My 2019, a year of lows, and highs

Theresa Neate
Dec 29, 2019 · 18 min read

2018: For reference, here’s what I concluded in 2018, including some of my commitments for the new year of 2019.


This story begins at the beginning of 2019, takes a few detours back and forth and stops at some pitstops along the way, and ends with my trip overseas at the end of the year.

2019 started on a low

I started the year of 2019 in despair. My role of Senior Developer Advocate was not working out. I was not sleeping well. I was dreading going to work. I intensely loved the technical domain but I really struggled with how the role turned out to be, and with my experience with some key stakeholders.

There is plenty of detail I am purposely not sharing here, but I will mention a highlight in my attempts to figure it all out: I was incredibly lucky to receive a 1:1 coaching session from the great Kelsey Hightower after I reached out to him with some questions on the Developer Advocate role:

https://twitter.com/TheresaNeate/status/1105978091606704128?s=20

Yet, despite my efforts to the contrary, I was heading for a crash. Honestly, I loved the idea of the role, especially from the aspect of ‘developer relations’, but struggled with what I experienced in reality. I realised that I was behaving and feeling like the same early signs of a burnout I experienced over 10 years ago.

I finally realised — driving home in tears after one particularly bad day — that I had become an easy target and thus that I needed to leave. I had really become a sitting duck. The ever-present-2019 lurgy started up then too, and hung around for most of the year.

So, I started to look for other work.

Please note: This is a reflection on my story, not so much on the minutiae of what people did or didn’t do. Some, although faulty in their execution from my perspective, really cared, and I still saw that through all the murkiness of it all.

As I was selectively and methodically interviewing externally but not yet finding something that put a glint in my eye, a role opened up internally at my employer. A role I had done before in another area of the company, and had done consistently since 2012: Lead QA. I thought I was done with this role but here it was being advertised in the area of the company that people routinely did well in, and on a bigger playing field, and still in the company that had been good to me on the whole.

My manager, with whom I had been speaking regularly about my concerns, graciously accepted my reasons for seeking a change, and did not block my transfer request. He also gave me a positive review on my previous year, perhaps signalling that I had not failed and that I really had tried my utmost and still managed to accomplish some good in the face of conflicting forces and priorities.

I applied in April and by May was interviewed for and offered — and accepted! — the role. I started my new role of Lead QA for the Consumer line of business, in June 2019.

(back to top)


A honeymoon period that wouldn’t end

I loved joining the Consumer Group (“Group”, as it was renamed from “Line of Business” after a September restructure) and I still love working there. It brought out in me, happy emotions again. Calmness, relief, a sense of belonging, people who asked for my opinion (and then didn’t disregard it) and feeling I could make a difference.

I felt SEEN. My manager made few to no assumptions about me and never tried to micromanage me; he asked a previous manager about me: how I work as employee and Lead QA, and then got to know me.

My return to happiness was never about ‘returning to QA’ (which I never left, in my opinion), or the role of Lead QA. It was always about being seen and being appreciated. The management style, culture and the team I was working in, made all the difference.

People asked me occasionally about how I was doing and I replied for the first 3 months, that I was having a honeymoon period and my rose-tinted glasses would be biased, and they should ask again in 3 months’ time. But despite a stressful restructure in September, to this day I remain happy with the trust and treatment I am receiving.

Being mildly superstitious and at the same time realistic after many years in the business, I don’t want to jinx this, and I know too that nothing lasts forever. But I will continue to enjoy what I can, and will use the experiences of this year as points of education towards improved wisdom.

(back to top)


Meeting the Melbourne ‘women in security’ (InfoSec) community

haXX workshop & Dr Pam O’Shea

Through my inclusive and proactive DevOps Girls Co-Organiser, Franca (a platform engineer at SEEK), she let me know about her colleague Dr Pam O’Shea, Security Consultant and founder of haXX, who was going to run a Pen Testing workshop to women, over fortnightly Tuesday nights early in 2019. I quickly applied and a few weeks later, squealed with joy when I learned I was selected from the overcapacity applications.

I attended most of the 8 sessions from February to April, being fed delicious pizzas each night by SEEK who sponsored it; missing 1 due to the ever-present-2019 lurgy, and 1 due to attending the AWS Summit in Sydney. I was introduced to a whole new community, made several connections, and learned bucket-loads about security and pen testing, aligning neatly with my existing ops, networking and QA mindset. I was definitely awestruck with Pam herself, her awesome connections and their individual and collective knowledge.

Here’s my tweet from week 2 of 8, with an image of our curriculum:

https://twitter.com/TheresaNeate/status/1097759047065849856

0xCC training conference & Alannah Guo

I learned in December 2018 about the 0xCC training conference in April 2019, the first of its kind in Australia. Alannah, a pentester by day, organised this herself, enlisted other women in infosec to volunteer their time in running 2-day hands-on workshops over one weekend, which were offered free to other women in tech/infosec.

I enrolled in the “Snake Charming for Beginners” workshop, as it covered Security in Python, both topics I wanted to know more about. I missed the second half of day 2 as I was again taken down by the ever-present-2019 lurgy. This was still an incredible experience and I continue to have access to the materials and wish to do this again in 2020.

BSides Melbourne & Lidia Giuliani

Lidia had been my colleague at work since 2018 as Senior Security Consultant, and we got along great, often aligning on assessment of, and how to tackle problems as we saw them. Turns out, she is also the Melbourne organiser of the no-fuss BSides infosec conference.

After I enlisted her to speak at TConf in 2018 under the DevOps Girls banner (see TConf further below), we then teamed up DevOps Girls with BSides as partners for 2020. Although this is more appropriate for my 2020 reflection post, I want to call out Lidia for being awesome and already gifting DevOps Girls 5 free tickets (1 of which I gladly accepted) for the conference next year.

(back to top)


Speaking, volunteering and workshops

Agile Australia

I really extended myself when I applied to speak, and was accepted for Agile Australia 2019. The topic was not my comfort zone, the audience & conference format neither. This was a business audience, several thousand attendees, with multiple tracks offered simultaneously. In June I spoke on the topic of developer experience and its place in and connection to CX. The talk went ok, not spectacularly but ok, and I am glad that I did this. (you can find these, and all my other slides and artefacts at theresaneate.com).

DevOps Girls

I have been a co-organiser of DevOps Girls since Dec 2016, and continue to be to this day. In 2019 I offered two workshops (in Aug & Oct), both geared towards a QA audience: DevOps Girls in Testing. I created the workshop content from scratch, and changed the format slightly from teacher-paced, to being self-paced. I think this really worked and I saw women stay on a topic for as long as they needed, and some women flying ahead into the optional material. I used this same material, tweaked slightly, for my TestBash workshop.

My co-organiser Franca, in Feb & Nov 2019 also created and ran 2 workshops, first on AWS Lambdas (serverless) & then on Cloud Networking, the last being a subject close to my heart. Here’s Franca’s write-up on how the November event went: https://medium.com/seek-blog/seeking-networks-in-the-cloud-with-devops-girls-1d91d531a3fd.

From Aug-Nov, I also coached 5 first time women-in-tech speakers, to speak at TConf 2019 under the DevOps Girls banner, but more about that below in the section on TConf.

Podcast and Webinar

In March this year I did a 1-hour webinar with Software Test Professionals, based in the US, with a wide international audience. Our host was Smita Pandey Mishra in Delhi, with my co-panellist being Hilary Weaver-Robb in Detroit.

Then, in August 2019, I did a 30-mins podcast with the Ministry of Testing in preparation for my TestBash talk and workshop (see below). I got to speak with Michael Lang from the UK, who was hosting his first podcast interview.

Both of these were excellent experiences, despite crazy timezone issues.

TestBash Australia

My ally and women-in-testing colleague and very famous testing person Anne-Marie Charrett invited me to apply to the most awesome TestBash conference, in Sydney. I did, and both my workshop and talk were — to my delight — approved. TestBash are the worldwide testing conferences run by the Ministry of Testing, a phenomenon of testing excellence and kindness and fairness. They also paid for my travel and accommodation, so again I say: kindness and fairness.

I really enjoyed teaching my workshop on Thursday morning, then attending a Visual Validation / Applitools workshop by the most excellent Angie Jones on Thursday afternoon, and doing my talk on DevOps Mythbusting on Friday. I met some super cool, super smart, kind people, who I hope to remain in touch with and cross paths with again in the not too distant future.

Here’s a pic of the fabulous workshop crowd:

https://twitter.com/TheresaNeate/status/1187197517764542466?s=20

TConf

I am a fan of TConf. Beginning initially 10 years ago with the MST meetup group, this community then grew into the TConf conference too. I spoke at both the 2017 and 2018 conferences (but didn’t apply to speak in 2019). Both organisers are Melbourne testing/QA veterans, respected by the community and people I like to call friends. Their meetups and conferences are wholesome, technical, and relevant. And both Ray and Scott are A+ smart and kind people, and I enjoy collaborating with them.

In 2018, Scott reached out to me as DevOps Girls co-organiser, to ask me for advice on speaker gender equality, which he really wanted to achieve at TConf. After a bit of thought, I proposed to coach new (women) speakers to speak, and host them as first time speakers in the form of lightning talks. So, over 8 weeks, after first selecting them, I took completely new speakers and put them through coaching to gradually be ready to a deliver a ~7 minute talk to an audience of 400/500. There were rave reviews in the feedback we received afterwards.

So we did this again in 2019. I put out a call for speakers in August, selected the 5 deserving women (based on their contributions to others) by end of August, and started the coaching. Again, I offered my services for free. 8 sessions of coaching from initial idea selection, to creating content, to delivering the talk, to consistency, to breathing, to how to cope with the inevitable screw-ups. This year’s coaching was harder for me than the previous year, mostly because of flaky commitment from the participants. I worked harder than anticipated, to get the show off the ground. If I do it again, I will set stricter rules on participation. On the day, they delivered their talk spectacularly well, to even my and their surprise! Here’s a pic we took after the talks’ conclusion:

https://twitter.com/DevOpsGirls/status/1200250646194053120?s=20

(back to top)


Diploma of Networking

I graduated my diploma, finally!

After 2 years of juggling part time day time study with full time work, forcing down my throat some outdated (and I daresay, unwanted) Win Server material, but still finding joy in other subjects and especially the Linux material, managing to ‘weasel’ my way into another class’ online subject so that I don’t have to wait for mine next year, applying for and being granted several credits, it was all done.

In December 2019 I received notification that I had graduated with a GPA of 3.7. I would have had 3.8 if it weren’t for the one subject I scored under 80% in: my lowest score, still a near-high-distinction with 77% in “Security in Win Server 2012”.

Since my return to IT and thanks to the benefits of the Australian education system afforded to my permanent residency & subsequent citizenship, I have been studying part time non-stop since 2007. 3 diplomas, several short courses, half a bachelors, and 1 grad cert later, I might just take a break now from tertiary education. This last one was hard to swallow, there was too much material I had to ‘take on the chin’.

Maybe in the future I’ll do a Masters and/or PhD in Networking or Security or similar, but not right now. I am tired. Relieved, but tired, and slightly disappointed in the system. Now I will focus on my health & fitness again.

Thanks again to my 3 managers and my employer over these 2 years. You really supported me in this quest. There will yet be a place for QA-Ops, or OpsQA, or full-OSI-continuous-QA.

(back to top)


A new Australian location every year

Every year I try to visit a new place in Australia, to get to know my adopted home better.

This year it was Brisbane.

Yes I had never actually visited Brisbane, beyond an airport transit once. I visited for 3 nights and was very pleasantly surprised how likeable it is. In my opinion, far nicer and bigger than Perth which I had seen several times (although still too humid for me, of course). Brisbane was simply beautiful, not too small, and really enjoyable. Here’s a pic from near my hotel over dinner with a friend:

Beautiful Brisbane from under the Storey Bridge

(back to top)


India, Singapore and Bollywood dancing

At the end of May I received an invitation to attend my mentee, Preeti’s, wedding in India to her fiance and all-round great guy and my former colleague, Miles.

I was honoured to be invited, and accepted.

As a planner and researcher, I started planning. I renewed my passport, got a visa (what an experience), booked flights to and from India via Singapore, for migraine mitigation ensured I booked airport hotels too, bought my Christmas present to myself in the form of a stay at the Marina Bay Sands, booked a few nights either side of the wedding in India, and …

… enrolled into Bollywood Dancing lessons!

I knew I had no inkling of what to expect at an Indian wedding, as famous as they are for their colour and festivities, least of which the dancing and music. So I researched and found an Indian dance studio right around the corner from work (who knew??).

I enrolled into Bhangra lessons for one term and bombed out quickly when I missed a few classes due to the ever-present-2019 lurgy, and work restructure stress. I went back after a few weeks but for more casual “Bollyfit” dance classes, and attended 10 of them until just before I departed for India in early December. I learned A LOT and even got some Bhangra moves (including dynamic squats) under my belt.

Then off to India I went. The trip was RAD. Every day was a firehose of education.

My final destination via Delhi airport was on the east coast, in the state of Odisha (formerly Orissa), where I stayed for 5 nights. The wedding occurred on days 2–3 of my stay, with buffer days either side for shopping for outfits, and one day for sightseeing the temples.

Describing the wedding deserves another post on its own, I cannot capture it here. I met some amazing people and wore some spectacular outfits, if I dare say so myself. I’ll leave you with a pic of the most complex, and beautiful, outfit:

The beautiful saree I wore to the wedding reception

I then treated myself to a “recovery stay” for a few nights in Singapore. This was my Christmas present to myself. In Singapore, I finally got some sleep as my adrenaline started coming down. I also failed to notice then (only later) that the ever-present-2019 lurgy was not there (anymore).

Singapore, and The Marina Bay Sands, were INCREDIBLE. Another topic that deserves a post on its own but I will definitely be back for a longer stay and more exploration at another time.

A dusk view of the infinity pool on the MBS rooftop

Upon my return to Australia near the end of the year I shared some pictures of my India outfits with my dance teacher Joshinder, who loved them. Once I have the video of our Sangeet (pre-wedding party) group dance, I’ll share that with her too. I think she’ll approve. We, the ~25 Aussies who danced as a group, did GREAT.

(back to top)


That concludes the look at the year that was.

Reflecting on my 2019 hopes

Here’s where I look back at where my head was at, end of 2018, and what I thought I’d be doing in 2019:

Python and AWS

My Python skills improved for sure. Have not achieved fluency yet, but found a study partner at work, and we caught up once a week since May 2019, doing 1 or more lessons per week, from the course “Python Programming for Developers”. This, plus the aforementioned “Snake Charming for Beginners” workshop, plus a full day workshop on “Python Web Test Automation”, helped my Python skills improve. Not fluent yet, but getting better. Unfortunately, I did not manage to fit in any AWS certifications, although I keep my skills semi-refreshed by creating the DevOps Girls workshops. I call this one, half accomplished.

Health

This got worse in 2019, especially towards the end. I got sick a lot more often with the ever-present-2019 lurgy, gained a few more kilos, didn’t run another 5K (despite registering for 2 races) — yes, due to sickness. I did make it back to ice hockey though, not playing great, but doing ok. Just very casual recreational women’s development league and training, not serious league. Being a little older than all my opposition players and team mates, I am now choosing to take it easier on my body. This one is deemed: not accomplished.

Other learning / personal growth

Definitely achieved a new skill through Bollywood dancing lessons. I wanted to learn more dancing, and I did. Didn’t get to drawing or language lessons this time. But one new skill a year, is ok. So, this one is accomplished.

Visit another country

OK, I didn’t get to Iceland or Canada, top of my bucket list, or New Zealand again (which I love). But I did get to both Singapore and India for the first time (beyond just the Singapore transit lounge, for a change). So I call this one, well accomplished.

Visit another place in Australia

Done. Brisbane was lovely, and I’m definitely going back, preferably in June/July at the height of winter :)

(back to top)


Hopes for 2020

More or less in order of priority:

Sort out my health

That’s weight, fitness, migraines (reduction) and blood pressure. Sort it out, all of it. Nothing has higher priority. (Already turned the corner with a few kgs loss since my worst peak, and resting HR dropping. More to go. )

Do less, but make it really count

Instead of several speaking gigs, maybe only 1 — and be really selective about it. How about a keynote this time, or an international one with expenses paid? Yes, that selective. Instead of 3 workshops, and 8 weeks speaker coaching, and a webinar and podcast, do 1 or 2 only, on material I personally adore and want to get better in for my own benefit. Definitely no simultaneous or long-term study commitments this next year.

AWS Certification

This is the year, it’s the third time I am vowing to do it, this is my training priority this year. Solution Architect, I’m coming for you.

Linux Certification

I definitely want to keep my Linux skills sharp, maybe through the Linux Foundation, starting here: https://training.linuxfoundation.org/training/introduction-to-linux/.

Python

Finish the course I am currently doing, which I have just restarted a week ago over the holiday break. Once it’s finished, who knows. Maybe find another project after that, maybe not.

Ministry of Testing Dojo

Thanks to my contributions to the Ministry of Testing’s TestBash, I am now a proud holder of 1-year Dojo membership. I intend to do all the courses that appeal to me, because knowing what my fellow testers/QAs are doing and learning, keeps me current too.

Test Automation University

I am the first person to discourage overuse and panacea treatment of test automation, but I believe it does have a place and should be architected intelligently and used wisely. I fear we have over-indexed on exploratory testing and manual checking at my workplace, making it worse with poor to no monitoring in production, no place more so than in the mobile space. It is my intention to get my head around “best” test automation practices (vs my current hacking skill set) for both web and mobile, through the courses offered on this portal.

Professional development

I have been selected for “Women in Leadership” professional coaching at work. This starts in January and I am really looking forward to that. Also, my manager has bought his leadership team a few copies and shared with me the book “Elegant Puzzle — Systems of Engineering Management”, which I am currently reading and hope to finish in a few weeks.

Role

I sense a change for me in my role in the coming year but nothing planned, it’s only a feeling. This may well be in the direction of engineering management, head of Quality (or Quality Engineering), or something in the direction of the leadership or architecting of the QA - Ops intersection. Hopefully with some Linux thrown in the mix.

(This remains the definition of my ideal role: https://twitter.com/TheresaNeate/status/1095090698527768576?s=20)

Either way, I want to be the best Lead QA I can be, treat others as I would like to be treated, continue to nurture the culture of quality ownership in all of Consumer, help the QAs be fulfilled in their own journeys, and fix a few key things along the way (as you guessed, some of it has to do with CI/CD).

Solitude

I am an introvert and prefer fewer people to many, but since my long-term relationship ended a few years ago, it’s gone a bit far and my solitude has impacted me. I feel less awkward now than at first, but still feel it, especially at Christmas. Next Christmas I will either be travelling again, hopefully with company, or volunteering at a soup kitchen (which is surprisingly hard to locate, Google was no help in this! — now accepting ideas). I turned down offers of charity to join others’ gatherings, as charity is just not my thing and being a third wheel is no fun. So for next year’s Christmas (when I feel it the most), I’ll start thinking now.

Personal growth

I have already enrolled for 1 drawing course in Jan 2020, and am wait-listed for another. There is also a PADI level 1 diving course I might be doing in June in Cairns, but haven’t yet committed to. Either way, there will be new skills gained.

Travel

There will be more travelling, at least 1 of which will be yet another new location in Australia (maybe Cairns for my planned diving course), and maybe another international destination. Watch this space.

(back to top)


So — THAT was my 2019, and those are my hopes for 2020.

There was so much to say, once I started writing. Thank you for reading, if you got this far!

Upon reflection, I had a lot to reflect on.

The year of 2020 will be one of Health & Fitness (mental and physical), and Focus.

I want to recommend to all of you too, to read Deep Work by Cal Newport. I welcome hearing from you on your own journeys of Focus. Please tweet (or DM) me how you’re faring.

See you on the other side.


I’ll close with pics of my furry babies:

Mini-me, feisty Jazzy, rescued as homeless kitten from a public park — and Belle, Burmese, brain damaged and routinely the cutest cat anyone’s ever met

(back to top)

Theresa Neate

Written by

QA Practice Lead | Dev Advocate 🥑. Who loves #lean #agility #devops #QAOPS #devrel. Speaker. Writer. @devopsgirls. “Mature” ice hockey player. INTJ.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade