21 January 2019

My Learning - Part 1 - Background

This blog series

In march 2019 Göran Bakken and I will organize a small "expert" conference on self-education. As part of my preparations for that conference I've spent a significant amount of time trying to understand my learning process. One thing led to another and here we are...

Why learning?

I hate not feeling proficient in the things I do. In the first job I got after graduating this happened though. I went to work not feeling as competent as my colleagues, in the areas valued by my boss. The job was as software tester at a big telecom company and the thing I was supposed to do was to learn this massive system and check if what was claimed about this system was actually true. After a few years I was actively looking for a way out cause not feeling competent was something new to me and it drained me...

One day I saw a video by James Bach. He was the most well-known tester in the world and I already knew about him but had never heard him talk about the mindset of a tester. I was mind blown! Could testing be something creative and fun where a restless, impatient brain like mine could actually be an advantage?

I often credit that video as the start to my "true career", a career where I didn't allow work to be boring because when I'm interested I learn, and when I learn I get passionate and when I'm passionate my work becomes exciting and when my work is exciting I want to learn more and when I learn more I get even more passionate and... yeah, you get where I'm going.

Learning about testing

So I started reading everything I could because I mean... that's how you learn, right? After a while I got bored; books simply didn't make me progress much anymore. But instead of turning my focus to something else, which I had done numerous times before, I decided to try a new path. I soon realized there was actually more people in the town I lived who loved testing and they had even formed a meetup group. I left my isolated learning at home and went there... and got inspired. The inspiration led to blogging because I like writing which led to interacting with even more passionate people because they liked my ideas... which led to a new job... which led me to more even more amazing people. Today I've found dozens of friends in the business, I've competed in testing, I've been teaching testing, I've discussed testing at invite only expert conferences, I've organized conferences, I've been mentoring testers and most importantly: I've loved every day of doing all this!

Figuring out my next move

But nothing lasts forever so after a while I started to get bored and jumped on an opportunity to "progress"; a new title, a new purpose, new expectations and a higher wage ceiling. This was interesting; suddenly I went from knowing where to find (almost) all the answers, knowing (almost) all the people and feeling like an expert, to being something else. The official title was test coach. "Test", even though the expectations went up, wasn't too hard but "coach" was. I felt lost; I didn't know when I was doing a good job anymore and it was suddenly much harder to find that "mesmerizing learning high" I had experienced for several years... I wasn't an expert anymore.

It took me a couple of years to find my bearings and I got that old feeling of not being competent more than a few times. It all slowly led to a bit of an existential crisis: What do I want to be when I "grow up"... I had lost a clear sense of direction.

My next move

Finally I gave myself a deadline and decided I had to figure out at least what I wanted to focus on for the foreseeable future. After plenty of thinking and research I decided to go wholeheartedly into coaching and company culture. As I'm writing this I'm still early in my progression but I've regained that critical motivation to learn, which leads to passion, which leads to more learning, which leads to... yeah, you know the drill.


The curve below shows the fluctuations of my passion/easiness to learn over the last few years.

Feel free to draw your own, it was a pretty useful exercise...

To explain the fluctuation a bit:
  • The curve starts with me starting my first job after graduating (2007).
    X is time.
    Y is my perceived passion/easiness to learn whatever I'm trying to learn.
  • Early 2012 I saw that video with James Bach that got me started. Long story short: Wow I had fun!
  • Late 2015 I was suffering from severe stress which is the reason for the steep drop. My recovery from that episode is still ongoing. The stress wasn't because of my learning ambitions per se but because I had a job where the expectations I put on my working results weren't aligned with what the employer was ready to allow me to do. Since the people actually taking the hit in this case was my students and I care about people a bit too much sometimes, I put a way too heavy workload on myself to sort of mediate the gap between their expectations and what the job allowed me to do. Not a strategy I recommend...
  • Spring 2016 I got the job as test coach and that's where the curve starts shifting upwards again. The problem at this point wasn't my progression but rather my inability to see that progression and since I didn't feel like I progressed I had a much harder time generating the energy/motivation needed to make things escalate like they did in 2012.
  • Early 2018 I finally started taking my own frustration seriously. Later, during the summer, I spent massive amounts of time trying to understand my situation. I'll show some results from that summer in a later post in this series.

Wrap up

All in all I'm a human being just like you; sometimes I'm frustrated, sometimes I'm motivated,  most often I'm a bit of both. I have friends and family who are more important than "my progression", most of what I do is not related to "learning", I'm easily distracted, I'm sometimes sad... but I still have a passion for learning and an ability to put words on what's going on inside my head. Hopefully that combination will make this series help you learn about your learning as your learn about mine.

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