In the back of the house

Someone asked me recently if I knew anything about data dictionaries and since I wrote one some years ago it started a trail of reminiscing. In fact, the more I thought about it the more I knew I likely had a copy of my work from the mid 90’s. I reassembled my oldest computer, the only computer that still has a floppy drive, dug in my attic and found a handful of floppies discarded in a box. I went hunting.

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I found a stack of memories buried in test plans and assorted artifacts. It was an interesting experience reading my old work and being able to recall how I felt, read the ideas I had. I could hear my own voice in my head; watch my own thinking from the outside.

And for reasons, these old memories tie to a very recent experience. Let me explain – I’ve worked a short contract as a tester over the past couple of months. I’ve been someone’s virtual tester. I don’t know the team, they don’t know me. I don’t know the product that well either which was an unusual but interesting request. I was brought in at the finale in hopes that I could find bugs with little to no preamble. And I have completely enjoyed this contract. Why? And why would looking through old floppies make me think about this recent experience. From the outside these experiences have nothing in common. And yet on the inside these experiences tie perfectly together.

What did I find? I loved testing software. I loved being left alone to think, to ponder, to examine, and to try out ideas. I’d spend hours of planning and testing; working alone in the test lab. This was years ago, years before I would become a manager and begin fighting for resources, fighting for budget. I used to spend my time with equally quiet thoughtful developers who liked building products. And who, once I could show that I was trying to help, would seek my work and then I was a member of building something. I wasn’t yet a member of managers who spent their time fighting and in meetings. I was in the back of the house. I was considered a geek, typically considered as part of the Dev team not apart from the Dev team. This was a perfect fit for the INTJ of me, far from the maddening crowd.

And the recent project work gave me the same charge. Working from home in the quiet, hired for my brain not my politics. I want to find more clients like this. People, who will hire me as their virtual tester, let me stay in the back of the house. It was the quiet contemplative aspects of software testing that drew me in and fed me intellectually. And these are the aspects I miss when I get thrown into different fires. I work best for people who value what a tester finds which oddly is not every client.

I’m not as shy or as quiet as I used to be. I have more E than I ever did but at my core, I am still an I. (I, E and INTJ are references to Myers-Briggs testing.) And actual hands-on software testing affords me intellectual work that absorbs me.

If you went digging what would you find? It matters. It matters to you personally and without a doubt, it will show up in your work. Your aspects may be very different than mine but when we can find the elements we enjoy we’re in a better position to find those elements again. Do you know what elements of your work feed you?

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