Author: Sayali Kulkarni

Interviewing our FailQonf Speaker Anuj Magazine | Take Risks, Sincerity, Never be Shy

Each of our FailQonf Speakers has years of experience behind them and a crazy amount of knowledge acquired over those years. It would be bad on our part if we restrict their stories to only their FailQonf sessions. We are as eager as you all to know them and their journey better, and hence this Interview Series.

We had a few questions in mind which we wished to get answers from all of them, and there were questions we designed based on the little research we did on their work and life. We so enjoyed the process and now as we have the answers with us, we are enjoying it even more. We are sure you will enjoy this interview too.


 

In this Interview, I (Sayali) took the opportunity to ask our FailQonf Speaker Anuj Magazine a few questions about Failures, Lessons learned, and a part of their amazing work in the Industry. We thank Anuj for their time to answer these, and for sharing a part of their life with us.

About Anuj Magazine: Anuj Magazine currently works at Walmart Global Tech India and leads Strategic Technology Programs. Prior to this, he worked at Citrix and handled roles in a myriad of functions- Director (Product Management), Director (Technical Operations), Director (Engineering) during his tenure spanning 12.5 years. Prior to this, he played different roles in technology companies like McAfee and Quark.  He has 16 patent filings.

He considers ‘having a beginner’s mindset’ as his biggest strength.

A good part of who he is comes from my interests and hobbies. He is a self-trained marathon runner and has done 18 full marathons+ distances (42.195 km) (did 100 km a couple of times, also a 75 km). Moreover, he is an avid Sketchnote artist and passionate about representing complex concepts in simple sketches.

Anuj’s portfolio: https://www.behance.net/anujmagazine

He holds a professional qualification in handwriting analysis. He also likes to read and has been writing regularly at http://anujmagazine.blogspot.com. He’s a passionate supporter of India’s Olympic Sports and has been an evangelist for the NGO Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ).

Linkedin| Twitter


 

Sayali: What is the most interesting failure you have experienced, which kicked hard, but once you learned from it you achieved double of what was expected in the next attempts?
Anuj: I was a few months into my first job when we all received this email from Country Head (that was broadcasted to all the employees) sharing an opportunity to work on a side-project. The stated project was for Punjab (a state in India) Government tourism sector in which they needed help in building a touch screen interface for their upcoming website. The idea behind this project was to provide touch-screen kiosks to tourists at various prime places. To set the context, I am talking about the time in the early 2000s when touch screens weren’t as consumerized as they are now.

I was clueless about the technical expertise needed to build this system so I gave this opportunity a pass and went on with my ‘normal’ projects. 3-4 months later, I again received a broadcast email from Country Head, this time announcing the success of the project and thanking the team that was involved in executing the project. I was pleasantly surprised to notice that one of the team members being acknowledged was a peer of mine who had joined almost the same time as I had.

I was surprised because he was also in his first-time job and my assessment suggested that his skill levels were almost similar to mine! Curious to know more, I approached him and asked him whether he knew about the technologies before signing up for this project. He answered ‘No’. I then asked him how he signed up for the project. He simply said that he was curious to know more about the technology and how such projects are managed and simply offered himself to the project thinking that he will learn the skills along the way.

This was the moment when I felt my brain shift a little for the first time in my professional life. I had simply let go of an opportunity because I thought overly of my weaknesses. My friend had grabbed the opportunity because he chose to think of his strength (curiosity, risk-taking). Something snapped within me with this episode and it made me more open to risk-taking and strengths-focused.

From that point onwards, I just removed a filter from my mind. I simply raised my hands and grabbed the opportunity if I felt excited about it irrespective of whether I had skills or time to do the same. This shift had a telling impact on my career.

Sayali: Any experience you would want to share wherein you learned from someone’s failure and based on that lesson you actually avoided a similar failure at work?
Anuj: When you have worked long enough, you obviously come across a lot of failures- some of your own, some of the others.

A few instances that come to my mind:

  1. One of my earlier team leaders who I worked under had this peculiar habit of asking the status of work and asking people to take on more work just when they were planning to leave for home. This was probably his way of exercising control over the team. But to me, it taught me what not to do to become a good leader. At the most fundamental level- don’t mess up with people’s personal lives. Work is important, so is your team’s personal life. Don’t just help your team do the best work but help them lead the best life they can.

  2. There was an instance where I came across a really tough Product Management leader. He was a perfectionist and had this habit of losing his temper at the slightest provocation. Not only that, he had a tendency to explode if he found some things were off, and used to simply shout at top of his voice in the calls. It was an interesting experience for me because I myself had a tendency to be a perfectionist. It taught me how not to impose my perfection on others. It also taught me to give chances to people- all of us are wired differently. There is no templated solution to do a great job, everyone figures out their own way.

  3. I have met and worked with many smart people (much more talented than I can ever be) in my career and learned a lot from them. But I have also been amazed in my observation that many smart people are not able to realize their true potential. They have this innate ability to solve complex problems, do it faster than many others can but what they generally lack is sincerity. I feel sincerity is a force multiplier skill. To me, sincerity is simply doing or delivering what you promise to do, in the time you commit- without being judgemental about the nature of the task i.e. irrespective of whether it is a small task with no visibility or a high visibility task. Many smart people that I came across fell short on the sincerity scale. Not many realize but sincerity towards a task helps you build confidence, credibility, and trust, three traits any professional cannot be without.

 

Sayali: If you recall your first professional failure, what was it and how did you respond to it?
Anuj: My first professional failure dates back to my first day at work. After completing the joining formalities, my manager paired me up with a senior member of the team. And my first task was to start reading a book known as Software Testing Techniques by Boris Beizer. In all my enthusiasm, I picked up the book and started reading. But my enthusiasm was short-lived. I don’t recall the contents of that book now but I do vividly recall how I felt after reading the book. After reading the first few sections, I increasingly started to feel disconnected. The book felt like heavy artillery, I found the concepts hard to grasp and the explanations in the book complex. As I flipped the pages through the day, I felt quite demotivated by end of the day. With nothing to show for my first day, I felt that I don’t have it in me to make it and do well in the profession. In all, I allowed the situation to dominate me and almost feeling helpless.

A bit of introspection allowed me to get back on my feet and adopt the learning strategies that gradually helped me grasp the fundamentals.

Now having the luxury of the hindsight and ability to connect the dots, this episode taught me a few things

  1. Never be shy to ask for help when struck. I didn’t do it on the first day. I thought I have to do everything by myself. I just took a few curious questions to my mentor to unblock me.

  2. Don’t let your own inner demons defeat you. Don’t get ahead of yourself. I simply allowed the negative thoughts to be cultivated inside and dominate me. It clouded my ability to think clearly. We should always be willing to pick up a fight with the demons of mind who are working overtime to pull us back.

I have never forgotten these lessons to date.

Sayali: If a Tester wants to start putting their thoughts in the form of sketches like you, where do they start? Is there a pattern that can benefit them?
Anuj:
I started sketching 2-3 years back, had never sketched extensively before this but I somehow got hooked on it. Now, It’s just like any other habit in my life. So, if I can do it, I believe- anyone can.

If I try to deconstruct my process, it might look like this (steps not in particular order):

  1. Observe: David Perell said “Painters look at a lot of art. Musicians listen to a lot of music. Writers do a lot of reading.” Likewise, budding or expert sketch artists look at a lot of sketches. Keenly observe the minute details, absorb and learn.
  2. Decompose: into small parts. Build the structure of your sketch. Every sketch has a title, body type, text, images, flow. Tackle one part at a time while drawing.
  3. Build Visual Vocabulary: Sketching, like writing, has a vocabulary of its own. Like new words take time to settle in our minds, building visual vocabulary takes patience and practice. Observe your life around and train your mind to think of what visual metaphors best represent what you see around you.
  4. Subtract: Sketch-noting is about brevity. More than adding content, it is about subtracting content. It is should high signal/noise ratio- eliminating noise and including more signals.
  5. Choose fonts and colors with precision: Font and colors give your sketch a visual identity. Develop a flair for what combinations work, what does not. Think wearing the shoes of your audience.
  6. Get into the mind of the artist: One way I used to learn to sketch was to pick up a sketch and just try to copy it line by line, font by font, color by color (of course not share it publicly as it is meant for practice). This gradually helped me learn.
  7. Practice: There is no substitute for practice. You can follow all good practices but unless you get into the rigor of practicing it daily, your skill will not grow.

 

Sayali: How do you manage these many things in your professional and personal life including your hobbies & interests(handwriting reading, books reading, running, sketching, writing blogs, etc, etc)?
Anuj:
Thanks for asking this question. No silver bullet here. I just try to pick up a new hobby every year just to get better at experiencing life holistically. Some of these hobbies stick for longer, others die away but experiencing each of them makes me a more evolved human being. E.g. picked up Graphology (Handwriting Analysis) in 2003 or so and am still practicing (have written a book for a private publication, use it for counseling, etc.), started running in 2008, it has stayed till date- have run multiple full marathons including 100 km runs. Started writing in 2003, it has stayed with me (have written for several publications). Started sketching in 2018 or so, and have been hooked on it. Likewise, I tried my stint at learning magic, it fizzled out but it made me learn a lot about communication and presentation skills.

A simple equation that I believe in what we eventually end up doing in our lives is in direct proportion to where we choose to spend our time. That’s it. There’s no other secret.

I had written about this in my blog almost a decade back. Would encourage you to read this- Managing multiple passions- make most of your hidden talents. In summary, the following questions are a guiding light for me:

  • Am I “Only Interested” or Am I “Fully Committed”?
  • Am I able to “prioritize” effectively?
  • Am I able to “create” enough time?
  • Am I able to “compartmentalize” life?
  • Am I believing in myself more than I should?

 

We hope you enjoyed reading this amazing interview. Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section.

We can guarantee that you are going to enjoy FailQonf even more. Have yourself enrolled here if you have not done it so far. Please note there is a Free Pass option for the ones who cannot afford the Paid one in these difficult times. See you there.

About the Host:

Sayali is working with the iLink Digital, Pune as Senior Technical Specialist – Software Testing. She is a dedicated, passionate tester with a curious mind.

Linkedin | Twitter

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Interviewing our FailQonf Speaker Jeena James | Testing in Start-ups, Share the learned, Own Thinking

Each of our FailQonf Speakers has years of experience behind them and a crazy amount of knowledge acquired over those years. It would be bad on our part if we restrict their stories to only their FailQonf sessions. We are as eager as you all to know them and their journey better, and hence this Interview Series.

We had a few questions in mind for which we wished to get answers for, from all of them, and there were questions we designed based on the little research we did on their work and life. We enjoyed the process and now as we have the answers with us, we are enjoying it even more. We are sure you will enjoy this interview too.


 

In this Interview, I (Sayali Kulkarni) took the opportunity to ask our FailQonf Speaker Jeena James a few questions about Failures, Lessons learned, and a part of their amazing work in the Industry. We thank Jeena for their time to answer these, and for sharing a part of their life with us.

About Jeena James: Jeena James leads the WebPageTest business unit at Catchpoint (https://www.catchpoint.com), and drives the developer-focused efforts across product, engineering, marketing, partnerships, and operations. Jeena actively mentors and coaches working professionals, leaders, and startup founders. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics, Mathematics, and Statistics from St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata.

Linkedin | Twitter


 

Sayali: How do you usually inject a seriousness towards quality in the startups you mentor in a world where most startups see Testing as an Expense than an Investment?
Jeena: Questions I ask to understand where the startup or the company is at in their product and business lifecycle

  1. Understand what their company offers, and what stage of their growth they are in currently? And where they want to be 1 yr- 5 yrs 10yrs from now.
  2. Look at what customers are talking about their product/services (app store reviews, g2, product hunt, etc.). Check regional as well if it’s a global company.
  3. How is the team currently set up? What are the non-negotiables for the company?
  4. Who addresses customer issues? Are there plans to try and scale them as they get more users? What is their cost of solving an issue/bug in production? Could it have been detected before launch?
We then talk about our personal experiences with sites and apps and when something doesn’t work as they intended or is buggy. What was the cost of that personal experience, and did we keep going back to that buggy site or app or did we find an alternative? Think: What do you do?
 
Check if they’ve seen this data point or a variation of it (this one is from DeepSource) and discuss how they can set up a culture of testing throughout the SDLC and not just at one point and once. Another visual that helps is the Shift-left one to focus on testing at an early stage and throughout and not wait for your valuable users to be the ones complaining sending screenshots!
 
 
 
Relative cost to fix bugs based on time of deduction
 
We discuss what tools and platforms are out there, and how to spot legit ones with the help of product-led and community-driven insights. Companies that focus on beyond just a pass or fail of a test but dig into some root causes behind the performance that they can then hand off to the other team with relevant information, see better and quicker resolutions in the long run. The conversations are mainly focused on how to build effective systems and not just a checklist of a one-time check before launching a feature, an update, or fixing a bug.
 

 

Sayali: Any experience you would want to share wherein you learned from someone’s failure and based on that lesson you actually avoided a similar failure at work?
Jeena: Sharing the learning first – If you are a leader of the project/team, then make sure you are clear and consistent about the goals for the team and work with the team to develop a strong execution plan. Help team members to connect their work to the goals and contributions. If you are a contributor to the project or own parts of it, you better ask a lot of questions to get clarity on the goals and help derive solutions. Why this goal, why now, why this approach, how can we make sure we meet the needs, etc.

I learned the impact a big decision not backed by a strong execution plan can have on someone’s career through an experience in Google India where my entire team was uprooted from one city to another for one reason – be closer to the decision-makers for the Indian market. Sounds straightforward but it really uprooted the morale of my team and me because there was no clear ‘how will we specifically grow our business’ conversation. There was also some level of uncertainty and mistrust with the leadership team because we weren’t candid or transparent with each other. We had a strong team of hard-working and amazing colleagues. Within a few months, most of the original team members quit.
 

With this experience, I made efforts to be extra communicative when it comes to rationales for big decisions and how we will attain our goals in light of or in spite of those decisions. I was able to apply this in my next role (yes, I too moved out of that team) when we had to take a big decision to either dissolve a team or build it up with the right goals and execution plan in place. I started putting together the business reason for why our platform was important for our customers, and how the level/quality of service can be revised or tiered, but not removed completely. I also started speaking about it consistently and showing data from customer calls, business growth, and direct + indirect impact on the main revenue product that our platform supported. One of our Directors paid attention to these and gave me the opportunity to build up the team and establish a sound business plan. We hired some of the most talented folks in the organization and that business has continued to thrive over the years. 

Don’t take something at face value because different folks have different motivations for making their decisions. Do your own thinking. 

 


 

Sayali: Have there been any failures that made your professional life better? Any lessons learned from the same.
Jeena: The word failure is a loaded word. We tend to use the word ‘failure’ more instead of just saying ‘I tried something and I failed at achieving my desired outcome this time.’ I’ve made plenty of small and large decisions along with my career and not achieved what I or the team was looking for. But each one helped me embrace the unknowns in a new project, or in a new team/company and improved the Quality and Speed of my decision-making. I weigh the intensity and impact of a project not completed, a goal not accomplished, or a milestone not covered by looking at: 

  1. Were the goals and objectives of the project set accurately? Were they clear to me, and my team members? Is it a top-down goal or is there room for bottoms up too? 
  2. Does everyone working on that project understand the role they play in achieving the outcomes we want individually and collectively? 
  3. Did we check on the status on a regular basis? Did we celebrate the small wins? 
  4. Did we pre-empt big issues and solve them before they hit our end users? See if 1 or more people could work together to mitigate these than placing the entire burden of an issue on say just 1 engineer. 
  5. How quickly did we make decisions and pivot when we faced unforeseen issues? 
  6. Did I create space for people to share feedback with me and/or the team on how we could do things better?
  7. Successful or not – did we do a good post-mortem of learnings about what we did well, and what we could have improved? 

 

Sayali: What is the most interesting failure you have experienced, which kicked hard, but once you learned from it you achieved double of what was expected in the next attempts?
Jeena:
Don’t look at the surface-level information, dig deeper. The data or the test you have may show you superficial results, but if you do a more holistic check, you may see inconsistencies and cracks. More importantly, if you have already made the decision to go forward with that data, then make sure you set up a stress test or pattern recognition so that you can pivot faster if and when things fail. 

During my career, I once made a decision based on what was on paper, and some hearsay experiences on growth and potential. I noticed some areas that were inconsistent but was so excited about the actual work my team and I were doing, that I missed seeing bigger issues creeping up. However, we managed to make the most of what we could do for the team and the business. I truly believe the lessons my team and I learned along that journey have helped shape where we are today, and hopefully spot potential fails miles ahead. 
 
Ever since that experience, I’ve made a conscious effort to seek and share direct communication and feedback, set up the right systems, and expect the same from folks we work with. As well as be open about actual outcomes and contributions. This pays dividends – I’m grateful to work at a kickass company like Catchpoint where the teams have already built strong systems, are transparent with our employees, and encourage open communication!  
 

 

We hope you enjoyed reading this amazing interview. Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section.

We can guarantee that you are going to enjoy FailQonf even more. Have yourself enrolled here if you have not done it so far. Please note there is a Free Pass option for the ones who cannot afford the Paid one in these difficult times. See you there.

About the Host:

Sayali is working with the iLink Digital, Pune as Senior Technical Specialist – Software Testing. She is a dedicated, passionate tester with a curious mind.

Linkedin | Twitter

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Interviewing our FailQonf Speaker Faiza Yousuf | Failures, Lessons, Community Building

Each of our FailQonf Speakers has years of experience behind them and a crazy amount of knowledge acquired over those years. It would be bad on our part if we restrict their stories to only their FailQonf sessions. We are as eager as you all to know them and their journey better, and hence this Interview Series.

We had a few questions in mind which we wished to get answers from all of them, and there were questions we designed based on the little research we did on their work and life. We so enjoyed the process and now as we have the answers with us, we are enjoying it even more. We are sure you will enjoy this interview too.


In this Interview, I (Sayali Kulkarni) took the opportunity to ask our FailQonf Speaker Faiza Yousuf a few questions about Failures, Lessons learned, and a part of their amazing work in the Industry. We thank Faiza for their time to answer these, and for sharing a part of their life with us.

About Faiza Yousuf: Faiza Yousuf is a technologist with over a decade of experience in building products and teams. She is an award-winning community leader and the force behind WomenInTechPK. She co-founded CodeGirls, a community-funded coding boot camp for girls, and runs the online education program for Blockchain and AI from CryptoChicksPakistan.

She leads the product development wing at Genetech Solutions and runs a consulting practice as a Product Management Expert. She is a top-rated freelancer on Upwork with the honor to be part of Upwork’s first-ever social impact report. She is also working with P@SHA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee to improve gender parity in Pakistan’s tech ecosystem.

Linkedin| Twitter

 

Sayali: What is the most interesting failure you have experienced, which kicked hard, but once you learned from it you achieved double of what was expected in the next attempts?
Faiza: I was working on a consulting project building some intellectual property for a client and the first draft of it was disapproved and the client came to the meeting with a lot of harsh criticism and questions, some of the questions were out of line. I was upset and it was something that never happened to me before. I thought about quitting the contract but I took a couple of days to think and strategize. I went back prepared, redid some items, had a very open conversation with the client about boundaries, cultural context, and work expectations. We were able to make it work and I have been working with him for a year now and we have delivered some very amazing products.

 

Sayali: Have there been any failures that made your professional life better? Any lessons learned from the same.
Faiza: Yes, absolutely. I think every time that I failed, it was a learning moment. I started a company in 2012 and it happened overnight because my team and I were laid off. The company was a disaster and we had to close shop within a year. 

A few lessons that I learned from that experience. 

  • Managing people is one of the toughest jobs and I don’t enjoy it that much.
  • Spending time getting to know people is an excellent investment. 
  • Being organized and disciplined is the only way towards mastery.

 

Sayali: Any experience you would want to share wherein you learned from someone’s failure and based on that lesson you avoided a similar failure at work?
Faiza: I learned to overcome and avoid analysis paralysis after observing its impact on other people’s careers and lives. I have been slowly building a process for myself when it comes to quick and low-risk decision-making.

 

Sayali: What changes do you think that need to be done so that everyone will discuss/share their failures?
Faiza: Removing the stigma around failure. We do feel negative emotions when we fail but talking about it openly takes the negatives out of it. These conversations can also help you build a community and learn from each other.

 

Sayali: What top challenges have you faced as a community leader and how did you overcome those?
Faiza: I think the top most challenges have been protecting my own mental health and staying focused towards the mission. Therapy and self-care helped with the first one. For the second one, I create weekly and monthly goals and also do extensive journaling and self and team reflection activities.


We hope you enjoyed reading this amazing interview. Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section.

We can guarantee that you are going to enjoy FailQonf even more. Have yourself enrolled here if you have not done it so far. Please note there is a Free Pass option for the ones who cannot afford the Paid one in these difficult times. See you there.

 

About the Host:

Sayali is working with the iLink Digital, Pune as Senior Technical Specialist – Software Testing. She is a dedicated, passionate tester with a curious mind.

Linkedin | Twitter

 

 

 

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