Treading Water Is Too Much Work

I honestly meant to post about the daily insanity of my workplace about a dozen times over the last two months. The only problem was that I was working all the time. Something amazing happens every time I step off the Endless Manual Testing Train To Perdition. I always have a giant pile of technical debt to address and I have to work overtime for weeks to catch up on the deferred maintenance. The current task on the pile is implementing an interface for a REST API to query the customer configuration management application for configurations meeting necessary criteria for automated tests. I didn’t want to use the UI to search for these configurations because the test systems are still a steaming pile of crap. Using the UI introduces a ton of new opportunities for their horrible performance to blow a test execution run to smithereens. Plus, these tests already take long enough to run that any means I have at my disposal to optimize the execution time should be put to work.

The API belongs to an ecosystem of APIs the company developed for programmatically interacting with our services and systems. There is a tool available in the The Chosen Framework v2.0 for executing requests against these APIs, but the design is not to my liking. Given the political shit storm that always surrounds any attempt to alter the design or function of any of the services in The Chosen Framework v2.0 and the total lack of staffing to support and maintain the framework, I decided to secretly write my own tool. There is an overly complex authentication system for using any of these APIs, so I had to build out my model for the access control group and user admin business domain to include the credentials needed for authentication. I have a penchant for wanting all my test data to live outside my test suite source code, so everything needed to be serializable/deserializable from both XML and JSON because who am I to dictate which storage format a person should use in order to employ my tools for their own purposes?

One thing lead to another, and suddenly, I had 6 different repositories for tools I have written to model parts of the business domain and as well as services I built on top of those models to automate interactions with the products I test. Not to mention that the number is set to grow because I have plans for additional services for even more automation goodness. In short, this collection of tools and services has become a total beast. It is really an automation framework in its own right. I finally managed to get a Stash project dedicated to them, so I moved everything there. As soon as I did this, I started to get nervous about getting caught for not using the services in The Chosen Framework v2.0. QA Director has been on the warpath against people who don’t want to use the services in the The Chosen Framework v2.0. I believe that the failed effort to shove it down the throats of other business units in the company is a sour and somewhat embarrassing memory for him, especially because several people on our team have turned their own noses up at various tools in framework. I can only imagine what the reaction will be if I get caught for building a rogue framework.

I confessed to my boss today that I was guilty of coding without a license. He asked me why I didn’t use the existing tool and I explained my reasons, and he said I should just add my tool to The Chosen Framework v2.0. This meant I had to explain that this would mean adding other tools to it, including the business objects and page objects that I had been asked to remove last year. He seemed confused and said he would address the issue in Some Very Important Discussions taking place next week among QA Director, the other managers and Principal SDET regarding the future of The Chosen Framework v2.0. I don’t think he realizes yet what a clusterfuck this whole thing has been. I would prefer to have nothing to do with The Chosen Framework v2.0 and continue building out my secret framework, but I know this is never going to happen.

The summer was a busy affair. It started out with a massive fail by the new organization that has taken over support for development tools and infrastructure. They officially took over maintenance of Stash in June and immediately buggered system the first time they did routine maintenance on it. For some reason, the most recent backup available was a month old. Thankfully, I had the most recent version of all my work saved locally, but some teams lost work. I am very happy to see that we are getting something that looks a lot like a real IT support staff, but these handoffs are a bitch. At the very least, before doing anything to the source control system, one should make a backup and then make a couple copies of that backup and store each of them in different locations. They handled the recovery process well, though, with good communication and organization of the effort to glue Humpty Dumpty together again.

As part of my job duties over the summer, I helped Junior SDET Who Should Be Senior mentor our summer intern from MIT. This was one of the most pleasant and enjoyable experiences I’ve had. It’s a lovely experience to work with one of the smart ones who learns quickly and is able to extrapolate abstract principles from a few basic examples and work independently. I highly recommend hiring MIT students as interns. I think a lot of them could easily drop out of school and start working as developers or even start their own companies and be wildly successful.

QA Director has been on everyone’s case about work from home policies and has lately taken up the cause of monitoring what we are doing on our computers at any given time. At one point, he asked Junior SDET Who Should Be Senior to talk to our intern about not playing games or watching any videos while he is in the office. QA Director claimed that ‘someone’ had complained to him about it, but I wouldn’t put it past him to lie about that so that he doesn’t come off as the ‘bad guy’ with a bad case of Hall Monitor Syndrome. I personally think that people who are productive and hit their milestones should be left alone, but I’m not the boss. Right after this, he claimed that ‘someone’ complained about the whole QA team being absent from the office on the first Friday after a giant release date. This was first and foremost, incorrect because I was in the office that day. I’m just too short for anyone to see my head over the top of my cube. Second, several people took vacation after that horrific release cycle, one of us couldn’t work that day because their new H1B visa wouldn’t be in effect until the following Monday, another of us was out sick and the rest were working from home on Friday because that was the day they had chosen for their one day a week allowance.

This of course, ignited a tense and difficult team meeting in which many of us expressed anger and resentment because developers seem to do whatever they want when they want and we are the only team that ever gets called to account for our whereabouts. QA Director became very defensive and sort of pissed at us and then he said he was going to tell the person who complained to mind their own business. Which is what he should have done in the first place. There’s nothing more demoralizing than a boss or director who won’t stand up for their team. Our team manager seems to be getting really tired of all this and has said he is not going to get into the habit of taking attendance because we are all grown adults and he would prefer to focus on the work and whether it is getting done or not. Although I am really pissed that my former boss was fired, I like the new manager a lot. He’s focused on the work and getting the developers to work together with us as a team, which is nice.

I found a senior developer role elsewhere in the company that is with one of the business units that is turning a profit. I have an informational interview with the hiring manager next week. Hopefully, this will be the right fit because it would be really great if I could continue working with the company in a part of it that is actually making some money. I really like the technology here and working with a core piece of it would be a great opportunity for me to gain some new experience and skills. I am still working on acquiring the knowledge and skills to get into data science or machine learning. I underestimated the amount of time that would take. There’s a lot of math. SO MUCH MATH. I built an Anki flashcard deck for the MIT discrete class I studied through MIT OCW. After finishing up the book and the lectures, I started using it study the material. For the first two weeks, it felt like it wasn’t doing anything for me, but now I have started to see cards which are easy for me to answer. The other benefit is that there are many proofs that I ‘know’, but understand more fully as a result of repeatedly reviewing them. Our summer intern is taking the class this fall, so I shared the deck publicly, and it appears to have taken off like wildfire because it has been downloaded 41 times so far. Hopefully, Anki will catch on at MIT and students will make decks for their other classes and post them publicly so I can use them myself.

I also took on the task of identifying the root cause of some TestNG defects related to parallel test execution. These defects have been making it impossible to implement the ability to log my tests to a separate log file by thread without advanced jujitsu configuration and hacking in Logback. If the tests would just freaking execute in the right thread in the expected fashion, this would be trivial, but all these random extra threads get spawned because a new thread worker is inappropriately spawned when you have test method dependencies. TestNG works as expected when test methods don’t depend on each other. Actually, group and test method dependencies are notoriously buggy when trying to use the various parallel execution modes offered by TestNG. It was quite a ride debugging that code base, but I found the bug in the source code and now I am trying to figure out how to fix it. It seems to be difficult to get a pull request accepted in TestNG (for good reason), but I want this bug fixed so bad, I am willing to jump through whatever hoops they want.

Basically, I have a lot of irons in the fire all at once. Hopefully, switching to a role in a profitable part of the company will put me in a less over-burdened role. I am sick of working on an absurdly understaffed team with people in positions of technical leadership who shouldn’t be there because they can’t code or understand basic software architecture design principles. Also, I really want to work for an organization that doesn’t treat me or my team like a bunch of middle schoolers who need a hall pass and a reason to be absent for a bathroom break.

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