Mike shares some insights from his career and book, The Drive-Thru Isn’t Always Faster

Season two of Quality Sense is here and in full swing! In the second episode, Fede chats with Mike Lyles, a speaker, author director of QA and Project Manager with over 25 years of IT experience. He’s recently published a book called The Drive-Thru Is Not Always Faster in which he focuses each chapter on a different idea or life lesson, making it a light, yet uplifting read for leaders and anyone who wants to accomplish their dreams.

Episode Highlights

  • How an excuse to go to Tampa, Florida resulted in Mike getting into software testing
  • The difference between being a manager and being a leader
  • Why work-life balance is (or should be considered) a fantasy
  • How testers can stay up to date with latest trends and more!

Listen Here:

Episode Transcript:

(Lightly edited for clarity.)

Federico:

Hello Mike. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show, thank you so much for accepting the invitation!

Mike:

Thank you so much Federico, I’m so happy to be here and so happy to be part of this. I’ve listened to your show, and I’m really excited about being part of it.

Federico:

Great, thank you. And the first thing I wanted to say is congratulations on your book. I’m reading it right now, a couple of chapters every day, and I’m really enjoying it.

Mike:

Thank you so much. It’s been really good. I was really hoping to get it out there to a lot more people and really go on a marketing campaign, signing books. The virus had other plans for me. So I’ve ended up really doing most of my marketing online and virtually like a lot of people. But it’s still getting out there, getting a lot of readers and doing very well.

Federico:

Great. That’s really nice to hear, but is there a way you can summarize it?

Mike:

Yes. Yeah. I would say that my book is really the… Somebody asked me if you summed it up in one story, what is the message you’re trying to get across there? And the message I really want to share with folks is: what is holding you back? What is keeping you from meeting the goals or meeting those things you really want to do in life, who’s holding you back, what kind of things are keeping you from achieving, really, what you want to do and accomplish in the world? 

So it’s a great book for people of all ages. Lots of books sometimes hit a certain target age, whether it’s young kids or middle age or teenagers. But in this case, this one hits everyone. Because everybody’s got a goal. Everybody has goals, whatever stage you are in life. And I think this touches on those things. So it’s really, what is holding you back?

Federico:

Everyone has a goal, at least one. Maybe not always clear or in your mind, but you have one goal and having that kind of advice in order to improve what you’re doing to achieve it, I think is really important. So thank you for sharing your thoughts about that in the book. 

Mike, first question related to testing: How did you end up working in the software testing industry?

Mike:

What I’ve heard you say in your podcast that most people fall into testing by accident. And I was no different there. I was a developer for most of my life, and I got into development in college and then software development in a company I was working with, and I moved into management and I said, “Well, management is what I want to do. I want to be a project manager for developer teams” and really saw an opportunity for a training course in test management. It was a week-long course in Tampa, Florida. I’d never been to Tampa, Florida. And I took that opportunity. 

I definitely did not look at this as an opportunity to learn testing. I looked at it as an opportunity to go to Tampa, Florida. And that was about 2005. And I realized during that course one, I was the only person that was not a tester in that training. And two, I really wanted to be like them. 

So, that brought me back to my company who did not have a QA organization at that time. And I came back, started building out a QA process even without having QA. And in 2008, they started QA and I kind of raised my hand and volunteered to move into that role. And I’ve been in QA ever since 2008.

Federico:

Because you wanted to visit a new place?

Mike:

Yes! I had a restaurant I wanted to visit and a location in Tampa, Florida, and it turned out to be a completely different outcome for me than what I expected.

Federico:

Okay. And the main topic I wanted to address today is related to leadership because I know you have a lot of experience in that area. For starters, from your experience, what makes a good leader?

Mike:

So I think one of the things I’ve done through this summer is I’ve done several leadership workshops and I’ve worked with a lot of people on what defines a good leader, what qualities and traits you look for in a good leader. And there are several things. 

The first thing I look for is dependability. Someone who is very dependable, you can count on them to do what they say they’re going to do. That is actually a chapter in my book it’s DWIYSYWD (“do what you said you would do”). And it’s really about making sure you track your commitments because we get busy in this world, and we don’t always do what we say we’re going to do because we’ll forget it. We have good intentions, but we don’t remember, and being a good leader is always doing what you said you would do.

Another one is something that I learned from a director that I worked for many years ago is he introduced me as, “This is Mike. He works with me.” And that one simple word “with,” instead of “for,” changed the whole concept of how I worked with him because I’m part of his team. Just saying, “Mike works with me” says he’s part of my team. And he says, “Mike works for me” well he’s… I’m cracking the whip and he’s doing, as I say, and he’s my slave, but I don’t think that that’s what great leaders do. Great leaders do use the word “he works with me,” and I’ve used that word ever since. I’ve never used, “So and so works for me.”

Federico:

Words are really important because it seems like a detail, but it’s the way you conceptualize reality, right?

Mike:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think, speaking of words, I think the four words that I always use as a leader is “What do you think?” Because if you’ve got a room full of people and you’ve got somebody working with you in a room, as a leader, you need to be more in servant leadership than driving the team. 

Management is about meeting goals and hitting goals and going that direction. But leadership is really about understanding what you’re doing for the people that you’re working with.

MIKE LYLES

And when I work with folks, a lot of times I’ll see them and they may or may not be actively engaged in our discussion or our plans. And I will say, “Hey John,” or, “Hey Susan, what do you think?” And that gives them the opportunity to add their insights. It makes them feel like they’re more part of a team. And those four simple words, “What do you think?” really helps people to, to be more interactive and engaging as a leader.

I’ve got a very long list and you don’t want to go two podcasts long, but so many great traits of a leader. I think it’s really around the dependability and being able to help people remove obstacles that are holding them back and great leaders lead by example as well.

Federico:

You mentioned management. Is there a difference for you between a manager and a leader?

Mike:

Yes. So I have a slide in my talk on leadership and that is leadership is not management. Leadership is not a title. It’s not a role. It’s really about influence and supporting your followers, and really great leaders practice servant leadership. 

You can be a manager and a leader, and some managers are great leaders. But what I say to folks that come to my courses, a lot of people like to come to my leadership courses because they want to learn how to be a leader. And the first thing many will say is, “Well, I’m a tester. I’m a junior tester. I’m an entry level tester. I’m not a leader.” And I quickly correct that. And I say, “It doesn’t matter what position you are in within the company. You can be a leader. You can be a leader at five years old. You can be a leader at 12 years old. It doesn’t matter where you are in your career. You can be a leader.” 

And John Maxwell, a great leadership author, a great author of many business books and leadership books has a book called The 360 Degree Leader. And he talks about how you lead your peers. You can lead your subordinates, you can lead your executive team. You can lead in every direction. And I think it’s a great book for anyone that hasn’t read it because I think that it really helps you think about leadership as a quality more than it is a position.

Federico:

Yeah, something that we have been trying to do in Abstracta is to identify those leaders and also try to help them and train them to get that management position.

Mike:

Yes, absolutely. So you’re asking how do you help leaders of others become leaders? I’ve worked with a lot of experienced leaders and people that just are born with it. Some people are born with it. You can tell a lot of times, back in the good old days, when we used to do conferences in person and weren’t doing all of them virtually, I realized very quickly in a lot of my courses that you can tell in a group of people who is the leader, who’s the biggest leader. There may be multiple leaders in that group, but you’ll see someone taking that initiative, getting in front of the group, starting to pull people together. And that’s a natural ability that you see people do, but I’ve seen other people who want to be a leader, but they’re shy or they don’t really understand how to get into that position.

What I love about those different roles though, is that they each have different roadmaps and someone will learn how to lead, and I can give them direction, show them books to read, things that they can study, oracles they can live by, or they may be experienced leaders who want to get better. And the thing I always tell the experienced leader is there’s a quote from Stephen Covey called “Nothing fails like success.” And what Stephen Covey says is he puts his fists together. And he says, “What you’re doing today is very successful to the need today, but the needs may grow. And now what you’re doing today that was successful is no longer successful.” So he says, “Nothing fails like success.” And I think that’s one of the things I try to teach in a lot of my courses and a lot of the presentations that I give is “You’re great today. You may be awesome today. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be awesome tomorrow. You got to keep growing.” And as leaders, it’s definitely something that it’s a continued education and continued growth as a leader to grow.

Federico:

What’s more effective for continuing to grow? Because I know there are workshops, there are books, there are different kinds of trainings or things like this. I feel that it’s really important to mentor leaders, but maybe you have some other ideas on how to keep them growing as leaders.

Mike:

Yes, absolutely. There are so many great ways to learn, Twitter. I always tell people at my conferences and I didn’t realize how powerful Twitter was until about eight years ago. I was speaking at a conference, standing in front of their conference, and I was using my phone for the timer to make sure I got my hour in. And it was my first talk. And I noticed Twitter started blowing up. I was seeing people quoting what I was saying during my talk. And it was just scrolling on the screen. And I realized how powerful, especially in the testing community, that Twitter is for us because I created a list of people, I’ve added most all of… You’re there. A lot of other great folks in testing are there, and great leaders are there as well. But I have a testing list that people can follow.

It has about 2000 people in it. So if you connect with those people, they will likely connect with you. Same with writers and leaders and different lists in my group. So if you’re not on Twitter, I strongly suggest folks to get on Twitter. It’s a great way to see what people are talking about. And it’s fast. It’s not posting a lot of stuff. It’s just words and a few pictures, maybe. That’s one way. 

LinkedIn is a really great place to meet with leadership groups and connect with a lot of people out there. I’ve got a lot of connections on LinkedIn. A lot of people that I’ve met through that process, but two that I think that are really important are blogs and podcasts. I think blogs are growing. I think people are starting to write more. There’s a lot of discussion through the years about are blogs falling out and people not using them anymore? 

I do think there’s other avenues, but I think people who write really good blogs and articles really get a lot of attention and you can learn about what people are doing.

Federico:

And then now we have more time, right?

Mike:

Yes, absolutely!

Federico:

We are at home.

Mike:

And I’ve always said the best way to learn something well is to listen to the experiences of those that have already been through it. And there’s some people out there writing some great articles and doing some great podcasts. And I love your podcast with a lot of great leaders who are sharing their experiences. And I think that’s the kind of thing people need to be taking advantage. Like you said, taking advantage of this time where you’re not having to drive to work. You’re not having to travel a lot. You’re sitting at home, learn from that experience.

The best way to learn something well is to listen to the experiences of those that have already been through it.”

MIKE LYLES

Federico:

I would like to take the opportunity, now that you mentioned that to encourage people also to write more and share the experiences because for me, there is a quote that says something like, “The one who teaches learns twice.”

Mike:

Yes.

Federico:

So sharing your experiences, writing them, it helps you to clarify your ideas because if you want to explain something, you have to be very clear and sometimes it drives you to research a little bit more, or to look for different ways of saying the same thing. So I really encourage people to share and write more.

Mike:

I have a slide in a lot of my leadership talks that I have learned more from teaching people than I’ve learned from being taught. And I agree with you completely. That is a very great point. Is that to really be able to teach it to people, you have to learn it like you said, and it’s a great point.

Federico:

Great. One more thing related to maybe a different topic, but when we lead a team or we lead, or we influence some of our people, we maybe can have a fear of making mistakes. Also when we teach, what if I’m wrong in what I am trying to teach? I’ve read a lot lately about the responsibility for quality that testers have and also, again, fear and anxiety and things like this. How can you overcome these kinds of feelings that maybe can block you in your path?

Mike:

Yeah. So when we mentioned the theme of my book is what is, what is holding you back. One of the chapters of my book that I always share to people that say, “I’m afraid of this,” and “I have a lot of anxiety and fear about accomplishing this or meeting this goal,” or “people are not going to accept me, or they’re not going to like what I’m doing. I get a lot of people that disagree with me, or my thoughts are not going well there.” One of the chapters in my book is called, what other people think of you is none of your business. And I think social media society is ingrained in our brains that we must do things to make people happy. We feel that need to do that. So do people like me, or stop doing this so other people keep liking me, but the day you wake up and realize that you can do anything you want and it doesn’t have to be for others, you’re reborn.

And I think it’s perfect to help others to do great things, help a friend in need, give those what they need your support, but it’s not okay for you to hold back from doing something because you feel you’re going to get laughed at or ridiculed. It’s not okay for you to keep away from something because you really want to do only this, because what others are going to say is “he’s not succeeding” or “he’s not achieving the goals.” Your level of success really defines within you. So remove those thoughts, remove the people if you need to and focus your mind on what you need to do to achieve. 

I remember that when I first told someone in 2002, “I’m going to write a book,” they laughed and they said, “Sure, go ahead. Everybody writes books, right?” And it challenged me. And I thought, “Well, can I write a book?” And what I found was I just put a little bit into it every so often and got to where I needed to be, but I’ve been one to accept that challenge. And I say to folks, “Develop that thick skin.” And to be tough when people tell you that they think, you’re not going the right direction. Sometimes you might not be, so you need to listen to it some, but I would say, “Don’t let people hold you back. Don’t let your fears hold you back. And really talk with someone who you highly respect.” Mentors are out there. I always tell people “a mentor is not someone that you necessarily have to pay and have a constant agreement with. It could just be somebody that you highly respect in the community or in your workforce.”

And I bounce a lot of ideas off of people. I’ve talked to Michael Bolton a lot. I met him at a conference one time, and he had no idea who I was. And I stepped up to him and asked him about metrics, which he quickly told me “it’s not metrics, it’s measurement.” And he took me to the side and he had lunch with me. And he’d never met me before. And I’ll never forget that because it was many years ago. And I’ve been really good friends with him ever since. But I liked the fact that there are people in this testing community, more than other places that I’ve worked in other careers. I think that really want to help people. So, get with someone who has your same ideas, shares your thoughts and get some understanding from them. And that’ll help you gain that confidence.

Federico:

Yeah. Totally. I ask myself a question from time to time when I feel this fear, which is what if I’m wrong? “What’s the problem with being wrong?” What if what I am doing is not perfect? I was saying at the beginning, before the interview, “I know my English is not perfect. What about it? Can you understand what I say? Okay, that’s enough.” It’s going to improve with time. I hope.

Mike:

Practice makes perfect. For sure.

Federico:

One more thing about this because we are talking about leading people, reading books, social media, paying attention to so many things happening around us in order to learn and continue growing. And we also have a life, right? One of my favorite chapters so far is the one where you mentioned this idea of balance, the work life balance. Can you tell us about it? Because I really like it.

Mike:

Yes, a lot of authors will write a chapter or name a book or a chapter or something that really gets attention and makes people wonder, what is this all about? And I know you’re talking about the chapter called “Work-Life Balance is a Fantasy,” which gets people’s attention right away because a lot of people talk about work-life balance.

Federico:

It worked with me.

Mike:

So at the start of that chapter, I talk about a guy that was asked by someone “Where do you live?” And his answer was “everywhere.” And it was a funny response. And it was in a funny movie.

And I thought it was funny, but it got me thinking we do live everywhere and everywhere we go. And it was at that moment that I realized that you don’t have to separate the two. And a lot of people try to and try to even them out, but you’ll go crazy, especially in the roles that we play, especially in testing and in the IT world.

“What I challenge people to do is make life fun, wherever you are, enjoy those moments, whether you’re at work or your home, or you’re out to dinner and worry less about, evening up the hours that you spend on your work and your goals and more about what do you want to leave as your legacy?”

Mike Lyles

And so my story in 2002, was that I wanted to write a book. People laughed, like I said, but I knew someday I would do it. I had no idea how I would do it, but for me, I pulled it together in an old leather notebook. And I wrote down the name of the book, which was a different title back then. And on that day I wrote down in the planner, “On this day, I am going to read a book,” and I didn’t know how long it would take. It was 2002 by the way, but each month I would add notes, new chapters, new ideas that I would think would work, whether I was at work or I was in the car, I was at home, wherever I was, I would just start taking those notes.

And 2014, I started pulling them together and starting saying, “This is what I want to do.” 2014 to 2017, I started out in titles and figuring out how I wanted to do that and figuring out what are the details. And I cut some out and added some new ones, and it’s slowly, 2017, 2018, I got serious about the book, started really defining the chapters, how it was all going to look. And in 2019, I finally finished it. I think I edited it 10 to 15 times. So I’ve read the book more than anybody in the audience would ever read this book, but it was out there. And I was really happy because the moral of the story here with work-life balance, I think is I knew I wanted to write a book, but I also knew I worked in IT, I got kids, family. And so I knew that it’s very hard to do all these things you want to do, especially if it’s not related to your work or your life. 

And so I just said, “The moral here would be, do a little bit every day that you can do. And, every day, try to do something else or every week, try to add to your goals. And it may take you 17 years to write a book, but you’ll get there. And you’ll see that accomplishment.” 

And also doing things like this with the book taught me that my second book, my next book that I write will not take as long because you’ve now got the experience, you know what things to hold back on and not to hold back on. And we talked about fear. I think for a lot of people, fear makes us procrastinate and put things off. And once you’ve been through that experience, once it makes it easier to do it the second time.

Federico:

Yeah. A friend and I’ve tried to change the idea of work-life balance to work-life integration.

Mike:

Yes, Absolutely.

Federico:

Because as you mentioned in the book, it’s only one thing, right? You have one life, in some moments you are working, in some moments you are working at work. In some moments you are-

Mike:

I tell folks in my courses that testers really are testing everywhere. If you’re a great tester you’re testing, no matter whether you’re at work or you’re at home. And for that reason, I say that a lot of people will not test drive a car with me because I drive everyone in the car crazy, including the dealership, by testing everything in the car, all the buttons, all the controls, the brakes, the gas, and test everything. We test everything we do. 

Federico:

Boundary values as well?

Mike:

That’s right. No tickets from the police yet.

Federico:

Okay. Well, I have a couple of final questions. You have given a lot of suggestions or pieces of advice, but I would like to ask you more specifically about habits, if you have any habits that maybe you can suggest to form or to avoid.

Mike:

Yes. I touched on a moment ago, but procrastination is the worst. And there used to be a funny shirt that says, “Why do today when you can put off til tomorrow?” But I think, it’s a variation of procrastination and that is, I’ve got three things to do. This one is the most important, but number two is easier, and so I’ll wash the car, I will wash the laundry, I will go do this, I’ll go do that. Instead of work on this presentation or work on my book. And I think people have to really focus on… Make sure you’re getting those big goals done first. Sometimes it’s good to get some little wins to kind of get you motivated. There’s nothing wrong with doing some of the really small stuff, but don’t let that get in the way.

And then the other bad habit we touched upon a little bit earlier is to do what you said you would do. It’s a simple thing to write down what you have committed to. So if you tell me, “Hey, Mike, I need this report by Friday.” I’m going to say yes. And then I may forget it before Friday because I’m doing 13 other things in my mind. But if I write it down and I say, “I’ve made a commitment to you and I made it at this day and I’m committed to deliver it to you at this date in this time.” Now I’ve got a list and I’ll work from that list every week, every month, that of my job. And whether it’s work, it’s family, it’s personal, whatever it is when I make a commitment, write it down and hold to it.

Because I think that is something that a lot of people don’t do. And it’s so simple that people think, “Well, Mike, that’s crazy. I don’t need to write everything down. I got a good memory,” and you get my age and you realize, I don’t have as good a memory. I have good intentions, but it doesn’t cover for my good memory.

Federico:

I don’t have good memory. And actually something that I typically say is that if I don’t write it down, it doesn’t exist!

Mike:

That’s right. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Federico:

Well, do you have any book to recommend to the audience, apart from yours?

Mike:

Yes. I have so many books and I won’t do all. I go through hundreds of them. I do have a pretty good list though.

The first one I would share with folks is Start with Why. It’s a book by Simon Sinek. He talks about understanding what is your why, the core of why you do things and it has nothing to do with what you do or how you do it. It’s a wonderful book. Start with Why, even if you don’t read the book, go to YouTube and look for Simon Sinek. And you will see a YouTube video on the golden circle, and it’s an 18 minute video. And he’s amazing. 

The other book that, if you’re a leader and want to be a leader, you must have read or you’re about to read it. And that is the The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. So many core values there. He also talks about, of all of the seven things he talks about, the one thing he talks about that really appeals to a lot of people is the four quadrants, the important versus not important and the urgent versus not urgent. And he talks about how that we spend a lot of our times doing things that are not important and not urgent, and they get in the way. And how do you get yourself in that fourth quadrant where you’re being proactive and getting things done. 

The 360 Degree Leader. We touched on it. A couple of the testing books.

I would suggest, definitely Lessons Learned in Software Testing, James Bach, Cem Kane and Brett Pettichord. That’s an awesome book.

Leading Quality by Ronald Cummins John, he is amazing. He got a good book out there. It’s a brand new book that just came out in the last year.

Anything by Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory. They’ve got Agile Testing Condensed, which is that we always joke, me and the two of them, that’s a much easier book for me because it’s really short. It gets me to the point they’ve got this giant academic book, a couple of those, but all three are really, really good books.

And I guess the last one I’d say would be The Three Pillars of Agile Quality. And that is by Bob Galen and Mary Thorne.

And I’ve got several others. Anybody listening wants to reach out to me, I can share others. The list just keeps going. And as I’m looking through it, but some great people that have written some really good things that we can learn from.

Federico:

Excellent. I’m really happy that I know most of them. And I’ve read most of the books you mentioned, but I will pay attention to the ones I didn’t know. Thank you so much for that. Mike, do you want to invite our audience to do anything?

Mike:

Yeah. I would say try the book. If you’re an ebook reader, it’s 3.99 right now, US dollars, very cheap deal right now. If you can’t afford that, reach out to me, I can work it out with you and get you a copy.

But what I find about the book is it’s 30 chapters. Each is a different short story. It’s really how I wanted to lay this thing out because you can read a chapter a day. A lot of people are doing that. They’re saying, “I don’t have time to read a whole book.” And this one’s not a very thick book and a very large book, but you can read one chapter a day, get a new thought, start your day off with that. And I really do think it’s helped a lot of people, and my mom loves it, which I guess she’s probably an impartial voter, though.

But yeah, I think it’s been very helpful and it’s helped me to integrate with a lot of people and really the part that pleases me and makes me happy about the book is that when people start speaking about, and this was one of the things, when you get to the end of the book, there’s the last chapter is called, “Leave a Legacy.” And really after all these things are what’s holding you back, and the very end of the book is what do you want to leave? What do you want to be remembered for? And how do you want to be remembered? And when I thought about writing a book over the years, the one thing I wanted to do was I wanted somebody to quote me, and I wanted something that I said to make a difference in someone’s life.

And I felt like that I’m starting to see some of that coming back now, people were saying, “Hey, I’m doing what I said I would do.” or “Nothing’s in my way.” or “I don’t care what other people are saying about me.” And so when I hear people coming to me and they’re quoting things from my book that I’ve showed them, then that to me is the accomplishment. It’s not about how many books I sell or how much money I make. I had someone tell me a long time ago, you’re not going to get rich off writing a book. And they were absolutely right! But the one thing I did do is get rich off of the idea and the connections and what people were learning and what I’m learning from people that read it.

Federico:

Thank you so much, Mike. It was a pleasure, an honor for me to have you here in the show.

Mike:

Yes, thank you.

Federico:

Enjoy the rest of your day, and hope to see you soon.

Mike:

Thank you!


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