Master of Empathy

“Once the developers can see that I know how to code, it really changes how they’re willing to work with me,” said Dave, as I stared at the long line of cars in front of us. We were headed to a testing meetup in San Francisco. I was driving, inching us, really, through traffic on the 101 and Dave was hitching a ride. I had started reading Dave’s blog when he was doing software testing at Mozilla. I was now working at Mozilla, in Mountain View, but Dave had moved on so it was exciting to give him a ride and get the chance to catch up on testing.

As we crawled through the 101 traffic, Dave and I talked about testing and found that we share a lot of the same attitudes like we both believe that building software starts with a team that trusts each other, that developers and testers should be working so closely together that you might not even know who is the tester and who is the developer. That the roles should be as blurred as possible.

These attitudes can be dangerous. Dangerous enough to hurt your job if your manager disagrees. This is something I have found out the hard way and I suspect Dave did as well, but we both stuck to this attitude because we’re both good at doing our own thing.

What’s always impressed me about Dave is the way he does his own thing and the way he encourages others to do theirs. He’s the fun, cool dad who is going to let you experiment and make a mess, gently helping you discover your own way in the world. If you step on some toes or do something wrong in the process, Dave isn’t gonna shame you, he’s gonna help you feel like you can figure out a way to fix things.

As someone who frequently does her own thing, I have never been the most socially accepted tester. You will not see me win the award for “most well-liked.” Radical feminism tends to have that effect as do radical ideas about building software. Aside from consistently reading and encouraging my radical writings, Dave backed me up and helped me feel supported every time he saw me getting hammered, again, on twitter or in life. He helped me feel valued at times when it was really hard and validated when it seemed like the entire world was against me. Dave was like that.

He was a Master of Empathy.

This is why I wasn’t surprised the day I saw Dave sitting on the red couch waiting to be interviewed by Elisabeth Hendrickson at Pivotal Labs.

There aren’t too many places I know of where you can rock up and start talking about how important it is to have trust on a team without people looking at you like you are nuts. Dave really understood this and blurred the line between development and testing in the world of XP probably more than anyone else I know.

Empathy is part of the pivotal way.

If empathy is the Pivotal way, Dave was the perfect pivot.

I don’t work at Pivotal anymore, but I have found my own home in IBM’s Bluemix Garage. People there look to me as a mentor and teacher when it comes to building software. I am sticking to trust and empathy as the most important tools. I work at helping people feel supported and like they can find their way to a good solution. If they stumble, I work at helping them feel like they can pick back up.

Thanks, Dave, for the master class.

It turns out, Dave actually was the fun, cool dad. Please help his daughter make it to vet school even though he has passed on. Here is her go fund me.