Episode 85 – Discovering The True Value Of Agile And Team Work with Justin Searls

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In this episode Phil is talking to Justin Searls who is the co-founder of Test Double. An agency that embeds their developers into businesses to deliver the software they really need. Their approach includes refactoring legacy code, where appropriate, and mentoring the clients they work with. Justin is also an occasional public speaker.


­­­(0.41) – Phil asked Justin to share a bit more information about himself. Justin responded by saying that he is a lifetime consultant, so has worked on many different projects. As a result, he deeply understands how software teams fail. This, in part, inspired him to start Test Double. He realized that he needed to hire developers who were passionate and positive. People who were happy to act as teachers and mentors while fixing a company’s software issues.

(2.37) – Phil asks Justin to share a unique career tip. Justin explains that following your passions all of the time is not necessarily a good idea, at least in the long-term. He explained that when speaking at universities most students say they want to be games developers. This is understandable, but the market is flooded with games developers. So, many of those who go ahead and follow what they love end up being paid relatively low wages. When Justin started out he resisted the temptation to just do things he liked. He focused on JavaScript testing. At the time only a few other people were doing that. So, they ended up with an almost unique, highly sought-after skill set. Justin focused on what people needed more than what he wanted, which led to a successful career.

(5.39) – Justin is asked about his worst career moment. For Justin that happened when he was working for a major financial institution. Many of their transactions had to be confirmed and recorded in writing, so they received around 40,000 pieces of mail every day. It all had to be opened and processed manually. Justin was a key part of the team that put together an OCR style system that would capture all of that data and improve the efficiency of the mail system. On the night of the handover, all of the servers went down. Justin had no internet and because the phones were VOIP no way of communicating with anyone. It turns out a cleaner had knocked a fire extinguisher over in the server room, which pressed the cut out button. It took the firm days to get the old system back online. Then they still had to go through the process of moving to the new system. It was a disaster. That experience showed Justin how important continuous delivery is when switching to new systems. Taking an incremental approach when you can is far safer and more efficient in the long run.

(8.56) – Phil asks Justin to share a career highlight. Justin explained that Test Double now employs 40 people all of whom work remotely. Most of them rarely meet each other. However, every now and again they get together at a mentor retreat with their plus ones. Seeing them all together like that, the first time, made him realize that he had played a role in creating a group of people who all respected and cared for each other and were able to pull together as an effective team. For Justin, that was a truly joyful moment, a career highlight.

(10.55) – Phil wants to know what excites Justin about the future for the IT industry. Justin starts by saying if you were to ask a group of business leaders about who would be coding in 10 years you would get conflicting answers. Half would say everyone, while the rest would say nobody. He suspects that both sides are right to some extent. Some things will be done automatically, but everyone will end up at least tinkering with code. For example, the Siri shortcuts that have recently been released will allow users to create their own custom workflows. The future of coding is going to be different, which is exciting and brings all kinds of opportunities.

(15.36) – Phil asked Justin what drew him to a career in IT. Justin got the bug at a young age. On a school vacation his luggage was lost, which meant that he did not have the clothing he needed to be able to spend time outside. So, he was stuck indoors with just what was in his backpack. That happened to be his homework and a graphing calculator. Using this tiny handheld computer he started to program simple games. That was it, Justin had the IT bug. At that point he realized that coding opened up untold opportunities.

(17.25) – What is the best career advice you have been given? Justin says he was advised to live below his means for as long as possible as a student and after qualifying. He did it for a long time and saved up a lot of money. Doing this gives you the financial freedom to move jobs whenever you want. There is no need to be stuck in a bad job or one where you are not growing your skills. Financial safety is liberating. It makes you a better developer, you are not timid and afraid to speak up or share an idea. He also said that it is important to work on as a consultant, so you can gain experience, expand your horizons and be a well-rounded developer.

(19.53) – If you were to start your career now, what would you do differently? Justin said that he would probably have progressed his career at a slower pace. He also said he would network more with people who were not from the same race, background, sex or socioeconomic class as him. The fact that he did not make an extra effort to do this at the start of his career meant that he inadvertently ended up with a firm made up almost entirely of straight white men. It is important to attend more meet-ups that include people who are different from you and have a different view of the world.

(21.54) – Phil asks Justin what career objectives he is currently focusing on. When Justin and Todd founded Test Double they had to take on roles they had never trained for. Gradually, they are recruiting people to take over some of those processes. Most of the marketing and sales responsibility fell to Justin. So, currently they are developing a marketing and sales funnel that can be handed over and run successfully by someone else.

(23.25) – What non-technical skill has helped you in your career so far? Justin said his liberal arts education coursework exposed him to a wide range of subjects. Having to study world religion, philosophy, history, political science and other subjects, helped to make him a more rounded and curious person. It contributed to his being good at analyzing complex algorithms. Having to absorb such an eclectic mix of information, while studying, made it easier for him to look at things from many different perspectives at once.

(24.51) – Phil asks Justin to share a few final words of career advice. For Justin taking time out to observe and really think is important. Being able to control your attention and stay focused is a tremendously marketable skill. He recommends that people read Deep Work by Cal Newport and Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey to learn more about why that is and learn how to build that skill.


(1.22) Justin – “Humans are nothing if not pattern recognition machines. You know, before there was machine learning there was learning, learning.”

(8.57) Justin – Speaking about implementing new projects Justin said – “If you just like let all that fear and uncertainty about pile up into this big two-year event, all you’re going to end up with is like, you know, a gigantic pizza party and a lot of pain.”

(10.55) Justin – “We have, like, mobilized effectively, a very healthy team of people who are then able to go and make other teams more healthy.”

(16.53) – Justin – “I just saw this tremendous potential for magic, for making a computer do what I wanted it to do by dint of just spending enough time in a very tight feedback loop.”

(19.00) Justin – “If you are financially independent paycheck to paycheck on that job, not just disappearing, you’re going to act from a defensive crouch that is more conservative.”


Twitter: https://twitter.com/searls @searls

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/searls/

Website: https://www.testdouble.com


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