply had to give.) I’ve organized two day music events for 800 of our closest friends. I’ve been part of the organization effort for  various events, festivals, contests and the like. Being the Conference Chair for CAST has been more demanding than any of these and, by far, more rewarding.

The morning of August 3, 2015, I’ll know if the work done in advance was done well – as will some 120 other people participating in the Tutorials that are such an integral part of CAST. The 200 people participating in all of CAST are also integral parts - Each are part of what makes CAST, well, CAST.
My first CAST experience was in 2010, when CAST was in Grand Rapids the first time. It was held at Calvin College on the outskirts of the city.

There were 90 to 100 people at CAST that year (it was a troubled year in many respects). Still, the conversations were good. I met many people in person whose writing’s I had learned much from.  It was the people present, the attendees, who stick out in my mind. The conversations were free flowing and constant. It did not matter a whit if the participants were famous writers or testers or presenters or what.

All were discussing and debating as equals.

That made an impression on me.

Since then, every CAST I have attended and participated in it still makes an impression. It matters little if the person espousing a view is a famous author, pundit, speaker or personage in testing – someone will question them on something. The discussion will flow greatly and freely.

The idea that a successful conference is dependent on “Famous People” speaking or on the location as a “Tourist Destination” is to me, a sad comment on the quality of the content for conferences that rely on that as the "major reason" people go to them.

Conferences that rely on telling people what to do or what they should do or, more chilling to me, why not doing what the conference speakers are telling them to do may cost them their jobs if there are bugs found hold little appeal to me - and seem a sad reflection of the politics of fear found in many countries.

At one time, an informal expression in various militaries was something like “jackets off” – meaning indications of rank and position had been removed and everyone was speaking as equals. At CAST, the jackets are always off. 

At this year’s CAST, you may notice something different from many of the conferences available:  The speakers are practitioners.

They are people who do what they are talking about for a living. They are not globe-trotting frequent conference speakers who will flog whatever theory or buzzword is in vogue at the time. They are not advocating for a set of letters to add after your name which they, by sheer coincidence, can administer the training and then the exam to get them.

The speakers have deadlines and projects that are troublesome and have unexpected problems. Some have managers who don’t understand some of the things they are being told and want a simple explanation.

They are talking from their own working lives. They are not talking theory, or “studies have shown” or “best practices.” They are people talking about what they have first-hand experience with.  They are people talking about what worked, and importantly, what did not. They are talking about dealing with doubts and problems and what they learned and took away that may be applicable elsewhere.

If you have not signed up for CAST, check out the schedule here, then compare what is being discussed with what the large “major name” conferences are discussing. Look at who is presenting at CAST versus who presents year after year at the “major name” conferences. Sure, there is likely to be some overlap in speakers – look at the content. Look at what they are talking about.

Look at what they have to say.

If you are want to learn more, by all means, I invite you to register for CAST. We have some seats left, not many, but some. Most of the tutorials are at capacity and one has 6 spots left.

Join us. Come with an open mind and you might just leave a better thinker which will make you a better tester.

Even if you can’t join us in person, by all means join us via the webCAST. We have worked very hard to carry all plenary sessions and one full track for two days, live online – for free! This is followed by an evening discussion called “CAST Live.” Check it out here.

I’ll see you in Grand Rapids in a couple of weeks.