On #GeekMentalHelpWeek

Edit note 13/9/2016: This is self indulgent, overdramatic, and reading it again, I’m fighting the urge to delete it. But it came out of my anxiety, and it’s the closest I’ve got to writing out what it’s like so I’m keeping it up.

I click send on the email, schedule another handful of tweets, reply, like, retweet, cross another thing off the do to list. I stop. The sound of me not typing is deafening. I try not to get in the zone too often, that way lies exhaustion. I enjoy everything I do, but sometimes, when the stars align in the wrong way, it feeds my anxiety instead of lifting me out of it.

I take a deep breath, and another, trying to remember what my Mindfulness coaches told me about the right way to breathe. Breathe with the stomach. Move your diaphragm. Most adults breath too shallowly.

I’m anxious but disconnected. I spend a while trying to figure out why I’m anxious, but it eludes me. I could probably figure it out, but I don’t really want to. I can ignore it if I can’t see it. I consider doing some Mindfulness, or some CBT. I know it will help but it’ll be hard first, and I really don’t want to. I can coast on mostly fine if I ignore it.

I lose myself in podcasts, in the internet, in comics. I avoid talking to people, headphones constantly shoved into my ears. I listen to everything apart from the guided tracks that will force me to slow down and stop and be.

I never know how to deal with this, how to ensure my balancing act doesn’t fall. I don’t even know how to tell people, except in sweeping, self-indulgent and overdramatic blog posts. I’m so used to hiding or hiding it full stop, that saying the words feels like taking a leap each time.

I want to stop the stigma but when it’s at it’s worse I’m just as scared. Scared to find out what is causing this, scared to admit that I don’t know how to stop hiding it. I don’t want to contribute to the silence but I’m not sure I’ve ever told anyone outside a therapist’s office that I’m suffering. The words seem foolish, both overblown and weak. I feel like an idiot before I finish the sentence, and I’m feeling pretty foolish now, re-writing this is the light of day, trying to balance being honest and my need to tell people I’m fine.

Take a deep breath. Put my fingers on the keyboard. Type.

On podcasting

One of the first podcasts I listened to was The Moth, closely followed by Risk!, Strangers, Tell The Bartender, the list goes on. I fell into story telling in a big way. And the more I thought about podcasts, and wanting to do them, the more I thought about a podcast like the above, but dedicated specifically to mental health. Sharing stories, sharing experiences, giving people a safe space for people to express themselves around mental health: theirs, other people’s, whatever.

It might be dark and heavy at times, it’ll probably be funny at times, and there’d be some logistics to figure out, but I have some ideas:

  • Skype has a voicemail feature. I have no idea how long messages can be, but short stories can be submitted through these, even anonymously, at any time.
  • I can record Skype conversations on my mac
  • I can do interviews/in person recordings
  • It doesn’t have to be super regular: once a month, something like that

Things that I’d need to sort out:

  • A name
  • A website
  • Libsyn or other hosting for the podcast
  • People to be on it, at least to begin with. I’d like to think I could get submissions once the show gets an audience

I’d like people’s thoughts, or input. Would you be interested in being on it? Listening? Anyone got any name ideas? Anyone think this is a terrible idea?

On Finding Your Bug

Note: This is part a plan for the year 2016, part a vague idea for a talk (assuming anything comes of my plan of attack)

What’s a bug?

A software bug is an error, flaw, failure, or fault in a computer program or system that causes it to produce an incorrect or unexpected result or to behave in unintended ways

Finding my bug

I find bugs in my day job, whether it be bugs in the actual system themselves or in the requirements before we start working on them.

At the start of 2016, I moved back into full time testing after a secondment in PM/Scrum master-y work, and realised that I both wanted to learn more skills – start looking into automation and expand my exploratory skills. I also wanted to find out my weaknesses – I wanted to make sure my foundation is strong before I build on it.

I also have a podcast, and so I’m always trying to find new things to do with that, so I figured this would be a good project for me to document there as well.

Things I know starting out:

  • I really really enjoy drawing out requirements and roadmaps out of clients, and helping nail down what we need to develop in the here and now as well as possible future features to help them achieve their goals
  • I don’t want to give up exploratory testing, because I really enjoy that
  • I want to look into automation, to help me expand my skills
  • I have a habit of doing work quickly, and not always thoroughly enough, and this is something I need to work on – that balance sometimes shift slightly in the wrong direction
  • There’s many paths to being a tester, and many ways to learn
  • There are also tons, tons of resources for learning
  • The testing community is a haven of awesomeness, with lots of helpful people

I had all the tools. I just need to get my arse in gear.

So, a plan:

  • Keep doing what I enjoy
  • Keep copious notes of what I find difficult, or particularly awkward
  • Have regular retrospectives, even if it’s just with me, just to check in, see what I’m doing well, and what I feel I’m not doing well
  • Make time to work on things – because I want to, not because I need to
  • Ask questions – especially the stupid ones
  • Admit to not knowing things
  • Practice Mindfulness – I’ve been getting distracted a lot at work – both with work related things and not, so I need to reel this back in where possible and focus on just the task in front of me

I’m going to make an effort to carry out this plan, as I think it will make me a better tester, and a happier person. I know Mindfulness will make me less stressed, and reconnect me with my work. I also know I’m terrible at saying no to things, so Mindfulness and regular check ins will make sure I’m not overwhelming myself (seriously, I’ve seen lots of posts about people making 2016 the year of saying yes. I’m trying to make it the year of saying ‘maybe, let me check my calendar’).

This may all come to nothing, or course, but I want to give it a try, and organise myself and my learning process.

On 2016!

Things that happened last year:

  • Plantar fasciitis which meant I hobbled for the best part of a month. So that combined with work getting a lot more busy and Christmas/other events meant gym didn’t happen as much as I’d have liked.
  • Food. This has been hit and miss, pretty much as always.
  • Geek Mental Help week! I organised my first non-girl geeks event, and though it was small, it was a great success! Definitely want to do something similar again this year.
  • Girl Geek Events. I organised a birthday party to celebrate the 10th birthday of girl geek dinners, and I joint organised a music technology event and our christmas party, both of which went really well 😀
  • Got another tatt! A Welcome To Nightvale one, very happy about that
  • Volunteered at Thoughtbubble! Thoughtbubble is a great comic con, but volunteering killed me – I missed the party on the saturday evening because I was in too much pain, which was a bit disappointing. I did meet some amazing people, so overall a win.

So I did a mixture of things I knew I would, and things I did not see coming (I had only vaguely considered a podcast, never mind a testing one, and certainly not getting to over 30 episodes and still going strong!). Overall, decent year.

This year:

  • I need to continue with the podcast, get a bit more organised with episodes (I recorded and edited the majority of the episodes last year the day before they went out which is not the most ideal), and get more guests on the show. I’ve got stickers and business cards, I may branch out into more merch, who knows!
  • I need to get back on the gym wagon now I’ve recovered from injury and have no events to organise. I did start the 30 day burpee challenge but I had a manic week at work, so will restart that next week
  • Keep on with eating well, and learn new recipes. I got a food processor for christmas so that will be used a lot!
  • I have two events that I’m helping to organise for Manchester Girl Geeks
  • I also want to do something for Geek Mental Help week again
  • TestBash! I’m going to my first testing conference this year, so I’m very excited about that – I’m hoping to get a podcast recorded at the actual event, we’ll have to see how that goes
  • Work. I want to learn some automation – Selenium seems the most relevant to me, so going to look into that, and see what I can apply to work.
  • Thoughtbubble. I’m going to see about volunteering. I’d love to, but I need to be able to function, so I’ll be seeing about only volunteering for half maybe.
  • Tatt. I have my next tattoo design sorted, need to decide on placement on my body.

As always, so many plans, but nothing much more that normal, so I’m hoping its achievable!

Everything I’ve learned about podcasting (before recording my first episode)

So if you’ve been following me on twitter recently you’ll see I’ve been getting ready to launch a podcast: Lets Talk About Tests, Baby (title courtesy of Mark).

I’ve been a fan of podcasts for a while, gradually adding to my library (22 in total, 19 of those listened to as soon as the new eps are released, the others as and when I’m in the mood for them).

I had guessed there was a lot to juggle when making a podcast, but I figured most of it was around content and editing (and I imagine this is actually the case), but there’s so much admin to do beforehand that I hadn’t really thought about:

  • A website: First port of call, really. Incidentally, I have an actual domain name courtesy of a friend, Mike, and so I will be getting the site on a custom domain at some point.
  • Podcast hosting: Most places I know use libsyn, as it does all the xml and rss feeds for you, and doesn’t charge for downloads, which is nifty. It’s pretty cheap, too.
  • Various accounts: email, twitter, iTunes, Soundcloud
  • Logo: To get a podcast on iTunes you have to have a logo, so you need a logo for a podcast. Thankfully a wonderful friend, Katie, is making one for me, so I don’t have to worry about trying to be creative there 😛
  • Intros, Outros, Stingers: I need some branding here. The words are easy, but the music is a different matter. Thankfully there is plenty of Creative Commons music and communities out there, offering music for free.
  • Content: I’ve started GDocs of episode ideas, show notes, etc. I’ve got a prequel ep and two full eps planned out, plus ideas and titles for 6 more, so that’s not too worrying.
  • Features: I’m hoping to be able to get a but/quirk/etc of the week going, so I need to start gathering them (submissions welcome!), recording them, and getting them into shows.

This is before I’ve even looked at editing and microphones. I’m going to do a brief recording on Tuesday to see what I can do with what I’ve got, and fingers crossed that should be good enough quality to put out there. I’ve done some editing before, but not with GarageBand, so I’ll be giving myself a crash course in that very soon.

This has been a unordered list of things I’ve realised I needed to do over the past two weeks or so. I’m feeling very nervous about putting speech to microphone and actually releasing this stuff into the world, but very excited as well. I only hope I live up to my own excitement and the tons of help I’ve got from my friends and colleagues.

You’ll be hearing from me very soon 😀 😀

It’s Scrum, Jim, but not as we know it (or: The role of QA/Testing in Scrum)

I gave a talk at Manchester Tech Nights about the role of QA in Scrum, and I decided to use this opportunity to write a blog post!

Software QA is a bit of a balancing act. Firstly there’s no immediate profit from our role the way there is for devs, designers, etc. Secondly, there’s the fact that there is going to be a contentious relationship between devs and QA. As much as devs will like having QA on their projects, there’s still the fact that no one likes having their work sent back to them with a ‘nope, you did this wrong/missed this. Try again.’ (Pro-tip, do not send notes like that to your dev teammates, they will hate you. Diplomacy, yo).

Which is one of the reasons I love working with Scrum the way we do. Firstly, being present right at the start of the project (instead of getting a site once its mostly built), is wonderful, both in terms of team building and QA.

Scrum

First, a quick intro to Scrum:

  • Work broken down into sprints of 1-4 weeks depending on project size
  • Sprint planning meetings to decide what work to do in that sprint
  • Daily scrum meetings to give updates
  • Each sprint tackles some of the user stories

User Stories

So, requirements capture happens at the start of the project, this is then broken down into User Stories, with a business case.

As an Audience Member I want to be able to select a date from a datepicker so that I can quickly and accurately choose a specific date.

Acceptance Criteria

Scenario: Use a date popup calendar
Given I am an Audience Member
And there is a webform with a date component
And the date component has a popup calendar enabled
When I view the date field
Then I see a calendar icon next to the field
When I select the calendar icon
Then I see a calendar widget

You see how the story is broken down exactly, into a checklist of sorts for exactly what happens, when, and for whom.

The lead dev (in our case) then breaks those down into Acceptance Criteria. Acceptance Criteria provide boundaries and specifics for each User Story, so everyone knows exactly what this User Story encompasses and what the work entails.

Then, the lead dev and QA have to agree on these Acceptance Criteria. This means QA can flex their natural awkwardness to make sure all angles have been considered.

When both the lead dev and QA agree, the Acceptance Criteria goes to the client for approval. This means most of the awkward questions about how and why and ‘what about x?’ happen here, before any work happens. It means we can make better suggestions as we have a clear idea on what the client wants, when its much easier to fix.

After this approval process has been completed, work starts. Changes made after this point have to go through the approval process again.

Why?

This procedure means QA have a test case made against which work will be tested. If work meets the Acceptance Criteria, in theory, it’s ready to go (obviously judgement it used here). The tests can also be used for automatic regression testing.

It also provides a much higher quality of work. Devs have more insight and can offer suggestions to how to meet the client’s needs before work starts.

It encourages better buy-in from the client. They have to engage more in order to get the work going, which means they have to think about their needs as well.

Incidentally this also makes onboarding new staff easier – all the stories are already defined pretty narrowly, the process is defined so explaining it is relatively simple.

This method may seem cumbersome, but it doesn’t take up as much time as you’d think, and in the end, you get a collaborative project (both dev team and client), with every team member engaging to provide the best work possible.

It’s hard work, but its worth it.

Slides

New Year

Gah, WP ate this post first time around :/

Anyway, as New Year’s Resolutions generally don’t work, I’m aiming for goals this year. Things I’ve stopped doing, or need to do more of, to see if that is easier to stick to.

  • Gym
    • I stopped going in September when I had zero free time and I need to fix that. So, going to go once next week then build up and slot socialising/volunteering around the gym, not the other way around.
    • I’m also going to get back into the habit of using MyFitnessPal to track calories/exercise (I’d love a FitBit, need to look into getting one when I get paid again).
  • Eating
    • I am terrible at breakfast. I’m not a huge fan of toast without something like jam on it and can’t stomach eggs. I am basically a child? But cereal is so bad, and I’m hungry come 10am :/ So I’ve found some scrambled tofu recipes and chickpea flour pancake recipes that I’m going to try to see if that works. Going to make a big batch tofu scramble with bacon and spinach and a tiny bit of cheese tomorrow, freeze it, and then defrost some each morning and eat. Hopefully it’ll keep be full all morning so I’ll snack less 🙂
    • Lunch I’m aces as as I generally have soup/wrap/salad. I might cut down on eating lunch out unless going out with other people, and just keep up the good work there.
    • Evening meal I waver between good or terrible, so want to edge more towards good. I already do things like freeze veg in portions to make prep easier, but I’ve also found a load of slow cooker recipes courtesy of http://crockpot365.blogspot.co.uk/ so I can use my slowcooker more often (and for things other than stew!) so I don’t have to cook after work/gym
  • Reading/Watching
    • I’ve just signed up for GoodReads and Letterboxd to track my book (comic) reading and film watching habits. I need to read more, definitely, and so this, and reading during lunch at work will help.

That’s it for now, and I think that’s enough. There’s other things I’d like to do, but I think tackle these first, and maybe set some mid-year goals if I’m doing alright come June.

The main lesson of 2014 (especially the last quarter) was that I have pretty set boundaries of what I can achieve and I need to stick with them. Only having one weekend a month without a commitment is not something I can cope with, for example. I need to be able to keep on top of housework, and not cause myself pain by being on my feet for too long. I need to prioritise the stuff that doesn’t sound fun but I know I do enjoy and will benefit me in the long run (like the gym).

I’m also looking forward to working with my boundaries to achieve things though! Here’s to a new year!

 

On #WhyWeDontEngage

Blog posts are like buses, you stare at your blog (occasionally a blank page), sighing, before closing the page, then suddenly two appear at once. Or something. Metaphors: not my strong point. Anyway.

It started with this tweet getting retweeted into my timeline:

#WhyWeDontEngage is a hashtag containing discussion and stories around issues with access, provision, and general atmosphere surrounding Mental Health Services. Its painful to read, you can feel the betrayal and hurt coming through people’s tweets. There’s a lot of negativity about the tag there, too, which makes me angry. Of course the tag is negative, its pointing out the issues and abuse people have encountered. Not everything has to be balanced. Its hard to read; I adored my CBT practitioner, and I found CBT really helpful, but there’s negativity about that there, because not everything helps all people, which is kind of the point.

I’ve spoken about this here. Whilst there are diagnostic criteria for mental illnesses, there needs to be some flexibility there. You must be this sad to access therapy misses the edge cases. You must be this suicidal, this manic, this dissociative, to get help. Otherwise we’ll just send you home with a ‘everybody has tough times every now and then’, and a tissue to wipe your tears.

I hope that the conversation continues (and this blog post is an attempt to contribute more and to keep some attention on it). I hope people listen, I hope people learn. I hope people realise what hoops people have to jump through to get help, at how they have to contort to fit an idea of what mental illness looks like. I hope people get more support, because some of the stories are horrifying.

I had brilliant results from my CBT, and I know I could ask to be referred for another 6 months worth (at least, that’s what my therapist said. My GP may be another story, which is why I only keep considering it), and I will always suggest people reach out to get professional help if they need it. But I think there needs to be a drastic change in how mental health is approached, and accessed. I’m not sure how the changes can be made, or even what changes should be made (though I would love less reliance on forms as a diagnostic tool, for a start). But I think just making a noise is a start.

On getting better

I wanted to talk about getting better. Because I am getting better, and that’s something that I need to bear in mind when I stumble and avoid doing something because it makes me heavy with dread and inactivity.

I remember that I can see and name the types of disordered thinking I’m doing. That I can stop the cycle of those thoughts and try to get myself onto something more constructive. That I don’t actually lose days of my life on the sofa, physically unable to move with the weight of it all.

The fact that getting better doesn’t necessarily mean ‘fixed’ is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently (this was going to be a blog post for Geek Mental Help week but it didn’t come together in time).

I manage my anxiety best I can, and most days I do this pretty well, but I’m not ‘cured’. And that’s ok, I have a toolbox that I can dive into when I need to, and I have a few signs of impending doom that I am aware of, and even if I don’t instantly know what to do, being mindful of these in and of itself can help with cutting things off at the pass. I’m not sure this will ever not be a thing that affects me, but its getting to the point where its not exhausting.

I still have days where I’ll put innocuous things off and it takes all my will and my therapist’s voice in my head talking about the anxiety cycle to do them. I try not to beat myself up too much about this, as it won’t help, but I try to take a mental note of what happened and why I was anxious for future use.

I’m not entirely sure how to end this post. I hope it comes across as hopeful as I wanted it to be. My anxiety and depression lies to me often, and during my therapy there were some times where it was fighting it, like I sub-consciously didn’t want to get better. I’m pretty sure that it was just because of all the hard work, but the result was the same. A Gollum like protection of my depression and anxiety, so admitting that, while I’ll always have it with me, its something that doesn’t take up all of my life is pretty amazing, to me.

On being open

I mentioned how terrified I was of writing about my upbringing in my last post, and its something I’ve been thinking about on and off since then. Being open about this stuff is hard:-

    • The stigma and fear of stigma is terrible.
    • The internalised shame and stigma was (and still is) even worse for me.
  •  

    Depression and anxiety lie to you about everything, and its hard to ignore those voices. Trying to be open about your feelings and thoughts when you’ve got a litany of all the ways you’re annoying people and minimizing all your symptoms is hard. Throw the fear of stigma into the mix and you may as well ask me to hold up the earth.

    It made therapy hard. The day I managed to share my fears about burdening my therapist to my therapist was one of my breakthrough sessions. Its nice to be validated that this is how anxiety works, and to be reassured and it gave us a solid point to work on.

    The thing about anxiety is giving in only makes it stronger. Breaking the anxiety cycle of doing the scary thing (even if it goes wrong and especially if some of your fears come to pass!) and surviving it is how to start moving through it.

    Reminding myself of this and of how every single blog post, podcast and talk I’ve read or listened to has been a call to action is my motivation for this series of posts. I can do this, I should do this.

    So here I am, doing it. And I’m not the only one. Geek Mental Help Week is this week! If you can, come and join us. Maybe tweet a thing. Or re-tweet a thing. Maybe sit with the knowledge that you’re not alone. Maybe reach out to friends, even if its just because. Check in. Be kind to each other and yourselves <3