Saturday, 21 June 2014

Personal Brand

Recently a colleague in Marketing referred to my "strong personal brand". I found it quite a confrontational statement as it was something I hadn't consciously considered before.

That same week, I had someone approach me to speak at a public event. Usually if I want to speak in a public forum I have to slave over a proposal, then wait to find out if it has been accepted. To receive an invitation was an unexpected honour.

These two experiences prompted me to consider my profile, both in my local community and internationally. Upon reflection I realised how far I have come. I thought I would share some key points in my journey, in the hope that it offers ideas or inspiration to others.

Join your community
The first role I had with testing in my job title was not my first role doing testing as an activity, which is a fairly common path into the profession. My journey starts here because it was in this role that I was lucky enough to have Aaron Hodder as a colleague.

It was Aaron who, fairly relentlessly, pestered me to join the Software Testers New Zealand mailing list on Google, and to start asking questions in that forum. It was Aaron who told me I had to go to the Rapid Software Testing course that James Bach was delivering in Wellington. It was Aaron who wrangled my invite to the second Kiwi Workshop on Software Testing (KWST). As a result of Aaron's interfering, I found myself part of a small community of testers spread across New Zealand.

Speak up
Being a passive community member is a good, but being vocal is better. I entered these forums with reluctance and a selfish agenda. I wanted to use these people for help in solving my own problems. However, once I was engaged, I was surprised to realise that I had ideas and opinions to share too.

Participating in a mailing list is one thing, participating face-to-face is an entirely different proposition. Though I didn't plan on saying much at my first KWST peer conference, I found myself in a situation where I was unable to stay silent for fear it would be construed as complicit agreement. I spoke up.

It is only by speaking up that people can gain a sense of who you are, what you believe, and how you behave as a professional. Starting to contribute, even in a small way, is the first step in making yourself known.

See how far you've come
Around this point, Brian Osman invited me to do a brown bag lunch talk at his workplace. I remember his pitch for this being very understated. "It will be relaxed, a few people, eating food, talking testing". I agreed, then panicked when Brian asked for a copy of my slides in advance!

I think I spoke about test planning; nothing that seemed exciting to me. Yet the small audience viewed my ideas as a radical new way of doing things. I realised that in challenging and being challenged within the community I had joined, my ideas had developed beyond those who were yet to question their work. I realised that I had grown into a position to give knowledge back.

Invite others
I was lucky to have Aaron pester me to take the first step on my journey. When I realised how the community had helped me grow, I wanted others to experience the same.

Though I saw a national testing community in New Zealand, I didn't see a local community in Wellington. I wanted to invite people to something that was ours, so Aaron and I decided to create regular peer workshops in our city. WeTest Workshops was born.

It took weeks for our first event to fill. We asked everyone we knew. Then we asked them to ask people. Then we asked on mailing lists and twitter. I remember how excited we were to finally find 20 people who wanted to talk about testing. [Community Question]

It was, and still is, such a buzz to see other testers discover a community of their peers, find a friendly forum for their problems, and challenge their thinking.

Look further afield
At the third KWST, Erin Donnell inspired me to join Twitter and start a blog. These were two steps that I was incredibly reluctant to take.

In retrospect, I can identify that the primary reason I didn't want to do this was fear. I was comfortable in my own community. I didn't trust who or what was out there in the wider world. People kept talking about "the international testing community". I thought it sounded ominous.

One of my first Twitter followers was James Bach. Though I felt this was a huge honour, I also felt a crushing responsibility to only tweet things that were interesting, unique, and insightful. Many of my first tweets were typed, edited multiple times, then abandoned.

Similarly on seeing people read my blog, I felt paralysed when considering a new post. What could I say that hadn't been said by others before me? How could I show my own thoughts and skills?

Someone told me that the first step was to start writing, the second step was to make it good. So the way that I got past these fears was via self imposed measurements.

On my blog, I decided that I wanted to write at least three blogs per month. I embraced a quantity over quality mentality to grow my confidence and find my writing voice.

On Twitter, I decided that I should write a tweet per follower; for over six months I kept this ratio at 1:1. This allowed me to be measured in what I contributed, but stopped me from adopting an entirely silent presence.

Present a consistent image
I like things to look consistent. When I started to create a professional presence online, I chose to present myself the same way in every platform. Same photo. Same colour schemes. Same choice of background images.

Though these choices were driven by my peculiar personality, they had the unintended consequence of giving me a very clear "personal brand" (to retrofit the phrase from my marketing colleague). It's something I would recommend to others who want to develop a recognisable identity in the community.

Take opportunities to participate
Having found my feet on Twitter, I discovered a world of opportunities for contributing. The lessons I had learned in my local community applied to an international context; to be known you must speak up.

I wrote for Testing Circus [Is That Testing?] and Testing Planet [Popping the Bubble]. I realised that there was an opportunity for the New Zealand and Australian test community to have a collective voice on the international stage and launched Testing Trapeze, a new software testing magazine, with help from a lot of awesome folk.

I started to advertise my writing. I listed my blog on Ministry of Testing. I asked people I knew to link back to my blog from their own. Over time, people I didn't know started to link back to my blog too.

I wrote conference proposals for EuroSTAR, Let's Test, CAST2014, Agile 2014, and Let's Test Oz. I found writing a proposal a great experience for clarifying my ideas, even when I was ultimately rejected. Of the five proposals I've written, I'm excited to be heading to New York and Sydney this year.

There are a lot of people out there who want to hear what you have to say; start taking these opportunities.

Read widely and share selectively
The people that I see as leaders in the international community have a particular approach. They create good content themselves, and they share the best content of others. This is something that I try to emulate.

Twitter can be a noisy platform, so being known as a reliable filter of information is another way to grow your following. Where a retweet is sparingly given, I believe it holds greater credibility. Complement your voice with others of value; have people trust you as a gateway.

Additionally there's an individual benefit in being widely read. You see themes in the types of problems that testers are facing. You see communities of thinking appear within the whole. You see a variety of opinions and thoughts that help to shape your own.

Be generous
Community is reciprocal. Be generous in promoting the achievements and events of your local and international peers. Demonstrate your pride. Show you care about the problems that people have overcome. If you're generous to others, then your work will be shared with the same enthusiasm.


  1. Nice post, thank you for sharing! And thank you for being generous with your knowledge and opinions; I have certainly learned some stuff about testing from you.

  2. Its not just on twitter Katrina, I was at Agile Australia in Melbourne speaking to Wellington agile coaches who knew you.

  3. Excellent post. Encouraging to us who would like to start to contribute to the community.

  4. I love this post :) You and Aaron were the biggest influencers on my Testing journey.

    Definitely happy that we crossed paths!

  5. Lovely & humbling post Katrina, thank you for sharing.

    I appreciate that you mention it hasn't been plain sailing with the proposals, but that you've taken some valuable lessons from having to write them.

    Keep up the good work - I enjoy reading your stuff!


  6. Thanks for sharing your post. Your posts helped me to learn new things and try & share in my own way...

    Looking forward to read more better stuff..