By ‘eck, I got a degree after all

Yesterday had one of my life’s sweetest moments – my final Open University module result came in. I passed M359 relational databases and completed all 360 credits for my BSc (Hons) in Computing and Systems Practice. I have been awarded a 2:2, which I am immensely proud of.

This has been a long time coming. I started in October 2007 with thoughts about completing a career-enhancing computing-related degree, and it has turned into a bit of a grind over the years with primary thoughts geared to just getting to the end with my sanity intact. There have been some difficult periods that have taught me some harsh lessons in self-organisation, and some module material that was slippery to grasp, but I have learned a hell of a lot in these seven years. I’ve gained some valuable insights into software development, some extremely interesting concepts regarding systems thinking and found out quite a lot about me.

It has been a very rewarding experience on the whole, but exhausting and all-consuming at times. But, I have only bloody well gone and finished it! Some pass grades could have been better along the way, but I have had to combine multiple modules per year due to the OU’s decision to end-date my named degree in 2014, I have a full-time job and a small, active child. I would have liked a 2:1, but pleased with a 2:2. A first is for cleverer, more motivated people than me!

I could not have finished it without my lovely wife Jo. Her patience and motivation have pushed me over the line. I owe her a lot of my time for the foreseeable future for sure! Our Netflix account has been invaluable to her this year while I’ve been staring at my iMac screen failing to grasp various database-related concepts.

In all I am glad I did it, but probably more glad it is over. I’ve learned that I can write a bit of Java code, but that I’d need a whole pile of practice to put it to good use. I understand some aspects of database design and maintenance, but the overall feeling I have after this last module is respect for those good DBAs that can actually wrangle these bloody things into something useful and usable.

The most successful and useful parts of this degree were the two Systems Thinking modules which took up a whole third of my overall credits. These two modules have given me a new (or, at least, altered) perspective on thinking about problems or people. Thinking about anything. My mind has been shifted – uncomfortably at times – into considering just about everything through different lenses. It’s a bit of a cliché, but I found the two years I spent going through these two modules to have started a paradigm shift. It’s journey that never ends, but I’ve started it and it has empowered me to think about problems (or at least try to) as a whole.

I will write a bit more about this over time. It’s a very interesting (to me, at least) way of thinking.

I am looking forward to spending extended amounts of time with Jo and Ruby, being able to catch up on all the programmes I’ve missed over the years and to not studying anything for a bit. I need to rest this brain! My relief at this point is almost visible from space.

Hurrah for the Open University – one of the UK’s finest educational institutions. It has been a hell of a ride. Thank you.


Twenty Years a Scrum Master

Plenty of software test history in this post. Thanks Bob! I’m going to share with our emerging Agile practice. Maybe some of it will sink in…

Think Different

Twenty Years a Scrum Master

It was twenty years ago this month I finished my first assignment as a Scrum Master at Barclays Bank Head Office in London.

Of course, Scrum hadn’t been invented then, and my role wasn’t actually called “Scrum Master”. But anyone looking back at what I was doing, day-to-day, would probably recognise much of it as Scrum Mastering. Facilitation, identification and removal of impediments, a buffer between the team and distracting influences, guidance in a common approach, and so on.

Actually, it was more than just a Scrum Master role, because as well as delivering some key NeXTStep projects for Barclays, we were also inventing our own approach to software development, involving self-organisation, inspect-and-adapt, short time-boxed interactions, etc., which we came to call “Jerid” (and which over the years evolved into “Javelin“).

The label “Agile”, along with the Agile Manifesto, did not emerge until the…

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Why do we think we’re different?

I’ve covered similar people problems during my systems thinking modules for my Open University degree. They called one of the issues ‘goal divergence’, but it’s the same thing.

Creating ‘Best Practice’ has become a goal unto itself. I can see how creating such things can be helpful to less experienced testers, but I do think James is right that they’re designing in problems. It restricts creativity.

James Christie's Blog

The longer my career lasts the more aware I am of the importance of Gerald Weinberg’s Second Law of Consulting (from his book ), “No matter what the problem is, it’s always a people problem.”

The first glimmer of light that illuminated this truth was when I came across the term “goal displacement” and reflected on how many times I had seen it in action. People are given goals that aren’t quite aligned with what their work should deliver. They focus on the goals, not the real work. This isn’t just an incidental feature of working life, however. It is deeply engrained in our psychological make-up. There is a long history of academic work to explain this phenomenon.

Focal and subsidiary awareness

I’ll start with Michael Polanyi. In his book , Polanyi makes a distinction between focal and subsidiary awareness. Focal awareness is what we consciously think about. Subsidiary awareness…

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