Effective May 1st, 2012, I would be a Consulting Software Tester, Python Developer and Coach. This is going to be a long blog post, as I want to capture this story in full, in my current state of mind -a story which I would like to read in future. It might be interesting for some of you. Let’s sail along!
The Four Deterrents
When I talked about this decision/desire, most of the people around me, told me that such decisions should be taken up only by those who fulfill one or more of the following conditions:
- A good financial backing, in case it does not work out. This might be one’s own savings, inheritance etc.
- Either one is not married/does not have a family to support or the spouse is working, sufficient enough to run the family
- One has a lot of links established which would fetch enough business
- One has had lack of success in employment, is not satisfied with salary etc.
I don’t fulfill any of the above, with a small exception that I have a close circle of some great friends in the industry. But I have always looked at them from the perspective of friendship rather than business, irrespective of the fact that on some occasions we engaged in a business context. And it’s not just about others. The idea of independent consulting has been brewing in my mind for a couple of years, but I have been giving the above excuses to myself and to the handful of friends who encouraged me to take this up. It took a lot of time for me to stop giving excuses and listen to my heart.
The Decision that I should have taken, but Didn’t
Most of my close friends know that for a significant part of my student life ( about 12 years ) I was a stage person. I did stage acting, was interested in writing poetry etc. I won several awards for my acting, which was a continuous source of encouragement for me to continue. I was an approved artist for Jalandhar Doordarshan and was contacted by one of the radio channels. It was a time when the television didn’t have the kind of channels there are today.
There was a precise point in my life, where I had to take a decision whether I should pursue acting as a career beyond my high school or should I go to an engineering school. I was financially dependent, came from a family that had a limited amount of resources to support my education. With reasons similar to the four deterrents, my friends, family, professors – all were able to convince me that I should pursue engineering. I don’t know for sure what would have happened if I had gone on the path to acting on stage / television as a full time career. But I know one thing for sure. I am not proud of myself. The truth remains that I did not have the guts to take a crucial decision, to pursue my passion.
I have this burden for my retirement – a sense of regret. This was a strong motivator for my decision to become a consultant. I asked myself:
Can I afford another burden for retirement? Is it so out of the world, that I didn’t give it chance even for 1 year?
This is a tricky question, ofcourse :-). Almost certainly, one would get an answer that motivates oneself to trying things out. It happened to me as well.
The Game of Numbers
Another concern that people around me expressed was that there aren’t many independent test consultants in India. For example, there are thousands of testers in Bangalore, but how many independent test consultants do we see? If it were a viable option, one would see atleast a decent percentage pursuing this. The point is right. There is only one pure play independent test consultant that I know about – Pradeep Soundararajan. Ofcourse, he later went on to opening up Moolya and can’t be considered as such. But he did it when atleast no one to my knowledge was even thinking about it. I’m not sure whether I would have taken this step at this stage if I had not known him. I’m glad I do.
Atleast on this point I score myself well. I didn’t consider this as a deterrent rather as a motivator. This essentially means that this area has been largely unexplored and a huge business scope exists. Ofcourse, the testing industry needs to be educated on the benefits of engaging independent consultants, but then which business does not have initial phase of tough work?
The Two Rejections that Changed Me
There were two interviews which I couldn’t clear and both these changed me in a positive way. The first one was about 8 years back. The interviewer commented that she didn’t understand what’s there in my profile that I found myself suitable for that testing job. At first I was offended, later I realised that she was right. I didn’t know much about testing and technology. I started investing a lot of time in self education, which was critical to my career.
An year later, I failed in second interview not because of testing skills, but because of lack of programming skills. This added another learning area for me. It infact opened the doors to a lot of things. I realised that for being a good tester, rather the tester which I would like to be, there are skills to be honed beyond the usual. Then on I actively sought out work hopping from one skill area to another, exploring each area with equal intensity. This enabled me to develop decent skills in performance, security, test automation, Python, agile and so on.
Skill-development is an ongoing journey and not a one time activity. Expertise is not a destination, rather a journey. The trick is to make each day count, as a milestone that matters.
Testing Perspective Platform
When I started the Testing Perspective blog 5 years back, I had not thought how helpful it would become in the long run. The fact that this website was already established and running for a few years, at the time when the idea of consulting popped in my mind, came handy. I felt happy that I already have a way to reach out to the community. This would remain as my most critical investment in terms of time and effort.
The Back-up Plan
Through the course of motivating myself and my family, I said – What’s there to worry about. I can always return to regular employment, if consulting does not work. I’ve stopped doing that. This is a negative thought. If I carry a back-up plan that points to where I started, there is a high probability that the moment I’m low on courage, I would exercise this plan. I am now rather looking at how I could develop plans to make it work, none of them pointing to employment.
What Failure Means to Me
As success versus failure was a common thread, mostly pointing towards the latter, in all the discussions which spun post my decision, I needed to define what failure means to me. Does it mean not able to earn enough? Does it mean earning less than what I earned last as an employee? So, this is what I think about failure as of now:
If I don’t try what I want to try out, it’s a failure.
Life is meaningless if not lived to the fullest. The best moments from my life, about which I am proud, are the ones where I tried things out. These were the moments when I broke conventions, when everyone said that’s not how things work, but I gave them a shot! I know that the coming year(s) are going to be extremely demanding for me in terms of patience, effort and skills. I have to deal with a lot of unexplored areas especially w.r.t. business aspects. I am excited about the kind of learning it is going to bring and the kind of strong individual it is going to make me. I know I am going to discover more about myself.
Unconventional is Beautiful
I remember an episode from my theater days. I had directed a play for an inter-college competition. All the other 5 actors were freshers. A day before the show, all of them went out of town to be a part of a strike against fee hikes. I had two options. The obvious one was to let it go, after all what else could be done. The other unconventional option was to do it all alone. Judges won’t allow that! Friends criticized my decision, as I was a winner in other areas, and it could spoil my name. Organizing committee was against it too because a stage play is supposed to be a team game and required a minimum of 4 actors. I remember crying before them ( literally ), begging them to give the 30 minutes slot. I told them that I wasn’t concerned about the competition at all. And there it was! I was allowed to perform a stage play as an extended mono-acting event of 30 minutes, out of competition, where I played all the 6 characters alone. It was the most tiring stage performance I have ever done till date but also my most daring and passionate attempt at acting.
For all my IT career as a software tester, I have been a hands-on tester, said a polite ‘No’ to a possible promotion as a Test manager because I didn’t ( and I don’t ) want to become a Test Manager. I have always pursued the path of an individual contributor. Another convention which I broke for myself, was the expertise convention – “If you want to become an expert, you need to choose one area”. I chose multiple areas and developed decent expertise. The reason I did this was to have a unified approach of doing things, I didn’t want to miss perspectives. Every time I became comfortable with a certain area of testing, I hopped to the unknown.
I did the same to my employment. I rate my employment career as highly successful, but I guess I had a little too much of that. So, it’s time to try out something fundamentally different from employment! At the stage, where I am, independent consulting looks like that.
I’m not the Only One to be Blamed
I didn’t do all of this alone. There are a couple of more culprits :-), who encouraged me to take this and were a source of motivation and support all along. I am very thankful to Pradeep Soundararajan and Vipul Kocher for their constant encouragement.
Pradeep has had a lot of aggressive arguments with me. He was impatient ( in a good way ) during these meetings as he trusts my skills and was not happy with the way I was giving excuses for not trying things out. But he was very patient in terms of never giving up on me & had many of these meetings over the past few years. I got a lot of good advice from him which finally helped me in understanding what I wanted to do and how I should go about it.
I came home from one of such discussions and decided to tell my wife that I have decided to take the step. She told me – “It’s not you, it’s Pradeep talking!” The fun part is that she knows about Pradeep only from my discussions. This created doubt in my mind that she could be right. I needed to be sure that it’s MY decision. I have seen people who keep blaming others that it’s because of them that they did something. I don’t want to be one of them. I spent a lot of time on introspection and found beautiful stuff. Pradeep has definitely been instrumental to my decision. But was it my decision? Yes! If it were not true, I would have done it long back, as my discussions with him on the subject go back for more than 2 years. What was I doing in this time – asking myself whether I’m ready.
It was a very important step in my decision making – owning full responsibility for all my actions.
Vipul has been very lavish with his compliments about my work and has provided constant support. He created various opportunities for me in the past few years to hone my skills in coaching and authoring/reviewing contents related to software testing. On the technical front, his work on Q-Patterns changed my thought process and would always remain a milestone in my career.
I am also indebted to Alan Mynard, the most passionate and thorough tester I have met, who at the age of 50+ is more energetic about testing than any tester I have known. He would always be a source of inspiration for me to pursue my career as a hands-on, individual contributor for a pretty long time.
Breaking the Mold of a Poor Family Person
One essential aspect of this move is to provide quality time to my family. They have sacrificed enough for the last few years which I spent mostly on my job or catering to my education. I feel great that at last I would be able to create a work-life balance.