Huh? Did I just say "be the worst"? Yep, I sure did. But before you go telling your boss that I told you to be the worst tester you can be, let me finish the phrase!
First and foremost, I have to give credit where credit is due. I saw this phrase first from Chris McMahon -- he says that this meme has been around the music business for a long time. He credits Pat Metheny, who said, "...try to be the worst guy in whatever band you're in. That's the secret."
Given the context, what I am saying is "be the worst of the people you are surrounded by", or "surround yourself with really great people."
At Agile 2009, someone told me that Elisabeth Hendrickson decided to learn by inserting herself into the best teams she could find. Even before I encountered the "be the worst" quote, I had begun bouncing around the idea of how I perceive myself versus those I work with.
I think back to an early job in my career, straight out of college. At this place, I remember thinking to myself with some frequency, "These people are *SO* *SMART*! I feel SO DUMB when I am around them!" I often tried to just keep up with conversation, hoping to fake it long enough to avoid appearing dumb, too! Looking back, how I wish I could have gotten over my own insecurity and taken the opportunity for exactly the opportunity it was! What I should have been thinking was "Wow, these people are *SO* *SMART*! I want to learn everything I *can* from them!"
What can we get out of "being the worst", and why would anyone suggest that?
I think we can get a *lot* out of it: learning, experience, growth ... In working with people who have a set of skills that you wish to expand for yourself, you can see first-hand, on a day-to-day basis, and under a whole slew of circumstances how that quality is manifested. Sometimes it might be a technical skill. Maybe it's a communication skill.
As I have grown in my career, I have begun to feel like the "dumb one" less and less. I think that my passion to get better and better at the things I want to be good at, have made it more and more difficult for me to *be the worst*. What have I done in response?
I've become *way* more active in the agile community. In that way, I can surround myself (though not as frequently as I would like) with those people I see as *way* more skilled than I am in certain things. I found this out with certainty at Agile 2009. I love talking to Elisabeth Hendrickson for her insight into agile testing and human relationships at work. I enjoy Lisa Crispin's company for her amazing ability to be a great agile tester, without falling back on programming the hard things (like I do!). I met Patrick Wilson-Welsh, and admired his passion, sense of humor, and ideas on good, clean TDD. I had conversations with Michael Feathers and Bob Martin to try to gain some insight into my specific legacy code issues. I had great conversations with Antony Marcano and Andy Palmer about testing tools and frameworks. I *pair programmed* with Abby Fichtner to gain from her development experience. Of course, there were many others ....
In this way, I forged relationships and surrounded myself in a way that I could *be the worst*. I'll keep saving my pennies to go to conferences and keep being active in the agile community so that I can keep *being the worst*.
Do others try to put themselves into situations where they can *be the worst*? How do you keep yourself always learning and always surrounded by those you can learn from?