Eliminate Your Testing Clutter: An Interview with Francie Van Wirkus


In this interview, Francie Van Wirkus, a certified professional coach in the insurance and financial services industry, explains how you can become a more mindful tester. She guides your discovery of how mindfulness provides calm and clarity in the face of great change.

Jennifer Bonine: Hello and welcome back to our virtual interviews at STARWEST. I'm glad you're all tuning in. This is going to be a fun one. I had the opportunity to meet Francie yesterday, sitting in one of the tutorials that I was giving. She's giving a session this afternoon. The session's she's giving is a really neat topic that's probably near and dear to a lot of people's hearts in terms of how to get focus, right?

Francie Van Wirkus: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: How to get that focus. Would you mind telling us a little bit about for those that won't get an opportunity to see your session this afternoon, what you're talking about and how you got passionate about talking about that?

Francie Van Wirkus: Sure, just a warning though. You're going to have some serious FOMO for not being here after we get done talking about this.

Jennifer Bonine: Then you're going to want to be here. If you're close, maybe drive in.

Francie Van Wirkus: Come on in.

Jennifer Bonine: Come on in.

Francie Van Wirkus: The premise of this is that we have spent most of our day not thinking about what's happening right now in front of us. We're usually thinking about something that's happened in the past, mistakes, good things, bad things, arguments, whatever it might be, or we're worried about something that's happening in the future. What happens to the present is it gets into this little, tiny sliver of your day, and guess what? That's where all the creativity happens, all the problem-solving that you need to do. Whether you're in testing, developing, or whatever your career is, if you don't push the past and the future out of the way and clear the space, you miss out on all these other ways you can creatively build your business, solve problems, interact, have better relationships. I'm not saying it's like you do this, and you will have no problems. You will have a place to solve your problems.

Jennifer Bonine: You'll open that space.

Francie Van Wirkus: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: Have the space to solve some of those challenges. Now, any tips—obviously because these guys will miss out on it—any tips for getting started with creating that space, creating that focus that we lack sometimes in the present?

Francie Van Wirkus: Yes. First of all, it's similar to going to the gym. You can't go to the gym once and say, "Well, that didn't work for me. I'm done."

Jennifer Bonine: "I tried it."

Francie Van Wirkus: "My muscle doesn't look any bigger and I don't feel any better." You have to attend, practice, whatever it is, to something like this a long time before you can really feel the benefits of it. The first thing is look at it as a practice.

Then, okay, what does this mean? This means finding time in your day where anything that has an on button, is off, and you're not around people. Sometimes that might seem ridiculous, but if you commute in a car or on a bus to work, and you have headphones in usually or we like to think I'm the best singer in the car when the radio is turned up way louder than anyone can hear my voice, but you walk a dog, any of these opportunities where you're attending a child's sport, maybe you can steal away for ten minutes and be still and be silent. No device with an on switch that's on and no people or no people that are talking to you, which means you can be in a library or you can be somewhere.

Then stop, relax, and start noticing around you. Right now, if I sit here long enough, I would start thinking about how cold my hands are because it's freezing in here. I would think of the soft light on us. I'd start feeling like, "Oh, I can actually feel my shirt." You can start slowing down and being right here. That's the entry-level way that really starts being present. When you start slowing down like that, the noise, the clutter of "Oh, my gosh. My flight was late, and I'm late, and now I'm here and I'm all disheveled and my presentation isn't loaded right or what am I worried about tomorrow?" That stuff, it'll be there, but it'll be out in the sun. You have this space to think.

Jennifer Bonine: I think it's interesting. So if we were all to reflect on an example of yesterday or today or in the last week, when was the last time you took ten minutes of dedicated time, where you had no devices turned on? Where you had no one talking to you or asking you for stuff or making demands, right? I think most of us could relate to, "Wow. We don't do that anymore." We always have something turned on. I think it's gotten even worse for people.

I would love your perspective on this. With social media, with our devices so readily available, we never shut off. We're constantly connected to work, we're connected to social media sites. I read a stat that said over two hundred times a day, someone is checking their mobile phone. Two hundred times a day. That's ridiculous because we sleep for part of this day. It's amazing that we don't take that time. We're moving in a faster pace, the world moves faster, the demands move faster, work moves faster. We fail to slow down.

Francie Van Wirkus: I believe that if someone's going to call themselves a technology expert, then they know when to turn it off. You know when to step away.

Jennifer Bonine: You got to know that.

Francie Van Wirkus: I know there are apps for mindfulness. They might work well, but if you're brand-new to it, don't start with that. It's like a crutch from day one. Start with the pure and simple: be alone, be still, nothing on. Maybe later you get into it and music or some other app that guides you through it. Maybe you tried it enough, you tried it for a month, and then try the app. Stay away from the app for now. Sorry, developers.

Jennifer Bonine: They like their apps. We should say that this is your first time at this conference. You attended it, which is great. We'd love to hear your perspective on that, but I know you've also attended some other conferences, more developer-focused conferences as well. When you're at those conferences, are you hearing differences in what's happening there versus, say, a dedicated testing conference like this? Maybe some insight into what that's like as well.

Francie Van Wirkus: That's a great, huge question. I know we have a little time. One of the things I noticed was—I was doing a one-on-one coaching session that's different—is that the attendees here, many of them are working for some other company or corporation. They have a whole different set of concerns, good and bad issues, versus an independent developer will have different issues. There is a definite difference here in that. However, I think sometimes the questions end up being the same where all of us are hungry for that answer. We're all looking for, "Oh, please help me with this. I'm stuck," or "I think I'm stuck." I think that's a common thing. I know I feel the same way with things. That's something that I'm noticing.

I was speaking at Indie DevStock, which was a startup conference in Nashville, Tennessee, for independent gamers and developers of iOS.

Jennifer Bonine: Very cool.

Francie Van Wirkus: It was. It was really cool.

Jennifer Bonine: Neat.

Francie Van Wirkus: It was smaller, and again, they do small-scale experiment to see if they want to do it again. Again, these are people who are either out on their own full-time or they are a full-time employee somewhere, and they're doing independent gaming.

Jennifer Bonine: They're kind of trying it.

Francie Van Wirkus: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer Bonine: That brings up a good question for folks out there probably watching as well. A lot of people have been in organizations for a long time. A lot of us initially in our careers maybe gravitated towards a company because we weren't sure about what we wanted to do. We weren't sure how that should look. We didn't want to worry about whether or not we'd have a paycheck every week. The stability of that draws a lot of people to being full-time employees. What we're seeing in the world with the way it's changing is there's a lot of opportunity to be independent and be a knowledge worker who basically shares your knowledge with different organizations and is hired out to do that and trending towards that. For people out there that may be saying, "Oh, I'm kinda interested in this. How do I think about getting started? Because I really like the stability of my company. I've been there a long time. I like dedicated vacation they pay me for, all those perks. How do I start thinking about maybe being independent or doing this on my own?" Any tips or thoughts on that process?

Francie Van Wirkus: I think the first thing is be comfortable being uncomfortable. The next thing I would think of is do small-scale experiment. Be agile, if you will. This is the Agile coach in me, but again, you can honestly do this. You can timebox something like, I want to try doing whatever. For example, my friend and I, we've practiced being the Agile Bettys, a podcast to see if we could work together. That's low overhead. Okay, there was a lot of technical struggles.

Greg Kheel from Instagram, we love you. You've helped us so much. I met him at Indie DevStock. He and the dev with the hair—I'm not sure his real name. Dev with the hair also helped. Again, that's the connections you make. I think that's another similarity between the conferences. It's the connections…

Jennifer Bonine: The connections. The network.

Francie Van Wirkus: These folks helped us get up and running. We could try that together. Do we work together? Can we trust each other? Can we depend on each other to deliver whatever part of the podcast? Who's rendering it? Who's doing this or that? We have fun together, so there's this chemistry. That's just one sample of an experiment that you can do that has small scale, small cost, and will give you big feedback and big impact.

The other thing I would say out of the gate is make yourself vulnerable to feedback from people. Share your business plan. Share your ideas with someone.

Jennifer Bonine: Great idea.

Francie Van Wirkus: It's so hard to do, I think. You think, "I have the greatest idea ever, and this app is gonna win." You don't know. Open yourself up to that and say, "Here it is. What—"

Jennifer Bonine: "Give me some feedback."

Francie Van Wirkus: Right. "Poke holes in it." Be vulnerable.

Jennifer Bonine: Be open too. I think sometimes we take it very personally or personal criticism when in reality, sometimes those people are sent to help us. They're giving us a message we need about some tips or tricks or things that they've experienced that maybe will help us not have to go through those same things. Being open, I think, is an important thing to hearing what others have to say.

You mentioned something that also might be interesting for folks out there is your podcast that you guys do. Do you want to talk about that a little bit and what the premise of it is so people can find it?

Francie Van Wirkus: You know already the intent was to have fun but also to learn, can we work together and build out own consulting firm to be agile coaches and scaled agile framework coaches. The answer is yes, so we're going to do that. We're really excited about that.

Agile Bettys is a podcast about applying the concept of agile to lifestyle with fun.

Jennifer Bonine: Very cool.

Francie Van Wirkus: You've got, for example, closets and drawers in your apartment or home, and how often do you go in and reorganize them instead of starting all of it, like companies do with waterfall? We start fifty thousand projects at the beginning of the year. Pick one drawer.

Jennifer Bonine: Pick one.

Francie Van Wirkus: Pick the nice drawer and take everything out and clean it. We do that type of discussion. We'll use fitness. We talk about parenting a lot. We both have kids, and we're running all over the place. There's a lot of opportunity there, I think, to be kind to yourself and be more focused on what matters most at the end of the day and to have fun with that. We like wine, too.

Jennifer Bonine: As do I. That's a good thing to like. I love wine.

Francie Van Wirkus: We'll talk. We're not wine snobs by any means, but we'll find an article like I had from The Wall Street Journal about weird wine words like "foxy," and I would ask my partner Rae, "What do you think that means?" "Well, I've got the description here." Stuff like that to try and have fun. Again, don't count yourself out of trying different wines because you don't know wine. That's what we're trying to do with this podcast.

Jennifer Bonine: Opening people up to those experiences. A lot of times, I think what you see with certain things is we feel like we always have to know everything. We feel like we have to know to be able to do it. I've seen a lot people. Wine is a great example of, you know what? I don't want to try it. I don't want to go somewhere and do a wine tasting because I don't want to look silly because I don't know how to do it. I don't know anything about wine. I don't know what I'm tasting. You get overwhelmed because it doesn't seem intuitive to you, or you don't know what it is.

I think sometimes it's about being open and trying those new things. It's okay not to know. It's okay to learn and to figure it out. Same thing like you're saying with this focus and learning how to do that. It's okay to make mistakes. I think a lot of times, testers as a community, are very hard on ourselves. Very critical. We always want to get it right. We want to be perfect all the time. We stress about not finding everything, about missing something. Sometimes it's about getting that focus back and letting go. Letting go of some of that anxiety that we sometimes get.

Francie Van Wirkus: Part of that letting go is the labels that mostly we put on ourselves. Other people will do that to us, but we put that label on ourselves that we made that mistake. We apply that in Agile Bettys too. When you have a kid in a sport, for example, where they messed up on the field. Then they feel like they're walking around with "I screwed up" on that for the rest of the game. There's a way to let go of that. It takes some practice, but it's entirely possible.

Jennifer Bonine: Great advice. The time goes so fast. We've run out of time, but if people want to contact you or get in touch with you to learn more about some of the things we got to touch on briefly here, what's the best way to do that?

Francie Van Wirkus: I'm so glad you asked. My site is francievanwirkus.com and also agilebettys.com. You can find my books out on Amazon. Got a new release. We didn't even get to talk about that.

Jennifer Bonine: We'll have to talk about that next time.

Francie Van Wirkus: About a tech leader in a business novel form. If you've read The Phoenix Project and you liked that, you'll love this one.

Jennifer Bonine: Awesome. I know a lot of folks out there, we talked about The Phoenix Project before being one of the best books people have read. It's one I get recommended, too, all the time. Check this one out. Say it again for you.

Francie Van Wirkus: On Amazon. Look up my name on Amazon, Francie Van Wirkus. You'll find Reveille, which is a book about a leader going agile.

Jennifer Bonine: Awesome. Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for being here with us.

Francie Van Wirkus: Thank you. This was great.

Jennifer Bonine: Tune in shortly.

FrancieA conqueror of mediocrity, Francie Van Wirkus is a certified professional coach in the insurance and financial services industry, helping people of all levels take strategic, sustainable steps toward their goals. She is part of a large IT transformation in a complex organization, where she is a SAFe 4.0 Program Consultant coach. Francie is an active speaker, blogger, and author of the recently released Reveille, the first book in a business novel series on agile leadership. She hosts CL&I Radio, an internal corporate radio show, and also cohosts Agile Bettys, a motivational podcast about living an agile lifestyle. Francie enjoys racing in Ironman competitions and lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three delightful children.

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