How to push yourself to achieve big goals, Lisi’s personal growth journey, and more

Tune into this episode of Quality Sense where the conversation takes a bit of a turn! Instead of focusing on testing, Federico chats with Elisabeth Hocke aka “Lisi” about how she systematically pursues new goals that help her not only in her professional career but also to grow as a person. She blogs about each as she goes, which has helped her, among other things to be named the “Most Influential Agile Testing Professional” in 2019.

Episode Highlights

  • How Lisi got involved in software development despite not coming from a technical background
  • Lisi’s journey into learning more about bias and anti-racism
  • How she started her personal challenges that she began to document on her blog to share with others
  • What’s important to have in an accountability partner to achieve your goals (no matter how scary they may seem)
  • How to become a better tester even if you’re a lone tester in your organization

Listen Here:

Episode Transcript:

(Lightly edited for clarity.)

Federico:

Welcome Lisi to the show. Thank you so much for accepting the invitation. How are you today?

Lisi:

Thanks for the invite. I really appreciate it. Thanks for having me. I’m doing fine. What about you?

Federico:

I’m pretty good. Pretty good. After a short vacation I took a couple of weeks ago, I feel re-energized.

Lisi:

Yeah, it helps to get another picture, get a different view on things.

Federico:

Yeah, exactly.

Lisi:

That really helps.

Federico:

And something that I wanted to mention is that it’s amazing to see how you challenge yourself and also you share those challenges in your social media. For instance, I really enjoyed the article you wrote about your learning journey about racism and discrimination and the privileges that white people have over other people. For those who haven’t read this article yet, can you summarize some ideas that you shared there?

Lisi:

Yeah, for sure. So this year was quite disruptive, I guess, for many people. It also triggered me to think in new ways, especially as the events that happened in the US that were becoming really obvious and explicit on social media. So it popped up in my bubble. I guess, unfortunately, I am living in a bubble. Well, for some time I knew that there’s a lot more to learn, there’s a lot more to listen to people, stories that need to be told, but also be listened to, and also by myself. 

This year when things happened, it really got to my attention again, as hopefully for many others too, and it really triggered me to think differently this time, because I mean, I know about the problem. I know about how systemic these things are, like systemic racism and other systems of oppression as well, and I’ve known that for some years now, but to really dig deeper and to really see what that means, see what it means for me personally, what I do to contribute to that system that I might not want to uphold, but actually I do.

And I felt that there was a lot of talk about this, and we rather need action. And that’s also what I lacked for myself, basically, to really take action, not to just be aware, yes, there’s a problem and it’s not existing since yesterday. It’s a long-term problem, but really take action, change things, change how I behave. So I felt I needed to dig deeper and this was the time when I said, okay, nothing else is as important. I even stopped another challenge I was working on. I just focused on that one and tried to take first steps towards the direction of educating myself, listening to others, of increasing my bubble, but also take those first actions myself, and afterwards, I wanted to share this journey with others, especially people who are like me and who hopefully also might get inspired to actually really do something about it and not just say they want to do or ignore it even, or even stay in denial, even worse.

I feel … I mean this work is lifelong learning. It’s just a few tiny steps on that journey of trying to do better. And in my blog posts, I described those very first steps that I took. Could be diversifying the input that I received in my bubble, like my Twitter stream, for example, by also reading books, taking tests to test my implicit bias, taking part in workshops to really learn more of these kinds of things, and also sharing where I’m personally coming from, what I realized so far. I’m very sure there’s more.

There’s a lot more to uncover, especially a lot more to do, but that part I definitely wanted to share and I’m still working on it, of course, but I felt this was the point in time when probably many others— like it was I think three months after some major events in US where probably the focus changed for other people. Well, the topics changed and I felt it doesn’t have to change, it must not change, actually. It’s still a problem until it’s solved, and that’s taking a whole while. 

So this was kind of a completely different challenge for me this year, just not focusing only on my personal growth, in the sense of career development or learning new skills that I can use in my everyday job, but really grow as a person and step up more, because I feel that’s what I need to do and I’m still lacking. Yeah, I’m still on that journey, so far, far from finished, but hopefully with every tiny step I’m getting better.

Federico:

Yeah, this is a problem with bias, is that in most of the cases, we don’t know we have these bias, and learning from others and … you made me add a lot of books and even documentaries and things to learn more, and also you contributed to my own learning journey. So I really appreciate that and I hope, as you mentioned, that more people get inspired by your first steps, and also they can take their first steps too. This bias is affecting the lives of so many people and we have to do something about it.

Lisi:

That’s really great to hear. And yes, that’s the core of it, because just because I’m fine doesn’t mean that everyone else is. Far from that, yeah.

Federico:

So before we dive into the main topic, I want to know a little bit, how did you end up working in software testing?

Lisi:

Well, I stumbled into it. So it rather happened by chance, from my point of view or sheer luck, because I didn’t know what I’m going to work on after university, but I knew I wanted to work on my master’s thesis with a topic that I’m at least interested in, if not passionate about. So I chose the topic of computer games, which I’m really passionate about and back then I got this as a chance to take as a topic because nobody else wrote about computer games before, at least at my university back then. And just by taking that leap of faith and asking my professor about it, can I do that? And being actually allowed to do that, I gained confidence and said, okay, why not apply to the computer games industry right after university? Because if I don’t do it, I’ll regret it.

So this happened, and actually I found a job at a small startup, very, very small, and they were not developing computer games, but an AI middleware for computer game developers. And I ended up there as a game designer, even though I’m not coming from that background, they just gave me a chance. So really I got support from the beginning and I found myself to be suddenly in a small software development team, something I wouldn’t have ever expected to end up in, basically in software development and tech, but I love computers. I love tech and everything. 

So it was a great place to be, but just after a few months, our tester quit his job and my boss called me in and had a conversation with me and he said, “You know what, what you’re currently doing, you’re not doing so well,” and I was like, “Whoa,” my world is starting to collapse because I really wanted to stay there.

But he continued and said, “But you know, testing. Testing could be something for you,” and I was like, “I have no clue, but I want to stay here. So I’m going to make it work.” By this gentle push, I discovered that actually this is the area where I can really contribute with my strengths, and suddenly I felt there’s a whole new world there that I didn’t even realize before and I’m fitting in perfectly. I really enjoyed it. I felt I was learning every day. I could contribute to a product constructively in teamwork. Everything, basically all pieces fell together and I found my profession. So that’s how it all started, and I –

Federico:

Do you think this person could see your skills for this role before you realized that you were good at it?

Federico:

I think there’s part in it, yes, because I tended to ask questions before and I can be quite nitpicky, which is not great with family and friends, but at this job, it can be a strength. Of course, if you communicate it properly. So I think he saw that part, but the other part was just, “Hey, I need someone doing the job.”

Federico:

Wow, okay.

Lisi:

At least that’s my assumption.

Federico:

But you like it so far?

Lisi:

I absolutely love it and I’m not looking back. I can look forward because there are so many areas to discover in the quality area.

Federico:

Well, and this is a good introduction to the main topic we want to discuss today, which is how you approach your personal challenges, because I know you have written a lot about it, and also you have given a couple of talks about the topic. So what’s your approach?

Lisi:

I think I found my approach a few years ago after joining my first conferences, because I think it was back in 2016 when I found a learning partner, Toyer Mamoojee. We met over lunch at the conference and just had a talk. Actually, we had a talk about the opening keynote of that conference because it was super inspiring. It really set the atmosphere. It was about being brave, getting out of your comfort zone, doing something that scares you. Really inspiring, and we shared, well what is your fear? What is it? What’s the one thing that really scares you but you would like to do it or try it? It happened to be the same for us, because speaking at an event like a conference like this, oh my gosh, super scary. And at that moment, it happened that my learning partner reached out to me and said, “Okay, let’s make a deal. If you submit for next year’s conference, I have to submit too, a paper to speak there. But if I submit one, well, your turn, you also have to submit a paper to speak here.”

And usually I’m not the type of person to agree to this kind of deals right at the moment. I’m more like, “I need my time.” I’m more reserved, whatever, but it was so inspiring and I thought, “Oh, come on, why not?” And I just accepted this deal. And it was the best thing I ever did, because this brought us so far, both of us. We really held each other accountable, we could share all the challenges, we could share tips, everything. We made it happen. We returned as conference speakers to next year’s conference, and even also had the chance to talk more. One thing came to another, and this was sort of the setting stone to start on this challenge journey, basically, because public speaking, which is not something that comes naturally to me, that was my very first challenge with the support of my learning partner.

Federico:

So something that I understand is key here is to have someone else to be accountable to.

Lisi:

Yes, and also get support, of course, and someone to cheer you on. I mean we also sat front row in each other’s talks, cheering, asking the first question, giving support. That’s really … it can’t be emphasized enough, because it’s making things a lot easier. You don’t have to go this way alone. There’s another one there to support and go the same way with you. So it’s a whole different perspective. It was still scary, but it was not as scary anymore as going alone, and this first one was so successful, we said why not? Why not continue? Because that worked really, really well for us. What about a second pact between us? So we had another one and another one, and now the fourth one.

Federico:

I have a question, because you are facing something completely new. So you don’t believe in yourself probably at that time of doing this. So how do you overcome the imposter syndrome? Because I think this is something that is affecting you a lot in these challenges.

Lisi:

I absolutely agree, because as you said, it’s something completely new. You have no clue, but you sort of committed to figuring it out, and I really related to a tweet that Angie Jones posted, I think yesterday, that it really makes a lot of sense to … it’s not important that you know everything there is in tech and you cannot ever know that, but it’s about finding and building up the confidence in yourself that you know you’re going to figure it out. Because of all the things that I worked on, these things were really new and scary. Therefore, I really found help in first my learning partner, as I said, mental support, encouraging tips, but also making these challenges public helped me in the sense of really finding the motivation to follow through to the end. To not only plan something and then it ends up in a backlog and then have another idea and I’m never going to do it, but this way I felt, okay, now I really have to make it happen. I don’t want to disappoint my learning partner, but I also don’t want to disappoint myself that I can’t keep up with the commitments I make publicly. This helped me find the next step.

And a third thing that really sort of detracts me from feeling not confident at all at the beginning of these kinds of experiments is to really phrase it as an experiment. It can also fail. That’s fine. I’m going to learn anyway, and to help me break it down into smaller steps, to not have to tackle everything at once, but just small steps. One step after another I’m learning and always sharing what I’m going to learn, which was one of the scariest parts, because I felt, oh my gosh, this might be so basic for someone else. No idea if it’s going to be of value to anyone, but I’m just sharing it for my own learning, because this way I force myself to formulate things, to think things through, that I really understand it, how did I arrive at a solution, what not. And the bonus of that is that I get feedback, of course, on those kinds of posts. And it was super encouraging to see, hey, I’m not alone. It’s fine.

Federico:

Not at all, yeah.

Lisi:

Yes, not at all. Exactly. We never know what might be … something I know for years might be completely new for someone else and vice versa, and that’s always going to be the thing, no matter my seniority level or my role or my background, it’s always going to be like that.

Federico:

Yeah, totally. I have had this conversation with many people within the team where I work, that when you want to share something, maybe you feel that it’s basic, because you know a lot about it, and probably 80% of your audience or the people who is going to read or listen to you, they don’t know exactly all the things that you have there to share. So what we typically do is to pay attention to these 20% of people that probably already know it, but they are not going to say, “Shut up.” We have to accept that there are more people getting the benefit than people just saying, “Okay, yeah, I already knew that.”

Lisi:

Exactly, and one point that comes to my mind here as well is that when I share it, I will share it completely differently than you would or another one would. And we can never know whose understanding might be helped by how I tell the story or how you tell the story or someone else. Even if it might be the same content, just because our perspective is different, it’s unique. It’s how we experienced it, if I already filled that gap that someone else needs. So it’s no problem at all to talk about the same content, no matter how many other people already talked about it, same with blogging or creating videos and whatnot.

Federico:

Yeah, and I guess in this journey that you were explaining, it’s really important to find the correct partner, I guess. What has been important in your partner in your challenges?

Lisi:

So in the first moment it was chemistry. So we instantly connected, so that already helped kicking it off. In the long run, it also helped that we shared the first challenge. So we were working on a common goal, that also really helped. And a third thing that I can think of is that we are both people who don’t want to let the other one down. So if we commit, we’re really committed, and we also hold each other accountable. So I think this makes the ingredient for a long-term relationship like this, because I mean our partnership is now going on for four years and counting. This is a lot. It’s not a short term thing anymore, but even for just a few months, you need to follow up, and if no one of those two people would do that, or just always the one side, I think there would be less chances to make it successful. But this way it was really, really helpful for both of us.

Federico:

Well the first one was giving a talk in a conference. Which other challenges have you achieved already?

Lisi:

My second challenge was actually to see how I’m doing as a tester, because I always worked… as I shared, I stumbled into testing. I didn’t have the educational background and also no one else to learn from. We were a really, really small company and the tester quit. So, where to start? It’s completely new. Also, afterwards I worked in companies where I was the lone tester. So I really wondered, well, how well am I doing this, actually? There’s probably more. Other people have different approaches.

 I’m pretty sure there’s more to learn, but I also wanted to know where I stand. So I figured it out: let’s pair with other testers from all around the world on different kinds of topics to really learn how different people tackle different challenges. And it was super instrumental. It was very, very insightful just to see those approaches, working hands-on on other topics. I’ve also worked on a lot more topics this way, because hands-on stuff, yeah, as I said, they often landed in the backlog and then maybe I started working on and pushed it away, but agreeing with someone else, “Hey, let’s meet then to exactly work on this topic,” yes, we followed through and we actually did it and it felt great. So that was the second year.

Federico:

This pairing was testing the product you were testing?

Lisi:

No, actually lots of different products. So sometimes we just chose actually applications that are out there, maybe a web app or whatnot, whatever we can share, or an open source product. Only in few cases we worked on confidential stuff, but I also wanted to blog about it, so it was usually –

Federico:

Oh, makes sense.

Lisi:

Yes, to start out, on a page where we can really share about it. So that was a super cool experience to see myself grow also, from day one, first pairing session, until I think… I think I did 25 sessions in the end. I planned for 10, but in the end, it totally exploded and I learned so much out of it, and to see that I actually got better. I mean I only can compare myself to myself in the past. And I really felt that I knew a lot more, I had a lot more tools in my tool belt suddenly. That was absolutely cool.

Federico:

Are you still pairing with similar testers in the community or maybe even with the developers or with someone else inside the company?

Lisi:

I do. This year less than before because of… well, it’s sort of a disruptive year, but the pairing part worked so well both within my company, but also outside the company, because it also helped my network a lot, but it was so successful that I decided, okay, also for the third challenge, which I’m calling code confidence challenge, to pair up again with people, and here, also a lot more developers came into play, learning from them how to debug a problem, how to really phrase a great Google search to instantly find the answer to what you’re looking for.

Federico:

Right!

Lisi:

It’s amazing. Yes, exactly, and to build up the confidence that I can actually also contribute in code, that I can also program, because I’m not coming from that background. As a child, I never expected to end up in software development. I thought I’m so far behind already, I have no chance to catch up, because other people started maybe at age six or eight, and I had a course in university, one, but that helped me a lot to build up confidence that I can contribute in completely other ways than other people might expect from a tester with a more exploratory background that I can also contribute, as I said, in lots of different fashions, which helps me still today as well. So it was all about confidence.

Federico:

Yeah. So that was your third challenge?

Lisi:

It was the third, yes.

Federico:

All right, and the last one?

Lisi:

No, this year I also started one. So I didn’t finish it because of the recent movements, but I started out to learn a lot more about security because I felt this is yet another really huge area, really scary, because it requires a lot of knowledge all over the place and puzzle things together.

I was always intrigued by the field of security testing years ago, but I felt okay, now let’s make it concrete, let’s make our toes wet and dive deeper and tell those stories from what I learned. Again, I only started it, so there are only a few posts out. I still hope to pick it up again, maybe in a different form. Let’s see what comes, but there’s definitely more coming. The area of security is not yet done.

Federico:

Cool. So if I ask you about what’s your next challenge, probably is to continue with this one?

Lisi:

Probably I’m continuing with this one, but maybe also in another form, because there’s another idea for next year’s with my learning partner. I can’t share it yet, but we have something in mind already, something together again. So it could be that the security project is sort of another challenge then on the side.

Federico:

Excellent. So I have a couple of final questions to wrap up this amazing interview. First is related to highlights. Do you have any highlights that you consider help your productivity or improve your life in some way?

Lisi:

I’m always looking out for new habits to build on, but yeah, habits need time to be built, because only after maybe two months, maybe sometimes for me even longer, I really do it naturally and don’t think about it anymore, because then I have it incorporated in my daily life. I think the most essential one was really about learning as well. 

So I have a habit of—I think for years now, even before I found my learning partner—to always learn one thing new every day. I mean it could be a tiny, tiny bit. It could be… it doesn’t have to be a fully developed topic, of course, but just maybe read one blog post. That’s enough, five minutes, or check my Twitter stream, because there I get a lot of inspiration for new knowledge in short and quick doses, continue reading a book, whatnot. Maybe watch a talk, and as I said, it could be just a few minutes. It doesn’t have to be long, but every day, that’s the key. 

Federico:

Do you take notes of what’s the new learning?

Lisi:

Not on the content. I just follow that habit by “did I do it today”, to build up a streak, just using … there are apps out there to help you with that, to remind you also hey, have you done that already today? Which really helped me to incorporate that in my life, and then in the end, I ended up doing that while commuting to work. Nowadays, I’m working from home. Well, I still find time because it’s already deep inside that I need to do this every day, even just for a few minutes. So that helped me a lot.

Federico:

Cool. And what about books? Do you have any books to recommend?

Lisi:

I actually have a lot of books to recommend, but for today, because as we’ve talked about, my article, “I Am white” in the beginning, today I would really recommend people to read a related book. It’s called So You Want to Talk About Race, and it’s by Ijeoma Oluo. 

I would really recommend this one to get a starting point, especially one of her exercises that she paints out in the book all around privileges helped me immensely to understand all those biases that I build up my own lived experience and how it differs from others’ lived experiences, which is simply to take note of the privileges you have, and they can be really meaningful. It’s not as easy just as my skin color, but there are so, so many. If you read the post that I wrote, there are also examples to give you an idea, and I started to write those down, take notes. I have a weekly reminder if I found something else to add, and I’m still adding to this list. This really opened my eyes, but I would really recommend reading the full book.

Federico:

Excellent. My last question would be is there anything you would like to invite listeners to do?

Lisi:

So of course I’d be happy if you come across my blog. That’s the main source where I’m sharing my thoughts, what I learned. So you can find all input there, also recommended resources. I created pages not only for testing quality, but also on the topic of inclusion, these kinds of things, or speaking at conferences. So if you want to know how I do it, there’s the place to go to read about my challenges, everything. 

My blog is the main source to go to, but if you want to reach out directly or maybe also have a pairing session with me, just feel free to ping me on Twitter, just write me a DM. That’s the place where you’re going to find me. I’d be happy to hear from you.

Federico:

Amazing. Thank you so much. I’m really honored. So thank you so much for your time.

Lisi:

Thanks so much for having me. It was a real pleasure!

Federico:

Bye bye.


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