"Some birds aren't meant to be caged, their feathers are just too bright"- Morgan Freeman, Shawshank Redemption. This blog is from one such bird who couldn't be caged by organizations who mandate scripted software testing. Pradeep Soundararajan welcomes you to this blog and wishes you a good time here and even otherwise.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Tour of being an independent test consultant

Hiya! Hope you are doing very well. I am Pradeep Soundararajan, your tour guide for the next few minutes. I am glad you chose to take this tour of being an independent test consultant.

Here are some questions you might have: How does it feel to be an independent test consultant? What is it like to be one such in India? Will I be able to survive? Will I make enough money to run my family? Will I make as much money as the organization I am employed is paying me? Will I get enough paid work? What if I don't get paid work for a long time? Will people want my kind of skills? How do I know someone needs a consultant? How do I get clients? How will my family take this? What do I explain to my spouse? What kind of a pressure does society add when I am not in any paid work for a while? How does it feel to work from home not just for a day but for an entire month, or maybe a year or more? Will I have enough money to pay my home loan EMI?

These are some common questions that have popped up from those who have wanted to take the tour. So, if you have these questions or maybe even more, you won't be disappointed with this tour.

Some people ask me, "Hey, can you give me a few clients of yours and help a fellow Indian to also be an independent consultant?" I want to help people be independent consultants in India. By that, of course, I mean, I'd like to see them do stuff that helps them get credibility, reputation, paid work and clients for themselves.

I'd like to take you through the journey of having been an independent consultant. A journey that is not so often written or spoken about

Tour Point 1: Knowing enough about enough

If you want to be an independent test consultant, there are some prerequisites that you need to fulfill. You need to be bold enough, skilled enough, curious enough, pleasing enough and willing to talk to people or do some work good enough to get good enough people to talk to you.

That's a magical formula right? No one knows what "enough" means and hence it is a problem and an opportunity in disguise. If you knew what "enough" meant, you are kinda through to anything you want to achieve. I think, not knowing how much is "enough" makes you to work hard and get close enough. Oops, close enough?

I have been able to survive so far. I have no clue if my current skills are enough for me to survive for the next year and I am on a constant upgrade of skills and knowledge. I invest money on learning and my investment for July 2010 is on a few books, Ethical Hacking Guide to Corporate Security by Ankit Fadia & Job Interviews - Walter Vierera. Time is a much more important investment than money for me. So, just by spending money on those books wouldn't mean much unless I make a further investment of time on it.

Tour point 2: Love for failures

Many projects today suffer because people working on it aren't willing to try new ideas. They are special people on earth who know things would fail even before trying them out. However, as a consultant, if you try to be like them, you'd be expensive for your clients. You would do what their employees are doing for a price much higher than the employee cost.

Its important to not fail at a client's location but should that stop me and you from loving failures? I have a lab where I can experiment ideas whose results I don't know yet and that lab is the world of my colleagues, community and my gurus.

It's OK to fail, once in a while, at a client's location because even if you do great stuff, there could be things beyond your control that might make it look very bad. However, if you can get that client to call you back for more paid work in future, it boosts your confidence a great deal.

It happened to me. I was black listed in an organization and now they not just white listed me but want to work with me closer. Their CEO is in direct touch with me. If I feared failing, I would have done more mediocre stuff than what they thought I actually did.

Tour point 3: Excellence instead of money

India is a great place for some inspiring movies. I strongly recommend that you watch the movie "3 idiots". No, don't Google and read the story, just watch it. There are several good messages in it and one of them is, "Excellence instead of money". This movie is a super duper hit in India. I just wish people not just like such movies but also bring in necessary changes to their lives.

I want to be rich but I want to be rich while I am excellent. I wouldn't mind money coming on my way but money wouldn't necessarily make me feel rich. I want to be rich in testing skills and knowledge. I want to be rich in knowing many testers and how they work. In the process, if money follows, I am super happy.

Tour point 4: Don't expect people around you to understand what you are trying to do

When an article about me appeared on a few national news papers, my article was published on a few magazines, I was interviewed by CNBC TV18, I was on news for a local TV channel, my parents were so proud of me that I can bet they were flying high. However, whenever they see me sitting in home for more than a week without any paid work, they start to ask me, "Why don't you join some company like Infosys?"

If you expect your parents or spouse to completely understand what independent test consulting means then you'd be inviting disappointment. I was expecting them to understand what I was trying to do but experience teaches that I shouldn't. This has nothing to do with the respect we have for them but a learning of what we can't help them understand.

While at home, I am glued to the computer, trying to learn something, practice testing or support my clients post my onsite engagement or reply to emails. Some people around me take it for granted that I am jobless. Someone calls me and say, "Hey, you are at home only na, so why don't you come pick our luggage and keep it there?" It irritates a lot. I am at home but not jobless. I am trying to generate a paid work, which is a part of my work. People don't understand that. So, be ready for all that.

Tour point 5: No promotions and no designation change

If you were used to being an employee for long and then chose to be a consultant, you must know that there is no one who is going to give you a promotion. It is what you call yourself that matters. I am calling myself a Consulting Tester or just an Independent Test Consultant. If I am bored of it in 2012, I may call myself a Senior Consulting Tester. I give myself fancy title sometimes. I was calling myself a Test Magician and then I am now calling myself a Brainual Tester.

Tour point 6: Being an independent consultant doesn't mean you are the expert

Without saying much, I am not an expert and I am an independent consultant. James Bach, Michael Bolton, Elizabeth Hendrickson, Jerry Weinberg, Scott Barber, Matt Heusser, Jonathan Kohl, Karen Johnson are experts who are independent consultants. People like Ben Simo, Jon Bach, Cem Kaner, Vipul Kocher, Ashok are experts who are employees. There are some good thinkers and future experts like Meeta Prakash, Parimala, Lanette Creamer, Ajay, Santhosh Tuppad, Sajjadul Hakim, Ramit Manohar, Sharath Byregowda, Shmuel Gershon, Issi Hassan, Markus Gartner, who are employees, too.

So, independent consultants don't necessarily mean an expert. Employee don't necessarily mean a non expert. If I had to be an independent consultant only after becoming an expert, I wouldn't have been one till now. If I don't be an independent consultant, I don't know if I would ever get close enough to an expert while being an employee.

So, if you are waiting to be an expert and then be an independent consultant because you thought there was a strong relationship between them, you could be wrong.

Tour point 7: Tackling loneliness

Even in 2nd most populous country in the world, there are a lot of people I have seen who feel lonely. So, loneliness is not about people not being around you but about people whom you want to be around you not being around you. For me, my first wife is my laptop, just like many others I guess. So, despite having two wives (laptop and the one to whom I am married), I get lots of situations where I feel lonely. Loneliness is not always a problem; its a blessing in disguise. Ask our fellow bloggers, they'd tell you that they churned out a cool post during such situations.

However, being an independent consultant and working from home means, I have no colleagues that I meet on a daily basis. I meet a lot of new people every year but meet the same people very few times. Having no colleagues to meet on a daily basis means frustration at times.

When I go through Facebook or Orkut and see some people posting photos of their team member's birthday party celebrations, team outing to a hill station, team lunch, going to movie as a team... it hurts me a lot. I just take it as though I am in a penance of becoming a good tester and I have to bear with all of it. Recently, I was pissed off when I found no one to join me for a movie that I wanted to go. Even if I did find, their timing and my timing was off. Hey, employees are pissed off too. So, I am still fine.

Tour point 8: Getting clients is like sowing seeds and waiting for them to sprout

We think clients come from a specific place or set of places and we are wrong. When I was a rookie consultant looking for opportunities, Michael Bolton, told me that finding business is like sowing seeds. He also told; you never know when the seeds sprout.

I sowed a seed by answering a question in a forum without knowing I was sowing it. The one who asked the question was impressed and help the seed sprout by giving me a business worth thousand dollars.

When I didn't have a public reputation for speaking, I offered 2 hour talk called "Mirchi Test Masala" for free. This attracted at least seven organizations to have my talk at their office. I was gaining experience of speaking to testers and engaging them for at least 2 hours. I was also testing my own testing exercise on them. This was in 2007. One among the 250 people I might have spoken to during my Mirchi Test Masala tour was impressed with my talk. In 2010, he asked his current employer to have my workshop for his team. It happened. As you see the seed sowed in 2007 sprouted in 2010.

So, if you want to be an independent consultant next year, you should have started sowing at least 2 years back unless clients are just waiting for you to becoming a consultant. Also note that there are other consultants sowing seeds in the same place. If you are skilled enough you don't need to be too bothered.

Tour point 9: Freedom at its best

If you are my blog reader then, "Some birds aren't meant to be caged, their feathers are just too bright" isn't a new thing to you. If it is, please note that the quote is from the movie Shawshank Redemption. I struggled for freedom to test. I saw that I could test a lot better when there is freedom. I also see that many testers can perform a lot better with a lot of freedom and responsibility bestowed on them. The only way I could win freedom to test in India was by being an independent consultant. These days, I am coming across a few managers who want to provide freedom to test but they don't have the curious people in place.

Tour point 10: Managing the tough situation of low bank balance

During August 2009 to Dec 2009 there was no paid work. There were enquiries but nothing turning to work. My bank account went low enough that the bank thought it was expensive to send me an SMS about my bank balance. At that moment, everyone around me urged me to look for a job. It isn't a bad thing to go back being an employee. At least I won freedom for a while and I can always win it back. I updated my profile and started to apply for jobs. I didn't even get a single interview opportunity in Bangalore. What? Yeah, so, no matter how much reputed you are, nature teaches you humility at such times. I dropped my plan to look for a job and look for some consulting opportunities. Again, a seed sowed in 2008 sprouted and I found 2 back to back consulting opportunities. Today, as I write, I have certain things lined up, clients asking and competing for my dates. I have no visibility beyond a certain month in this year. I have no problem with that. I am just hoping that some seeds will sprout.

Tour point 11: Live your dream

3 weeks back, my school classmate died in an accident. It just reminded me that death is not certain of a time or situation. Any day it might strike. I was shocked by his death and asked myself; what if I die today? Also, if you have listened to the famous speech of Steve Jobs, he talks about death and suggests that we work as though today is our last day.

Living your dream is very important. So important that you may not have another life to live your dream. My dream is to be a good tester and if possible help others with similar dreams to get there. I know I am living my dream today, at least to some good extent, so I am not afraid of death.

Tour point 12: Earning money is tough but not impossible

Some of my own students hesitate to coach other testers because they think teaching isn't something they want to do. Indirectly they are saying, "This demands me to learn new skills which I am not prepared to". There is money in teaching. If they continue to think that way, they would never be able to earn contacts, different learning, upgrade their skills, learn about different contexts, challenges and hence more money.

Tour point 13: Consulting is not only problem solving but jiggling the right things

I was thinking of myself as a super hero by having solved some problems for my clients. When I interacted with Michael Bolton of what I did to claim success, he helped me understand that I jiggled with things rather than solving problems. I started to learn what exactly I was doing. Although I believed I was solving problems for my clients, it was they who were solving it and I was just helping them do it. At times I did solve problems, too.

If you are serious about being a consultant or being a valuable employee and want to jiggle the right things, I strongly recommend you to read Jerry Weinberg's books on Consulting. I mean, Secrets of Consulting and More secrets of Consulting. They are my best reads.

Tour point 14: Get yourself a guru and a role model

Sachin Tendulkar who is considered to be a God for cricket in India has a guru. Suriya, a rocking Tamil actor has Kamal Hassan has his guru and inspiration. Kamal Hassan has more than just one guru. Rajinikanth has a lot of gurus and role models. Virendar Shewag has a role model (Sachin) that he wants to be like. The great Arjuna of Mahabharatha had a guru teach him archery. Ekalavya had a guru. All these successful people have a guru and a role model. In testing, as we think we are experts or good enough, we don't feel a need to have a guru and role model. We sink our own career that way. I must have avoided thousands of traps by having more than a few gurus.

James Bach helped me be an independent consultant and I often consulted Michael Bolton to shape myself. There are other people who have helped me too and have been my inspiration and role models. I have posters of these people on my wall. It keeps pushing me. Without gurus and role models, I would have been lost by now.

Your tour ends here unless you have a few questions to ask me. Thank you for your patience.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Heart of a tester

In 1954, when software testing was just about taking birth, there were two groups that started to form. I was as curious as you are right now, to know what those two groups stood for. One of the groups christened as, "Kuzusu", had a thought that good testing would reduce the number of billable hours to deliver a good enough product and hence had to be avoided. The other group christened, "Shidachi", stood for good testing that can save a lot of stakeholders time and money to deliver a good enough product.

Things started getting hostile. People from the two groups tried killing each other. That's how much they believed in the group they claimed to represent. One or two people being killed once in a while didn't make a difference.  Just a few days before the Christmas that year, there was a huge battle and at least five dozen people from both groups were killed. That's when a lot of people started to propose a treaty and cease fire between the two groups. On 3rd March, 1955, the famous treaty in history was written. "Treaty of brain fight instead of blood", was signed by all members of those two groups in front of the President of United States, South Africa, India, China, Japan, Sweden and Britain. 

Signing the treaty meant; anyone who violates the treaty shall be killed by their respective country administration. The country where many such killings are observed might lose its eligibility to get outsourced testing projects. There was a twist to the treaty. It not just included the names of those who signed the treaty but all future software testers were presumed to have signed on it.

The first meeting of the Kuzusu group after the treaty was held in 8th October, 1956 in an undisclosed location. The outcome of that meeting was; more the number of people on Kuzusu side, the easier it is to dominate the Shidachis.

While Kuzusus were still at the meeting, Shidachis had a plan for the future. The plan was pretty simple; to discover, invent, learn, practice and demonstrate thinking skills that would lead to better testing and better product. So, Kuzusus were focused on Head Count in their group and Shidachis were focused on Brain count in their group.

The common thing they realized through a series of meetings is that they needed to lose their identity and mingle among future software testers. All websites, boards, banners, ads, real estate, documents, registration, news paper citing, notes, floppy disks, photographs and tapes were destroyed. The only thing existing to prove about the existence of these two groups is the treaty document. The next time you visit National Meuseum of American History - Kenneth E Berhing Center, Washington DC, make sure you see beyond certain wall posters there. One with a sword marked on the right bottom corner has the treaty document in its back. 

Ever since 1957, these two groups started to influence the upcoming generation of software testers with their principles but not in the name of Kuzusu or Shidachi. We never know if these groups are continuing to meet and make new strategies to fight each other. We may never know that. 

After so many years, we don't even know if Kuzusus and Shidachis are the ones with whom we interact everyday at our work. They are dressed up as our colleagues and friends in our industry. We don't even know if we are the channel or follower of one of these groups. Obviously, it is nearly impossible to identify or differentiate between a modern day Kuzusu and Shidachi, because they all appear like one, doing testing and wanting to do it better.  

We all want Shidachi group to win. Even Kuzusus would publicly speak about wanting the Shidachis to win and that is how they can remain camouflaged. Another twist to the story happened in July 2006 when a new group was formed by someone somewhere. This group didn't want to give themselves a name and remained anonymous from first. Their objective is; we don't care if good or bad testing is happening as long as we are getting paid, hikes and promotions as regularly as possible.

That's it. It has become all the more tough for the Shidachis to strike large success. You just can't say that you belong to the fourth group who doesn't believe in all this. You are already one among the three. The only problem is, it is hard to know which group you actually belong to. You might have thought while reading this that you belong to Shidachi and the people with whom you work with are Kuzusus. That's exactly how the Kuzusus want you to think because that's the way they do too. Finally, to an outsider, you and the people with whom you work might appear as the third group who doesn't care about good or bad testing as long as you are being paid.

So, the quest for the current and future generation software testers is not about identifying which group they belong to but to work with each other to win hearts. The fight of the brain is as important as the love of the heart. The first organ developed in a mother's womb is the heart and we shouldn't be ignoring it in our fight of the brains.

So, dear reader, whoever you are, if I have said things to you in the past either in this blog or in forum discussions that offended you or made you feel hurt, please forgive me. Help me to be of help to you in future. Its time we consider winning each others heart and brain. 

Also welcome to the Hridaya group!