Sunday, May 14, 2017

Adventures Of A Tester: Brighton, England, UK (Part 3 of 3)

There was a brief stop-over in London to switch trains and then head farther south. What I didn’t know at the time is that there was a terrorist attack happening not very far from the tube station I was using to switch trains. I managed to get on my train and I was headed out of the city by the time the news reached people on the train and phones started ringing.

The news mostly sounded like someone had stabbed people. It wasn’t until I reached Brighton that I heard about the full extent of what happened, and after finding a WiFi spot, realizing people were looking for me wondering if I had been in London. It wasn’t until later I realized how lucky I had been to have not been too affected, nor have my travel delayed only by luck of having booked my second leg 30 minutes prior to the incident.

London and the rest of the UK carried on as if it was only a small interruption to a normal weekday of commuting. It was that difference that made me aware of how scared we are as a culture in America. The threat color/level would have been drilled into the airwaves and we would have had non-stop coverage of the event until something more grotesque came along.Train stations might have been locked down, extra security would have been in place. I saw no evidence of any of this. People refused to be scared out of their routines, but they were talking about it.

Transition To The Sea Side

If anyone thinks the hills in Scotland are hard to walk, they should visit Brighton. Those hills by the shore could give the higher elevations a run for their money. I felt like I was either walking up a hill or down another most of the time I was there.

And I was there to talk my face off. Mostly. I mean, what do you do at a conference? I usually end up hoarse by the end of it from all the talking I do. I love it. I feel like it gave me the much needed boost of ideas and community which has now become a must have for me at least once a year.

TestBash(es) are addictive. I have been to three now, and I have spoken at 2 of them and volunteered for one. It continues to be one of the best conference series I’ve ever attended. It’s sister conference, European Testing Conference, being the only other conference coming close in comparison, at least for me.

At Brighton, I spoke to the Thursday workshop day crowd in the afternoon presenter’s slot. I was sure people were going to pass out and I’d have five people left in the audience. I think in my head that’s how I kept myself from getting too freaked out about the full auditorium that suddenly sprung into view at 5p that day.

Talking with Vernon and Mark, it was a surreal moment for me. I don’t remember the transition of the nervous, unsure me to the speaker on the stage, but somehow it happened. I felt comfortable up there. I think it might have been that I was holding onto the mic like it was the most important thing in the world at that point, but that’s OK. By the end I felt like I had easily talked about all of my points, I missed a few things, but that always happens in a talk you’ve practiced. Some things don’t seem relevant as you are speaking. I haven’t seen the video yet but my hope is that it came off as well as I think it did.

Several people came up to me later and spoke about how they enjoyed the talk. People seemed to be engaged with the ideas of the presentation. One person mentioned that they planned on using some of the things from the talk at work the following week. Another turned their badge upside down to attract attention and have people ask him about his badge, which was an opening to creating a conversation. I had so many wonderful conversations throughout the conference and at the meetups and later at the open-space.

For those that didn’t get to attend the open-space, you missed a lot of really good discussions. I got to participate in my third podcast for the year called ScreenTesting by Neil and Dan. I had a wonderful conversation led by Mike Talks and Gem Hill on mental health. I came away from the open-space with a larger sense of community, knowing I could reach out and chat with any of the folks who were there and connect with them on topics and discussions. More online friends with faces, rather than just people with screen names or twitter handles, who I’ve chatted with so many times over the last year or so.

The only mishap through the whole trip was trying to get back to London to catch my flight on Sunday. All worked out in the end thanks to planning, patience and a cabbie that was willing to drive from downtown London Victoria out to my hotel near the airport. It was a small fortune, but I didn’t mind. It was my last night in the UK and riding out in a black cab seemed like the most touristy thing I could possibly do.

Not much has changed about London in 20 years. The underground smelled the same. The people were as welcoming as ever. Well, actually a lot on the surface has changed, including me. I had a sense of renewed passion for my craft and a closer connection to the community we've all help build. It was an experience I won't forget.

Special thanks to:
-Rosie Sherry, for inviting me to speak in Brighton.
-Vernon and Mark, who shepherded me through my first large speaking engagement.
-Gem and Mike, for being the awesome, open, and lovely people that they are.
-Claire Reckless & Heather Reid, for being a super supportive persons through all of my prep for my talk and helping me bunches with the Ministry of Testing writers group.
-Abby Bangser, for a large dose of support, friendship, and encouragement.
-The Ministry of Testing Writers Group - you all rock and I thank you for giving me tons of things to read and look forward to every day. I couldn’t me more happy with the progress we’ve made and I’m looking forward to all the progress we will continue to make through the rest of this year.

FYI - I’ll be at TestBash Philly this year one way or another. Let’s chat and Let’s Laugh. I am already looking forward to seeing so many familiar faces and all the new ones too.

Adventures Of A Tester: Edinburgh, Scotland, UK (Part 2 of 3)

If you’re not careful, Scotland can sneak up on you.

I was sitting on the train, writing some, and editing articles when I realized I was pretty dizzy and really tired. I wasn’t sure why. I wasn’t late at all. It was mid-afternoon, the sun was out, the countryside was rich in color and it had just finished raining. My curiosity was peaked.
I have one of those sports monitors on my phone. It came with it actually. I decided it might be interesting to check my stress, pulse and oxygen levels. I checked my pulse first and found it was indeed at a resting state. Lower than my usual pulse actually. I felt relaxed and even posted about it to friends how incredibly relaxed I felt, until I decided to check my stress levels. The stress meter measures pulse, oxygen and stress factors based on what the sensor in my phone picks up. I realized pretty quickly, while I was less stressed than I normally was, my oxygen levels had dropped pretty significantly. It was to the point of nearly passing out. (Normal is 96-98% SpO2 and mine registered at 79%.) I took a couple of deep breaths and everything shot up to normal levels for me. So much for relaxing euphoria of lacking oxygen. But that’s how Scotland sneaks up on you. You don’t know you are there until it’s literally taking your breath away.

When the train stopped in Edinburgh, I found myself to be pretty tired and hopped in a cab. I was disoriented at best, and really tired from having traveled all day at worse. I was looking forward to the small room I had rented on the east side of the city within a 30 minute walk of Holyrood Palace (Or Palace of Holyroodhouse - the internet was unhelpful in determining which one was more correct).

That evening, I seemed to have enough energy to walk about a mile to meet up with a friend for dinner. Many awesome bits of conversations were had over a pub dinner and beers at the Queen's Arms. I went back to my room on a similar cloud of euphoria as earlier, but it was probably due good conversation and alcohol.

The next two days in Scotland were pretty touristy. I walked and shopped and checked out bookstores along with using any available WiFi spot I could grab to answer emails and post on social media. I visited the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens and The Britannia, the former royal yacht. All of that was pretty interesting, especially walking to the botanical gardens through older parts of the city.

At one point on the second day, I took a bus ride out to the suburbs. I only wanted to see the countryside without someone yakking in my ear about this feature or that person or whatever was there. Maybe I should be more interested in the history, but for me, I was interested in what I could notice, what I could enjoy seeing on my own. When the bus reached it’s end point, the driver hopped out for a smoke. I got out too. 

The driver informed me that this was the end of the line and he was going to turn around. I was OK with that I said. I wanted to ride the bus and see where it took me. His accent was Scots and not the British I had been hearing most of my trip. He had many of the easy manners and phrases that I couldn’t hope to repeat but made me laugh about one thing or another. He was surprised I wanted to ride the bus until the end of the line. I explained that I wasn’t much into tours, that I preferred to pay four quid to take my own tour. He told me it was a good idea. He continued smoking, and we talked about Texas, and then New Zealand where he vacationed the year before with his wife.

Scotland captured my imagination and I won’t soon forget it or the people I met while I was there. Three days was too short and it only made me want to go back and visit again. I boarded the train and headed to Brighton. My next adventure was the most exciting and scariest yet!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Adventures Of A Tester: Cardiff, Wales, UK (Part 1 of 3)



- The Welsh and English inscription on the Millennium Building in Cardiff, Wales, UK

 This is a three part series on my recent trip to the UK. Some of it was written during the trip and a lot was written afterwards. I decided not to change the continuity of the writing and publish each part as they were written editing only for spelling or grammar. Enjoy!

The past two days I’ve spent a lot of time walking around. I like walking. It gives you the sense of a place. I like walking by myself most times because it lets you take things in at your own pace.

I’m not particularly fond of crowds, or being squeezed into small spaces. I’m not a small person, and that’s part of it. The other part is not feeling like I’m trapped. I’ve never particularly liked that feeling whether it was a manifestation of a mental state or a physical reality.

I mentioned to a few folks back home that Cardiff seemed a lot like Austin. I was wrong. It has some characteristics, but it’s a wholly different place. Futbol is important here. Very important. Wales vs France was today and there wasn’t any pub with a seat. I walked into one and it was wall-to-wall people, all watching the game. I wanted a beer, but I stopped for a moment and watched everyone watching the match.

As I watched, people didn’t really speak to each other, they were watching. Focused. There wasn’t any particular action on the screen that seemed to cause this intense focus. Everyone was paying attention to what they were there to see. I equate it to watching a movie. If someone did speak it was quick and quiet. No loud conversations. They were all a mass of one. You could feel the energy and support of their team as they watched. It was impressive to experience it and to realize I was very much the outsider in this experience.

I had a lot of that kind of experience today. The moment of being the outsider. Not in a bad way really, but in the way of not understanding immediately how something works. I think that tickles me in a lot of ways. There are some ways I don’t like being made to feel uncomfortable, much like I mentioned earlier, but this experience of discovery clicks with me. I enjoy the moments when I’ve figured out how to do something people take for granted, like using the self serve at the grocery, paying for a bus fare, or buying a sandwich at a local shop with ingredients I’ve never heard of but don’t mind trying. Even though there isn’t a huge language barrier, and there is a sameness to some things, there are differences as well.

For an example, people walk like they drive. That sounds strange but I realized I stuck out immediately because I was walking on the right of a sidewalk and when someone would walk towards me, they would also be on the right. A few times of this, and I realized that I should be walking on the left of the sidewalk in the direction I was going. I tried to do this, but often, my pattern of walking on the right came back until I noticed it and corrected.

It amused me to continue to correct which side I walked on. On the one hand, I probably stuck out anyway, but sometimes I would see people’s faces and realize that they had a reaction to me walking on the wrong side. An annoyance of sorts. Me being unaware of the issue looked at faces and wondered what I was doing to cause this annoyance on their face. It became a puzzle to solve.
Using different words like “Take-away” and “Sit-in”, realizing that cream and whip topping are two different things used the same way and preferring the cream over the whip. Having to share a bathroom toilet with four other folks staying on the same floor is odd, but manageable.

I’m only slightly out of my comfort zone here. I have to ask folks to repeat things sometimes, but mostly I understand the first time. My requests are understood, even if I sound stupid using terms I think people want to hear like “water closet.”

Honestly, I have no idea why I said “water closet.” I could have said “bathroom” but the word wouldn’t come out of my mouth for some very odd reason. The lady I asked said, “Toilets are over in the snack area.” “Toilet” would have worked too. I couldn’t think of the right word at that moment. I think there was some part of my brain that wanted to say “baƱo” but I knew that was wrong too, and toilet sounds brash to my American ears.

I had a couple of conversations where I was made uncomfortable only in having to explain the political farce going on back home right now.

The first of the day was a wonderful lady waiting for the same bus as me. She commented on the weather, and I said it was nicer than where I had been. She still thought the weather was “shit” but she could see that snow would be worse. She asked why I was in Cardiff, and I said it was for a vacation. She thought I was crazy, though she did say that she had lived here her whole life and thought the place was “shit” to begin with. She guessed that I liked it because it was quieter, slower than what I was used to.

When she was younger, she said she used to fly back and forth from New York and import things to sell. She made a lot of money doing this. Items from the states were very popular.

We started talking about vacations and she was stunned that I was only here for a week. They don’t do short vacations here. Their employers ask them often when they are going on holiday. They can be off work for weeks as long as they have a replacement for their shift. We talked about prejudice coming back in the UK and in America. She said it was always there, but it’s gotten worse. She said even though she’s lived here her whole life people were yelling at her to “go home.” She said they would be disappointed to find out that this is her home. She was on her way to her second job. She asked me where I was going and I said the Millennium building. She said she thought it looked like “shit” but it’s something to see anyway. She told me what stop to get off at and we wished each other a good day. It’s only now that I realized I never asked her for her name, and she never asked for mine. She seemed like an old acquaintance to me, a mother figure of sorts. I still wish I had asked her name.

I did a few more hours of tourist like things wandering around Cardiff Bay taking pictures and seeing the sights. After walking over five miles ( ~8 km), according to my step counter, I decided I could take a cab back to my room. It wasn’t that far away, but I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t clock another five miles trying to find my way back in the process.

The cab driver said “hello lovely” as I walked up to his cab. He asked where I wanted to go and I explained the best I could from memory. I got half the street name wrong. But based on the name of the place and my odd directions about Cowbridge and it being near Cardiff Castle, he figured out what I meant.

Sometimes it’s not a blessing to speak the same language as your taxi driver. He had a lot of questions about health care in the states, taxes, and my pay of all things. He asked about equality and mentioned that he thought it was illegal for a woman to be paid less than a man. I said it is, but people get around it. Employers don’t like people talking about salaries, I said, and they can punish people for talking even though that’s technically illegal too. I said I was lucky with most of my jobs. I don’t think I’ve had those issues for the most part.

I explained how the US healthcare system works as best I could. I told him that I paid for my own healthcare and what happens if I go to the doctor. He was surprised. He didn’t understand why a rich country would be so against making sure everyone was taken care of. I said I wasn’t sure why either. I would prefer to pay taxes and have a decent health care system for everyone like much of the rest of the world. 

The conversation also made me realize exactly how much I was paying for health insurance though most of the premium is covered through my employer. I still pay additional amounts for office visits and tests depending on what they are. While my insurance doesn’t require me to have a referral, some physicians require it, so I would have to visit my doctor to get a referral to visit another doctor. This means I have to pay twice to see or get to the one person I think will help me. I didn’t even mention the fact that technically I have several kinds of insurance all dealing with different aspects of the industry. He asked, ‘What about cancer, wouldn’t I be covered?’ I said that I think I would be, but I know people who weren’t. 

I know a friend who left the states because her options for treatment were better in Canada. (I realize now, that happened before ACA and I forgot to mention that.) I know there are some people that can’t afford insurance that will cover cancer because it has a higher premium so they go without and hope they don’t get it. (I realized while I was writing this that what I said might not be completely right. I did find a story about insurance exclusions but it’s not the same as I was thinking. This article has more detailed information about exclusions and loopholes, but my version of the facts seem a bit skewed, unfortunately. Or at the very best, not as precise as they could be.)

I have to admit, I’ve worked in the health industry, and I’ve dealt with different aspects of the industry for the better part of my career as a tester. I know more about medicare and medicaid coverage than I ever wanted to know. I’ve learned about pharmacy practices. I’ve learned about, home health, hospice, dental, and how different insurances cover different things. Yet I feel like we’ve made it all too confusing on purpose. We’ve turned our health system into something like our tax code. Even with all the experience and some knowledge, admit that I’m not a deep expert on our healthcare system. I didn’t mention to him that some people don’t go to the doctor even if they do have health insurance. I have a feeling he would have been surprised. He wished me a good evening and I wished him the same. I didn’t ask his name either. I need to get better at that.

How This Might Relate To Testing

Well, it could be a few things.

I could be the defect in the system, a self-correcting defect, as a person that sticks out from the normal day-to-day. I haven’t heard other Americans in my general walking around which seems unusual to me. Last time I was in London, I couldn’t turn a corner without running into an American either there for school or a vacation. From various conversations, people don’t seem to get many tourists in the winter. Most of the other tourists I have seen with suitcases were large groups of women who were at least UK residents as they spoke with the typical accent.
I am testing a new “system.” New to me anyway. I’m learning about it. Learning about myself as I go. Learning about the environment, and the habits. Learning about the city, and culture. Working out different kinds of tests to see what happens. Granted, I’m not doing anything completely outrageous, but I did try to walk into a venue without a ticket. I tried to walk into a pub completely unaware of a game that had the whole city at mostly a stand-still. I’ve tried to stay up after 6p and thus far have failed and ended up waking up around midnight local time and staying awake a few more hours. I like milk and sugar in my tea, but I don’t seem to get the exact combination right myself. Spent hours walking through “arcades”, or long halls of shops which have covered walkways, that will start on one street and land you somewhere completely different than you were expecting.

Personally, I think I might be a little of both. Tomorrow is a travel day. I head to Scotland for a few days. I wonder what it will be like. I have to admit, it’s a place I’ve long held in my imagination. I’m sure it will have a few surprises for me and I’ll be navigating slightly different cultural notions than I have the last few days. Though I’m certain I’ll be faced with explaining US politics no matter what.