Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Finally, a First Post, and Some Background

As an aspiring writer, I once tried my hands at blogging a couple of years ago on my old domain name.  At some point I lost interest, probably because what I was blogging about was more of a rant about things as they were, and really wasn't where my true passions lay. This had been an outgrowth of my desire to share my opinions on certain matters after the loss of several forum communities of which I was a apart.

I gave up on the craft of blogging, and stuck to other forms of prose, namely a play by forum game called Battletech-Mercenaries where I had the opportunity to craft stories, and write collaboratively with those individuals who had joined my unit the Hellstorm Hussars.  This was a continuation of other writing experiences stretching back to a group of fan fiction stories that I and several other fan writers composed around the PC game known as Starsiege, and even joined a Guild until my interest in that niche waned.

Even before that I had always enjoyed telling a good story, and at one point took a rather poor attempt at writing a novelization of a story idea during High School.  That was before computers became a driving passion in my life.  Even going back to my earliest days in school, I can remember having an interest in computers.  I once thought that I would like to be a so called 'expert' in computers when I grew up.

While that expression was perhaps a bit too simple at the time, there was something about these machines that captivated my interest.  I can remember co-writing a small adventure/quest program with one of my best friends, older brother's Commodore, writing some basic for an old TI whose model number I have sense forgotten, but I do remember that the games that came with it were cartridge based.  In any case, you could say that I have been working with computers since I was a young child, but that would not be entirely accurate.

You see growing up my family didn't have a personal computer, (or an apple for those so inclined), and when my father got displaced from his job of fifteen years went and bought not a computer, that could serve multiple purposes, but a Brother WP-75 Word Processor.  Oh it was a decent machine for word processing, using a daisy style printer, and small three and a half inch floppy disks (double density disks if my memory serves) to store a small number of files.  It didn't provide me the opportunity to explore programming concepts in my Middle School to High School years, but it did provide a means for learning to type, and begin exploring my thoughts in a few story ideas.

I remember writing quite a few stories, reports, and papers for classes on into High School.  Some were solid, some generally lacking in a few areas, but they were as a painters first sketches, first chalk rubbings a beginning, a testing and beginning to building my writers craft.  It also is pure irony I suppose that I still find joy in writing. Back in Middle School and High School, writing was not something that came easy to me. In fact I struggled with english and literature classes in High School more than any other.  Largely that was because of the mass amount of literature they expected us to remember for the tests.  After getting a B in honors english as a freshman, my parents got me a tutor for the summer who helped me begin to hone in on my writing skills.

She gave me simple essay assignments about various types of boxes and through those exercises I learned and grew as a writer, a student, and a person.  Though I never again took honors or AP level English, my ability to write grew and what once was a weakness would become a strength in College when I scored an A+ in my Composition and Rhetoric (English) class as a freshman.  It was then I realized that it wasn't necessarily the grammar or writing structure that gave me problems in High School, it was the mass amount of data they expected you to learn in seven courses over the course of a full year.

Having turned writing into a strength, my skills were added to in College through a number of different reports, essays, and lab papers.  As I began to also work on some aspiring writing on the side for Starsiege, I found that I matured as College progressed.  Now, writing is a hobby, a way by which I make sense of the world, even though up till now most of my work has been fiction. 

Truly writing fiction, even in already established universes is a challenge.  For as Mark Twain once said, "The difference between truth and fiction is that fiction must make sense or nobody will believe it." As I look at some of the things happening in our world today, those words ring truer today than at any time in my life.  Real life does not always make sense, and how we tackle and learn from our experiences is as much of our life's journey as the day to day tasks that consume our somewhat meager existence.

That brings us to now, and the reason why I have taken up this mantel and the gauntlet of blogging.  In the recent years I came to Hinton to work as a Software Developer, primarily developing a Web Based application with ASP.Net and C#.   One of the skills that I have long sense possessed was the ability to quickly learn new source material, to pick up and leverage new ideas into perfecting myself, and my crafts as a software craftsman.  In the course of this journey, I found myself assigned to a project for a partner company not as programmer, but as a tester.

This was not the first time that testing had come into focus in my life.  My first professional job for pay was with a company called Stenovations, they make a Computer Aided Transcription program called Digital CAT for use by court stenographers to quickly transcribe and mark up depositions.  One of my first tasks there was to work at integrating software modules developed by programmers contracted outside the company into our current builds. 

I attacked my duties as I did with anything else, trying to absorb as much as I could, to learn how the system worked, and what it did; However, I learned over time that my job's first duty was not necessarily the parsing of the code, but testing these modules that were handed too me.   Many modules would be handed to me, and though I could scour the code for every artifact that had changed, the modules would not seem to work.  So I changed tactics and began to first test the demonstration build provided by the developers, and only then if it appeared to work, to go through the process of integrating that feature into our product.

This proved a very smart decision. It allowed us, and me in particular to actually test the feature said to be added.  To see if it worked as expected.  In many cases I discovered that even in their builds it had not worked as we had expected.  The lack of defined requirements was a problem at times.  So it was suggested we should provide a list of these requirements, these desired features and let them build them for us.

It became apparent though that some of the developers were suffering from a perceived communication gap.  I'm not sure if it was differences in culture, or something else that was proving an impasse, but this was my first step into the hat of a Tester. It was through this mechanism that I first began my story as a tester, doing exploratory testing even though I would not have realized it would become quite the buzz word till much later.

 In this I became a tester first, and a programmer second.  Because if the tests I ran failed to produce the advertised and expected outcome, then my programmer's toolbox would remain locked and closed.  I couldn't very well fix code I had not written myself to work in a new build when that same code did not produce the expected effect.   At some point, I was moved out of the development side of the business and spent about a year or more as part of their help desk and support.  It was a bit discouraging at the time, I had signed up to actually write code and use what I learned while enrolled at the University, but what I discovered was that in conversing with these customers I actually learned more about their needs, the problems that they needed help in solving, and that would make me a better developer and tester.

In fact at one point I decided to start writing some simple test scripts.  They weren't all that fancy, just a Microsoft Word document with a table with I believe it was two or three fields one for the item to be tested, another for if it passed or failed, and another for comments.  (Now that I think about it the pass and fail may have been logged in a single comments column, but it has been a few years.)  Of all the things I did at the Stenovations, I feel that perhaps that step of creating a test script and actually putting the software through its paces as a help desk technician was one of the few lasting contributions that I made to the company.

In 2005, I came to work for ManTech here in Hinton, WV.  Primarily I was an ASP.Net developer, but one of the things I love about ManTech is the way they encourage us to continue to learn and grow as individuals.  I made the transition to use C# in a matter of months, and then helped our team transition and port our product from .Net 1.1 to .Net 2.0.  During my time with ManTech, testing has been something I've occasionally volunteered or been tapped to assist with.  Whether it was testing our flash based lessons for our e-Learning system, or testing our site at various stages of development.   I expanded my knowledge of databases as well as I began working with SQL Server.  One other area of interest was that of documentation, and online help.  I helped write our first FAQ system, and learned to use Adobe (formerly Macromedia) Captivate for the recording of interactive help.

I've worn many different hats at times while with ManTech, and currently I work as a tester, with primary duties relating to automated web testing for one of our client/partners NISC, now an IBM Company.  As I strive to improve myself at the craft of testing, I've reached out and begun reading as much material as I can absorb on the subject of Testing, on Agile Methods, and project development.  During these explorations I came across blogs for several knowledgeable people in the Testing Field.  Some of these blogs (in no particular order) are those belonging to: Adam Goucher, Matt Heuser, Michael Bolton, Lanette Creamer, James Bach, Jon Bach, and Cem Kaner.  There are others of course, but mentioning all the fine blogs I've discovered in the last few months would likely take up more space than I care to devote at this time.

I really owe my return to blogging to these and other fine upstanding testing citizens of the world wide web.  I find their posts and tweets to be highly inspirational, and above all else high learning experiences.   If there is one motto I've put to use in life that stands above everything I do professionally, personally, or in civics, its that I always want to learn.  Learning to me is the real substance of life.  I've often joked that the day I quit learning is the day I retire, because that's how I feel.  I'm a lifelong learner, whether it pertains to the technical field in which I work, about the people to which I associate, in scouting as I step back in to the organization as an adult leader for the first time, or even at home with my family.  I thus strive every day to find one new thing, learn one new thing every day.  Most days I learn a lot more than just a single item, and sometimes I learn more than could be compressed into a concise statement, but the point is that I learned it.

So as I set out on this exploration of learning experiences in this blog I hope to discuss areas of technical interest with a emphasis on testing in particular.  I may be new to blogging, and growing as a new full time tester, but I look forward to the learning adventures to come.

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