Self Awareness and Self Care as a Tester – Big Ideas from Testbash Manchester 2017

Second in a series of thinkings, learnings and ramblings on this year’s Testbash Manchester

So I’ve had a couple of days to process this year’s event, and I’m still chewing through some of the major themes of Testbash. There was a lot more on the psychological side than people might expect from a testing conference, and a great deal of analysis of the role and future of test as a discipline. Whilst I’m sure more thoughts will follow, I’m ready to give some digest analysis of the biggest ideas I’ve brought home.

This is the first in a series of three posts summarising my thoughts. Parts 2 and 3 will follow over the next couple of days. Stay tuned…

1. Self Awareness and Self Care as a Tester
(Claire Reckless, Gem Hill and Vera Gehlen-Baum)

Following on from Kim Knup‘s excellent talk On Positivity last year, there was a strong theme of what I’ve described a few times now as “non-functional thought” at this year’s conference. By this I mean… not just considering how we can test things better in a purely hands-on way, but how we can come to know ourselves as testers better, to better understand our own personal biases, pitfalls and even the dangers our profession can hold for us. Examining our hardware – the tester – rather than just our software – how we test.

Claire Reckless – The Fraud Squad – Learning to Manage Impostor Syndrome as a Tester

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Claire Reckless on feeling like a fraud

I spoke briefly in my previous post about Claire Reckless’ talk on Impostor Syndrome – the feeling that one is a fraud when one, um, isn’t. As testers we run into this a lot, given we may not know how to code, or may not have the loudest voice in the business or product team (I actually do, but hey…). As a concept it clearly had a huge resonance for those in the room, and is currently being merrily retweeted by the community, suggesting this is a very widespread thing.

Claire gave some practical tips on overcoming this feeling we are impostors, including finding ways of accepting the fact we do know a lot, we do achieve things, we all experience setbacks, and also recognising just how prevalent this trend is (she read this great quote from Neil Gaiman which I’d read a few days before):


Our discipline is still a fairly new, fairly poorly understood one. It can be tough to stand alongside devs, mention we’re testers and deal with people’s assumptions about what that means. But we know how hard we work, how much we train ourselves and how deep our expertise goes. Even when we make mistakes, even when bugs escape into production, we can take time to recognise we are doing a solid job, learning every day, and that we are far from impostors.

Gem Hill – AUT: Anxiety Under Test

Claire’s talk was a great illustration of the neurotic side of our industry, but on a more individual level Gem Hill’s deeply personal talk on anxiety shed some light on a personal experience of mental health within our discipline. Gem spoke bravely (that sounds so patronising when I read it back, but her courage was a defining aspect of the talk) about her own experiences with anxiety, and how she has learned to address some of the worst symptoms of her anxiety and depression. On the list include physical exercise, eating better, and journalling to give shape to otherwise hazy thoughts, but the big idea here was more about learning to stop and check in with ourselves.

Gem Hill on Anxiety

Only once we have recognised there is a problem, can we begin to work on it. But unless we can accept something’s wrong, the likelihood is we will continue down unhelpful paths of thought and burn out – or worse. But there are a huge number of options open to those who have recognised they need to fix something. As Gem put it:

“It’s OK to not be OK… but it’s kind of OK!”

As testers we are essentially programmed to find fault in things, and this critical voice can be very hard to turn off when reflecting on our own careers, decisions and lives. We obviously need to balance the fault-finding side of our work with the ability to recognise and celebrate our own successes, as per Claire’s talk. The beginning of all of this is checking in with ourselves, and learning to make the subconscious, conscious: beginning to think about our own thinking.

Vera Gehlen-Baum – Metacognition – Or How To Create Better Testers

Following the path of self-discovery espoused by both Claire and Gem, we come to Vera Gehlen-Baum’s talk on Metacognition – that is, thinking about our own thinking. Vera described three aspects of metacognition which work in harmony in order to allow us some insight into our own thought processes. First up, Knowledge – things we know about the world around us, the task at hand, and the person we are – lets us get a picture of the kind of “start state”.

Vera Gehlen-Baum on Metacognition, starting with Knowledge

Next, self-regulation handles our performance in the moment – whilst we plan, execute and evaluate the outcome of our action.


Finally, Monitoring lets us reflect on how we used knowledge and self-regulated when performing the task, so that we have new knowledge about our own performance and tendencies the next time round.

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Metacognition is the glue which holds the other talks in this section together – without this, we can’t investigate our own patterns of thought and recognise when we’re suffering from illusions of being less talented or successful than we are. Nor can we figure out if we have a problem in our mental health, be that anxiety, depression or any number of things. Only by thinking about our own thinking can we recognise the things we need to make positive change in these other areas of our lives as testers, and Vera’s talk gives a clear model of the importance of aspects of the testing process to allow ourselves time to reflect in this way.

One technique recommended by both Gem and Vera (and, I felt, indirectly by Claire), was to begin writing a journal of some kind, to give shape to our thoughts and provide data to analyse our progress. If we look back on where we were a year ago, for example, it’s likely we’ve come a lot farther than we thought – or possible we have headed down the wrong track. Only by performing this metacognitive analysis can we evaluate where we are. As such, I’ve begun a journal of my own, just for me, using the Journey app. I’ve written down some goals and my successes over the last few days – giving my 99 second talk, and reviving this blog – and will continue recording my successes, failures and in-betweens. If nothing else, it’s cathartic to get it out, and see it on screen. I’ll let you know how I progress with it.

What do you to be more self aware as a tester?
How do you check in to see how you’re doing psychologically?
Do you have any unique tips for handling imposter syndrome?
Let me know in the comments section below!

Part 2 ft Anne-Marie Charrett, Martin Hynie and Michael Bolton follows tomorrow…

2 thoughts on “Self Awareness and Self Care as a Tester – Big Ideas from Testbash Manchester 2017

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