Friday, December 30, 2011

Reflections on 2011, a year of trial, growth, and questions

It has been a while since I've had time to pick up my bloggers pen.   October is traditionally a hellish month for me, even when work isn't trying, the Cub Scouts have kept me busy all but a single weekend that I recall, and then on Sundays our son plays soccer.   However, things quickly went off the rails this year.   The whole family came down sick over the span of a month, and one week, we were all sick at the same time.  Yikes!  Praise God, we are better now, but that isn't the only change.

My duties on my project have shifted back to more coder oriented tasks, and less focused on testing.  While I enjoy both programming and testing pursuits, I'll admit, I miss the testing aspects of what I was doing before.   It is funny in a way, when I first got approached about a 'Automation testing' position in 2009, I was worried about being pigeonholed as a tester and excluded from some kind of elite club of programmers.  Yet that was a bit a naive thing to worry about in hindsight.  Testing brought back my love of learning in a way I had not felt since college.  It returned to me part of who I always was, but had kept silent in order to make ends meet.  I've learned a lot as I ran that course, and I wouldn't trade the decision for the world.

My current role on project has me pondering though.  I've heard it debated around twitter, about whether you can be both a programmer and a tester.   I know I can do either, but at some point do you not need to decide which to specialize in?  The reality is there are only so many hours in the day for study and growth, and the opportunity cost of each new learning investment, in effect is at a loss for learning something else.  This is a reality that I've now come face to face with in the last two months.   I still have the knowledge from what I learned as a tester, but it has been hard to try and keep up on my learning where testing is concerned, especially when my current responsibilities require me to act in a more code-centric role.

This feeling has left me feeling a bit lost internally because I know I can succeed at anything I choose to focus my efforts upon, it wouldn't matter if it was testing and programming, or some other group of tasks from which I must choose. I have the drive to do what is necessary to succeed.   Still, I find myself at this cross roads because I enjoy doing things that provide value to the teams that i work with, no matter how small or great the achievement may be.  Up till now it hasn't mattered whether I was a tester, programmer, or performing some other service to the project team.  As long as it was value that I added, I was happy, content and felt fulfilled inside,  Yet I find myself feeling as though I am stuck at a fork in the road.

I feel as if I have paused at a great fork where two rivers meet.  One is a possible focused career on testing, the other, a continued focus on programming, its methodology, and potential as a generalist programmer.  Either fork in the river looks potentially enjoyable from a learning stand point, with its opportunity to pause to fish, relax, or just skip a rock to the other side.  Like most rivers though, I realize that I can only paddle up one stream at a time.  Although the left fork might be easier, the right might be the more fulfilling, or the converse could be true.

For nine years, I have worked professionally to develop, test, and support various software efforts.  I have learned something from every experience that I have been fortunate to endure.  I wouldn't trade those experiences away as they define a bit of who I am personally and professionally.  As I enter my tenth year of service in software development, I find myself looking back over the peaks and valleys behind, and ahead up the forks in the river, yet seeing behind the first bend of either is impossible.  So I am presently anchored, where I am at this fork, pausing to consider and reflect upon what my dreams are for the next ten years.  Where do I want to be?  What roads will I need to travel to get there?  These are questions that I have no answer for currently.   So given that the new year is around the corner, I can see myself at least initially focusing greatly upon what exactly it is that I most want to do, and the realities of that choice which may require not just myself, but my whole family to adapt as well.

It may take some time for me to come to some answers, and the pot has clearly become foggy and hard to see how its contents will turn out when I finally reach that conclusion, but I want to consider things more closely, set a plan and then rush after it to attain it.  Perhaps it is the nature of how I 'fell into' my current assignment that is at the heart of this muddled mind of mine.  At least I know it is something I can do for now, while I sort through my feelings and make what could possibly be the biggest personal, and professional decision I have made in my life thus far.

But enough about me, as you read this and other blogs, I imagine you may be reflecting on recent events, just as I have been.  Where do you stand?  What's your dream?  How will you decide what to focus upon this year, and as a result, what areas that get left behind will you perhaps miss when we reach this point a year from now?