After the first and second part our interview with Rosie Sherry, lead organizer of SoftwareTestingClub.com, things are just starting to get interesting.
No, really, SoftwareTestingClub.com. It is a real thing, a website for software testers (yes, the tiny niche of the IT industry) to get together to talk – mostly with a European focus.
Yes, they also have cutesy images. What can I tell you, it seems to be working for them.
Lately, the folks from SoftwareTestingClub have moved into training and placement — they even have a physical print newspaper!
In this day and age of linux is free and a webserver plus hostings costs $60 a month, Rosie Sherry is building a business.
Again, I admire her.
Back to the interview.
Matt Heusser: You are in a good niche, and offer a unique a compelling alternative for testers in the United Kingdom in Europe, where traditionally there has been little test education outside of ISTQB, and very little test community. At the same time, you are trying to run a business, at least to produce some stipend income, right? (I have no problem with this. You are providing a service and, in my mind, should be paid for it. You are also taking a huge risk.) I know people are reluctant to talk about numbers, but our audience would really like to know — can you tell us the kind of revenue software testing club made in, say, it’s second or third year, and the kind of expenses it took to get there?
Rosie Sherry: I was speaking to someone the other day and he said I was doing things the wrong way around and breaking the rules. He said usually companies go out to make lots of money, then donate or do things for a good cause. Where as we’ve always put the community first, we don’t see why they shouldn’t be first. We turn down opportunities for deals that could make us more money because it doesn’t go with our ethos. We could be making more money, but in our heart it would be the wrong thing to do. However, at the heart of this we do believe STC should and can pay its way by paying me and everyone else involved a good wage.
So much is changing at the moment and we are currently in the process of trying out new things. Ask me this question in a year. I’m writing a private blog / book at the moment about the internal day to day stuff of what is involved. The highs. The lows. And probably the figures too. It’s not something I’ll release now, but definitely something I’m looking to release at a not too distant stage. You can keep me motivated by registering your interest here – http://leanpub.com/rosiesherry
Matt Heusser: You’re running a website, doing placement, offering marketing and PR services — what does a typical day in the life look like for Rosie Sherry? I know, I know there are no typical days. So tell me about five of them and we’ll try to draw a picture in our minds.
Rosie Sherry: I wake up early because I have an 8 month old. We have an aupair who helps out at the moment so mornings aren’t too stressful. Sometimes I help get the kids ready for school. Other times I do a bit of work. Other times I go out for a cycle before the school run. I then do the school run.
I work from home during the day 95% of the time. Sometimes I have meetings (face to face or online), but I carefully plan these around my kids so that I can be there in the mornings and afternoons. I also sometimes go to a fitness class whilst the kids are at school. This means strange working hours, but that’s ok. Often I’m found working late at night. Or answering emails whilst my son has a bath. Some people may not agree with this and think that I shouldn’t do work with my kids around. But it works for me. And compared to most people who have to travel to work every day – I do the school run most of the time. I speak to their friends parents. To their teachers. Have their friends over. I have a good understanding of what is going on with them at school. I also cook and eat with the family most of the time. And tuck them into bed virtually every night. (Virtually as in ‘practically’ not as in ‘cyberspace’, lol!)
I go out in the evenings sometimes too, but again this is carefully planned around the kids, especially my youngest.
We’ll come back to Rosie next time for one last interview segment — Where she will talk about what’s next for herself, the site, and give some advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. Don’t miss it!]]>
Last week I started a new interview with Rosie Sherry – a software tester turned entrepreneur.
No, seriously, she was a tester (and a few other interesting things) that went on to start a community site for testers, which now does placement, training, has a newspaper, and might even sell an advertisement or two.
I admire her.
This week, we’ll pick up the interview, finding out where she got the idea for moving from employee to content creator — and how she got started.
Matt Heusser: Let’s talk about the website. Where did you get the idea for a software testing website? How did you find time for it? How did you fund it? When did it start to pay dividends for you, and what were the first dividends? (Advertising revenue? Job Leads?)
Rosie Sherry: I blogged on software testing in the earlier days and built up a small reputation and had met others online. I really enjoyed this and looked for other ways to connect with other testers online. I didn’t feel like any of the other forums met what I was looking for, so I started my own. I really didn’t think it would grow into what it has today. I remember being impressed when 50 people joined. Now it’s over 10,000 registered members.
I didn’t start the website with the intention to make money, nor did I expect for it to consume so much of my resources/time, but as it grew I have been happily (!) studying and seeking ways for it to work. Making websites or communities financially sustainable is a very hard thing, not many do it successfully. It’s still a painfully slow process to figure out how to make it work. We’re getting there though
More recently I’ve been studying the methods of the Lean Startup and have started applying some of the concepts. The idea behind it is to build something as small as it needs to be. Measure whether it works. Learn from the measurements, customers and feedback. Then loop again as necessary.
I’ve always worried about implementing things on Software Testing Club that may disagree with the community. I really want to make everyone happy, I do! I do! I think people see this. I do have their interests in my heart, but also at the end of the day it has to work for me and anyone else involved in the setup. This means some things will change that people may not like, but if we fail to act quick enough to change things then the overall picture will eventually become much more gloomy.
We recently launched the Ministry of Testing (www.ministryoftesting.com) where we are doing training, events and an online resource. As part of it we have created a group of people who are giving ideas and feedback on everything we are working towards. I generally make the final decisions, along with Rob Lambert, on any matter, but having the feedback loop has proven to be very valuable. It also gives me a confidence boost in what we are doing.
We’re trying out lots of new things. Some are coming soon. I’m sure I’ll make mistakes along the way and hope that people will understand Mistakes are great for learning though. And it’s always easy to think that we have the perfect solution in mind, but when someone comes to use it the outcome is always different than expected.
For me other dividends has been the thank yous I get. There have been several blog posts, comments and remarks that STC is what reignited tester’s passion in their job. When things are tough, this is what keeps us going.
Matt Heusser: Speaking of dividends, how long did it take you to go from concept to cash?
Rosie Sherry: I launched STC in 2007. without intention for it to make money, but as it increasingly grew I had to find ways for it to make its way in the world. For the first couple of years it made some money in advertising, mostly to cover the main costs of running the website and now The Testing Planet. For the past couple of years we’ve been doing alot more advertising and marketing services. The income has increased, but so have our costs. I’ll be honest and say that all the revenues that have been made have been re-invested 100% into the running the company. We now have Editors to pay. Designers to pay. Technical support to pay. Accountants fees. We’ve not borrowed any money to get to where we are which has the advantage of putting us 100% in control, but also makes moving forward a slower process.
Don’t worry, we’ll hear more from Rosie next time. I would say that things are just starting to get interesting … and I hope you agree.]]>
I’ve been running a multi-part interview series along the theme of re-imaging your life.
Consider, for example, quitting your day job to sail the world — Adam Yuret did it. Or reframing your job so that you are independent, and can trade time for money; both J.B. Rainsberger and David Hoppe did this.
But maybe you don’t want to travel the world or take long sabbaticals to go lounge on a beach (or go mountain biking, or rock climbing, or whatever.)
Maybe you just want more time with your family.
Meet Rosie Sherry.
Rosie was a freelance software tester from 2001 to 2004, when she took a ‘day job’ doing the same thing for the next few years.
Then the children came, and, suddenly, dropping the kids off at day care and driving in to an office felt … less appealing.
Heavily involved in the software test community, Rosie went back to freelancing but also lead the start-up of SoftwareTestingClub.com, an online community site for testers. The site now generates a comfortable income, and, combined with her freelance work, allows Rosie to work from home with less hours than a day job, and the flexibility to work after the kids are in bed.
We might you might like to hear from her.
Matt Heusser: Let’s start at the beginning Rosie — How did you become a freelance tester, and how much did you family rely on your income? Did you have a partner who provided the steady pay check?
Rosie Sherry: In 2001 I was hit by the dot com boom and bust and got made redundant. Finding a permanent job at that time was really difficult, but I managed to keep myself busy with freelance work for local and London digital agencies. Initially it was a mixture of contract and freelance work, these are often incorrectly seen to be the same things. Contracts are usually more like temporary permanent jobs with specific work locations but with better pay. Freelance work is built around the deliverables, not the location. I found myself often sitting about during contracts with not much to do, I really didn’t like this, so once my contracts ended I would let the cilents know I was available for more work, but only on a freelance basis.
I don’t know how childcare works in other countries, but in the UK it’s not cheap. Full time nursery care for example can easily cost £800 per month per child. Multiply that by 2 for me (at the time) and it becomes alot of money per month to earn even before I can think about spending any excess on anything else. Yes my husband works and has always earned more than me. We’ve always made a deal that if I work I have to at least cover the childcare costs.
I’ve got 3 kids now, sigh, but at least 2 of them are school age now.
Matt Heusser: So in 2003 you took a day job. What made you interested in that, and, looking back, how do you feel about that experience?
Rosie Sherry: Well here’s a story….
I took a permanent job in early 2003 and had my first child in November of that year. My job didn’t last long. All was going well until I mentioned I was pregnant. I went from having a nice boss to one who completely ignored me and my needs. It was a stressful situation at the time and I decided to quit, after I got myself signed off sick for stress. Not something I’d like to go through again. I’ve taken a permanent job since.
Since having my first son, I’ve freelanced as a tester. Helped with my husbands business. Diversified into learning about building communities, marketing and the social web. I was also involved in setting up some local coworking spaces. And started The Software Testing Club and related projects.
Some have been more successful than others financially, but all have been a great learning experience. I never went to university. Nor completed my A-levels here. I see alot of this stuff as my education.
Now, I’ve done my learning and I’m ready for the next stage!
Speaking of the next stage
There’s plenty more to come about the process Rosie went through to become independent, how she mixes the business with her life, and the multiple ways that software testing club generates revenue, from ads to training to placement and flash mob services.
Don’t miss it.]]>
We’ll come back to our series on the Independent IT Life in the next post, but first … an interlude.
A few weeks ago I introduced the idea of a Singularity Signal – a sort of “canary in a coal mine”, indicating that Artificial Intelligence was getting too powerful — that could happen well before computers become self-aware.
In fact, I’d like to continue that premise into today’s post — the idea that computers do not need to be self-aware in order to act like they are and, in effect, to force humans to conditions that would not individually agree on.
All you have to do is to get computers to do work for human beings, programmatically, in multiple systems that are interlocked.
Like, I dunno, the world’s financial markets, maybe.
I will explain.
It Has Happened Already
On May 6th, 2011, the New York Stock Exchange opened to a minor sell-off, which became a panicked, major sell-off about 2:41PM. (There’s video!) Over the next ten minuts the Dow Jones industrial average lost one thousand points, about nine percent of it’s total value. After those panicked moments subsided, the market rebounded, regaining the minor losses, and ending the day down 998 points from the opening bell.
Those ten minutes were the second largest swing for an entire day in the history of Dow Jones. That is to say, only one swing was larger, and it took a whole day, not ten minutes.
The thing was, nobody could explain what kicked off the sale, or why it happened so suddenly.
Oh, we’ve tried; the Securities and Exchange Commission funded a full report, that took six months to issue. It is available to the public — you can go ahead and read it. In a nutshell: Automated trades did it.
How It Works
As an investor, to hedge my bet, I may place a “Trailing Stop” order, to sell my shares if the reach a certain low threshold. Individually, this sounds like a risk mitigation strategy — I get out if the going gets tough.
But what if everybody else has a trailing stop set?
What you’d see is a race to the bottom.
I’ll let the SEC tell the story:
At 2:32 p.m., against this backdrop of unusually high volatility and thinning liquidity, a large fundamental trader (a mutual fund complex) initiated a sell program to sell a total of 75,000 EMini contracts (valued at approximately $4.1 billion) as a hedge to an existing equity position. Generally, a customer has a number of alternatives as to how to execute a large trade. First, a customer may choose to engage an intermediary, who would, in turn, execute a block trade or manage the position. Second, a customer may choose to manually enter orders into the market. Third, a customer can execute a trade via an automated execution algorithm, which can meet the customer’s needs by taking price, time or volume into consideration. Effectively, a customer must make a choice a s to how much human judgment is involved while executing a trade.
This large fundamental trader chose to execute this sell program via an automated execution algorithm (“Sell Algorithm” ) that was programmed to feed orders into the June 2010 E-Mini market to target an execution rate set to 9% of the trading volume calculated over the previous minute, but without regard to price or time.
The execution of this sell program resulted in the largest net change in daily position of any trader in the E-Mini since the beginning of the year (from January 1, 2010 through May 6, 2010). Only two single-day sell programs of equal or larger size – one of which was by the same large fundamental trader – were executed in the E-Mini in the 12 months prior to May 6.
When executing the previous sell program, this large fundamental trader utilized a combination of manual trading entered over the course of a day and several automated execution algorithms which took into account price, time, and volume. On that occasion it took more than 5 hours for this large trader to execute the first 75,000 contracts of a large sell program.
However, on May 6, when markets were already under stress, the Sell Algorithm chosen by the large trader to only target trading volume, and neither price nor time, executed the sell program extremely rapidly in just 20 minutes.
That’s right. Someone picked the computer to do the sell, and it did exactly what it was told, and everyone’s trailing stop kicked in … and the rest is history. (The good news, the mini-rally, is likely because the “leading buy” orders kicked in!)
The official story is that one large sell order sunk the ship, it’s more that that.
It’s more than the trailing stops, too. Watch the Network News Video again: These people have no idea what is going on. None.
The ticker itself is controlled by a computer.
Now a human, a thinking human, watching the inputs to the ticker, could see that something was going wrong, and stop the system – but a computer would simply execute trades as instructed, showing that demand suddenly dropped, supply went up, and it was time to adjust prices to reach equilibrium.
What about the circuit breakers?
After the last big crashed caused by integrated computer system (On Oct 19, 1987), the SEC and the Stock Exchange put in place “Circruit Breakers”, automatic systems designed to halt all trading in the event of massive swings in the Market.
Why didn’t they work?
The flash crash happened to quickly, at the wrong time of the day. It didn’t trigger any of them. As Chris Sheridan explains on his blog, the breakers were turned off at 2:30PM.
The sell order came at 2:31.
What can we learn here?
Obviously (or perhaps not), automated systems, programmed by different people who didn’t check with each other, trying to trade automatically, could have unintended consequences.
More importantly, they will have vulnerabilities.
Sure, it sounds like a sad story – every player, from the institution trying to sell the options to the poor suckers just trying to “get out” when the market crashed — all those people lost money.
But every transaction has two sides; for each loser, someone else is a winner.
Now I’m not saying this was done with nefarious intent, nor that there was some wide-reaching conspiracy. There does not have to be one for tragedy to occur.
But, more importantly, there was opportunity. Weakness. Combinations people did not expect.
As we continue to automate the systems that drive our lives, unless we are very careful, there is going to be more of this, not less.
We don’t need a singularity to wake up one morning, victim to an automated process that takes us to a place we do not want to go.
Is to be watchful, to be vigilant, to make our own decisions, and yes, to be very, very careful what you automate, and what decisions you allow systems to make.
You don’t need a time-travelling Arnold and a self-aware skynet; all it takes is one little bug in a piece of software that controls, say, a nuclear weapon.
Hey, everybody, WarGames is available free on YouTube.
So far we’ve had two posts interviewing Corey Haines about his life as an independent technologist (part one and part two) but we haven’t gotten to the deepest questions – his biggest obstacles, how he overcame them, and how he paid the rent.
It’s time for part three, don’t you think?
Matt Heusser: What do you think was the biggest obstacle to you doing this tour – was it social, financial, cultural? And how did you overcome it?
Corey Haines: I think the biggest obstacle was psychological. I would be invited to a place, and I wanted to provide value. I didn’t always have a sense of what the expectations would be, so I often had to go in blind and just start. It was common to not even know the people I was staying or working with. I had to learn to just go in and do my best.
Over time I got more comfortable with it, though. I think the key was just doing it, showing up at their door, not letting any creeping worry overwhelm me. One reason I kept it as “pairing for room and board” was that I wanted to minimize the possibility of disappointing my hosts. I figured I could always provide that much value.
I think there is a beautiful ‘anti-obstacle,’ though, to doing this: the community. It is easy to look at the past three years of my life and see a guy who went off and did something interesting. But, little of it would have been possible without the interest of the people I spend time with. I try to frequently meditate on how awesome everyone is for letting me do what I do.
Matt Heusser: What have you been up to lately, Corey? How do you pay the rent, and what is that life like?
Corey Haines: These days, I live in Chicago with my girlfriend, Sarah. I still do a lot of traveling, mostly visiting companies to do in-house trainings for their teams. These trainings pay the rent, as well as keep my traveling itch scratched. I also head out occasionally to do coderetreats at fun places, usually around conferences.
Sarah and I have our hands in a lot of different pots. She’s a developer, too, so we work on different projects together. For example, we’re starting a small consulting business to do technical advising for non- and less-technical founders of startups. We also have plans to build a product together.
All-in-all, I am enjoying the life that I’ve etched out for myself. There are less than ideal parts, but I’m working towards changing those into good parts. Going out on my own, seeing the world, meeting as many people as I can, these things have all left me with an enhanced appreciation for our community and the work we do. I’m very fortunate to have met and worked with some amazing people.
Matt Heusser: One final question, if I might. Do you have any advice for someone in a dissatisfied position in life, considering radical change, but perhaps, at the same time, a little scared of the idea of change?
Corey Haines: Change can be scary, for sure. Especially if you are in a position where you feel stuck. My main recommendation is to stop complaining (both internally and externally) and do it. Now, I had an easier situation than a lot of people: I got fired and didn’t have a family. However, I’ve met people with all sorts of large dependencies that still made a big change in their lives.
One option is to make a list of all the reasons you can’t do it. Then, go down that list and see what are actually true obstacles and which ones can be resolved. A lot of times, our obstacles are based on a lack of information. So, do some research and start collecting information about them. Say you are worried about health insurance; go online and get the actual facts about what health care will cost for you (my current, reasonably good health care costs around $370 / month). I’m not saying all your obstacles can be dealt with, but you might be surprised.
Another piece of advice I give people is to ask whether they really need ‘radical change’ or if something smaller could help. Do you need to change your job, or could you find another place in the company? Perhaps your current place lends itself to being a ‘just a job,’ and you can find your joy outside.
Matt Heusser: Thank you for your time today, Corey.
Corey Haines: Thanks, Matt. I appreciate the opportunity to share.