Leanpub Podcast Interview #29: David Greenlees
published Apr 07, 2016
David Greenlees is a professional software tester and the author of Software Testing as a Martial Art. In this interview, Leanpub co-founder Len Epp talks with David about his career, software testing, martial arts, and his experience self-publishing with Leanpub.
This interview was recorded on March 11, 2016.
This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Len: Hi, I’m Len Epp from Leanpub, and in this Leanpub Podcast, I’ll be interviewing David Greenlees. David is a professional software tester, originally from Adelaide, Australia, and currently living in Manhattan, working for the consulting firm Doran Jones. David has published a book on Leanpub Software Testing as a Martial Art, in which he draws on his knowledge and experience of martial arts to communicate ways to optimize software testing within a team or organization.
In this interview, we’re going to talk about David’s professional interests, his book, his experience using Leanpub, and ways we can improve Leanpub for him and other authors.
So, thank you David for being on the Lean Publishing Podcast.
David: Thanks, I really appreciate it.
Len: I usually like to start these interviews by asking people for their origin story. So, I was wondering if you can tell us how you first became interested in software testing, and how your career developed?
David: Yeah sure thing. I actually go on a little bit of a journey in the book. But I guess for the purposes of the podcast, I’ll trim it down a little bit.
Like most people in software testing, I actually fell into it. It’s pretty rare to come across somebody that’s going through senior school, and you ask them what they want to do when they grow up, and they’ll say, “I want to be a software tester.” You don’t really hear that too often.
So I was managing a McDonald’s store, actually, in my home town, back in Adelaide, in Australia. And it was interesting. Anyone that’s worked in McDonald’s before, I’m sure would say the same thing. Long hours, very little pay, but great training, I guess. Customer service-focused, which is brilliant. And I basically took a job in an Australian government organization in a call center, to try and step into a bit more of a professional environment, and work out what I wanted to do when I grow up.
And so I worked in the call center for about 18 months. It wasn’t really the environment for me. Not really a huge fan of talking on the phone all day. We had some visitors from the software testing center of the same department, and basically I grabbed one of those guys and said, “What can I do to get across to the software testing center?” I went for an introductory meeting with them, and then went onto a five week project as a software tester, just executing test cases on some software.
I guess they liked what I did, and I enjoyed it. So I stayed there and never went back to the call center, which was sort of a career defining moment for me. And from that point on, I spent eight years doing various roles in the software testing center for that government department.
And then, eventually, I guess I worked out that I needed to expand my knowledge and experience. I was actually headhunted by a consultancy who had just bought a small company in Adelaide, and I bit the bullet, so to speak. I got to the ten year mark, took my long service leave, and left. I joined the consultancy, and did a few different gigs with them, and basically have just been bouncing around different clients since then. Getting involved in the software testing community more, which we can go into more later if you’d like to.
And from that moment, I got to a few international conferences, and I got to speak at STAR Canada, in Toronto in 2014, and then a month later went to Let’s Test in Sweden. That was the moment where my now-boss said to me, “Hey, how would you like to work in New York?” At the time I sort of laughed it off as too big a move with a wife and a young daughter. But I got home and mentioned it to my wife, and she said, “Well why not?” And so one thing led to another, and now I’m here working for Doran Jones, and doing a program test managing position for a global financial institution.
It’s been a pretty interesting ride. Almost 15 years now, software testing. And obviously that is the very, very trimmed down version of that.
Len: Thanks for that, that was great. I would recommend to anyone listening to buy David’s book and check out the section at the beginning. It’s a really well-written story. I remember one particular detail where you talk about how at the call center, you actually had to account for the time you went to the bathroom?
David: Yeah, yeah. I wrote that in the book thinking that most people would probably think that’s a joke. But actually it wasn’t a joke. We had a sheet called a “variation sheet”, and every time you were off the phone, when you should have been off the phone, you needed to write down how long for and why. And that included restroom breaks. So that was one of the many reasons why the call center and I didn’t mix too well.
Len: And were your managers convinced that this process improved productivity?
David: Well it was such a long time ago… we had some very, very highly process-driven managers, so I’m sure they did. We had others that basically were just doing as they were told. And we had some rebels. But without going into too many details, they didn’t end up staying too long - for reasons you can only imagine, I’m sure.
Len: This is kind of a long question, but since it’s so central to your book, and just because I find the subject interesting personally, I’d like to ask you some questions about martial arts. I guess in a sense you could say you have a second origin story to tell, how you became interested in martial arts in the first place. And I was very interested when you mentioned in the book that the first martial art you trained in was Taekwondo, and that you started training when you were 19, because Taekwondo was the first martial art I trained in, and I also started when I was 19.
David: Oh wow.
Len: So I was just wondering if you could say something about why you wanted to start studying martial arts, and why you started with Taekwondo?
David: Yeah sure. I was actually thinking about this before we spoke, anticipating a similar question. The furthest back I can go is probably around the 80s, when I was just a little tyke, and I used to watch, “Monkey”. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the TV series “Monkey” or “Monkey Magic”, as it’s known? Late 70s, early 80s I think it was. So look that one up, and listeners, look it up too, because it’s absolutely brilliant. Basically there was a lot of Kung Fu in that. And I remember watching that, and then grabbing a broomstick and using it as a staff out in the yard, trying to spin it around and seeing what tricks I could do - and hitting myself in the head way too many times to count.
And then that sort of progressed into martial arts films - Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Van Damme, all those cool guys from the 70s and 80s. I think I always wanted to train in martial arts. But we always sort of - I guess weren’t in the best place for it, in terms of geographic location or difficulty getting there. And I played a lot of sport as well. So we can’t do everything. And then eventually, when I got to that age of around 18, 19 - and it was then up to me to do it. I could drive myself and so on.
I actually found a Taekwondo dojo pretty close to the call center, when I started working there. And so I sort of said, “No more excuses” and started training. I did a lot of private lessons, so one-on-one lessons at the time. As a 19 year old, you’ve got nothing much else to spend your money on, so better that than other things, I’m sure you can imagine. And so it took me about six years - give or take - to earn my black belt in Taekwondo. And then my beautiful young daughter was born. So I had a little bit of a break after that for a little while. And then - moving house, moving a family - all that kinda stuff. I eventually got back into it at a different gym, and started learning, Jiu jitsu, kickboxing, boxing, a little bit of karate as well.
Currently I’m sort of in between boxing and Jiu jitsu. I love both of them a lot. I think if I had to choose a favorite, I would probably say Jiu jitsu at the moment. There’s just something about it that fascinates me. But I’m always looking to try and learn something new, if I can fit it into my busy schedule.
Len: That’s a really interesting progression through those different martial arts. I was wondering - actually just this is a bit of an inside baseball question, but was it WTF Taekwondo that you were training in?
David: No, it was Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo. The Grandmaster had moved to my home town of Adelaide, I think back in the 70s or 80s. He was a small stature, older Korean man. And he was probably the first person to teach me never to underestimate your opponent. Because looking at him, you’d think, “Not a problem at all”. But then obviously when you can see what he can do, absolutely amazing. He’d been doing it since he could walk.
So he was like - I can’t remember what the highest ranking is in Taekwondo - 9th or 11th degree black belt, but that was him. And he was part of the World Taekwondo Federation. He was one of the lead instructors and chief referees at the sporting events and so on. And so, it just happened to be the style that he taught at the time. I’ve never done any different styles of Taekwondo. I’m sure they’re not too dissimilar. But yeah, Moo Duk Kwan was the style that I was taught.
Len: Sorry I used the acronym rather quickly there, but World Taekwondo Federation is what I meant by WTF. That’s a great answer. I also studied under the World Taekwondo Federation.
Len: And it’s relevant in the book, with the analogies that you use. You talk a little bit about - I mean, very, very respectfully about how there are aspects of Taekwondo training that you found somewhat - I don’t know what the right word might be, but like, limiting in the end. I know this is a controversial thing to talk about, and people always speak about it - again - very respectfully, but if you could maybe say a little bit about what your position is on that?
David: Yeah sure. So I think - like you said - with all due respect. And it’s not necessarily a reflection of Taekwondo as a martial art. But possibly more on where I was taught. I actually got to - like I said - six years, and I got to my first degree black belt Jodan bo, as it’s known. And basically the whole six years was no contact. So to get to a stage where you’re actually - you earn a black belt. For me personally now, in hindsight, I think that you should be conditioned - not just mentally but also physically as well.
Having a black belt obviously carries a little bit of weight with it, among a lot of people. A lot of people will think you’ve got a black belt, you’re a deadly weapon. And so, while that might be true in a particular scenario that calls on Taekwondo skills, in most other scenarios, it may not actually be true at all.
And so, I think - while I worked extremely hard, and I built up a great level of technique to earn that black belt, I sort of felt as though there was something missing. And I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time. Because this was before I got into the whole mixed martial arts thing. And also it was before I started reading the philosophies of Bruce Lee - there is no one style, and take bits and pieces from all of them to suit whatever you need. And so, Taekwondo is a very - it’s a very rigid martial art. There’s very set techniques, and poomse or kata in karate speak, is a big part of you earning your next grade.
And for me, martial arts, while the discipline and the health and fitness has always been a great part of it, for me it’s always been about self defense. And especially since my marriage and my daughter was born, it’s become more about protecting myself and my family. And so, having just one martial art, being Taekwondo - it definitely feels like it’s not enough for me. And that’s why in more recent years, I’ve definitely branched out to try and learn different techniques.
And the second gym that I went to was definitely more in tune with that sort of philosophy. In the fact that he - if you wanted him to teach you a sport style of martial art, or a martial art to go and compete in a competition, he would do that. But his preference was definitely to teach you how to survive if you needed to. So it was very much - I don’t really like to say street style, but I guess that’s probably the best way I can describe it. He taught you to survive on the street when all other situations would say that you wouldn’t.
So it’s definitely, my philosophy is - martial arts as a self defense first. And then, if that leads into competition, and that’s what you want to do, then brilliant. Go for it.
Len: And when it comes to - just to dive in there a little bit - to surviving on the street, I know that there’s been lots of different theories. One of the ones I find quite compelling is a Krav Maga one where the first principle is “get out of there if you can.”
Len: I mean, if there’s nothing at stake, like you need to save someone’s life, or you’re on a mission - what do you care? Get out of there, if you can - and that’s your goal, right? And if you can’t, do whatever you need to do to then get out of it.
Len: Is that consistent with - is that the kind of style that your teacher you’re describing was advocating, along those lines?
David: Yeah. Most definitely. I probably sound like he was a bit of an animal. But he’s an animal in the true sense of the word. That he’s a very compassionate, caring guy - and will look after his family and his martial arts family first and foremost. But if he’s ever - if he was ever backed into a corner, you wouldn’t want to be on the other side of that corner, that’s for sure. And so yeah, that rings true with me as well.
I mean, I have never - touch wood - been in a situation where I’ve needed to actually use anything that I’ve been taught on the street. And hopefully - and for the rest of my life, I never have to as well. But there is a certain level of confidence that you have, in knowing that you might be able to actually defuse a situation if you needed to. Especially when your family and your loved ones are involved.
And yes, I mean, for me - and also for him as well - the first thing that I’ve always been taught by him and others as well - is to talk your way out of it first. So basically, do whatever you can to make sure nothing ever turns into a physical altercation. And like you said, if you’ve got the opportunity, and there’s nothing at stake, then just walk away - or perhaps run away, depending on the situation.
Because as soon as it turns physical, it doesn’t matter if you end up on top - so to speak - you’re both going to lose anyway, especially with the laws and so on these days. It doesn’t matter if you perhaps were defending yourself. If you end up doing the unthinkable and putting someone’s head against cement ground, who knows what might happen? So it’s just not worthwhile, so I would definitely walk away first, given the opportunity.
Len: Yeah that’s a really, really great answer. I was wondering - you say - have you ever competed in a tournament or anything like that?
David: No. So I haven’t - it’s one of those things. It’s definitely something that I would like to do - that selfishly I would like to do that. Just to test myself and see how well I did, and see if I could put up with whatever was given my way. But once again, you have a family - you have a wife and a young daughter. It only takes one bad knock in the wrong position, and who knows what might happen? So I don’t think it’s something that I would ever do - purely because of the risk involved.
I mean, having said that, some of our sparring sessions can get reasonably brutal. But the beauty of a sparring session is that your instructors there all the time. And generally speaking, in my experience anyway, your opponent is just as ready to stop whenever you’re ready to stop. So all you’ve got to do is put your hand up, and it’s done. So if for some reason it gets a little bit too rough, you can always stop if you feel - you have comfort in that when you’re sparring. So I think probably rough sparring’s as far as I’ll ever go, Len.
Len: I know from personal experience how rough sparring can be, and how dangerous. Especially actually when you’re at an earlier stage of training. The most dangerous sparring partner is the one who just walked in the door.
Len: By far. I just have one more direct martial arts question. You mentioned in the book that you wish you’d started training earlier. And I’m really curious about that. Because I’ve thought about it quite a bit myself, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that - without ever having been a teacher myself, so just limited to my own experience and what I’ve seen - is that actually starting later, I feel like it has a lot of advantages.
I mean, obviously one should be doing lots of activity when one’s young - sports and things like that. But it seems to me that there’s an advantage to starting - I mean, 19 isn’t actually mature, right? But there’s an advantage to starting learning fighting when you’re a little bit older, as opposed to younger. I’ve just always had that sense of things. That your approach to it is different. Why do you think that starting training earlier is an advantage?
David: That’s a - absolutely brilliant thing that you say, Len. I haven’t actually ever thought about it like that. You’re sort of - you’re sort of talking about a different maturity level perhaps when you get taught to be a lethal weapon so to speak. So that’s really brilliant. So I guess when I say, “I wish I’d started earlier”, that actually makes a lot of sense. And for me, I guess it was more - it’s always been more about - if you start younger, you’re more flexible, you’re more supple. And you can learn the techniques earlier, you can do them for a longer period of time. And then, therefore, hopefully get better at them.
I remember, after six years of Taekwondo, I was about an inch away from being able to do the splits. And it was something I’d never ever, but I’m definitely not a naturally flexible person. And now that I’ve had such a long break between doing that, I don’t think I could ever do the splits again. So I guess from that sense, starting earlier I think definitely would have been a huge advantage.
But now that you mention it, I guess you can almost liken it to adult students. A lot of university or college students spend a lot of their time partying, and doing all that kind of extracurricular activity - instead of studying. Whereas you find a lot of adult students, at a mature level, they’re there for a particular purpose. They’ve done their stupid stuff as kids, and now they’ve realized this is what they want to do. So they go back to college or university. And they’re actually there to study, and that’s what they do.
So I guess you could liken it to that sort of scenario. You start a little bit later, you’re there for a particular purpose - whatever that may be. Fitness, health or self defense. And you’d probably be a little bit more disciplined, and a little bit more mature about your training. So that’s actually a really good point, Len. I’m glad you mentioned that.
Len: Oh well thanks, yeah, it’s actually something I haven’t spoken with anyone about really. So it’s interesting to just to try and test the idea out.
Actually, speaking of university and also martial arts training - you’ve got a great quote in your book, which I’m just going to read out and then ask you about. It goes, “Education is more a matter of socialization into tacit ways of thinking and doing than transferring explicit information or instructions.” I was wondering if you could explain a little bit about what this means to you, and what you think an optimal environment for education generally might be, given that idea?
David: Yeah beautiful. So that’s a quote from Harry Collins, *Tacit and Explicit Knowledge, which is an absolutely brilliant book for probably many industries. But is particularly handy for software testing. And the fact that it’s - everything we do can not be explicit. And we need to understand that a lot of our work that we do in software testing is a tacit knowledge and implicit information, which cannot be made explicit.
So I guess that, for me, on reading that, the first thing I thought about was sparring - a punching bag versus sparring. From a martial arts aspect, punching a bag is great. It helps with your strength and so on. But there’s nothing quite like sparring. A moving target, a different size, shape. Different techniques, different skill levels. That practical experience is something that I don’t think almost anyone could argue - that there is a better way to learn than that.
I think I also mention in the book as well - my Supreme Grand Master, who recently passed, unfortunately, has, or did have people from all over the world come to train with him. And the first thing he would do was pair them up, and just tell them to spar. He didn’t have them stand in a line and follow his instructions. He would get them to spar. Sort of as close as you can get to real world training and practical experience. And then obviously he would guide them through that and show them techniques. But there’s something to be said about that, I think. And the fact that a Supreme Grand Master would actually do that for his students, rather than just try and direct them with a Simon Says style of training.
And so I guess, the second part of your question about the ideal environment for learning. Learning is such a personal thing. Everyone learns differently, although I think from my experience - and most people I meet, most people learn better by doing. So definitely put yourself in an environment where you can get that practical experience.
From a software testing point of view, I went to a lot of training courses in my early career, where we would sit down and just listen to the instructor - death by dot point in Microsoft PowerPoint. And while theoretical learning in software testing is great - it can give you a start, and just sort of help you to understand a little bit what software testing’s about - there’s nothing quite like actually testing a product to help you learn - using different techniques, different approaches. And so, you need to put yourself in an environment where you can actually have that practical experience.
I talk about it in the book as well, the software testing community is something that has given that to me. Basically it’s a community of testers that are all keen on learning and becoming better at software testing, and making our industry better - and better recognized for the value that we can add. And so we constantly challenge ourselves with little online challenges. We send each other little products that we can test, and say who finds the best bargain. All that kind of stuff.
And while it can be fun, a fun little game - basically it’s all learning and it’s all practical experience. So next time you’re on the job - and the executives are looking at you to find important bugs fast, you can call on all these experiences and approaches, and lay down the best one for that particular context.
Len: That leads me to my next question, which is, I guess this was all kind of building up to - I was wondering if you could talk directly about what you think the connection is between software testing and martial arts that you write about so well in your book?
David: Yeah, I mean, software testing’s such a huge, broad subject, as per martial arts I guess. So I think there’s a few different linkages that can be made. I don’t think there’s one general thing that brings it together. But for me personally - and calling on sort of the Bruce Lee philosophy again - basically, in software testing, traditionally we’ve been governed by particular processes and standards around how we should actually test software. And a lot of people call these best practices, and I’m a firm believer that there are no such thing as best practices. There’s good practices in particular contexts on particular projects. But there is no one best practice. And I guess for me, martial arts is the same. Like I’ve spoken about earlier - knowing Taekwondo.
So if I was in a situation where I could unleash my Taekwondo kicks, I might be fine. But if there’s two or three guys on top of me,Taekwondo’s not going to do me any good at all. So I need to call on perhaps some Jiu jitsu or wrestling. It’s the same in software testing. We have a best practice for writing test cases upfront before you start testing a product. And there’s very, very minimal situations where that actually makes any sense at all. So we need to actually have different ways of approaching testing of products. Where we don’t actually write test cases at all. We explore the product instead, and learn about the product - and discover information as we go. Saving time.
And so, I guess the biggest analogy that I pull is “there is no one style”. There is no one style of martial arts. There is no one style of software testing. You need to experience many different styles and approaches, so that you can use the best one at the time, to get you what you need as quickly as possible.
Len: It’s a really interesting theme in your book. This, I don’t know exactly how to put it, but this sort of - dividing up these sort of approaches into two opposing ways, one is where it seems to be where people bring some kind of predetermined, theoretical framework arbitrarily onto a project. So the idea of treating the tester like just some kind of undifferentiated unit in a group of things that carry out tasks. So you issue them some instructions, like, “Here are some pre-written tests, go through them step by step and come back to me.”
As opposed to an approach which takes advantage of the fact that it’s a human being that’s doing the testing with consciousness and experience, and maybe even some drive and curiosity. And saying, “Each case is different, each context is different. Take that knowledge guided by experience that you have, and go into the product, understand what it is. Understand what the goals are. Beause they’re different sometimes in different cases.” And then take that approach.
David: Yeah, it can be different for different people at the same time. I mean, let’s not forget - it might not be so bad in a small startup where the shared goals are fairly obvious. But in say a huge financial organization, or any other big organization - there is always office politics. There’s always hidden agendas.
Different people want things done for different reasons. And so, you not only have to think about the human being that is actually testing the product - you’ve got to think about the hundreds of human beings that are interested in the work that you’re doing, and the reasons why they’re interested in the work that you’re doing. And that’s going to change the way that you present the information, how you discover the information.
Software testing and software development is a human - it’s a social activity. And we can’t restrict ourselves to a process that doesn’t allow for John to be sick for a week. And doesn’t allow for Mary go out on mat leave, and all that kind of stuff. There’s all these human aspects that go into software development - these best practices, or these standards just don’t allow for.
And so that’s why myself and others in our community caution people against trying to implement standards and best practices, without the knowledge that it’s just not going to work exactly how it’s written. You need to remain flexible. And don’t be surprised if you need to throw your very fancy, expensive process out.
Len: That’s a great answer. You talk also about the conditioning of the mind for software testing, and I was wondering if you could explain what you mean by that?
David: So definitely all about education. For me personally, self-education. I’ve read a wonderful book by one of the best software testers I know, James Bach, *Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar. And in that he goes into the fact that he’s a high school dropout, like myself. So I could relate to that as well. And how he basically didn’t conform to the traditional education institution and how it works, or the set curriculums. And how he “buccaneered his own knowledge.”
And for me, conditioning of the mind in software testing is definitely all about that. Working out where your passion is for your job. And where it’s leading you. And going out there and researching and educating yourself on the different aspects of what’s going to get you there.
Unfortunately in - I say unfortunately - it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in our industry, and especially as a consultant, you’ll often end up on a gig where you’re doing something that perhaps isn’t what you want to do every day. But for me, I try and pull the little pieces out of it that will lead towards my ultimate goal. Which seems to change week by week.
But I guess, the huge part of conditioning the mind in software testing is learning. And like I said before, everyone learns differently. So you need to find what you’re passionate about, and do the best you can to put yourself in a position where it becomes part of your working day. If you end up having to learn about something that is completely not in line with what you’re doing during work hours, it doesn’t align with your family life. It’s going to end up being a chore.
So try and position yourself somehow to make it part of your day. I guess it’s like exercise. A lot of people say, “Exercise has to be part of my day, otherwise I just won’t do it.” So find a gym on the way to work or something like that. It’s a similar thing for the conditioning of a mind, and learning in software testing.
Len: That actually leads me to my next question, which is - and I guess we’re at something I had actually never heard of before, but it’s probably a very big part of your profession - what is “context-driven testing”?
David: Cool, context-driven testing. So one of the founders, who I’d already mentioned, James Bach, more recently has described it as three different things. An approach to software testing, a paradigm or a way of thinking, and also a community of software testers. And I guess for me personally, context-driven testing is all about testing within the context, and being driven by that context.
Now a context is just a set of situations, or a set of circumstances that build your current situation. And so, while traditionally - like I said before, we may be told that a best practice is to write a whole bunch of test cases upfront before you actually start testing the product. What if you’ve only got a day to test the product? Are you going to write all the test cases upfront, or are you just going to jump into the product and test it straight away? So having one day is part of your context. You need to be driven by that context.
I guess another aspect is the community part that I’d spoken about as well. It’s a group of software testers that align themselves with context-driven testing, and try and test driven by their context. And it’s really quite an amazing group in terms of knowledge sharing. We back each other up. We challenge each other. If someone says to me, “Well I think this way that I do testing is the best way”, instead of me going, “Oh that’s great.”, I’ll say to them, “Well why? Why do you think that’s the best way? Are there any other ways that you’ve thought about?” We’re constantly challenging each other and debating each other, to try and actually make us better.
We’re being a little bit cynical about the ideas that we’re given, and challenging those - not because we disagree with them, but because we want to try to make them better. So that’s a huge part of the context-driven community as well. For me, it’s about being comfortable, because I was never a huge fan of just following steps in a test case, and following a script. So I’ve found comfort in a group of people, in an approach to testing that doesn’t necessarily call on that. It calls on exploration and flexibility of thought, flexibility of vision when you’re testing a product. And to question constantly, which is another huge part of the context-driven community.
Len: Is it a global community? Is there an east/west divide or anything like that in the software testing community?
David: I speak a little bit about the five schools of software testing in the book. And I would encourage people to look that up in they’re interested in it. But as far as the context-driven testing community goes, yes, it’s very much global. There’s pockets of people who are more vocal than others, but I know people in Europe, North America - obviously I’m here. We’ve started lots of great context-driven community work in Australia and New Zealand where I’m from as well. South Africa, Asia - on every continent we have context-driven testers. But like I said, some are a lot more vocal than others. Something about North America, I think people are a lot more vocal - a bit louder here, perhaps?
But it’s definitely a global community. Like I said before, we’re interested in bettering our craft, not only to make it more interesting for ourselves, but also to show people that software testing isn’t something just for a bunch of execution monkeys that you can get off the street. It’s a thoughtful process. And we can ask questions that add a huge amount of value to software development projects – and so, listen to us.
Len: My next question was related to that actually. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you say in your book that it took you three years to write it. I was wondering what the inspiration was to start a project like that, and who the intended audience is? I mean, is it other people in the context-driven testing community, or is it testers generally, or anyone engaged in software development?
David: I think I mention in the book as well, the selfish reasons. When I started, it was just all about me. I’ve had a goal for a while now to write. And I blog fairly regularly, and I’ve got a few published articles and stuff like that. But to actually write a book has been a goal of mine for quite a while.
My inspiration was actually an author by the name of Peter Koevari, an Australian author, who’s written a wonderful fantasy novel series. He was actually a colleague of mine, and I was part of the review team on a few of those books that he’s written. And I guess he indirectly showed me that he didn’t have to be a full-time author to write a book. You could actually do it in your spare time. And there are wonderful places like Leanpub, that make it very easy for people to get their content out there. And sorry, what was the second part of the question?
Len: Who is the intended audience?
David: I guess the immediate audience will be the context-driven testing community, because in essence it’s a book sort of about context-driven testing, along with martial arts. And being a part of that community, many people know that I’m writing the book, and have been expecting it for the last three years. And so, that’ll be the immediate audience. But hopefully, as with everything we do in the context-driven community, hopefully it spreads a little bit beyond our context-driven community, into the wider software testing community. And even if one paragraph makes a difference to somebody and changes the way that they view software testing, or encourages them to learn something new about it, then I’ll be a happy man.
Len: That’s a great line - if one paragraph can have an impact. That’s totally true, I think, in my reading experience anyway.
Actually, on that note, there are people who listen to this podcast who are also self-published authors, and there are some details about successful self-publishing that people really like to hear about. In your case in particular, in addition to writing a good book, with a compelling idea behind it - that’s obvious from the title - you also have a really cool cover. I just wanted to ask you if you had it done by a professional cover designer or if you did it yourself, or if it was by a friend?
David: I wish I had those mad skills, Len. But unfortunately they’re not mine. I’ll stick to the martial arts and the software testing. So in software testing, we raise what we call bugs. Sometimes more commonly known as defects in software. But we prefer to call them bugs. The whole concept was to have a bug dressed as a ninja, or at least some sort of martial artist. I actually went to fiverr.com, and went through a whole bunch of artists on there. I found some illustrations that I really, really liked, and got one of the artists on there to produce that one, and the inside illustration as well.
It didn’t cost me a lot of money. I think the result was quite good. And so, in that respect, it was actually quite easy. It only took a couple of weeks to turn around.
Len: I guess I should probably do a little bit of a shout out to fiverr. Alys McDonough, who is transcribing this podcast interview for our website, is also part of fiverr. It’s good to hear that that institution is used for so many different great reasons.
I know that you write at the beginning of your book about all the people who helped you along the way. I was wondering if post-publication, is it part of your process to get feedback through Leanpub or directly from readers, and do you actually update your book and publish new versions. Is that something that you have done, or you’re intending to do?
David: I did update a version quite quickly. Someone spotted - as testers do - a typo in there pretty quickly. So I’ve managed to update that very quickly. That’s something that Leanpub makes quite easy, which was great.
You’ll notice that I have a couple of different software testers that contribute chapters. Software testers who are also martial artists. And a goal of mine was always to include some thoughts from other people about what martial arts has taught them in software testing.
And one such person is Ben Kelly, who hasn’t finished his chapter yet, but has assured me it’s about 50% done. As soon as that’s done, I’ll definitely be including that and updating it.
I was speaking to someone earlier too, about how when you’re publishing something like this, it’s a really difficult thing to know when to stop. So the total duration took me three years to write. Obviously I wasn’t writing that whole time, otherwise it would be 1,000 pages. But it’s one of those things that as you keep training in martial arts, and as you keep software testing, you keep learning more and more and more.
So I could just keep writing and keep putting new lessons in there. But there came a point where I had to - I had to publish. Too many people were asking for it. But obviously in six to twelve months’ time, if I’ve got enough extra material, then most definitely I’ll add to it, make a second edition or just update this one.
Another good thing about Leanpub is that people have paid for it. And if you make an update, they get the new update, which I think is absolutely fantastic.
Len: Yeah, thanks for that. I was wondering - if there was one thing, and it’s if we’re chatting directly - if there is one thing we could improve on Leanpub, or one feature we could add, that you noticed was missing, or something that would be just nice to have, what would that be?’
David: I don’t know if other authors would experience it, but for me personally - when I kicked this project off, I just started writing it in Microsoft Word. It’s the application I’m used to. I’m used to the formatting and the various tools that go with it. And so, to have some sort of conversion from Word to EPUB or MOBI, that wasn’t such a nightmare to use - would be fantastic. [Shortly after this interview we launched this feature - eds.]
Even if it wasn’t an automated thing, if you offered a service with a small fee, I would definitely be happy to pay for that. Because it’s just a lot of work to do. So yeah, some sort of service that offers conversion to the different formats. I think would be definitely valuable. And knowing how difficult it is, I would understand if there was a fee involved, and I’m sure other people would as well.
Len: You mean specifically from Microsoft Word?
David: Well for me, specifically from there, yeah.
Len: The good news is actually that that’s what I was working on this week. We actually had a big chat internally about it just yesterday. I don’t know when that’s going to be deployed - the ability to work directly in Word the way you can now in plain text, and click a button and get PDF, EPUB and MOBI output automatically, is something that we’re going to be adding as a separate service.
David: Wow man, you let me know, I’ll be your first customer.
Len: Fantastic. There is a long story behind all that. But yeah, it’s something that we’re going to add. The one thing is that, for books that are heavily formatted - and yours isn’t, so this doesn’t apply to yours - but for books where people have centered images, or done floating images and stuff… Microsoft Word is kind of like the Starship Enterprise of doing stuff, right? Although that’s - I shouldn’t have used a positive comparison. What I mean is that there’s so much in it - it can do mail merge, it can do any endless number of things. Obviously we’ll never be able to build something that automatically converts a heavily formatted Word document into like EPUB or something like that, but there actually are a surprising number of things that take account of actually probably like 99% of book writing cases, that actually we figured out that we can convert directly with the click of a button. So hopefully that’s something we’ll have out sooner rather than later.
David: That’s awesome news, Len. I look forward to it.
Len: I don’t really have any more questions. I was just wondering if there was anything that I didn’t ask that you wish I had, and you’d like to say something about?
David: Not specifically. I guess, thank you very much for interviewing me and taking the time. I just wanted to also mention that I’ve started another little ebook, Lessons Learned From My First Agile Project. And I just wanted to mention to you specifically that I’m actually doing this one in the browser, writing in Leanpub. It’s been a pretty good experience so far. So hopefully that will end up being on multiple different publishing versions at the end of it.
Len: Great, well that’s great news. Thanks very much for your time, and for doing the interview - and for being on the Leanpub Podcast, and for being a Leanpub author.
David: Thanks Len, I really appreciate it.