Sunday, 8 February 2009

5 Questions For Jonathan Kohl

Next up to answer my questions is Jonathan Kohl

His blog goes back to 2003, I first came across his work when I read his article on Conventional Software Testing on a Scrum Team, his article on Post-Agilism certainly stirred up a few people and his links betwen testing and music are excellent reading.

Now to the questions - make yourself comfy as Jonathan gave some very full and interesting replies

1. Why did you start blogging and what were you hoping to get out of it ?
( and have you got what you hoped for ? )

I started blogging in late 2003 because Brian Marick suggested I start a blog.

Back Story:
I had described my experiences pair testing with developers on a testing mailing list. Brian asked me to turn that into an article for Better Software magazine. While he was editing, all sorts of email threads sprouted up. He felt I should share those ideas publicly rather than have them trapped in email.

I thought it would be a good place to practice my technical writing. I've written things ever since I could spell, such as short stories, poetry, and papers for school and work. I enjoy writing, and I did get practice with my blog.

Now my blog a place for me to express ideas quickly, (rather than through a publisher which takes more time) or to try out new half-baked ideas publicly.

2. What have you learned from doing your blog ?

There's a dark side. Software development and software testing processes are very religious, in the negative sense of the word. People get extremely upset about things that the blogger might think are minor issues, so sometimes you get blindsided by someone who is upset. I've had people get very upset about all sorts of things, and some have gone as far as threatening me because I challenged an idea that they held dear. That was hard to take. Since we can communicate so quickly with blogs, sometimes people go overboard and say things in the heat of the moment without taking the consequences into account. Sometimes people forget that behind the
writing there is a human with feelings who like them, is just trying to make their way in the world, and they now has to cope with all the vitriol that was spewed at them.

However, I've learned if you are honest and sincere, and write about topics that are on your mind, people respond well. Even if it isn't popular and you face a bit of abuse at first, you get contacted by people who relate to what you wrote, say it inspired them and gave them courage in a difficult spot, and thank you. It opens opportunities, and sometimes, can actually help people.

I also probably learned how to be a better writer, due to the practice, and the constructive criticism I get from my friends. I've learned what constructive criticism looks like, and that I can't please everybody, so I better be happy with what I wrote. If I try to please everyone, I become a slave, to hack an old proverb.

3. Do you track your visitors - if so, any unusual searches to find your blog ?

Only from a high level. I look at trends, which interestingly increase over time. I've also found that I get the most traffic on Tuesdays. Who knows why that is.

Unusual searches: I get some hits from people searching for musicians I mentioned in my unfinished "Software Development Process Fusion Series" , and I get a lot from the imperial to metric mnemonic I mentioned in one blog post:
"king henry danced merrily down central main."

Here are some that are recorded for February:
- agile marketing hype
- music metaphors
- why is software testing interesting
- case studies showing failure of software due to lack of software testing
- flat organizations and employee empowerment
- developer hip-hop test software
- soak a toe (must be from another mnemonic I mentioned from Math: sohcahtoa)
- unintended discoveries

4. Do you have a favourite post that you have written ?

I'm not sure. My most popular post is the "knee testing" post, written after Brian Marick bugged me about recording it after hearing the story:

Some of the pieces that at the time I thought were my best writing were not popular, and things I didn't think were well written have been popular, so I suppose another thing I've learned with my blog is that I can't predict what is going to work or not. Popular may not translate into "enjoyed" so I really love the feedback I get when someone says they liked the post.

I suppose I am also happy with my post-Agilism and process fusion blog posts. Not because they are well-written (they aren't) but because I felt strongly about them, and it took a lot of courage for me to talk about something that was bothering me. Back when I started talking critically of things that were bothering me in the Agile movement, there was a lot of hype, snake oil salesman advertising, and unbridled enthusiasm, without something to check that and pull it into balance. Publicly, all we seemed to hear were wild success stories, but my experience and the experience of
others I trusted was mixed. Some years I was on or observing 6 different Scrum or XP teams, and maybe 2 of those were deemed a success. I was pressured not to talk about the failures and challenges, and I kept quiet for over a year.

Now, the Agile community are starting to talk about challenges, and context, and where some practices might not work so well, and areas where some practices work better. There is even more widespread admission that Agile practices may not work for your team - in spite of what the salesman says.
We are starting to get more balance, which is a good thing. If I helped contribute to that in some small way, that would make me happy. If you think that talking about failures doesn't help, just look at the airline industry. They depend on that feedback to improve and we are all grateful for that.

It's interesting, when I talked about Agilism back in the early days (XP in '00 and Scrum in '01) I used to get bashed by people who were against it. I actually got a flame email from someone who hated my pair testing article from January 2004 because it was "Agile". Now that Agilism is the new "good thing" in the industry, the tide has turned, and it's like speaking out against world peace, ending hunger, or climate change. If you point out an inconsistency or problem regarding something Agile, you are often labeled as "one of those wrong kind of people who don't get it" even if you agree with the principle of the idea or movement. :-)

5. Any advice to new bloggers ?

Be real, be yourself, be honest and blog about what's on your heart. It takes courage, but it's worth it. People notice sincerity and authenticity and it resonates with them. Don't over think it, and if you feel fearful or nervous about blogging something, that probably means that you definitely should write about it. We need more courage and more leadership in our industry, which translates into unique ideas, not the same old same old being rehashed by everyone because it's safe, or sucks up to some movement or someone famous. Most of your potential readers will see through that and move on.

If you do make a mistake, own up to it and apologize if need be. People will respect that. "Hey, they are human just like me!" A couple of years ago, another blogger said some fairly nasty things about me because they didn't like a blog post I wrote. It was hard to read, and I felt personally attacked, so I couldn't take any of their criticism seriously. However, they apologized, we ended up meeting face-to-face, I got their perspective and learned something important. We have since developed a nice relationship out of all of it. No harm, no foul.

Try to write well, if you enjoy writing, because it may lead to other opportunities for you as a writer. When I was a technical editor with Better Software, I used to watch blogs for good writing and good ideas, and ask bloggers who were unknown authors to contribute something to the magazine. It can open doors.

Have integrity, stick to your ethics, and always try to cite your sources.
Plagiarism is nasty, and is devastating to the original author. There are few worse things than feeling like your ideas are being stolen. Furthermore, in my career, as well as with blogging, any time I stuck to my ethics in spite of people telling me it was a "career limiting move", it hurt in the short term, but was actually a "career-catapulting move" in the long term. People respect honesty, even if they don't like your ideas and beliefs, and that is important.

Most importantly, get your ideas out there. Also, be sure to attack ideas and not the people. The fastest way to lose credibility is to bash someone, no matter how good it might feel in the short term. Sure, there's a dark side because people can get upset and say nasty things about you, but take it in stride, and take the high road. You grow a thicker skin over time.
Some sort of reaction is often better than no reaction at all. Any reaction means you are contributing, and getting people to think, so talk about successes *and* talk about failures. We need the different perspectives and ideas out there, and a blog is a great way to start sharing yours.

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