Episode 81 – Connect, Learn, Diversify and Innovate to Succeed with Michael Bolton
In this episode Phil talks to Michael Bolton, a consulting software tester and testing teacher who helps people to solve testing problems that they didn’t realize they could solve.
He is also the co-author of Rapid Software Testing, a methodology and mindset for testing software expertly and credibly in uncertain conditions and under extreme time pressure. Michael has more than 25 years of experience testing, developing, managing and writing about software. And for almost 20 years he has led DevelopSense, a Toronto-based testing and development consultancy.
(2.00) – Phil asks Michael to tell everyone a bit more about himself. Michael explains that he is – “in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction with the state of software, in the state of testing.” But that he knew this was not necessarily a bad thing because a state of dissatisfaction leads to a desire to change things for the better. Software testers need to help people to identify the problems that represent risks to their businesses. They need to be good critics and to be able to fully understand the value and importance of small things.
(3.46) – Phil asks for a unique career tip. Michael says that IT specialists need to have a reputation for “excellence, for good work, for competency and for ethics.” You need to work closely with others and be willing to put yourself out there. It is important to express your thoughts and feelings and be prepared to share your experiences, good and bad. You should not be reticent to “expose yourself”. He went onto say: “That’s how we come to a better world. We get to that by explaining our experience to each other.”
(6.07) – Phil asks to hear about his worst career moment and what Michael learned from it. For Michael, this happened many years ago when he was working as a program manager on a memory management system. The package did not work as well as was anticipated. Unfortunately, at first, he and the team did not acknowledge the problem fully. He said: “The big mistake I made was looking for circumstances in which the product would work successfully.” Luckily Larry, the development manager, did fully recognize the seriousness of the issue and encouraged the team to actually tackle the problem. This experience made Michael realize that “a focus on the problem rather than a focus on success is the path to success.” From that point Michael refocused his attention on testing and awareness of the product and pricing.
(11.13) – Phil asks Michael to share a career highlight. For Michael this is a tricky question to answer. No one project stood out. But he explained that he felt he had achieved the most when he was able to thoroughly examine the product and gain a deep understanding of it. When he was given the time to do that, he was able to work with the client more effectively. Together they were always able to identify those bugs that really needed fixing and avoid wasting time sorting out those that could easily be “lived with”.
(14.00) – Phil wants to know what things about the future of IT Michael finds particularly interesting or exciting. Michael responds by saying: “I would like to see the application of a little bit more skepticism and a little bit more nuance in our enthusiasm for new technologies we’ve seen over the last seven years.” He went on to explain that while these innovations could bring us together they could also drive us apart. So he wants to see us be “a little bit more sober, a little bit more reflective in our embrace of new technologies.” He believes that it is the best way to be prepared to deal with problems which can and do arise when things change.
(16.36) – Phil asks, “what first attracted you to a career in IT?” Michael previously worked in the theatre, so the prospect of a steady income was what first attracted him to the IT field. For many years he had worked for companies as a full time employee before becoming an independent contractor. Once involved in the IT world he became fascinated by “figuring out how these machines work and what makes them not work.” He relishes the chance to “create beautiful and amazing things”.
(18.47) – Phil says – what is the best career advice you’ve ever received? Michael quickly responds by saying “your CV must be focused on solving the problem for the hiring manager.” It should not be an elaborate list of where you worked. This sound advice influences most areas of Michael’s work. When he works on a project he asks himself repeatedly – “What is the problem that the person hiring me is trying to address?” This habit keeps him on track and ensures he does not try to contribute things that do not actually solve the problem at hand.
(21.10) – Phil asks, if you were to begin your IT career again, what would you do? “I would focus on diversity.” Working in many different places, in various roles and on a range of projects has served Michael well.
(22.57) – What career objectives are you currently focusing on? Michael says – “I’m currently focusing on trying to develop my reach.” Michael wants to influence as many different IT team members as possible. He wants everyone from the project manager to the coder and testers to work closer together. Michael is currently reaching out beyond the testers who currently make up his main audience.
(24.25) – Phil’s next question is – What non-technical skill has helped you most in your career? To which Michael said: “Being able to structure a good piece of writing, being able to structure a talk, being able to organize material so that I can get an idea across.” He also feels that – being able to apply critical thinking to an argument, identify objections and address them is a great skill to have.
(26.45) – Lastly, Phil says – Do you have any final career advice? Michael replies, yes, “Follow your likes, your inclinations, and your temperament.” “Don’t struggle against the current. Take note of what you are thinking and feeling.” Do what interests you. But, be sure to challenge yourself and do something a little different every now and again. Don’t be afraid to contact people irrespective of how prestigious they are or how busy you think they are. Get in touch with someone who interests you to ask for advice and ask questions. When you do that, you trigger reflection in them. Michael finds answering people’s questions helps him to learn.
Phil finished the podcast by asking Michael how people could get in touch with him (details below).
(2.33) Michael – I agree with Alan Cooper who suggested – “Every bit of improvement in the world, and in the way things happen, starts with grumpiness, starts with dissatisfaction with the state of things.”
(4.19) Michael – “Your reputation is the only thing. It’s important to have a reputation for excellence, for good work for competency and for ethics.”
(9.19) Michael – “A focus on the problem rather than a focus on success is the path to success. We become successful by recognizing things that we have to fix things that we have to get better at things that we are not as good as it could be.”
(10.04) Michael – “Turning $1 into $2 is practically impossible. But turning a million dollars into $2 million is practically inevitable.”
(18.26) Michael – “I found it really interesting to see how little tiny decisions on little tiny pieces of data can allow us to see a video or be interviewed over a long distance.”
(19.38) Michael – “When you write a CV, the CV must be focused on solving the problem for the hiring manager.”
CONTACT MICHAEL BOLTON:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/michaelbolton @MichaelBolton